A joint Fermilab/SLAC publication

The statistics of scientific discovery


When the phrase "5 sigma" appeared on scientists' slides during CERN's July 4 Higgs-search update, the audience watching erupted into applause and cheers. They knew it meant the scientists likely had a discovery on their hands.

If this left you scratching your head, you might want to read symmetry's latest "Explain it in 60 Seconds" article on sigma. But if you have a bit more time to spare, you might want to watch this short video featuring Fermilab physicist Don Lincoln.

In the video, Lincoln explains how figuring out whether a discovery is real or just a matter of luck is similar to judging the fairness of a pair of dice. It all comes down to statistics.

Watch the video on YouTube...

Update: You can watch and rate Lincoln's TED Talk here: http://talentsearch.ted.com/video/Don-Lincoln-The-birth-of-the-un;TEDNew-York

Latest news articles
The Guardian

To study the stuff of the universe, you have to block it out, and that is exactly what a bold project in regional Victoria is trying to do.

New York Times

The work of Syukuro Manabe, Klaus Hasselmann and Giorgio Parisi “demonstrate that our knowledge about the climate rests on a solid scientific foundation,” the committee said.

Black Hills Pioneer

As the Sanford Lab prepares a proposal to become formally recognized as a Department of Energy User Facility, scientists from all over the world met virtually to discuss a myriad of future experiments.


Hints of a previously unknown, primordial form of the substance could explain why the cosmos now seems to be expanding faster than theory predicts.