Today is the anniversary of this website, born June 29, 2011. And it’s just in time for what could be the biggest news in particle physics in many years. If we’re lucky, on July 4th the teams that run the ATLAS and CMS experiments at the Large Hadron Collider [LHC] will reveal strong evidence for a Higgs particle of some type [for more info and background click here]. Or, if we’re equally lucky, they’ll reveal strong evidence ruling out the simplest type of Higgs. Only if the results are ambiguous will we have to wait yet again for another six months of data.
Why does this website exist? For one thing, I thought perhaps I could help address the desire of many in the public to understand more about particle physics and about the process of doing science. Also, I was concerned that if the Higgs did not show up in 2012, there was a big risk of public and media misinterpretation of the scientific situation, which I hoped I could help counter. And with the recession taking down my long-standing LHC research plans, I was looking for some non-scientific way to be useful.
The year has been a mixed bag. The site’s been quoted several times in the media, and science journalists have told me they’ve found it useful. On the other hand, the site’s readership, which leapt to about 2000 hits a day early on, has stayed fixed at that level for more than eight months. Then there are the controversies. I don’t think one can run a useful modern website without a blog that reports the news in the field, and to properly address important issues with real integrity requires one to take unpopular stands on controversial issues. Unlike some of the other more populist bloggers out there, who seem to thrive on this kind of thing, I hate it. And finally, communicating particle physics is fun and rewarding, but also problematic. Much of my readership has also read Brian Greene, Lisa Randall, Lenny Susskind, and the like… and will (or should!) soon be reading Sean Carroll’s upcoming book on the LHC and the Higgs… and all of us well-meaning physicists are explaining the same things in slightly different ways. I’m worrying we’re creating, collectively, a lot of confusion.
For now, the website will continue as is, through the LHC Higgs presentations and into the follow-up period in early July. If strong evidence for the Higgs emerges, the immediate dangers that helped motivate the site’s existence will recede for a few years; there will be general agreement, as there should be, that the LHC has been a resounding success and has a bright scientific future ahead of it. In that case I’ll take a break from reporting all but the most important news (I recommend Resonaances and Cosmic Variance as news sources) and instead will focus on giving the website a needed reorganization; right now it’s very hard to navigate. As for whether the site has a future, and what form that future might take, that will take some thought.
So, a quiet Happy Birthday to this website Of Particular Significance. And then let’s look forward to the news that really matters — the news from Nature — and get the cases of champagne ready, in case the time has finally come to pop the corks.