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  Should we allow discussion of non-public "rumors"?

+ 10 like - 0 dislike

In some fields with large collaborations, such as experimental particle physics and astrophysics, data is often posted as rumors (for lack of a better word) on blogs or by individuals to the press. This is usually frowned upon by the larger community, because it promotes lower standards of data analysis and the rumors are later disproven more often than not. These rumors can have theoretical implications as well.

One question has already arisen about such topics, namely ATLAS Higgs Interpretation. It has garnered 2 upvotes, but I have been hesitantly thinking about downvoting it. I'm of the opinion that we should respect the standards of the community when discussing these sorts of things, which in this case would mean to not discuss such works until they are public.

Now, I'd be fine with it if the question were essentially theoretical, with the experimental rumors as motivation but not essential. However, at least in the case of the linked question, it would seem to be mostly phenomenological in nature, and is intricately tied to experiment. I'm all for including phenomenology (in fact, I'm working in phenomenology right now) but I'm of the opinion we should wait to discuss such things until they have been made public. I'd imagine it would be a big deal if some theorist tried to publish theoretical implications based on such a rumor before it was confirmed, and I think the standards here for discussion should be similar.

I'm not terribly strongly opinionated, though. I don't want to limit healthy discussion on the one hand, but on the other I don't think we should be promoting low standards for discussion. So I'm asking for opinions on this issue. I'm tentatively against it, but either way I do think we need to set the standard for such discussions early, since they will likely happen again.

This post has been migrated from (A51.SE)
asked Sep 17, 2011 in SE.TP.discussion by Logan Maingi (210 points) [ no revision ]
Excellent question! ... I was just about to ask that now.

This post has been migrated from (A51.SE)
I don't think Larian realized it was just a rumour.

This post has been migrated from (A51.SE)

3 Answers

+ 7 like - 0 dislike

I think it's a good idea to limit discussion to public results. I'm not sure if by "published" you mean the same thing that I do by "public": I mean results that have been made public by their authors or the relevant experimental collaboration, maybe by posting on arxiv, or putting public notes or plots on the collaboration's website, or announcing the result at a conference, for example. I think journal publication would be a bad standard since many interesting results are made public before they are published in a journal, and in fast-moving experimental work (like the LHC at the moment) many results that are made public will not be published in journals, or will be published only at some indeterminate time in the future after being re-analyzed with more data.

In the case of the question that prompted your question, the results are public, and don't show the rumored excess at all. Maybe this means the question-asker should have done more homework before asking the question in the first place.

This post has been migrated from (A51.SE)
answered Sep 17, 2011 by Matt Reece (1,630 points) [ no revision ]
I'll second that. Besides being in poor taste those rumours are not a reliable source of information. I'd say we probably want to aim higher. Not sure we need an official policy but we can certainly express our opinions by downvoting.

This post has been migrated from (A51.SE)
I might suggest a "unconfirmed" tag be added: atleast till we get a better sense of the sorts of questions along these lines we get here. ... Any question on experimental results on Higgs searches, results from the LHC, etc. should be of interest to community members here, as long as there's some protocol to define what is well-established (via verified results, journal publication, etc.) and what is currently on / at a speculative level. ... This question is a good example: it needed to be asked- and the answer(s) helped to clarify the matter. I would up-vote it with the tag added.

This post has been migrated from (A51.SE)
(Just to add: the "unconfirmed" tag is only for tagging here, not the responses. ... We can, maybe, add a "discredited" tag or similar.)

This post has been migrated from (A51.SE)
Alright, I've edited the original question. I wasn't really making a distinction before, but it this is a valid point. Things which aren't published but are available to the public via preprints or some other form should still be valid for discussion.

This post has been migrated from (A51.SE)
I should add that I'm not convinced that this totally answers the question, even for the linked discussion. The original poster was not aware that the results were public, so I'd argue it was still a problematic question (it could have just as easily been about something which was not available to the public). I would put the onus on the questioner to know that the results in question are public because this is a research-oriented forum and there are minimal standards for asking a question.

This post has been migrated from (A51.SE)
Personally I think we should minimise discussions of any kind in the main site. As Piotr Migdal points out in his answer, TP.SX is *not* a discussion site and it had better not become one, for its own long-term health. Concrete questions about results, whether published or not, is a different matter, but the question as written was too vague for my taste.

This post has been migrated from (A51.SE)
+ 4 like - 0 dislike

I agree entirely with Matt's answer, however I think the question which has prompted this discussion is actually not an example of what we are discussing.

It is not at all clear to me that the poster knew that it was a rumour. He had an abstract to what appeared might be a paper that has appeared somewhere that isn't available online. Believe it or not, such journals still exist!

Perhaps the OP should have done a bit more searching first, and I don't personally consider the question to be a stellar example of an on-topic question, but I don't think it is fair to condemn the question for discussing rumors when the question itself gives no indication that the OP knows it is just a rumor, and explicitly takes "it's just an old rumor" as an answer.

This post has been migrated from (A51.SE)
answered Sep 18, 2011 by Joe Fitzsimons (3,575 points) [ no revision ]
That said, I would be fine with closing such questions if a comment were added to explain that it was just a rumor.

This post has been migrated from (A51.SE)
+ 3 like - 0 dislike

As far as I understand, the scope of TP.SE is way beyond discussing already published results. The questions based on unpublished stuff (and even more - one's recent thoughts & ideas) are welcome as well.

However, SE system is no a place for discussion, it is a Q&A site.

Moreover, I would not like to drown this site in speculations or rumors. Even if in principle some of them can be answered objectively, they can make a lot of rubbish (with a sea of 'X published a paper explaining Y in terms of Z. Is he right?').

Partial (or unchecked) experimental data needs scrutiny - or we end in doing a witch science.

This post has been migrated from (A51.SE)
answered Sep 18, 2011 by Piotr Migdal (1,260 points) [ no revision ]

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