Nature on the joys of negative data

"If one beautiful theory can't explain the data, then there must be another out there somewhere that can."

- Nature editorial

In this week's issue of the science journal Nature, an editorial makes an intriguing parallel between the debunking of "ether" - a mysterious substance predicted by the light-as-wave unifying theory of the 19th Century physicist James Clerk Maxwell - and the uncomfortable fact that the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) has thus far failed to find any evidence for particles predicted by supersymmetry, our present-day unification model. It's too early to put a nail in the coffin, but the case is not looking good thus far. This state of affairs suggests that what's so great about the LHC is that whatever it finds - be it something or nothing - gives us valuable information about the universe. In scientific parlance, such results are called "negative data", and as the name implies, they are usually looked down upon as boring or unworthy of publication. But Nature thinks that there is certainly a case to be made that negative LHC data can "force scientists to think differently" and thereby stimulate entirely new models.

We agree: maybe it's time we started celebrating negative data instead of brushing it under the carpet - and not only in particle physics, but across the various disciplines.