Monday, June 18, 2007

Possible explanation for all the rumors?

Good grief, yet another article about this rumor about the possible discovery of the Higgs! This one from no less than ABC news, which looks like it picked up the story verbatim from Wired.

This stuff is infectious --- despite being told clearly from one of the leaders of the search for the Higgs that no, it's just a rumor, seeing it appear so many times in the media has an effect! Is it possible?

I don't think so. I think the media, like the Queen Mary, is very hard to stop once set in motion. And here's something no one seems to be picking up: that D-zero at Fermilab DID make a discovery of a new particle that was just published. They discovered a baryon called the "cascade b" baryon, having three different kinds of quarks. It only lasts for a few trillionths of a second. Here's a link to that story, which didn't seem to grab national headlines just last week when it was announced. Doesn't it seem likely that THIS was the particle that caused all the rumors?

I do have to admit, however, that what Judy Jackson (the PR person at Fermilab, whom we have interviewed a couple of times) said is actually more notable for what she DIDN'T say:

"We're delighted that there is this level of interest, but we can't say too strongly that there are some stringent criteria for being able to claim one has seen something in a particle physics experiment," said Fermilab spokeswoman Judy Jackson. "There are many examples of things that people thought they have seen that have promptly disappeared."

It does make one curious why she didn't just come out and say "No. It's all a rumor. We didn't find it. We'll let you know," just like John Conway told us.


Josh said...

Hey Clayton, just came across your blog while searching for particle physics documentaries or TV shows (not particularly interested in the String Theory Watered Down "Elegant Universe" that PBS has). I came across a post where you interviewed Dr. Higgs, and it left me spellbound. I really cannot wait for this project to 'land.' Wish you all the best!

PS good on you for dispelling the whole Higgs Boson myth even if no one picked your blog up on the radar. ;)

Martin said...

As a former particle physicist and current science journalist, I think it's seriously unlikely that the cascade-b discovery has anything to do with the Higgs rumours. The analyses are so different and there were some quite specific details about the rumours.

Also, John Conway is a CDF physicist, the rumours are about D0. While I have little doubt that they are no more than rumours, he couldn't officially confirm or deny that.

Clayton said...

Thanks for the kind thoughts, Josh! And thanks for your comments, Martin --- that's good to know about the cascade-b. As for the rest, I wasn't aware that there were any specific details in the rumors. From what I've read it's very vague, with people seeming to fill in the gaps with guesses that then get passed along. And it's true, we are in more contact with CDF folks, but it seems hard to believe that someone on one side of the ring wouldn't have SOME inkling about what's happening on the other side, despite the secrecy between the two experiments. Maybe that's not the case. And either way, you're right, John could not "officially" confirm or deny anything from D0.

Martin said...

Good luck with the film by the way, I'm looking forward to it!

Filipe Correia said...

The reason for the rumors is just that the D0 experiment has observed some "events" that some people in the D0 team interpret as being the Higgs, while others think it's just a statistical fluctuation. The same happened a few years ago at Cern's LEP near the end of the scheduled run-time. The run-time was then extended for a few months, with no positive results. Finally, at the end of 2000 LEP was shut down and Tevatron took over as the most powerfull collider in the world.

I guess the same is happening now with the LHC around the corner.