Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Rumor Mill

A couple of weeks ago I was at Northwestern, where I teach, getting ready for a screening of some of my students' work. I got an email that read "interesting article." Included was a link to an article on Slate, the online magazine. The title? "Quantum Scoop: The Holy Grail of Particle Physics May Already Have Been Found."

Ulp --- !! Huh??

It gives a nice summary of the situation in the first couple of paragraphs, highlighting all the press the Higgs boson has been garnering of late. Then it goes on to say

"A rumor flying around physics departments these last few weeks claims that physicists working at the Tevatron, an accelerator located outside of Chicago, have found something new. Originally passed by word of mouth and private e-mail, the rumor made it into the blogosphere May 28, with an anonymous comment on the blog of a particle physicist living in Venice, Italy. Since then, the rumor has spread."

Naturally, I ran outside and started doing some phone calling. I then ran back inside and dashed off an email to our friends at Fermilab. I mean, after all --- we're in touch with the people leading the search for the Higgs boson. Surely they would have at least given us a phone call? Email? Letter? No? It honestly wasn't too hard to imagine: they're excited, working feverishly, checking and cross-checking, and maybe the last thing they would do is stop and think "oh, yeah, we should get in touch with those guys making the documentary." As I've mentioned before, sometimes I feel as though I have to continually remind them that we're still here.

So I got an email back from John Conway pretty quickly. He said he was curious about it all --- a science writer from the NYTimes had emailed him earlier. He wanted me to send him the link. I did, and he wrote back that "the rumor had been flying around for several weeks." He said, quite directly, "we don't have anything like that, I can assure you."

So, I breathed a sigh of relief. But at the same time, I must confess I was disappointed. I had gotten a glimpse of the kind of moment a documentary filmmaker dreams of, only to have it disappear as quickly as a decaying subatomic particle (I must really apologize for that analogy).

But two things gave me encouragement. The first was another line from John a few days later that said "the hunt is heating up, who knows what we'll find..." and the second was his assurance that "We will let you know, I promise!"

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