News on the Higgs particle results in some mass confusion

We are not a straight science blog here because too many others do that better. We focus on the “hmm” portion of the news. So, by now, everyone is buzzing about the boson, Higgs, that is. I found a few posts with interesting takes on this story.


Here are various quotes from The Higgs boson: What has God got to do with it?

“The Higgs is not endowed with any religious meaning. It is ridiculous to call it that”

“Calling it the ‘God particle’ is completely inappropriate”

“It’s not doing justice to the Higgs and what we think its role in the universe is. It has nothing to do with God.”

“Hearing it called the ‘God particle’ makes me angry. It confuses people about what we are trying to do here at CERN.”

And a religious view: Look out God, here comes the God Particle

These kinds of conversations always leave me wondering if scientists and religious people are actually speaking the same language; it’s clear to me that they aren’t anyway. To be honest, I probably don’t believe in the God Stephen Hawking doesn’t believe in either. When he says “God,” it’s not the same thing I mean when I say it. And even if science unravels all the secrets of the physical universe, I don’t think my faith will be threatened at all.

I guess what I’m saying is that I wish some scientists would quit trying to replace God and get to work on warp drive. Well, they can try to replace God if they want, but I would also still like them to hurry up on warp drive.

The Big ‘Maybe’: What The ‘God Particle’ Hunt Tells Us About Science

The Higgs might be found. The Higgs might not be found. After all that time and all that effort, the Higgs might not exist in the energies we can probe. Or, even more importantly, it might not exist at all. While the lack of a Higgs would, in some way, be exciting, pointing us in an entirely new direction, it would be dishonest not to admit that it would also be a blow. There are many scientists who have invested their careers (and a lot of public’s money) in this work. What would happen then? What would they do?

The answer is simple: stand up and tell the truth.

If a year from now the 125 GeV signal disappears with more data, then the scientists at the LHC will stand up and say “Its not there.” Then the chips will fall where the may. It would be a big, big deal. You can imagine lots of folks would be much happier if the signal remains. But we are not in the business of hope. We are in the business of entering into a permanent dialogue with nature. The one hope we do have in that dialogue is our honesty.

That commitment to the truth of what is seen sets science apart from politics…

And, finally, here is Phil with the wrap up…Mass effect: Maybe Higgs, maybe not

Scientists at CERN cannot claim with enough confidence they have found the Higgs particle, but neither can they rule it out. There’s a good chance they have have found something, and it very well may be real, but they cannot say with complete confidence that it’s the Higgs.

They will continue to run more experiments and try to bump up that confidence level a few more notches. In other words, they have to keep rolling those dice, building up the numbers, and get better statistics. As they do, those confidence levels will change, and hopefully move into the “5-sigma-we-have-a-winner” stage. But that takes time, and it’ll be 2012 at least before we know more one way or another.

It’s all complicated and a bit weird. It’s got people talking about science and that is a good thing.

  2 comments for “News on the Higgs particle results in some mass confusion

  1. Mark
    December 13, 2011 at 10:56 PM

    I like your post title.

    The “god” particle talk is mostly that we don’t understand what endows mass at that scale and that this is one of the last of the major unknowns in physics. I highly recommend the Bad Astronomy blog post on this topic ( as it is way out of my intellectual league.

  2. Massachusetts
    December 16, 2011 at 7:27 PM

    I wish they just called it the “Mass Particle,” which is exactly what it is, and dispensed with this confusing and annoying linguistic adventure. Then we can all marvel at the physics, which is worthy of awe.

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