So, did CERN find a Higgs Boson?

I just finished watching particle physicist Fabiola Gianotti on CERN's live webcast, talking about the hunt for the Higgs Boson. I'll be writing more about this later today or tomorrow, but I know a lot of you are really curious to find out what this public announcement was all about. Shorter version: The public announcement wasn't really an announcement of anything. Instead, it was more like a year-in-review presentation. CERN has made some good progress in the hunt for the Higgs Boson, they've been able to narrow their search to small field, and they have seen some potentially interesting things happening within that field. But there's not really enough here to say, one way or the other, whether the Higgs Boson is there. What they can say: 2012 is likely to be a really exciting year for particle physics, as researchers dive into experiments that will help them figure out what those "interesting things" really are.


  1. So, tl;dr: In 2012 physicians find the “God” particle triggering the end of the world, as foretold by the Mayans, since there are “Things Man Was Not Meant to Know”(TM)

    1. I hate that Mayan calendar nonsense so much. I’m all for a good DOOM prophecy, but none of the Mayans thought they were predicting the end of the world, it just seemed like as good a place as any to stop making calendars. In fact, they made a lot of notes about stuff beyond that date, including a Mayan king who thought we would all be celebrating his 3000th birthday in a millennia from now. Sooooo, maybe they weren’t so good at the prophecy anyway?

      The whole thing is like a mistranslation of a mistranslation of a mistranslation. Just cut out the middle man and predict the end times yourself. I’d buy it before 2012.

      1. I agree. After all, nobody declares the world is gonna end when they rip off the last month on their calendar.

  2. Ah – a sales pitch for continued funding. I’m sure my teammate Procrustes 17 will have something to say at our site –

  3. According to Phil Plait, @BadAstronomer , CERN stated it’s a 2.3 sigma, or about a 97% confidence level that they found the Higgs Boson at 126 GeV.

    1. Yup. But 97% confidence level means something different in particle physics than it does to you and me. There’s a much higher risk of false positives in that field than in, say, biology. More on this later. 

    2. I remember reading recently that for a result to be acceptable in particle physics it needs to to 5 SIGMA (and reproducible at 5 SIGMA).

      1. IOW, “all but certain.”  That’s how we like our photons, protons, neutrons and electrons.  So, we should hold Higgs to the same standard.  It’s not a bad thing.

  4. One of the best examples of the scientific mindset is the giddy gleam the physicists get in their eyes when interviewers ask how they would react to a failure to find it.

    Rather than some haughty resentment at such a fundamental mistake in the standard model that schadenfreude-hungry reporters sometimes expect, it’s like the experimenters and theorists would have found a lost continent to explore, an unexpected bounty of opportunities for adventure.

    1. Indeed. For anyone with a proper grasp of things, not finding, or finding it outside any sensible energy range, the higgs would be a bigger deal then actually finding it and slotting it neatly into place on the model.

  5. So, if that’s the shorter version, it really was just a fairly lengthy presentation at CERN lacking much relevant or new details, and not answering the question everyone was wondering about? Okay.  I know scientists do that sort of thing, so yeah, I like the post, as much as this may sound snarky, I appreciate the symmetry.

    I saw another version of the story elsewhere that just led to a blank PDF as summary.

  6. My concern for its discovery is that the energy range given would have been covered by the Tevatron, and no joy there. So it would be down to the detectors and the data processors.

  7. Requiring a result to be extremely close to 100% probable, means that there are no viable alternative explanations.  

    In this case, that would be another known particle masquerading as a Higgs for some reason: it got excited, we misread it, we set up our experiment wrong, we didn’t know it could do that, there is something other than a Higgs doing this, the equipment failed, etc.  We want to rule out ALL that other shit.

    Stats are not about proving a certainty.  Stats are all about guilt by association.

    The null hypothesis is all about *disproving the non-existence of a relationship.*  How’s that for doublespeak?  Well, think about it.  It is a double-negative for a reason.  Stats can’t tell you, “This is a cat.”  Stats tell you, “After repeated sampling, one may infer that there are no plausible alternative explanations that this is some other animal, and so we may say that it is 99.99999% probable that this is a cat.”

    So, scientists might someday say, “After repeated sampling and adjusting for design effects and taking into account face validity, one may infer that the Higgs boson may be reliably observed at 129 GeV, under X conditions, with a 99.9999999999999% certainty.”

    And failure to find a particle that fits that description just means… the show must go on.  That scientist only has a gleam in his eye because he has funding and a hot wife.  Take those conditions away, and I can say with 100% certainty that he will be downcast and depressed that he never found that damn Higgs.

  8. Just curious how our lives will change if they do in fact find their unicorn? Now? Now can we have our flying cars?

  9. Very kind of Higgs to be there to bail out the credibility of LHC and its secure funding. But at 2.3 ~ 1.9 Sigma? So the yes/no is still held in the clutches of the funding strategy. But surely put your champagne away in the deep freezer! Also, the strategy has to be excellent otherwise they too shall see the funds drying up like it happened with Fermilab. I as an amateur researcher fully agree with Professor Hawking. The reasons for mass and gravity are totally different than Higgs. For example, faster than light Neutrinoes and Higgs both cannot coexist — either one has to be wrong. It’s DCE research and superluminal speed which has the potential of breaking current scientific barriers, rather than finding a nebulous statistical dual peak for a Higgs, which well could be due to many other anomalies, one that LHC could not decipher is that of the UFOs.

  10. Does a Higgs-Boson mean the end of String Theory? It’s been my lay understanding that it is at least harmful to that theory.

  11. I think the Higgs-Boson verifies the Big Bang, which I accepted at the beginning of high school many eons ago, but by the end of high schools (and an “A” in physics) I understood Einstein’s contradictions (the universe is round, and the speed of light is a constant) and no longer accepted the Big Bang theory as the beginning of existence.

    If those of us who believe in a “dimension-creating particle” as opposed to the “mass-additive particle” — are correct, then look for Geneva to disappear — sad, but few would miss the destruction of that WTO bunch?

    But if they find it, then we were wrong…..

  12. I think if we found the Higgs Boson it would damage string theory to some extent, thought it would still be valid theory in the sense that I don’t think finding a mass particle will invalidate it, the Higgs can just be a particle we collapse in order to to observe mass in our limited dimensional perspective.
    I’ll be very upset if particle physicists manage to explain everything, the implications that has for the philosophy of science are very boring and grim, hard determinism, consciousness as just a aggregate of complex electro-chemical processes.
    I require extra-dimensions/quantum mechanics magic to make the life seem worthwhile in the universe.
    P.S I’m did physics for a while but I’m no expert, I’m just a philosopher.

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