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How to tell the people that there's no Higgs

In July 2011, we have learned that the boss of CERN forbade his employees to interpret the results of the CLOUD experiment, the most significant excursion of the famed European laboratory to the climate science.

He said that the implications of this €10 million climate experiment for the climate shouldn't be publicly talked about because climatology has become political.



Too bad that Mr Heuer wasn't equally able to prevent other scientists from talking about (and usually, out-of-control hyping of) hypothetical climatic effects of CO2 and its claimed implications for policymaking. If he were able to achieve this goal, I wouldn't be justified to say that Mr Heuer is an immoral proponent of double standards and a suppressor of basic academic freedoms.

It turns out that the thinking how to spin things – and how to invent tricky P.R. games – apparently belongs to the list of main activities of the current postmodern CERN leadership. If you open CERN Council News from the 160th (restricted) session on September 15th, 2011 (the URL of the page contains the word "governance"), you will find a rather incredible title of a report:

Report on: The scientific significance of the possible exclusion of the SM Higgs boson in the mass range 114-600 GeV and how it should be best communicated (full text)
Well, if that happens (and just to be sure, I have made bets that the Higgs will be found and I guess we won't wait for too long), it should best be communicated by telling the truth whatever the exact truth will be. Obviously, this can't be their answer because if this were the case, the answer to the question "how it should be best communicated" wouldn't be called a "report" but rather a "sentence" or "one noun" (the truth).





What is going on here? The work of the particle physicists and LHC engineers may be hard but if they establish that there's no SM Higgs boson in the mass range 114-600 GeV, it's very easy to communicate this result of theirs, isn't it? So why someone – and apparently someone who is getting a high salary – has to be writing reports about this thing that would be self-evident if it were found to be the reality?

I am sure that your guess is the same as mine: someone is afraid that the absence of the Higgs boson would undermine the intensely nurtured ideas that the scientific community is an infallible collective Pope. Because almost all particle physicists (including your humble correspondent) had expected a/the Higgs boson in that range, it would mean that if the Higgs were not found, the public could conclude that the opinions of the scientific community (and its overwhelming majority) about completely new, previously unanswered questions shouldn't be overvalued or uncritically trusted because they can very well be wrong.

The only problem with the "worry" is that the public would be completely right. If the SM Higgs boson were excluded, many facts and observations should be communicated, including the following:
Even though about 98% of particle physicists had believed that the LHC would find a Higgs boson lighter than 600 GeV, the collider has established that the God particle doesn't exist in this range instead. It doesn't mean that God doesn't exist; if you find it appropriate, you may continue with your daily prayer.

More precisely, what has been shown impossible is the existence of a Higgs boson that otherwise fully conforms to the laws of the so-called Standard Model, the simplest and "canonical" model of particle physics among those that agree with all the previously observed phenomena.

Also, the exclusion of the Higgs boson was made at the 95% confidence level: it means that among 100 claims that a thing was excluded at the 95% confidence level, approximately 5 of them will be false exclusions because the excluded object exists and the exclusion is an artifact of random statistical fluctuations that sometimes inevitably occur.

We hope to increase the confidence level of the exclusion from 95% to 99% by combining the data from both major detectors of the LHC collider, the ATLAS and the CMS. The confidence level may grow to 99.9999% after another doubling of the number of collisions.

Because the exclusion only applies to masses not exceeding 600 GeV, it is still plausible that the Standard Model is right but the Higgs boson is heavier than 600 GeV. CERN will try to decide whether this possibility is viable in the coming months and years. However, based on some high-precision and other results from older experiments, it seems very unlikely that the Higgs is heavier than that although genuine internal inconsistencies of the theory only start to emerge above 800-1000 GeV or so.

So it seems much more likely that if our exclusion is right, the reason why the known elementary particles have masses is different from the simple Standard Model Higgs, despite its overwhelming popularity among the theorists. This popularity has never been backed by any solid arguments and its widespread influence may be attributed to group think, much like in many other contexts, and to unjustified preference for "minimal" (simplest) theories. Something else has to be responsible for the particle masses and related effects.

The right theory describing this "something else" may differ from the Standard Model "cosmetically", i.e. by having many different types of a Higgs boson that may be heavier, escape detection, yet still agree with the past experimental data. Supersymmetry with its multiple Higgs bosons is a more exciting variation on the same theme and it is still potentially viable although our newest results exclude a high percentage of the models in the existing literature, too (because these models predict the existence of a Higgs boson that is light and very similar to the Standard Model Higgs as well as other effects that have been excluded by the LHC as well). However, it's also conceivable that some much less popular theories such as "technicolor" are right (although an even higher percentage of models from similar groups have been ruled out). Finally, it can't be excluded that the genuine reason behind the particle masses etc. is something that no contemporary theorist in the world understands and science will have to clarify this mysterious object in the future.

