4th of July Higgs Update

By Sean Carroll | June 22, 2012 9:46 am

That is to say, CERN is going to share with us what the most recent LHC data are saying about the Higgs (and whatever else might have popped up, I guess) in a seminar on July 4th at CERN itself, just before the ICHEP conference in Melbourne. Excerpt from the press release:

If and when a new particle is discovered, ATLAS and CMS will need time to ascertain whether it is the long sought Higgs boson, the last missing ingredient of the Standard Model of particle physics, or whether it is a more exotic form of the boson that could open the door to new physics.

“It’s a bit like spotting a familiar face from afar,” said CERN Director General Rolf Heuer, “sometimes you need closer inspection to find out whether it’s really your best friend, or actually your best friend’s twin.”


There’s been a lot of talking back and forth about the ethics of trafficking in rumors, and I don’t mean the jokey kind. Personally I think it’s pretty simple: if a collaboration of thousands of physicists wants to keep their results quiet until they are ready to announce them, that’s completely their right. I’m not going to pass along anonymous tips — if the tippers didn’t understand that they were doing something wrong, they wouldn’t stay anonymous. The rumors aren’t part of keeping the public informed; there’s plenty of time for that once the actual results are released.

Which will happen very soon! Whatever the answers may be, it’s a great accomplishment for the LHC folks to have come this far.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Higgs, Science, Top Posts
  • Ali

    I’ll be waiting for the amazing and relieving news!

  • Mukund

    Hoping for “New Physics”!

  • prasad

    The ICHEP organizers must be quite irritated right now. Then again, the expectation that CERN would make possibly its biggest announcements ever half the globe away probably never was realistic.

    Also, every LHC collaborator is bound ethically by the internal rules, but there’s no reason at all why someone like Peter Woit should feel himself similarly bound. He should feel free to put his rumors on WikiLeaks for all the ethical difference it makes *him*. To say different is to flirt with the notion that we all have some deep reason to respect confidentiality agreements corporations make with their employees, or to keep American Idol results secret should they happen to become available to us.

  • http://darkbuzz.blogspot.com/ Roger

    Only the leaders of the collaboration have decided to suppress info. This is a tax-funded project. The people have a right to know how their money is being spent. If they found more evidence for the Higgs, don’t keep us in suspense.

  • James

    @ roger:
    These sorts of arguments are absurd. It’s not as if there’s some massive conspiracy to cover up whatever’s being discovered. The teams working on this are putting together the results and all will be revealed in good time – by which I mean under two weeks! What are we, five-year-olds who can’t wait till Christmas to open our presents? Of course everyone wants to know what’s happening, and rumours will inevitably abound, but that doesn’t mean people have to disrespect the scientific team currently working to bring us the results. Certainly no-one should risk compromising the integrity of the science.

  • Richard E.

    I have found the argument that journalists (including bloggers) shouldn’t publish Higgs rumors to be remarkably naive — if journalists are provided with information that is interesting, they publish it: that’s pretty much what journalists do.

    There may be occasions when they withhold information e.g. when it would put life at risk, risk an ongoing police investigation, or harm an innocent party (such as publishing the name of a child abuse victim) but none of these apply here. Expecting that science bloggers will not publish Higgs rumors is like expecting a financial journalist not to publish a story about a planned merger, even if it is not “public”.

    That said, I think the inability of large collaborations to keep things quiet until they agree on the result means the public has to take a more nuanced view of science stories that break before both peer review, or even consensus within the collaboration.

    In many way though, scientists tend to have a more friendly relationship with journalists than people in other fields – the reporting is rarely “adversarial”, and we are extensively consulted on stories, often to the point of being asked to read over the completed article, although anything that looks like “copy approval” in anathema in most areas of journalism — so it can come as a bit of a surprise when a journalist publishes something we might prefer to be kept private.

  • http://darkbuzz.blogspot.com/ Roger

    James says: “risk compromising the integrity of the science”. Is this a joke? This issue is just about accumulating enough inverse femtobarns to go from 4-sigma confidence to 5-sigma. The data could have been continually made public on a real-time basis without compromising anything. A couple of leaders have decided to try to milk this for some media publicity event, but let’s not pretend that suppressing data somehow promotes science integrity.

  • meh

    Well Roger, I personally think it does promote science integrity. You seem to be looking at it from the perspective of someone who understands science. The problem is that most of the population doesn’t. And when you’re talking about something this big, you really want to make sure before making a fool of yourself. After all the hard work put into it, I’d say they’ve earned the right to milk it for a publicity event.

  • tt

    maybe you shouldn’t announce anything about the announcement.
    you dont want to get people speculating.

