[UPDATE: Tevatron results start a few paragraphs down; LHC results
will appear soon]
[2nd UPDATE: ATLAS new results added: the big unexpected news. As far as I can tell CMS, which got its results out much earlier in the year, didn’t add anything very new in its talk today.]
[3rd UPDATE: some figures from the talks added]
[4th UPDATE: more understanding of the ATLAS lack of excesses in new channels, and what it does to the overall excess at 125 GeV; reduction in local significance from about 3.5 sigma to about 2.5, and with look-elsewhere effect, now the probability the whole thing is an accident is 10%, not 1%. Thanks to a comment for pointing out how large the effect was.]
This morning there
are were several talks about the Higgs at the Moriond Electroweak conference. There will be were talks coming from the Tevatron experiments CDF and DZero; we expected new results on the search for the Higgs particle from each experiment separately, and combined together. There were also talks from the Large Hadron Collider [LHC] experiments CMS and ATLAS. It wasn’t widely known how much new we’d see; they don’t have any more data than they had in December, since the LHC has been on winter shut-down since then, but ATLAS especially still hasn’t presented all of the results based on its 2011 data, so they may present new information. The expectation was that the impact of today’s new results would be incremental; whatever we learned today wouldn’t dramatically change the situation. The Tevatron results will certainly cause a minor ruckus, though, because there will surely be controversy about them, by their very nature. I gave you a sense for that yesterday. They aren’t likely to convince doubters. But they might provide more pieces of evidence in favor of a lightweight Higgs (though not necessarily at the value of around 125 GeV/c2 currently preferred by ATLAS and CMS; see below.)
There are two things I didn’t explain yesterday that are probably worth knowing about.
First, if you look at Figure 2 in my post from yesterday, you’ll notice that the shape of the Higgs signal at the Tevatron experiments is very broad. It doesn’t have a nice sharp peak at the mass of the Higgs (115 GeV in the figure). This is because (as I discussed yesterday) it is hard to measure jets very precisely. For this reason CDF and DZero will be able to address the question: “is there or is there not a lightweight Higgs-like particle”, but they will not easily be able to address the question “is its mass 115 GeV, 120 GeV, 125 GeV or 130 GeV?” very well. So we’re really talking about them addressing something only slightly beyond a Yes-No question — and one which requires them to understand their backgrounds really well. This is to be contrasted with the two-photon and four-lepton results from ATLAS and CMS, which with more data are the only measurements, in my view, that can really hope to establish a signal of a Higgs particle in a completely convincing way. These are the only measurements that will see something that could not be mimicked by a mis-estimated background.
Second, the key to the CDF and DZero measurements is being able to identify jets that come from a bottom quark or anti-quark — a technique which is called “b-tagging the jets” — because, as I described yesterday, they are looking for Higgs decays to a bottom quark and a bottom antiquark, so they want to keep events that have two b-tagged jets and throw away others. I have finished a new short article that explains the basic principles are behind b-tagging, so you can get an idea of what the experimenters are actually doing to enhance the Higgs signal and reduce their backgrounds. Now b-tagging is never perfect; you will miss some jets from bottom quarks, and accidentally pick up some that don’t come from bottom quarks. But one part of making the Tevatron measurement involves making their b-tagging techniques better and better. CDF, at least, has already claimed in public that they’ve done this.
Will update this after information becomes available and when time permits.
UPDATES: New Tevatron Results and New ATLAS Results
New Tevatron Results
Tevatron claims a lightweight Higgs; to be precise, the combination of the two experiments CDF and DZero is incompatible with the absence of a lightweight Higgs at 2.2 standard deviations (or “sigmas”), after the look elsewhere effect. CDF sees a larger effect than DZero; but the CDF data analysis method seems more aggressive. But both methods are far too complicated for me to evaluate.
