A BBC article today on the apparent confirmation of the top quark at the LHC, plus a discussion with a friend about about Thursday’s episode of Newsnight (specifically, the part about science funding), got me thinking. Why do we – the public and the media – care so much about the Higgs boson?
There are dozens of proposed but undiscovered particles which physicists are currently searching for, both in the LHC and elsewhere: the graviton, the WIMP, the whole host of supersymmetric partners, perhaps – although rather less likely – even tachyons and strings. In some ways, these are more important than the Higgs – the Higgs boson is a bit of a dead end, scientifically speaking. If we find it, we’ll finish the Standard Model, but it’s unlikely to shed any new light on physics – especially since we’ve spent the last 30-40 years working under the assumption that it does exist anyway.
A superpartner on the other hand would open up the field of supersymmetric extensions to the Standard Model – the first proper breakthrough in particle physics for decades. The graviton would prove – or at least heavily imply – quantum gravity, finally patching up the difference between quantum mechanics and general relativity. The WIMP, or its rival the MACHO (we do have our fun, us physicists), would explain the phenomenon of dark matter. That’s not even getting into the possibility of finding extra dimensions or other weird quirks of topology, nor the various exotic doomsday particles like strangelets, micro black holes, vacuum bubbles and magnetic monopoles which the newspapers went berserk over in the run-up to switch on.
Compared to most of the goals of the LHC, and modern experimental physics in general, the Higgs boson is little more than a football sticker – the last one we need to complete our album. Yet it is by far the one the newspapers focus on the most.
As far as I can tell, the BBC is the only general audience outlet which has reported the fact that the LHC has confirmed the existence of the top quark – until now only seen by a single experiment at Tevatron (the particle accelerator operated by Fermilab). While it’s not surprising the press isn’t all that interested in the rediscovery of an already known particle – see also the rediscovery of the W± and Z0 recently only reported by two outlets: the Irish Times (as a local interest story about Irish physicists) and The Guardian – it seems equally non-newsworthy events involving the Higgs get far more prominence that they deserve.
When a single blogger unaffilated with either CERN or Fermilab claimed he’d heard a rumour that Tevatron had produced the Higgs boson, the news went worldwide. The Telegraph seems to have been the first to pick up the rumours, which got picked up by other news websites; mostly on the far side of the world, where the time zone difference let them publish after the rumours came out late on the 12th but before the denial on the 13th (the most reputable sites to carry the rumours were The Times of India, The Hindustan Times and NewsComAu). so quickly that even before the next day’s papers could even go to press, Fermilab issued a denial, carried not only by The Telegraph but the BBC, The Daily Mail and The Chicago Tribune, papers which hadn’t even mentioned the rumours in the first place – the news that the Higgs had not been discovered was more widely spread than the news of the rediscovery of any of the particles.
The Higgs is, of course, almost certainly so popular because of its nickname, the God particle – even though there’s nothing especially godly about it. After all, who doesn’t want science to discover God in a concrete tunnel under Switzerland? It’s an old nickname and one that is unpopular among the scientific community, since it endows the Higgs with supernatural power when in fact, it’s no more important than any of the other bosons. I quite like the name suggested in a competition in The Guardian of the champagne particle – both for the shape of its energy potential and for the fact it would have scientists reaching for the wine if found.
But… would people care about the champagne bottle particle? Of course its not helpful to have the search for the Higgs boson overshadow the rest of physics, but at the same time, should we just be grateful that, even if it’s a little sensationalised, physics can still reach the public so effectively? That’s the attitude of Tommaso Dorigo, the blogger who originally leaked the rumours of the Higgs’s discovery, according to the Chicago Tribune, he wrote in his blog “Keeping particle physics in the press with hints of possible discoveries that later die out is more important than speaking loud and clear once in 10 years”.
I’ve kind of trailed away from any kind of conclusion here, so to disguise that fact, some of my ‘favourite’ internet comments about the LHC, most of which seem to be based on the confusion between “god” and “God particle”.
The main goal of the satanic project “Large Hadron Collider” is to search for “God Particle”. Satan claims that chaos after Big Bang is responsible for creating all of us. Satan claims that there’s no God, but only “particle”. Official atheistic ego-centric representatives of European Union believe to Satan and allow to launch the dangerous project without voting. Where? In the center of Western Europe!!! Attention! Not on the island of the Pacific Ocean, but in the center of EU!!! Europeans are hostages of Satan.
Notice, there were no EU REFERENDUM about LHC, in order to ask people whether they want to be hostages of the unpredictable experiment. There were NO VOTING. Atheistic egocentric scientists, slaves of Satan, decided everything for us. This is a DEMONCRACY.
this experiment is a complete waste of time. we cannot destroy the whole earth, only God can.
I do like that idea………..
Clever men have struggled for CENTURIES to “find God”………..
I wonder what makes them think they can do it with a machine under a mountain……….?
Perhaps they think he’s a troll…………?
Imagine if they stuck their noses into a cave next door and there he was…….. whole OR in particulate form……..would he assume they were PCSOs breaking in to warn him about “household security”…….and belt ’em with a “collider” of his own……..?
Its one way for the worlds goverments to generate climate change
Why was this ‘built’ underground? Simple, it does not exist. It’s a big con.
It’s the same reason India/Pakistan allegedly conducted nuclear explosions underground simply because they never happened in the first place. Why? Because nuclear bombs don’t exist and they never have existed. FACT!
Hollywood and the people behind Hollywood (the rich elite race) came up with the propoganda to fool the ‘Sheople’. They’ll keep taking your money though to fund their lavish lifestyles.
the same space..four things are wrong…there eagerness to throw the switch without thinking to much about the mechanical inspections..the amount of power it uses and where it is dilivered from?,,all of a sudden they have found anti matter and are firing it around on the second beam..and just by chance they are launching a very special sattalite 100 miles north of moscow the morning of the swith on, in stealth and disguise to monitor the effect this machine has on the gravitational and magnetic effects it has on this earth .if they do by chance find whatthere looking for we will be snuffed out in a nano second as the universe will cease to be…if they understood how god works they will realize that here is no begining or end to the universe.and no 2 universes can existin the same place…in a word itsall bad…as anything they do glean will not be for the good of man ,,not even god will be able to save us if we vanish without a trace .In a word its all bad and i,m petrified..