As we approach the December 13 news conference to update the search for the Standard Model Higgs particle (the simplest possible Higgs particle) we are starting to see lots of news stories about it. And they’re all wonderfully misleading.
I love this quote from the BBC: “But there is an even more intriguing possibility: that [the Higgs particle] may not exist at all, at least in its simplest form.”
This is a lot like saying: “Maybe the earth has no trees at all, at least not maple trees.” Or “Maybe children on earth do not play games at all, at least not football.” Or “Maybe Picasso did not paint any pictures at all, at least not the Mona Lisa.”
If the simplest form of the Higgs particle does not exist in nature, that will surprise no one in the field. There are hundreds of serious scientific papers, written by experts over the past 40 years, suggesting other forms of the Higgs particle (or particles). Every novel idea (supersymmetry, extra dimensions, little Higgs, etc.) has a more complicated story than the Standard Model Higgs particle. Most particle physicists are hoping for precisely this situation. Exotic Higgs particles generally would take a little longer to find than the Standard Model version of the Higgs — but they’re still Higgs particles, just as oak trees are trees and basketball is a game.
We will not know if the Higgs particle does “not exist at all” for ten years. Let me say that again. It will take ten more years to sweep the floor clean and assure ourselves that there is no Higgs particle, of some exotic form, hidden in Large Hadron Collider data. See this post for more info.
So when I see a figure caption on a BBC article stating “the Higgs search is approaching its endgame at Cern”, all I can say is, “you’ve got to be kidding.” This is not the beginning of the end; it is the end of the beginning.