The pains of representing a collaboration May 16, 2007Posted by dorigo in personal, physics, politics, science, social life.
Yesterday I was in Rome, at a meeting of the National Scientific Commission I of the INFN – the funding agency of particle physics experiments in Italy. I had been charged by the coordinator of the italian members of the CDF experiment, Luciano Ristori, to give a seminar on the status of our experiment and its prospects for the next few years. I had felt honored by his request, and had accepted with enthusiasm.
The task of my talk was twofold: to show our funding agents that CDF has produced excellent output so far, and to demonstrate that it has a real chance of achieving the coveted goal of finding the Higgs boson -or, at least, to gain more information about it- given a chance to run until at least the end of year 2009.
Giving the talk was a big responsibility, since the Commission decides on the funding of the italian institutions, and in these years of painful shortage of money for research every bit counts. So I wanted to do the best job I could.
I worked at the talk for over two weeks, by collecting information about the charges of italian members of the collaboration, the students recently graduated and those presently working at their theses, and the recent contributions of each of the participating italian institutions (Pisa/Siena, Rome, Udine, Trieste, Trento, Padova, Pavia, Bologna, Frascati) to the hottest physics analyses being produced. And I had to study quite a few physics papers I had not had a chance to read in the past, about many of the measurements that CDF has so far produced.
The resulting picture of an experiment in great health, producing exquisite physics in a ample spectrum, was easy to draw. CDF has world-best results in so many measurements, it is embarassing to list them: best measurements of the top quark mass in the dilepton, single lepton, and all-hadronic final state, and best combined top mass measurement; best W mass; best W width; first observation of WZ production; first observation of Bs oscillations; first observation of Sigma_b baryons; first observation of exclusive diphoton production; first observation of several charmless B decays; and so on, and on, and on.
Less easy was to explain why, despite the fact that our searches for the Higgs boson are still far from the sensitivity needed to find hints of Higgs production, we are confident that we will reach that goal by 2009. I had to explain the details of all the ingredients that enter the complicated searches at low and high mass, and compare our present status to 2003 projections, to clarify -or so I hoped- that the discovery reach was still the one we had foreseen back then.
But much harder than the two tasks described above was to converge on slides that could satisfy all my 85 italian colleagues. Of course, given the importance of the talk, I had circulated an early version of the presentation among them last week. With few exceptions, my collaborators were very useful in providing feedback, corrections, suggesting different phrasing, addition of material and reorganization of slides. With few exceptions, that’s the point.
CDF-Italy is a collaboration within a collaboration (CDF). And it is made of nine groups. Each group has its own specific interests, performs different physics analyses, and gives different weight to the diverse physics that we produce as a collaboration. Each group wanted their own piece of physics well visible and represented in my talk. But that was simply not possible, given that I had a huge amount of material to discuss, in 40 minutes of seminar. So, many had accepted that their favorite physics result were relegated to a back-up slide -one which could get shown only in case of a question from the audience. A few of my collaborators gave strong feedback about the need of including this or that result, but in the end they accepted my choices.
One group, however, disagreed. Their claimed that their analysis had to be given emphasis, and I was not willing to grant it, because it did not fit in the picture I wanted to give of the experiment. The slide they had provided was left in back-up.
And then, yesterday, I finally gave my presentation, in a large room with frescoes on the ceiling in palazzo Landi, a beautiful venue and the headquarters of INFN – a hundred meters away from the Pantheon, in the center of Rome. I think I delivered the message. I stayed within the allotted time, gave emphasis to the Higgs searches and to the wealth of physics CDF has produced, and received congratulations from the colleagues present at the meeting.
Today, though, I got bad feedback from the head of the group who had most been most stubborn in insisting for their analysis to be shown. The guy is a friend of mine, and I even fought battles with him in the past, but he is objectively a person that will give you a hard time if you disagree with his views. Here is a translated and amended version of the e-mail I got from him, actually a carbon-copy of a message he sent to a collaborator about my talk:
I had realized myself that Tommaso had dropped the slide you sent him. Then I looked at his talk. Since it is ugly – in the sense that there is a lot of smoke, little meat, and wholesale ignorance – I thought it was better that way. Moreover, he had received compliments from Y [a colleague who is notoriously not highly esteemed by him – TD].
I excuse Tommaso since it is plain to see that he is working in another experiment. I excuse him less to have accepted to give the talk while being out of touch. It is obvious that he did not understand why we are re-measuring […].
As for the strong and important message that “CDF believes in the Higgs boson”:
1) I think it is b******t
2) the talk suggests the opposite – maybe it believes it but it is not capable, and for sure one does not understand where italians are contributing critically (besides on hardware).
The only thing that appears to backfire is to be represented by a space cadet. But I think it does not matter given the niveau (low) of the commission.
Post-scriptum: Tommaso, sorry, but a “f*** **f” at the right moment cannot but do you good.
Alas, the guy has a huge ego and has never been able to give credit to his colleagues. To him, everybody is an idiot. He may be right sometimes, and he is an outstanding physicist – but unfortunately, his skills are wasted in the desert he creates around himself with his bad mood… But he is still a friend.