As I think most of us in the field expected, professor Alexander Polyakov was selected from among the nominees as the winner of a
cool $3 million check Fundamental Physics Prize today. Continue reading
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.)
By almost all measures, the Higgs Symposium at the University of Edinburgh, as part of the new Higgs Centre for Theoretical Physics, was a great success. The only negative was that Professor Peter Higgs himself had a bad cold this week, and had to cancel his talk, as well as missing the majority of the talks by others. Obviously all of us in attendance were very disappointed not to hear directly from him, and we wish him a speedy recovery.
Other than this big hole in the schedule, the talks given at the symposium seemed to me to form a coherent summary of where we are right now in our understanding of the Higgs field and particle. They were full of interesting material, and wonderfully complementary to one another. This motivates me to try to provide, for non-experts, some future articles on what the conference attendees had to say. But to write such articles well takes time. So for now, here’s the quick version summarizing the last few talks, along the lines of the summaries I wrote (here and here) of the earlier talks. The slides from all the talks are posted here.
Here we go: Continue reading
Posted in Higgs, LHC Background Info, LHC News, Particle Physics, Quantum Gravity, String Theory
Tagged ExtraDimensions, gravity, Higgs, LHC, LHCb, supersymmetry
The huge Milner prizes for nine well-known scientists, and the controversy they generated, have motivated me to relate a story. It happened during the theorist/experimentalist workshop that was held in early August (see also here) at the Perimeter Institute in Waterloo, Canada. And it illuminates something that many scientists, science commentators and science journalists, as well as science fans in the public, seem to be unaware of, but ought to know.
Before I start, I want to make one thing clear. I am by no means a flag waver for the string theory community; the theory’s been spectacularly over-hyped, and the community’s political control of high-energy physics in many U.S. physics departments has negatively impacted many scientific careers, including my own. On the other hand, I am also not going to tell you that string theory, as a theory, is somehow evil incarnate; I have done a certain amount of string theory research, and not only have I learned a great deal from it that I could not have learned any other way, doing the research had a positive effect on my career. So I feel it is unfortunate that string theory has been a political football, with two violent teams trying to kick the ball toward their opponents’ goal posts. From my perspective, the game is irrational and preposterous, reasonable people were long ago refusing to play it, and it is high time the ball were grabbed by the referee and placed quietly in the middle of the field where it belongs.
My story takes place on the evening of Friday, August 3rd, following the second day of the workshop, which brought together theorists and CMS experimentalists for discussions concerning research strategies at the Large Hadron Collider [LHC]. Continue reading