Particle physics is one of the most rigorous disciplines of science and particle physicists are among the highest-IQ scientists. However, this didn't prevent them from making guesses about new particles that turned out to be non-existent or whose properties turned out to be very different from the expectations. This may obviously take place in any scientific discipline. However, we believe you shouldn't conclude that all of science is useless and can never be trusted. There are lots of questions that science has understood extremely reliably by making experiments, measurements, and by repeatedly comparing them to theories that have survived many tests in the past.

It's only the claims of the type "phenomenon XY can't be caused by anything else than UV", usually talking about completely new, previously empirically untested, questions that are rather likely to have loopholes and that are ultimately interpreted as artifacts of the theorists' lack of imagination, narrow-mindedness, prejudices, and group think. It's unreasonable to assume that theorists – and majorities of theorists – are infallible, as this exciting episode helps to demonstrate. On the other hand, everyone is encouraged to look for more detailed patterns to determine in what kinds of situations the opinions of which scientists should be taken very seriously.

Meanwhile, particle physicists have to return to the drawing board and they will have to work on more realistic and accurate theories. One of them may survive the comparisons with the tests we have performed as well as with the future tests. It has often been said that we live in exciting times for particle physics. The exclusion of a reasonably light or medium-mass Higgs boson, something that has been considered to be an almost inevitable thing for 40 years, is a stunning example of how exciting these times really are.

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reader w.w. wygart said...

Lubos,

The discovery you are making here is that 'spin' is a fundamental property of all bureaucratic organizations - even scientific ones, not just a fundamental property of elementary particles and hadrons.

W^3


reader Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

Now you've gone and muffed it. By publishing a perfectly decent response under copyright, you have deprived CERN of the right to say that or anything derivative of it should that eventuality come to pass. :) No wonder it takes someone with a high salary to figure out what to do.


reader Luboš Motl said...

Andrew, I am sure that the European comrades will find a solution of this glitch. For example, they will hire an American lawyer for a few million dollars to solve the puzzle, pleasing the European taxpayers who will see how clever people are being funded from their money. :-)


reader Luboš Motl said...

Dear WWW, thanks, you must be right that I just disovered America or the wheel or whatever people usually discover if they're not the first ones.

Still, while I would be eager to believe that this is how the internal discussions look like, I am still surprised to see this spinning strategy of theirs being discussed on publicly accessible web pages.

At the end, of course that you're also right that those people aren't deciding about any important things; they're just looking for excuses to feel important. 100 useless bureaucrats telling someone how to construct the sentence "there is no Higgs here" will immediately feel useful and they will know they deserve their €100,000 salaries.


reader TB Cave said...

Hmmm.... I worked in the private sector for many years, and there is no shortage of pompous bureaucratic group-think in that world either. Anyway, if we are serious about getting back to the drawing board, I seriously think we have to admit that whenever we use words like; 'space', 'time', 'mass' or 'universe' then we are skating on intellectually thin ice. And if you are feeling brave enough to face that challenge, then check-out WikiMechanics.org


reader Brian G Valentine said...

I'm going to wait until they get up to about 800 or so with a null result before I try to publish my theory about what "mass" is, so that nobody can call me "another crank who thinks he knows more than Higgs" (there are not few of these).

Who gave this supposed "elementary particle" that God-awful name in God's name. That thing is no more God than the American Flag or the IPCC reports are


reader Luke Lea said...

@TB Cave - "Hmmm.... I worked in the private sector for many years, and there is no shortage of pompous bureaucratic group-think in that world either."

Would that include the assumption that the distribution of uncertainty in market data is normal? Was Paul Samuelson responsible? After 2008 I read a mea culpa on his part, that somehow the fallacy at the bottom of all this so-called financial engineering -- some of it done by former string theorists, though presumably not very good ones -- goes back to him. But then modesty has never been his strong suit. ;)


reader Yuri Sh said...

There is a book "The Nonlinear Quantum Field Theory as a Generalization of Standard Model (Geometrical Approach)" [Paperback]
Alexander G Kyriakos (Author) that introduces a generalization of the Standard Model that does not require existence of Higgs's boson. Our world is not linear as the Standard Model assumes. So, once this preposition is accepted, as the author of this book did, things settle really nicely. The problem is that the modern theory and people who support it are so influential, that no other opinions are allowed.
So, there is no need to go to drawing boards and start form scratch. There is a solid theory already that answers many questions.


reader Yuri Sh said...

There is a book "The Nonlinear Quantum Field Theory as a Generalization of Standard Model (Geometrical Approach)" [Paperback]
Alexander G Kyriakos (Author) that introduces a generalization of the Standard Model that does not require existence of Higgs's boson. Our world is not linear as the Standard Model assumes, and it could not be. So, once this preposition is accepted, as the author of this book did, things settle really nicely. The problem is that the modern theory and people who support it are so influential, that no other opinions are allowed.
So, there is no need to go to drawing boards and start form scratch. There is a solid theory already that answers many questions.