Read More: Science News
Scientists pour a lot of brainpower into understanding how their experimental equipment works. You don’t want to be fooled into thinking you’ve made a great discovery because of some quirk in the apparatus you didn’t know about. Just the other day, a new paper published online suggested that the instruments used to detect gravitational waves exhibited such a quirk, tricking scientists into claiming the detection of waves that maybe weren’t really there. It appears that gravity wave fans can relax, though. A response to the challenge pretty much establishes that the new criticism doesn’t undermine the wave discoveries. Of course, you never know — supposedly well-established results sometimes do fade away. Often that’s because scientists have neglected to understand the most important part of the entire experimental apparatus — their own brains. It’s the brain, after all, that devises experiments and interprets their results. How the brain perceives, how it makes decisions and judgments, and how those judgments can go awry are at least as important to science as knowing the intricacies of nonbiotic experimental machinery. And as any brain scientist will tell you, there’s still a long way to go before understanding the brain will get crossed off science’s to-do list. But there has been progress. A recent special issue of the journal Neuron offers a convenient set of “perspective” papers exploring the current state of understanding of the brain’s inner workings. Those papers show that a lot is known. But at the same time they emphasize that there’s a lot we don’t know.