How Information Leaks Are Hurting Science

Instant returns on a painstaking process are bound to disappoint

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Loose lips sink ships, derail cabinet nominations, and make it exceedingly difficult for the President of the United States to tell anyone he's about to try and kill the most wanted terrorist on the planet. They're also not doing much for scientific progress.

Last month we told you about the leaked internal memo from the team at the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland, suggesting they may have found the Higgs boson, or "God Particle." For fans of all things sub-atomic, this was something to gossip about and endlessly scrutinize.

That worries Nature News writer Geoff Brumfiel. Those working the project say future leaks are "inevitable," which will mean more excitement and gossip. That's a problem for a discipline where answers "emerge slowly from weeks or months of data analysis." Instead, 21st century researchers work in a world where their "first clues and false starts are now being discussed on the global stage." The God Particle false-alarm leaked the way any juicy celebrity rumor would.

First an internal memo with the data was posted to a popular science blog. After that, writes Brumfiel, the misinformation was in the bloodstream and "news of the document spread first to other blogs, then to science publications, and finally to the mainstream media."

The fact The Atlantic Wire--typically indifferent to stories involving particle accelerators--picked up the news says all you need to know about the willingness to jump on the first sign of a scientific breakthrough.

(Thanks to commenter Evan G. for bringing this to our attention in Open Wire)

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.