Bump Hunting (Part 3??)

By John Conway | March 9, 2007 11:22 am

I guess I never would have expected that the story of our little bump in the mass spectrum in our search for the Higgs could have taken on such a life of its own. After my initial presentation in Aspen in January, within our tightly-knit field of experimental particle physics there was certainly a wave of interest, which crested and then subsided in February. But by then, after my accounts here in CV, the mainstream media wheels began to turn and we have had coverage last week in New Scientist and now a sort of unattributed blurb in this week’s Economist.

This past week I spoke on the phone with Dennis Overbye from the New York Times, who is headed to CERN next week. He is a very sharp guy, and zeroed right in on the issues, both with this story and that of the impending startup of the LHC at CERN and the longer term future in this country, including the possibility of hosting the ILC here some day.

And I got a call from the Neue Zurcher Zeitung yesterday, though only had a short time to talk. His thrust seemed to be along the lines of challenging the idea that physicists should be carrying on scientific discourse in the blogosphere. My own attitude is sure, why not? Our obligation within our large collaborations to our colleagues is to honor the bylaws for the publication of our results, which undergo a stringent review process, but then when “blessed” I think we all feel free to show and dicuss the results, with the caveat that they are “preliminary” and may change before appearing finally in a peer-reviewed publication. I think it is wonderful to have another forum for this discourse and it’s even better that the public (who foot the bill for all this) get to see some of it happening, and even participate. Scientists, especially in our field of particle physics, need to communicate to the public just how fundamental the questions we address are, and how close we are to breaking open the next layer of the structure of matter, energy, space, and time.

But I fear that the mainstream media coverage of this has gone off the rails. We as high energy physicists are certainly excited about making, at long last, an observation of the Higgs, and perhaps starting to get a glimpse of dark matter particles produced in our collisions. These are the great pressing questsions of our day in our field. The answers could emerge within the next few years, and whatever it is we uncover will be, I bet, a great surprise to us all. We’re keeping our eyes open and looking in lots of places. And we’ll probably get a lot more “false positives” along the tortuous path to full understanding. That’s how science works. I do hope the media don’t seize upon every little bump in the road (so to speak) or there could ensue some fatigue with the topic.

But here is the bottom line, in my view:

  • What we have in our hands now, this little 2-sigma excess in the tau pair mass spectrum, is just that.
  • These things happen all the time, and oftentimes evaporate just as fast as they appear.
  • We need more data, we have it, and we shall soon have it analyzed.
  • CDF sees an excess in tau pairs, and the D0 experiment does not – they see a deficit where we have our excess!
  • CDF has seen a beautiful (no pun intended) signal for Z -> bb, and in that mass spectrum they could in principle see the Higgs but in
    my opinion it seems like they aren’t quite as sensitive as the tau pair analysis, and would not have been expected to see anything yet.

  • D0 has an interesting wiggle in their lower-statistics analysis of Z -> bb and it would be fascinating to see their latest data.
  • If we don’t see it soon the LHC will in the next couple of years.

We’ve been waiting a long time for the Higgs…stay tuned…

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Science and the Media
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