  • MonkeyDeathcar

    Hmm, I figured they would wait till the end of July since my vacation won’t end up there till then. I’m a very important person you know.

  • Jeff

    Hmm, announcing a possible European Higgs discovery on America’s birthday — underscoring America’s failure to lead in 21st century HEP. SSC, we hardly knew ye…

  • Brian Mingus

    Doing something wrong? Seriously? Who are you to pass moral judgement on something like that. For all you know the benefits of the publicity far outweight any “harm” done. Please quantify.

  • http://www.uweb.ucsb.edu/~criedel/ Jess Riedel

    Your position is defensible but this

    > if the tippers didn’t understand that they were doing something wrong, they wouldn’t stay anonymous.

    is an obviously bad argument. Tippers are trying to avoid retribution. In different circumstances these people are called “wistleblowers”, and we don’t take their desire for anonymity as prima facie evidence that they are acting immorally.

    The gag rules exist for one reason: to protect the reputations of the collaborations. The collaborations are free to do this, and it’s probably immoral for members of the collaboration to be tipsters if they have explicitly agreed to the gag order, but it’s not obviously immoral for outsiders to take these tips and publicize them.

  • http://www.math.columbia.edu/~woit/blog Peter Woit

    About the accusation that my blog has compromised the scientific integrity of the LHC experiments by revealing a couple weeks before the public announcement that they are seeing much the same thing this year as last year. I suppose this is possible. It’s also possible that a two week delay in this news about the Higgs could set back the research of some young particle physicist, delaying his or her discovery that the Higgs field could be used to defend against attack by the Romulans. This delay could be just enough to allow the Romulans to destroy our civilization. Something to keep in mind.

  • MKS

    Keep up the Higgs porn :3

  • Richard Engkraf

    I think that most people underestimate the extreme complexity of not just the Large Hadron Collider, but the data analysis which takes place all across the planet every day that the aforementioned LHC is running. Give them time people! Let’s get it right!

  • Zerub Roberts

    Will the announcement be streamed live?

  • http://sievemaria.com sievemaria

    They better have something !

  • Christian Takacs

    It’s obvious they think they’ve found something. They would not say, “Let’s wait until a major holiday so we can admit we didn’t find anything!” That would not be very rational, as it would underscore they had nada, and draw further negative reaction.
    It is also irrational not to have people speculating what may or may not have been found. Telling people not to speculate about purple elephants with pink spots, is asking, no… begging people to speculate about purple elephants with pink spots. It’s also a cheap ploy used by advertisers to drum up attention to their dramatic ‘event’…or spectacle.
    Since I don’t think the Higgs mechanism or particle have any validity except as a “spontaneous silliness making” fudge to prop up the standard model, I’m curious what they may have actually found. Maybe the LHC folks have discovered a way for their cooling coils to make quark flavored ice cream!!

  • Richard E.

    Christian — July 4 is only a “major holiday” in one country in the world, so far as I know.

    Peter — I suspect that Matt Strassler might actually have a better pipeline into the experiments than you do, and that the situation is more nuanced than you realize. My guess is that whatever they found (even if it was a null result), CERN would want to manage the release of that information with a press conference in Geneva, so the simple existence of the July 4 event probably means very little, in terms of the likely content of any announcement.

  • coolstar

    As with so many things, Peter Woit is right, and you are wrong.

  • http://slackwire.blogspot.com JW Mason

    Can anyone point to a good summary of the scientific significance of the Higgs boson, accessible to nonphysicists but more detailed/comprehensive than the usual magazine stuff?

    My impression is that the importance of the particle is mainly just that it is the last missing piece of the standard model, and that its significance in itself has been rather wildly exaggerated in a lot of popular accounts. Not that this isn’t exciting regardless, of course, but it would be nice to know what the actual scientific content is behind claims like “the Higgs explains why particles have mass.”

  • Entropy

    @ JW Mason

    I think most Internet stuff is either “celebrities have a harder time moving through the Higgs paparazzi” or “the associated b-jet production for the lightest Higgs should be visible for values of tan(beta) > 50 at the LHC in the MSSM due in part to mass degeneracy between the neutral variants. Also, Goldstone bosons.” So, I’ll try to summarize here.

    All fundamental particles ought to be massless under the Higgs-less Standard Model. It is in fact true that an isolated fundamental particle at rest ought to have 0 mass without introducing some Higgs-like mechanism. In a vacuum far away from fields, a given particle’s potential energy ought to be 0, and so (by mass energy equivalence) its mass ought to be 0. You could say, well all particles just carry around this thing called mass and shove it into your equations. Unfortunately, if you do this, you end up with insane results like the probability of two W bosons scattering off each other being greater than 1. The Higgs is also the cause of electroweak symmetry breaking, which was a puzzle that amounts to “why are the Weak bosons, W and Z, so massive while the photon is massless, but all three bosons are part of the same electroweak force.”

