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Anybody with an AAAS subscription willing to do me a favor ? February 20, 2009

Posted by dorigo in news, personal, physics, science.
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Here I am, once again improperly and shamelessly using this public arena for my personal gain. This time, I need help from one of you who has a subscription to the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

It so happens that a couple of weeks ago I gave a phone interview to Adrian Cho about the LHC, the Tevatron, and the hunt for the Higgs boson. We discussed various scenarios, the hunt going on at the Tevatron, and other stuff. I am curious to know what Adrian made of our half-hour chat. Today, I realized that the article has been published, but I have no access to the it, since it is available at the Science Magazine site only for AAAS members.

I have to say, Adrian should have been kind enough to forward me a copy of the piece that benefitted from the interiew. I am sure he forgot to do it and once he reads this he will regret it, or maybe he thinks I am a member of the AAAS already… Adrian, you are excused. But this leaves me without the article for a while, and I am a curious person… So if you have an AAAS account and you are willing to break copyright rules, I beg you to send me a file with the article! My email is dorigo (at) pd (dot) infn (dot) it. Thank you!

And, to show you just how serious I am when I say I am shameless, here’s more embarassment: if you are a big shot of the AAAS, do you by any chance give free membership to people who do science outreach to the sole benefit of the advancement of Science  ?

UPDATE: I am always amazed by the power of internet and blogging. These days you just have to ask and you will be given! So, thanks to Peter and Senth, I got to read the article by Adrian Cho.

I must admit I am underwhelmed. Not by the article, which is incisive and to the point. Only, I should know that science journalists quote you for 1% of what you tell them, and use the rest to get informed and write a better piece. In fact, the piece starts by quoting me:

“Three years ago, nobody would have bet a lot that the Tevatron
would be competitive [with the LHC] in the Higgs search. Now I think the tables are almost turned,” says Tommaso Dorigo, a physicist from the University of Padua in Italy who works with the CDF particle detector fed by the Tevatron and the CMS particle detector fed by the LHC.

… but that is the only quote. I can console myself by noting I am in quite good company: experiment spokespersons, Fermilab director Pier Oddone, CERN spokesperson James Gillies…

Information control from CERN January 27, 2009

Posted by dorigo in news, physics, science.
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A piece by Matthew Chalmers titled “CERN: the view from inside” has appeared yesterday on Physics World’s web site. It is an insightful interview to James Gillies, head of communications at CERN.

The interview focuses mostly on the media coverage of the LHC startup of last September 10th, and the steps that made it a global success, with an estimated exposure of one billion people. The point is made that now “LHC” can be used out of context without problems, but I hope the revenues to science are larger than that.

More interesting to us science bloggers is the description of how information on the September 19th incident was provided by CERN, and the measures that were put in place to prevent unwanted, uncontrolled news from leaking out in blogs and other unauthorized media. The LHC logbook was edited, pictures of the incident were password-protected. I do not think this is too worrysome: the management decided it was the best thing to do under the exceptional circumstances, and I do not blame them for being tight.

The piece ends up discussing the restrictive policy of the lab and its experiments to blogging. The point is made that unconfirmed rumors damage science, but the matter is not really discussed in detail in any way. People keep claiming that discussion of unconfirmed signals is nocuous to Science, but I continue to hear that it is nocuous to their interests. Do director generals want to be the ones releasing important lab information to protect us, or to protect their chair ? Do principal investigators insist that results are released only after a publication is sent to the journal to avoid waves of imprecise physics from being distributed to unarmed citizens, or to increase their exposure when they make an announcement ?

I insist on being naive on this matter. I think that scientific results on basic science do not belong to their discoverers, nor to the experimental collaboration: they, as much as the data they are based upon, belong to the people.

In the Physics World interview, Gillies claims that the lab will act to counter the public discussion of not-yet-confirmed three-sigma effects (the article  mentions this corresponds to a “less than 1% chance for a statistical fluke”, but I guess it was Matthew to get this inaccurate to simplify matters for his numerically-challenged audience -the probability  is actually 0.3%). Well, I think the laboratory will have to be very careful to get down to the level of bloggers: the CERN management seems to talk and think as if blogging was a controllable phenomenon, but believe me, it ain’t. Not until they close the whole internet thing down.

In May 2007 an anonymous comment left in my blog on a large signal of supersymmetric Higgs decays seen by the D0 collaboration in events with four b-quark jets started a runaway phenomenon which ended on the New York Times and on Slate, plus other media around the world. The D0 collaboration was not happy about it, but what could they do ? The answer is simple: nothing. I wonder whether the CERN experiments have aces up their sleeves instead…

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.

World Conference of Science Journalists 2009 October 28, 2008

Posted by dorigo in news, science, travel.
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The sixth World Conference of Science Journalists 2009 will be held at Central Hall, Westminster, in London from June 30th to July 3rd, 2009. According to the banner in the conference site, the conference

“will bring established and aspiring reporters, writers and science communicators from around the world to debate, network, develop their professional skills and report on the latest advances science and technology.”

I am quite pleased to have been invited, since the event will be the first of the kind I allow myself to follow. I will be one of the three opening speakers of Session V, which will then be followed by an open discussion. It will focus on the LHC as a case study for science reporting, and how this may change in a world where there are increasingly more otulets for information and commentary. I think the chair of my session will be Matin Durani, editor of Physics World. A list of confirmed speakers is here (darn it, where’s my name?)

This should be an interesting event for me also because lately I have been fiddling with the idea of plunging in the publishing world myself. So far, if you exclude the about 350 scientific publications which bear my name (often concealed inside a long list), I only published:

  • a few dozens photographs (some made the cover) in the italian magazine “Scacco!”, a chess publication which had maybe a few thousand copies sold monthly, now terminated. This was 1987.
  • Also in 1987, an interview with Grandmaster Ulf Andersson. Again, in “Scacco!”.
  • I interviewed Viswanathan Anand, then just become Junior World Champion, in 1988. Not published though… But here is an account.
  • Last year (on March 18, 2007) I published, under the pseudonym “democrito“, a 5-column piece titled “In cerca della particella Dio” (oh well, I did not choose the title!) for Il Sole-24 Ore, a daily newspaper in Italy.
  • I must be forgetting something! Ah, lousy memory…

Anyway, I will most definitely like to travel to London. London is always pleasant, despite the horrible weather – I have been there twice last year, not even once in 2008. I think I will bring my family with me this time.