Big scientific discoveries—the kind that shift our view of the world and our place within it—don’t come along very often.
This week, though, one did.
New data seem to offer, for the first time, direct evidence of the entities Einstein predicted in his general theory of relativity: gravitational waves. Which is a finding that, if it holds up, sheds new light on nothing less than the origins of the universe. The discovery is, according to one expert, “an amazing achievement.” It is also, according to another, “one of the greatest discoveries in the history of science”—“a sensational breakthrough involving not only our cosmic origins, but also the nature of space.”
So, basically: This is big, you guys! Einstein big! Nature-of-space big! Big Bang-big!
There’s just one small thing, though. The findings shared this week also share a significant caveat: They haven’t yet been peer-reviewed. They are discoveries that are, as far as scientific institutionalism is concerned, provisional. They’re stuck in a kind of epistemological limbo—as information that has not yet been converted into fact, and data that have not yet been codified into knowledge. Official status: truthy.
Scientists are, like the rest of us, impatient. They are, much more often than the rest of us, justified in this. Imagine dedicating your career to learning something new about the mechanics of the world—the gravitational forces exerted on a cell membrane, the flappings of a bee’s wings, the earliest churnings of the cosmos—and then imagine actually finding that thing. Now imagine that, instead of doing what every impulse would guide you to do (share that news with everyone you know/share that news with everyone you don't know/shout that news from the rooftops or at least your Facebook page) … you are made to wait. And wait. And wait. Until, many months later, your work has been deemed acceptable for proper publication.