2011. október 23., vasárnap

Statistics of a 'discovery'

Two-pence piece
  • Particle physics has an accepted definition for a "discovery": a five-sigma level of certainty
  • The number of standard deviations, or sigmas, is a measure of how unlikely it is that an experimental result is simply down to chance rather than a real effect
  • Similarly, tossing a coin and getting a number of heads in a row may just be chance, rather than a sign of a "loaded" coin
  • The "three sigma" level represents about the same likelihood of tossing more than eight heads in a row
  • Five sigma, on the other hand, would correspond to tossing more than 20 in a row
  • A five-sigma result is highly unlikely to happen by chance, and thus an experimental result becomes an accepted discovery

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