Ars Technica has an article about the most accurate measurement yet of the mass of the electron. It was an interesting article, particularly in describing how the scientists went about making the measurement.
But I was struck by something said at the end:
Physicist know that the Standard Model—great for explaining the world of the very small, but useless when it comes to gravity—either unravels somewhere or must be woven into something else. “Any difference” between a theoretical calculation and an experimental one, Myers explains, “could indicate physics beyond the Standard Model of particle physics.”
This meshes with another observation I either read or heard somewhere that, unlike the development of quantum mechanics or general relativity, which came about to explain anomalous experimental results, much of the current work in theoretical physics seems aimed at finding a way to harmonize these theories.
But much of the work in experimental physics seems aimed at trying to find places where empirical results don’t accord with those theories. Along these lines, many physicists were actually somewhat disappointed when the Higgs Boson was found, because an anomaly would have shaken things up, perhaps leading to new breakthroughs. This seems like an extremely healthy attitude for the field to hold.
I’m sure physicists should definitely continue attacking this from both angles, but I have a strong suspicion that the real breakthroughs will only come when the experimentalists start finding those anomalies, giving the theorists something solid to work with. Of course, only time will tell.
This makes me even more convinced that talk of abandoning falsification as a criteria for science is misguided.