"Give me the facts, ma'am, just the facts." This sounds like a simple instruction, but just what are the facts? Last year chemists at the University of Utah claimed to have discovered a way to achieve nuclear fusion under ordinary laboratory conditions. But what were the facts of their experiments? It might seem easy to establish new scientific facts, but as the confusion that continues to surround the fusion claims shows, things are not always quite so simple. It is easier to describe what scientific facts are not: They do not represent the result of a referendum among scientists.

Facts, as we might as well call them, emerge from the open exchange of ideas, reports of experiments, and theoretical calculations. The vehicles for these exchanges are the professional journals in which scientists report their findings and speculations. Sometimes, preliminary results are reported at conferences, but it is the definitive printed...

Interested in reading more?

Become a Member of

Receive full access to digital editions of The Scientist, as well as TS Digest, feature stories, more than 35 years of archives, and much more!
Already a member?