Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Physics World on sub-\(46\GeV\) neutralinos

Colin Stuart wrote the following article for Physics World yesterday:
Are there signs of SUSY in Planck data?
A week ago, AMS showed us much more accurate data about the high-energy positrons and electrons that haven't qualitatively changed our beliefs about the dark matter particle, at least not officially. Very recently, Planck – the successor of WMAP – released its data as well and it contained no clear SUSY smoking guns, either.

The Physics World article seems to be mostly based on the following preprint
Naturalness of Light Neutralino Dark Matter in pMSSM after LHC, XENON100 and Planck Data
by Boehm, Dev, Mazumdar, and Pukartas. They argue that some scenarios with neutralinos – the most likely lightest supersymmetric particles – that are around the corner remain compatible with all the data and could be discovered in the next batch of the Planck data in 2015.

Or not.

In the wake of the null results from the LHC and other experiments, my estimated probability that SUSY will be discovered before 2015 dropped below 50 percent for the first time. Note that my SUSY bet against Jester of Resonaances was rather cautious: not only I will only lose $100 if I am wrong – and he will lose $10,000 if he is wrong – but the decision will only be made when 30 inverse femtobarns of the LHC data are evaluated which can't happen before 2015. ;-)

The Physics World article is nice and fair and it obviously doesn't deserve the hostile reaction in the comments – with lots of anti-physics comments and links to crackpot websites. On the other hand, it's a nearly inevitable consequence of the years of anti-stringy, anti-supersymmetric brainwashing in the popular science media.

But let me admit that I am confused by certain aspects of this article in the Physics World, too. To be honest, I don't quite understand why this particular paper was chosen as the inspiration for a rare article in the Physics World. Every day, about 20 new hep-ph papers are announced on That's about 400 per month or 5,000 per year. They're about similar topics and their importance is comparable, too. How did the paper above penetrate to Physics World if almost all other 5,000 papers remained obscure?

Well, the answer is probably that Dr Mazumdar befriended Mr Stuart and told him some interesting things that Mr Stuart promoted. Let's avoid official accusations, speculations, and demonization of similar links. Instead, let me mention that it may be a good idea to establish a semi-official protocol for the science journalists that would allow them to pick articles that are sufficiently likely to be right as well as interesting enough.

One could optimize an algorithm for the top researchers to tell the journalists about \(N\) developments or papers that they consider interesting. Or the top researchers could tell the journalist to ask someone else – for example the top researchers' protégés. One could even try to quantify some "media capital" that would be earned by published papers and/or citations and that could be spent by directing the journalists in the directions that the researchers consider relevant, probably right, and interesting.

I am not suggesting that there exists a perfect, mechanical algorithm of this sort. But I am suggesting that the current regime that decides what theoretical work makes it to the popular science media is chaotic, driven largely by irrational prejudices, and generally defunct.

Incidentally, there are some not quite unrelated news that according to some research, the size matters, after all. Interestingly enough, most male science journalists present this good news as "bad news". Describe and discuss what it may mean. ;-)


  1. Titles that are yes/no questions bother me. If the article was either "Yes." or "No." in it's entirety, then that would be fine. But of course they aren't. They discuss the process, the significance level of their result, perhaps the consequences in physics at large. I feel that the title should represent all the content. In reality, of course, we get authors [of both papers and media articles] attempting to "draw readers in" with a provocative question that, in fact, has a very dull and generally obvious answer.

  2. Re: Size Matters...

    Winston had a cigarette commercial--"it's not how long you make it, it's how you make it long":

  3. At least, this Physics world article was based on a real legitimate physics paper (even if it was a random one), it was quite a nice reading :-).

    I have finally learned to ignore the comments below such and similar popular news articles, since the majority of them usually is trolling ... It was enough that while reading the last sencence of the news article and not being careful enough, I noted without reading it a horrible word in the first comment that made me gnash my teeth and clench my fist, I done have to repeat what the word was ... ;-)

    The suggested procedure to decide what should be reported in the media reminds me of the procedure Mr. Milner has established to correctly choose new FPP winners, that would be good for physics news reports too.

  4. "Describe and discuss what it may mean. ;-)"

    1) The same can be said about women's breasts, I am sure. Three naked women with tiny, medium and large breasts and males voting? Guess.

    In Greece when I was younger men used to verbally compliment and speak to women they liked on the street. My share of comments was tiny, until I gave birth to my first child and was breastfeeding. The comments and the attention I got were amazing.

    2) Evolution must have hurried to do its job before people decided to wear clothes. Must have stopped after that and certainly in recent centuries as it is hard for a woman to judge the size under clothes.

    3) A woman would choose the third computer manikin in the picture anyway. It is atavistic and a survival of the race impulse because a woman needs protection during child bearing years.Also the smaller images( and organs) tend to remind one of young boys, not mature men.

    4)Fortunately for the race neither large breasts nor large male organs play a role in deciding with whom a woman /man will have children . Otherwise we would have remained at the baboon level of evolution. I think it is something called: falling in love , a complex multiparameter state that decides for most of the race who the partner will be, at present. Before and even now, when/where marriages are planned, neither breasts nor male organs entered the equation.

  5. True Anna ;-).

    (Love is blind but marriage restore the eyesight :-), so much the better)

  6. Dear Luboš Motl,

    May I ask one rather late & quick question relating to this post. My question being - could the Gaussian distribution demonstrated by Planck data - still be compatible with SUSY (in one of her many manifestations?)

    Kind Regards,


  7. Yes, Claudie, it could! The Gaussianity is more constraining when it comes to inflation etc., it says much less about SUSY-like phenomena... LM