The first stage is Denial: the patient will convince him- or herself that there is a mistake in the diagnosis, that somehow the doctors are wrong, or something alike. It is a protective, visceral reaction, one preventing the shock of reckoning with a completely altered landscape. There follows a state of Anger: the "why me" sentiment is the cause of this state of mind. Then there is Fear, brought about by the lack of knowledge of what is coming. Then comes Grief - for oneself as well as for the loved ones. And finally, Acceptance, which brings peace to the soul.
I believe a similar fate awaits those happy souls who are willing to believe in the genuine nature of a statistical fluctuation, or other systematic effect found in data, which can be interpreted as a signal of new physics. The reason of the similarity is that at the center of the phenomenon there are still human beings, with their baggage of predictable responses to stimuli of similar nature. Death -the passage from existence to non-existence - is a well-defined concept, with ubiquitous analogies involving non-living matter.
A very clear case of this is the reaction that the 750 GeV excess in diphoton data generated in theoretical physicists one year ago, when the ATLAS and CMS experiments showed coincident evidence for a resonance in their new 13 TeV data, at a end-of-the-year CERN physics jamboree. As many readers of this blog know, experimentalists were in general quite sceptical of it being new physics, if not downright certain of the spurious nature of the effect; on the other hand, many theorists jumped at the news and got extremely excited. As a result, a flurry of scientific papers with probable and less probable interpretations of the observed effect started to flood the Cornell Arxiv.
The flurry of papers continued steady through the beginning of 2016, in the certainty that the new data that the LHC was starting to collect would soon produce a definitive confirmation of the new physics interpretation. But then, corridor rumours started to spread the news that maybe the effect was not there in the new data.
There came the phase of Denial. Theorists would shrug off those rumours, claiming they were false as rumours usually are. Papers kept being submitted. Then Fear set in - before Anger, in this case. That is because many had gone a bit too far with their paper writing. And soon enough, the first "official" news came about, at the end of July. That is where I would place the phase of Anger - "why, those experimentalists must have screwed up something, leading us to waste time on it". Finally, Grief and Acceptance came about. Grief is triggered by reckoning that Nature does not reward us and our brilliant ideas; Acceptance follows, with a return to the usual business.
If you look at the graph above, courtesy Andre David, you can follow the timeline of the 750 GeV resonance through the number of papers that were submitted by theorists to attempt a theoretical explanation of the phenomenon. Looking closely, you can certainly see that the production of papers has not stopped completely after ICHEP (August 2016) - when the two experiments conclusively declared that the signal was no more.
Maybe some of those articles are ones which were produced earlier, but needed some fixes and ended up being submitted "post mortem" (nobody likes to sit on a unpublished article - much better is to publish it even if it is entirely irrelevant!); but I tend to believe that there is a hard core of theorists who, at least for a while, remained in the "Denial" phase for a bit too long. After all, one could argue that the ATLAS and CMS experiments have *not disproven* the existence of a 750 GeV boson: they have just shown that the signal they had in the 2015 data is not confirmed by the larger 2016 dataset; a smaller cross section signal is still possible...