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Rumors about the Higgs March 4, 2007

Posted by dorigo in Blogroll, humor, internet, news, personal, physics, politics, science.

Boy, do I love it when these things happen. The internet is a great place for public discussions about physics such as the one that has been taking place on the tentative MSSM Higgs signal seen by CDF.

John Conway, a long-time Higgs hunter, presented  a month and a half ago in the Cosmic Variance site a very nice account of his search for the Higgs boson, and the result, showing a 2.1-sigma deviation which could indeed be the start of a revolution in high-energy physics.

The signal is discussed elsewhere, and among other places, in my blog, where I show that if the H->tau tau signal seen by Conway is real, one could take seriously an excess of events in a plot showing the Z->bb signal by the D0 collboration. I also point out that CDF is also seeing some upward fluctuation right at the same mass in the same kind of Z->bb plot, but I warn readers that it will take a month to make the plot public.

In the meantime, a New Scientist reporter gets intrigued, and he investigates, publishing bits of the story already in the February issue. Then he sits and waits for the CDF Z->bb signal to be published.

Once that signal is published, everybody can draw their own conclusions about the possibility that an upward fluctuation is indeed a signal or what.

Now John  does a nice back-of-the-envelope calculation , showing that if the H->tau tau signal is real, there should be a more evident bump in the CDF Z->bb signal plot. And then I counter in the comments section of his post, arguing that indeed, my plot does not rule out a signal the size he sees in his tau-tau analysis.

So where do we stand, if you ask me ? Well, read the former post here, where I put some answers to the New Scientist reporter. Anyway, the possibility that a MSSM Higgs boson has just shown his hat and is slowly emerging from the Tevatron data is still on, IMHO.

What is fascinating is that the whole discussion is taking place in blogs, rather than in the most appropriate venues – CDF or D0 meetings at Fermilab. Indeed, those places are becoming a little too “bureaucratic”, in the sense that there is too much ordinary stuff to deal with – pre-bless this plot, bless that table, full- status this other analysis, blah – that the real sense of those meetings is lost. No more discussions on intriguing bumps, no arguing, nobody jumping up, no bad feelings. 

Hmmm… I may sound foolish, but I preferred the Run I style  – when there was indeed a lot of arguing in CDF meetings, but also lots of physics discussions and real meat on the fire. I may be a bit too blood-thirsty, but I like a fight once in a while, if only played by throwing physics reasoning at your opponent rather than sticks and stones.  I will tell a few stories of hot CDF meetings one day.


1. jeff - March 4, 2007

Hi Tommaso. Every since I learned of the existence of your blog, and in particular your Higgs discussion, I’ve been reading along. And this alone means that I basically approve what you are doing and I certainly envy your energy. But I fear that blogs and internet are far from being the best way to discuss physics controversies so I suggest you keep cool and don’t get carried away.

I was in Run1 too and the physics discussions were great. I miss them too, but my life has taken me elsewhere. But they were great because they took place in the natural places, the offices, the hall ways, the lunch rooms, the parking lots, the elevators, the meeting rooms and the high-tech emails. Then came telelinks, webcams and now blogs. Blogs are another extension to the ways physicists interact with one another. It is great as it allows a working group to share plots figures and much much more.

But I fear that internet is too open to too many people and these people do not necessarily add construcitvely simply because they are not aware of or share the values behind the notion of getting a plot “blessed”. (For those that are not members of a scientific collaboration, “blessed” is just a word and no “ritual” is involved). The real trouble with blogs and internet is that it is so full of bogus information and down right disinformation. There is true gold, but much much fools gold. What makes gold so precious is that it is rare; what make fools gold cheap if not worthless is that it abounds. You, as a high energy physicist looking for rare signals in an ocean of junk, know this is true. Without a controlled filtering there is no way anyone reading blogs could possibly make out the difference. What makes a blog credible? Fancy plots? The occasional family photo? Being interviewed by a journalist? Of course not!

Discussions of controversial science (in this case signal vs no-signal) can only take place in proper forums. What makes a proper scientific forum and what makes a forum make good science? I am not a post-modernist sociologist or a philosofer of science so I as naive as you are on this, but my guts tell me that there is no alternative to controlled discussions.

2. dorigo - March 5, 2007

Hi Jeff,

thank you for your comment… I mostly share your views, but I would like to make some distinguos… They will have to wait for a few days though, I need to be back with groceries in 10 minutes or my wife will get pissed!


3. charles - March 9, 2007

As a physician not a physicist, I love your site, and often visit, although I don’t profess to understand all/much. It’s intriguing to read your thoughts and those of others, at such a juncture.

No harm in sober speculation – on the contrary particle physicists need good PR – and you’re doing a great service, Tommaso, even if the comic press overreacts from time to time.

Keep it up!

4. dorigo - March 9, 2007

Hi Charles,

thank you for your kind words, I really appreciate your support and to see non-physicists taking a stand towards openness in scientific production. For more on the kind of trouble I get at times for what I do here, read my post of today, “The trouble with… talking about physics”.


5. dorigo - March 9, 2007

Jeff, I wanted to answer more carefully to your thoughts above, and here I am.

You mention the fact that “controlled forums” such as a collaboration meeting or other “real” venues are the proper place for scientific discussions, because the internet is full of fool’s gold and noise is high. I agree that noise is high, but I at times grieve for the fact that large HEP collaborations seem to favor the production of uncontroversial measurements over out-of-the-mainstream searches and independent thought.
There seems to be some kind of peer pressure at work, which ultimately discourages anybody from embarking in a study which most colleagues will find unconventional. The big collaborations are a place for conformism.
On the other hand, the discussions that arise on the internet, in forums such as physics blogs or similar sites, may contain lots of noise, but allow people to speak much more freely about what they think, and to discuss without the above peer pressure.
Of course, the need to keep secrecy on “unblessed” material still is enforced, and this is as good as is bad. But that is another topic.

All in all, I still think that my blog gave me the opportunity to get to discuss experimental results of particle physics with people with whom I seldom interact, like theorists who stay away from conferences but have bold new ideas. Or, as in the case of the Higgs bump, to create a mess by discussing too openly a stupid fluctuation – for the purpose of showing how NOT to do physics!


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