News & CommentPhysics

The One That Got Away?

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Science  10 Jan 1997:
Vol. 275, Issue 5297, pp. 148-151
DOI: 10.1126/science.275.5297.148

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This cautionary tale of experimental science begins 10 years ago, when physicists sifting through the debris from collisions of heavy atomic nuclei saw hints that an unknown particle was briefly materializing in the collisions and then decaying. The prospect was so exciting that it sparked a whole generation of nuclear physics experiments. But now, after spending a decade and millions of dollars on the quest, most of the participants have concluded that they were chasing a phantom. It now seems that the researchers may have been misled by statistical fluctuations, amplified by optimistic data analysis.