Professor Michio Kaku, of City College (part of the City University of New York), is well-known for his work on string theory in the
1960s and 1970s, and best known today for his outreach efforts through his books and his appearances on radio and television. His most recent appearance was a couple of days ago, in an interview on CBS television, which made its way into this CBS news article about the importance of the Higgs particle.
Unfortunately, what that CBS news article says about “why the Higgs particle matters” is completely wrong. Why? Because it’s based on what Professor Kaku said about the Higgs particle, and what he said is wrong. Worse, he presumably knew that it was wrong. (If he didn’t, that’s also pretty bad.) It seems that Professor Kaku feels it necessary, in order to engage the imagination of the public, to make spectacular distortions of the physics behind the Higgs field and the Higgs particle, even to the point of suggesting the Higgs particle triggered the Big Bang.
In doing this, Professor Kaku sows confusion among journalists and the public, and undermines the efforts of serious particle physicists to explain and convey, both vividly and accurately, the science and the excitement of our time. And on what grounds does he justify this? Doesn’t the taxpaying public deserve the truth? Isn’t the truth already exciting enough? And what will the public think of science if, in this information era, the promulgation of falsehoods and near-falsehoods on national media is unanswered by complaints from other scientists?
I’m so frustrated with Professor Kaku’s unfortunate remarks that rather than write more today, I’ll simply direct you to Sean Carroll’s blog — Sean’s response was much more measured and polite than mine would be if I spoke my mind. For now I’ll just conclude by suggesting that Professor Kaku has some serious explaining to do — to his scientific colleagues, to the science journalist that he misled, and to the public.
(Perhaps you will ask me the same question: “Why DOES the Higgs particle matter?” Here’s my own article from July giving the answer; it’s short and condensed, but it’s not false, as my colleagues will attest! For a longer explanation with more details and fewer shortcuts, you can try Sean Carroll’s book or Lisa Randall’s book, or you can poke around on my website for various related articles; there’s the Higgs FAQ, the story of the Higgs discovery, an article on why the Higgs is not related to gravity, or if you’re really ambitious you can try this set of articles [which requires you first read this set] which is suitable for people who once took a little first-year college physics.)