    The only consistent way to add mass is a field with nonzero vacuum expectation (ie, no nearby sources, the middle of nowhere, even so the potential with respect to this field for a particle that feels it is >0). This means that all particles carry around some energy by virtue of always feeling this field’s potential (except, of course, massless particles like the photon that don’t feel it at all, like a neutral particle in an electric field).

    The Higgs is simply the quantum of this field, like the photon for electromagnetism, its direct signature, and the only accessible way of confirming its existence.

    The Higgs is a critical piece of many proposed standard model extensions. For example, if there are not 5 Higgs (5 things that do things similar to what the SM Higgs does), supersymmetry, fairly called the most popular extension, is in serious trouble.

    If the Higgs is not precisely what the Standard Model expects (all* the other particles discovered have so far been disappointingly well-behaved) then it is a powerful clue to how the Standard Model is wrong.

    The Higgs also allows direct measurements of particles masses. Basically, the more often a Higgs decays to a given pair of particles or interacts with a particle, the more strongly those particles feel its field, and hence the more massive they are. It is extremely difficult to measure quark masses, since you can never get them out of interacting systems (hadrons) where the overall mass is often much greater than that of the quarks due to the interaction energies and kinetic energies of the quarks (can’t measure rest mass easily if everything is always moving). So, we get an excellent idea of what the, say, down quark mass is by looking at how strongly the Higgs interacts with down quarks. This is important for understanding exactly what the mass scalings are for the fundamental particles, so we can try to find out why they are what they are (an equation, any equation, that reproduces them would be a great first step).

    The Higgs would also confirm that spin-0 fundamental particles can in fact exist (a spin-0 particle is one whose wave function has no intrinsic angular momentum…sorry there’s really no better way to say that…it can’t rotate about an axis like the daily rotation of the Earth). Spin-0 particles are kinda icky, because they require a great deal of fine-tuning to prevent their masses from going off to infinity (this is related to the ickiness of renormalization).

    Finally, the Higgs having the mass it does (hopefully!), 125 GeV, allows the Standard Model’s predictions to be valid at any reasonable energy. If it were heavier, we would know that the Standard Model at some point, if you throw two particles together hard enough, breaks down and becomes nonsensical.

    * Except neutrinos to some degree. The Standard Model thinks they’re massless, but in fact their masses are just very, very close to zero.

  • Patrick
  • jpd

    hey patrick congratulations you gained one! but maybe you shouldn’t celebrate too much

  • Christian Takacs

    @ JW Mason,

    I do think Entropy Says did a pretty good job with his explanation of Higgs in relation to the Standard Model. Please note however, the Standard Model did NOT agree with experiment until the Higgs Mechanism…the ‘extension’ was ‘tacked on’. When I first started exploring physics I also had a great deal of respect for the scientific integrity and accomplishment of moden day physicists… then I looked under the hood and discovered the horror of what was making things hum along so smoothly. The Higgs Mechanism is not a mechanism of any sort. It is a piece of mathematical fudge designed solely for the purpose of making SU(2) gauge theory (which predicts ZERO masses) pretend to be a symmetry that can be broken for no reason… spontaneously…and thus claiming to agree with experiment…miraculously. With nonsense like this posing as ‘physics’, its a wonder they aren’t still playing with epicycles, or ‘spontaneously’ symmetry breaking lead into gold with their new found powers of alchemy.

    On July 4th, a lot of very nervous physicists are going to be praying to whatever improbability function they worship that a Higgs is found….if they do find one, it will truly be one upping Jesus Christ, as he only supposedly turned water into wine, the physicists are going to try to turn their bad math into an actual physical particle. I wish them all the luck in the world with their reality symmetry breaking. I’m buying popcorn for the cosmic spectacle I hope to enjoy.

  • Eric Habegger

    @Peter Woit
    ” It’s also possible that a two week delay in this news about the Higgs could set back the research of some young particle physicist, delaying his or her discovery that the Higgs field could be used to defend against attack by the Romulans. This delay could be just enough to allow the Romulans to destroy our civilization. Something to keep in mind.”

    I think you probably meant the evil Kardashians. And we’re already too late. The monstrous Kim has already destroyed our civilization.

  • Ryan Onstott

    I think everybody (or most everybody) understands that whatever they discover and choose to call the Higgs will not be end and close of discussion on the Standard Model. New information will eventually transform it all out of all recognition.

    Whatever the Higgs is, it is not a “relativity” moment where a whole subset of the universe becomes more clear, but just another data point that clears some things up, confuses others and probably eventually gets lost as better ideas come about.

