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More press coverage March 15, 2007

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

The ripples caused by the New Scientist article and by the piece on the Economist  about the 2.1-sigma excess of tau-pair candidates observed by CDF are causing secondary excitations, just as electrons in a drift chamber run at very high voltage [I will save the explanation of this analogy to outsiders for another post].

Yesterday I was contacted by phone by an italian reporter, who writes weekly about science on a major daily newspaper in Italy. He asked me about the Higgs affair, and I was quick to direct him to the CDF spokespersons for any information on the issue, as I had been recently asked to do by one particularly careful collaborator. 

That did not discourage him, and he raised the bet, asking me if I would write a 70-lines article about “what I would do” if it was up to me to find the truth behind the “signal of the Higgs boson found by CDF”, somewhat implying he thought I could maybe take more data of some particular kind, re-analyze existing data in novel ways… In a word: invent a way to pull a new rabbit out of the old hat.

I explained to him that the matter had already caused enough of a stir within my collaboration, and that for this once I wished to remain out of it. I added that I did not know what to write on such an issue, and that if I did I would be crucified, no matter the content of the article. In fact, in the past weeks I have indeed been advised by a few collaborators and colleagues to avoid talking to the press, for the risks entailed in such a incredibly daring action.

The reporter insisted, and he also offered me a draft of his own article, which contained several inaccuracies, and whose tone was quite close to that of the article on “New Scientist” which had infuriated so many within CDF. What’s worse, my name was associated to the very same “excess” as it had in the NS piece.

I decided to correct the mistakes, for the sake of truth, in exchange for taking off my name anywhere in the article. I also wrote for his benefit fifty very generic lines explaining the story of the Higgs searches and the status of things, from a quite impersonal point of view -nobody could guess the affiliation of the writer of those lines.

It only remains to just sit and wait… I really hope they will correct the mistakes and references to non-existent signals in their article, and most of all that they will not use my name. With the media, one feels totally unarmed: they have a power you cannot match.

By the way, another reporter from a Zurich newspaper contacted me the other week. Fortunately, he was writing an article on the sociology of large collaborations and the troublesome interactions with private web-logs rather than on the Higgs affair per se. I did not help him much, since I just explained to him that experiments such as CDF have bylaws that enforce some discretion on their internal affairs, and are very sensitive to the external use of the results they produce, as the recent discussions  on the web showed.

I think he did a fair job, as far as I can tell with my faulty german and internet translators from the article he sent me today. I think none of my CDF colleagues will feel raped by that piece, if they ever get to read it.

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