Of Particular Significance

Lots of Misleading Higgs Stories

POSTED BY Matt Strassler

POSTED BY Matt Strassler

ON 12/03/2011

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.

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21 Responses

  1. Here is what I was able to get from watching the seminar this morning (Dec 13):
    ATLAS restricts the mass (I suppose in the SM case) to 115.5-131 GeV with 95% confidence. They have a 3.6 sigma peak at 126 GeV. For a SM Higgs with this mass, they expect a 2.4 sigma peak, so this is consistent with a SM Higgs. The significance of the peak is only 2.3 sigma taking into account look-elsewhere.
    CMS excludes 127-600 GeV with 95% confidence. They have some possible peaks, but the statistics are poor and the masses don’t match ATLAS’s at 126 GeV.
    So I would say that the basic result here is that the mass of a SM Higgs has been restricted to 115.5-127 GeV, but there is essentially nothing that anyone would call a real detection of the Higgs, a believable determination of its mass, or a confirmation or contradiction of the standard-model Higgs scenario.

  2. Or “Maybe Picasso did not paint any pictures at all, at least not the Mona Lisa.”

    Ahem….Picasso didn’t paint the Mona Lisa….

    1. Thank you for making me laugh out loud. 😀 You seriously thought I didn’t know this fact? The fact that Picasso did not paint the Mona Lisa was my point!

      “Maybe there is no Higgs particle in nature at all, at least not the simplest version.”

      Ahem… Nature may not exhibit the simplest version of the Higgs particle, either.

      1. If you trace your isomorphism between the Picasso and SM Higgs stories, the message seems to be that Peter Higgs was planning to steal the SM Higgs boson. Is that your subliminal message, Matt? 😉

  3. Tommaso Dorigo made the following three statements.

    1. I of course cannot tell you anything at all about what I learned [from CMS meeting last week].

    2. … For we would be saying “There is a one in twenty or less chance to get data smelling as little of Higgs bosons as the data we actually got, if the Higgs does exist”. And the press would say: “The CERN experiments prove that there is no Higgs boson!”, …

    3. … in order to really prove that our understanding of electroweak symmetry breaking is flawed and that there is no Higgs boson we would need a much, much more solid evidence than a mere “95% exclusion”. I would not be satisfied with anything less than a 99.9% exclusion …

    My decoding on those three points is that Dorigo has seen the solid CMS data which rules out the SM Higgs at 95% (although this solid data might not be published in the CERN meeting next week).

    1. I do not think CMS could exclude at 95% by itself. There isn’t enough data yet. Maybe ATLAS and CMS together could do so. And Dorigo has not seen ATLAS data. So my read is that he’s not sure what is going to happen.

      1. 3.5 sigma from Atlas and 2.5 from CMS would fit nicely with that. If he only knew about the 2.5 sigma excess, he’d probably consider it likely that the combination would give a two sigma exclusion. The expected signal for a 125 GeV SM Higgs is around 4.5 sigma with 10/fb.

    1. Well, I wasn’t there in the conversation, but given the alternatives:

      1) Glashow meant the plain Standard Model Higgs particle, or
      2) Glashow made a incorrect statement to the Nature reporter,

      I would suspect (1).

    1. I’m willing to wait 10 days to get the correct story.

      Note also that we’ll have to remember that if the rumors were true, this would be an “apparently SM Higgs”; we will need several years to confirm that fact, by studying all of its production and decay modes as best we can. It is quite easy to find theories where you get a Higgs that is an SM Higgs lookalike that differs from the SM Higgs by only 10% or so. But that 10% mismatch is the clue to the future.

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