2.2 sigma is not much, and excesses of this size come and go all the time. We even saw that several times this past year. But you can certainly view today’s result from the Tevatron experiments as another step forward toward a convincing case, when you combine it with what ATLAS and CMS currently see. At minimum, assuming that the Higgs particle is of Standard Model type (the simplest possible type of Higgs particle), what CDF and DZero claim is certainly consistent with the moderate evidence that ATLAS and CMS are observing.
There’s more content in that statement than you might think. For example, if there were two Higgs particles, rather than one, the rate for the process CDF and DZero are measuring could easily be reduced somewhat relative to the Standard Model. In this case they wouldn’t have found even the hint they’ve got. (I explained why yesterday, toward the end of the post.) Meanwhile the process that ATLAS and CMS are measuring might not be reduced in such a scenario, and could even be larger — so it would certainly be possible, if there were a non-Standard-Model-like Higgs at 125 GeV, for ATLAS and CMS to see some evidence, and CDF and DZero to see none. That has not happened. If you take the CDF and DZero hint seriously, it points — vaguely — toward a lightweight Standard-Model-like Higgs. Or more accurately, it does not point away from a lightweight Standard-Model-like Higgs.
However, we do have to keep in mind that, as I noted, CDF and DZero can only say the Higgs mass seems as though it might be in the range 115 to 135 GeV; they cannot nail it down better than that, using their methods, for the reasons I explained earlier. So their result is consistent with a Standard Model Higgs particle at 125 GeV, which would agree with the hints at ATLAS and CMS, but it is also consistent with one at 120 GeV, which would not agree. Thus Tevatron bolsters the case for a lightweight Higgs, but would be consistent both with the current hints at LHC and with other parts of the range that the LHC experiments have not yet excluded. If the current ATLAS and CMS hints went away with more data, the Tevatron results might still be correct, and in that case ATLAS and CMS would start seeing hints at a different mass.
But given what ATLAS and CMS see: the evidence from December, and the step forward in January with the CMS update in their two-photon data, something around 125 GeV remains the most likely value mass for a Standard Model Higgs. The issue cannot be considered settled yet, but so far nothing has gotten in the way of this hypothesis.
Now, the inevitable caveats.
First, as with any measurement, these results cannot automatically be assumed to be correct; indeed most small excesses go away when more data is accumulated, either because they are statistical fluctuations or because of errors that get tracked down — but unfortunately we will not get any more data from the now-closed Tevatron to see if that will happen. The plausibility of Tevatron’s claims needs to be evaluated, and (in contrast to the two photon and four lepton results from ATLAS and CMS, which are relatively straightforward to understand) this won’t be easy or uncontroversial. The CDF and DZero people did a very fancy analysis with all sorts of clever tricks, which has the advantage that it makes the measurement much more powerful, but the disadvantage of making it obscure to those who didn’t perform it.
One other caveat is that we will have to be a little cautious literally combining results from Tevatron with those from the LHC. There’s
no sense in which [this statement is factually incorrect as stated, as commenters from CDF are pointing out; there are indeed several senses in which it was done blind. I should have been more precise about what was meant, which was more of a general knowledge of how difficult it is to avoid bias in determining the backgrounds for this measurement. Let me add that this is not meant to suggest anything about CDF, or DZero, in particular; doing any measurement of this type is extraordinarily difficult, and those who did it deserve applause. But they’re still human.] the Tevatron result was done `blind’; it was done with full knowledge that LHC already has a hint at 125, and since the Tevatron is closed and all its data is final, this is Tevatron’s last chance (essentially) to contribute to the Higgs particle search. Combining experiments is fine if they are truly independent; if they are not, you are at risk of bolstering what you believe because you believe it, rather than because nature says it.
