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Their background analysis is data-driven; the more data they take the better they know their background noise. They are now at the point where they can definitely say that what looked like an unusual fluctuation above the background noise months ago was in fact very unusual. Enough for discovery significance.



Citation, as it says in the article:

"Two matched-filter searches used coincident observations between the two LIGO detectors from September 12, 2015 to January 19, 2016 to estimate the significance of GW151226. One of these searches was the off-line version of the online search discussed previously. The off-line searches benefit from improved calibration and refined data quality information not available to online searches."

http://journals.aps.org/prl/abstract/10.1103/PhysRevLett.116...


The use of p-values with a research design like you are describing worries me:

'The garden of forking paths: Why multiple comparisons can be a problem, even when there is no \ shing expedition" or "p-hacking" and the research hypothesis was posited ahead of time' http://www.stat.columbia.edu/~gelman/research/unpublished/p_...




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