  • James

    @ 26 Christian Takacs:

    What are you talking about? “Standard Model did NOT agree with experiment until the Higgs Mechanism…the ‘extension’ was ‘tacked on’”…
    The Standard Model IS the Higgs mechanism. It didn’t exist before Brout, Englert et al (and didn’t exist afterwards, either, until Weinberg et al).

  • Doug Little

    Christian Takacs the poster child for the Dunning-Kruger effect.

  • http://slackwire.blogspot.com JW Mason



    It does feel as if the heat:light ratio is unusually high in the popular-science world on this one. Well, just have to wait for Sean’s book, I guess…

  • Christian Takacs

    Instead of trying to be clever without showing wit and attempting to be rude, Why don’t you look up some other conditions in the DSM that you haven’t already mentioned before. You need new material and seem to enjoy reading about abnormal psychology , it will keep you busy and entertained, write a nice report too while you are at it.

    There is always a before and after with theories. The Standard Model is no exception. They don’t come about spontaneously like the miraculous symmetry breakings you would seem to accept. The Standard model didn’t start with Higgs Mechanism, and it most likely won’t immediately end with it either. Already alternates are being proposed… higgsless standard models of several types are being developed. It most likely won’t make much difference though. Until physics regains far firmer footing in some kind of actual mechanical theory based in causality, just adding more complicated mathematical abstraction with virtual particles , imaginary spaces, and non-physical physics in background independent fields is not going to make any progress. Before you get upset with me for bashing what I consider an imaginary particle (which according to you the Standard Model can’t do without)… a dangerous position you are taking by the way, but you are the one claiming there is no Standard Model without it, … why don’t you wait until July 4th and see what happens. If I am right, and no Higgs is found, you most likely will be looking for a new theory.. If you are right, you can tell me “aha! you were wrong, mathematical fudges actually can become physical particles!” There is also however another possibility, they find something, don’t know what the hell it is, and want several more billion dollars to build another collider to figure it out…at which point I will quote David Hannum to you.

  • Doug Little

    Yes Christian you know best 😉

  • James

    @Christian, you seem to be a little confused as to what is meant by “The Standard Model”. In general use, it refers either to the standard model (in lower-case) of particle physics, consisting of a bunch of fermions interacting via an SU(3)xSU(2)xU(1) gauge theory, or it refers to the SU(2)xU(1) part of it, ie. the GSW theory of weak interactions, complete with Higgs mechanism for symmetry-breaking. Either way, the Higgs is an integral part of it, not something that’s tacked on.
    Certainly, you could say that the Standard Model will be falsified if we find no Higgs, but who cares? In fact, great! We have to think of a new solution. This is the sort of thing that’s often assumed to be a disaster by those outside of science, but by almost no-one within it.

    What you seem to be referring to, by “Standard Model”, is simply the current best model at any particular time, and you’re saying that it has always needed updating. Well, yes, that’s how science progresses, and with each step, we get a little better understanding of the subject. There’s nothing profound about this.
    You may have missed it, but physicists aren’t wedded to the Standard Model in any sense – they’ve spent much of the last thirty years looking for alternatives. Now (some of) those alternatives are being put to the test.

  • Pingback: Nächste große Higgs-Enthüllung in fünf Tagen « Skyweek Zwei Punkt Null()

  • Steve Bergman

    I remember a Steven Weinberg interview from a couple of years ago in which he was asked how physicists felt upon the prospect of future results forthcoming from the LHC. He responded immediately with “Terrified!”, explaining that the Standard Model has been so experimentally successful that theoretical physicists are in a quandary regarding moving the theory forward into new physics. Quantum Gravity, etc. He was afraid that the LHC would find the Higgs Boson… and nothing else. If Higgs is confirmed at this point, that’s exactly where we would be, for now. At last word (December 2011?), there was no evidence at all for Supersymmetry or extra dimensions. And nothing else that was “off-the-wall”.
    Personally, I’m a lot more interested in the things people *aren;t* buzzing about. Susy. Hints of extra spatial dimensions. Or some really weird “Hmmm, that’s odd…” result somewhere.
    Barring that, it would be fun if Higgs was ruled out on 4 July.

  • Pingback: Hunting for Higgses | Cosmic Variance | Discover Magazine()


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

Cosmic Variance

Random samplings from a universe of ideas.

About Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. His research interests include theoretical aspects of cosmology, field theory, and gravitation. His most recent book is The Particle at the End of the Universe, about the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson. Here are some of his favorite blog posts, home page, and email: carroll [at] cosmicvariance.com .


See More

Collapse bottom bar