New ATLAS results
ATLAS has now almost caught up with CMS, in that its searches for Higgs particles decaying to two photons and to two lepton/anti-lepton pairs (or “four leptons” for short) have now been supplemented by (preliminary! i.e., not yet publication-ready) results in searches for Higgs particles decaying to
- a lepton, anti-lepton, neutrino and anti-neutrino
- a tau lepton/anti-lepton pair
- a bottom quark/anti-quark pair (which is what CDF and DZero looked for too)
(The only analysis ATLAS is missing is the one that CMS added in January, separating out events with two photons along with two jets.) In contrast to the CMS experiment, which found small excesses (just 1 sigma) above expectation in each of these three channels, ATLAS does not. [And I’ve been reminded to point out that the first channel has changed; in December, with 40% of the data analyzed, there was a small excess.] So CDF and DZero’s results from today take us a step forward toward a convincing case, while ATLAS’s result takes us a
small step backward. That’s par for the course in science when you’re squinting to see something that’s barely visible.
But one can’t get too excited about this. Statistics are still so low in these measurements that it would be easy for this to happen. And determining the backgrounds in these measurements is tough. If you make a mistake in a background estimation, you could make a small excess appear where there really isn’t one, or you could make a real excess disappear. It cuts both ways.
But actually there is a really important result coming out of ATLAS today; it is the deficit of events in the search for the Higgs decaying to a tau lepton/anti-lepton pairs. For a putative Higgs below 120 GeV, ATLAS sees even fewer tau lepton/anti-lepton events than it expected from pure background — in other words, the background appears to have fluctuated low. But this means there is not likely to be a Standard Model-like Higgs signal there, because the likelihood that the background plus a Higgs signal would have fluctuated very low is small. [UPDATE: actually, looking again, I think I am somewhat overstating the importance of this deficit in taus compared to the lack of excess in the other two channels, which is also important. To be quantitative about this would require more information. In any case, the conclusion is the same.] And this allows ATLAS to exclude new regions in the mass range for the Standard Model Higgs, at 95% confidence!
This is very important! One of the things that I have complained about with regard to those who’ve overplayed the December Higgs hints is that you can’t really say that the evidence for a Higgs around 125 GeV is good if you can’t start excluding both above and below that mass. Well, ATLAS has started to do that. Granted, it isn’t 99% exclusion, and since this is the Higgs we’re talking about, we need high standards. But at 95% confidence, ATLAS now excludes, for a Standard Model Higgs, 110-117.5, 118.5-122.5, and 129-539 GeV. Said better, if there is a Standard Model Higgs in nature, ATLAS alone restricts it (to 95% confidence only, however) to the range 117.5 – 118.5 GeV or 122 – 129 GeV.
The window is closing. Not only has ATLAS completely excluded the old hints of a Standard Model Higgs at 115 from the LEP collider, it seems it has probably excluded CMS’s hint around 120, which was the next best option for the Higgs after 125.
And as far as I can tell, this is coming mainly from the tau lepton/anti-lepton measurement As I said above in an update, I think it is really a mix of all three channels… hard to be quantitative about that without talking to the experts.
So if the Standard Model Higgs is what nature has to offer us, we’re probably down to a tiny little slice around 118 GeV for which there’s no evidence, and a window that has 125 GeV smack in the middle of it, where the evidence, though
not much stronger today, if we include both Tevatron and ATLAS, than it was yesterday, is certainly no weaker.
UPDATE: Well, it’s been pointed out to me by the first commenter that the last statement is misleading, because it doesn’t emphasize how the ATLAS excess at 126 GeV has decreased substantially in significance. Somehow I thought originally that the decrease was marginal. But it isn’t.
The statistics numbers as I think I have them now: What was previously about 3.5 sigma local significance for the Higgs-like peak at 125 GeV is now down to 2.5, and what seemed only 1% likely in December to be a fluctuation is now 10% likely.
There is an issue, however, with combining many measurements. Of course the two-photon and four-lepton results from ATLAS are the same as before, and they are just as significant; nothing changed. But the other three measurements came in low, and that pulls the significance of the combination down. However, I must remind you again how difficult the last three measurements are. I would trust the first two before the last three. So I think we should be careful not to overinterpret this change. When you combine what you trust most with what you trust least, you reduce your confidence in what you have.
That said, it also indicates why one should be very cautious with small amounts of data.