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May 29, 2007


Francis Sedgemore

"God particle" is a term invented by science journalists who feel they have to compete with "Freddy Star ate my hamster" and the like. Its use has subsequently been taken up by physicists who know that "public outreach" is important, but with their poor communication skills haven't a clue what it actually involves. I really wouldn't get your knickers in a twist about it.

As for the Higgs boson, it is important. Experimental confirmation of its existence, and a reliable measure of its energy (mass), would settle a number of questions about the Standard Model of particle physics, and bring to an end a lot of potentially time-wasting speculation. And don't forget that the Standard Model did away with the so-called "particle zoo" of the 1950s and 60s, rationalising and simplifying high energy physics in the process.

As for your jibe about the employment of physicists, I - a physicist who was a few years ago forced to leave my field of research owing to a lack of funding - could gripe at the vast sums spent on CERN. But I don't.

As a job creation scheme CERN is not particularly cost-effective. If we simply wanted to keep physicists - white coated or otherwise - off the streets, it would surely be better to turn them all into theorists, and supply them with cheap and cheerful Beowulf Cluster systems on which to do their mathematical modelling.

In reality, however, there's only so much theorising one can do, and particle accelerators are good for a lot more than searching for God. Materials scientists and engineers make great use of particle accelerators, and in my field, they are used for studying the detail of physical interactions relevant to atmospheric science and climatology.

So the moral of this story is: don't believe everything you read in the papers!

Mick H

You're being far too modest on behalf of your fellow physicists. "Its [the God particle's] use has subsequently been taken up by physicists who know that "public outreach" is important, but with their poor communication skills haven't a clue what it actually involves." I think they know perfectly well what it involves. Their success in attracting billions in public funding testifies to their public outreach skills.

Francis Sedgemore

Their success in attracting public funding testifies to their success in convincing policymakers of the value of high energy physics. Such lobbying is very different from popular science communication. Unless it impacts on what goes on their dinner plates, or their health, the public take virtually no interest whatsoever in the public funding of science.

Most of the science outreach initiatives related to BIG SCIENCE such as particle physics and astronomy are utter crap. In the case of astronomy, in the British Isles this subject remains associated with Patrick Moore (and possibly Brian May). How uncool can you get? The really good science public outreach you find mostly in much lower-profile fields.

Andrew Duffin

Like Mick, I suspect the only thing the CERN accelerator will prove is that they need an even bigger one.

Big fleas have little fleas, etc etc.


Affable cove, Peter Higgs - in the lovely long-ago, I several times got gently sloshed at his parties. As for your proposition that physicists are prone to essentially crooked attempts to suck at the public teat - well, yes, obviously. In private, admitted; in public, denied. At least that's my experience.


Speaking of "velocity" http://www.galmarley.com/articles/fiat_money.htm.
Those "billions" are keeping a lot of machinists, secretaries, construction trades, and clean fingernail types out of debt and in good standing with their friendly tax collector (and/or bookie).

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