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18 months after the Higgs affair… October 28, 2008

Posted by dorigo in Blogroll, internet, news, personal, physics, science.
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In the previous post I mentioned a piece I wrote for Il Sole – 24 Ore, an italian daily newspaper which is less read than Repubblica and Il Corriere della Sera, but is more accurate in political and financiary analysis, and has a good reputation overall (despite being owned by Confindustria).

I wrote that piece shortly after the publication on New Scientist – soon followed by the Economist – of imprecise accounts of the issue with the small (2-sigma) excess of tau-lepton pairs  unearthed by CDF in a search for supersymmetric Higgs bosons. That story is old and I do not wish to tell it again (unless you really ask). However, I can disclose today, 18 months after the fact, a few details which I had kept for myself back then, besides the one I already disclosed in the former post (that is, that I was the author of the piece).

I was contacted by journalists from Il Sole-24 Ore for a comment on the issue, and I was kind enough to explain the matter, after asking the journalists to avoid mentioning my name in their pieces. One reporter asked me to check the physics of the article she was writing, and upon giving a glance at her terrible draft, I decided I would accept their original offer of writing a piece myself, at the condition that my name would not appear. In fact, some colleagues in CDF were not happy with the blogging John Conway and I had done about the issue, and we were identified as the source of the trouble with the New Scientist and Economist papers. I did apologize with them, despite not feeling guilty of any misdemeanor. However, I wanted to have the newspaper write correct physics, but they were evidently unable to do it by themselves. So, for the sake of correct science popularization, I yielded and wrote a piece. The editor at Il Sole, Armando Massarenti, proposed the pseudonym for me – I did not cook that up myself. I must say I was pleased with it. Democrito has first and last letter equal to my last name, and is considered the inventor of the concept of atomism. Atom comes from him: a-temno, “which cannot be cut”.

The result is translated for you here. The original piece, in italian, can be accessed in pdf format by clicking on the icon above.

Comments

1. tomate - October 29, 2008

Incidentally, Democrito is also the name of one of the most active university science student movement in Padua against the 133/137 laws right now (mostly physicists), which was already protesting against Moratti’s law. They have a blog called cervellinfuga. Sorry for the out-of-topic comment.

2. Kea - October 29, 2008

You little devil!

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4. Sunny Kalara - November 2, 2008

I really really enjoyed reading your blog posts about the 2 sigma Higgs and I am glad that you wrote the other article too.

I thought your blog post was very accurate, it didn’t try to hype or over sell the findings. It just described what it was and what you found and why the 2 sigma may or may not be relevant.

I think “almost there” kinds of honest and clear posts about scientific discoveries are very important and keep the excitement in the air.

If you had said that “we see a two sigma effect and we think it is a higgs”, that would have been wrong, but I think what you said was that “we see a two sigma effect, we really would like to see five sigma effect and two sigma effects come and go all the time; but the effect is interesting and we are looking in to it.” That is a very accurate statement and I am glad you shared it with us.

5. dorigo - November 2, 2008

Hi Sunny,

thank you for your appreciation. I am a sceptic, so it is easy for me to tone down any claim of the kind you read about. I did try to give some hints about where a signal of H->tau tau might show up, in case the MSSM signal seen by CDF was not a fluctuation. But of course, it smelled like one, and it was indeed one. No news.

Cheers,
T.

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