Of Particular Significance

Why, Professor Kaku? Why?

POSTED BY Matt Strassler

POSTED BY Matt Strassler

ON 03/19/2013

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.)

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82 Responses

  1. I think Kaku is an interesting guy but agree with those that have stated that “he is always wrong.” Although I am a skeptic of most all theories in modern physics, Kaku’s ideas and theories in particular seem merit-less and almost laughable to me: The Higgs as the god particle, and the Higgs as the cause of the Big Bang.

    As Leon Lederman stated, he wanted to name his book “The goddamned particle instead of the “God Particle” but his publisher wouldn’t accept it.

    To start with IMO the discovered Higgs particle will eventually by shown to be an inconsequential and meaningless very short-lived particle in the overall scheme of the universe. Again IMO the standard model, like the BB model, is almost entirely wrong. I also believe our present explanations at the quantum scale, at the particle scale, and the macro-scales of the universe are almost entirely wrong and that the correct answers are vastly simpler than any models presently known or advocated.

    Where I think Kaku is most humorous is in his unreserved assertions of the mechanics of the universe. Most responsible theorists often point to possible problems with the model(s) they are advocating and how it might be disproved. Kaku, on the other hand, usually implies likelihood without reservation.

  2. IMHO, maybe it would be prudent to step back and let the data be analyzed, then the ones who are jumping to a conclusion will recant?


    “…This particle is remarkably consistent with the Standard Model Higgs boson,” says Andrew Whitbeck, the doctoral student at Johns Hopkins University who presented the CMS experiment’s measurements. “There are still large error margins, but everything is lining up for the Standard Model. It’s pretty spectacular.

    Only time—and more data—will tell whether the physicists have really found the Higgs they were looking for.”

    ~ Kathryn Jepsen and Ashley WennersHerron ~

  3. i wanna make a ppt on the god particle…. can anybody help me…. with proper material,….what actually this experiment is….and these stufff plzzzz

  4. Dear Dr Strassler, thanks for your blog and everything you do help explain things and set the record straight. Can you meantion something about custodial symmetry? How is a citizen-scientist to regard such a concept? Thanks in advance for your reply.

  5. It’s not just the incredibly tedious dumbed-down hype that he supplies so frequently when asked to speak on matters of physics. Kaku has a long history of bloviating upon fields widely off his putative area of expertise. I’ve seen him make statements on molecular and evolutionary biology and other subjects ranging from misleading to totally false, delivered with that same smiling aire of the genius polymath pretending to possess a gift of making difficult subjects easy to understand. I find him utterly unwatchable and consider him to be an increasingly influential player in the decline of integrity in science programming and news reporting and the consequent decline in science literacy in the public. His presence on pop science programs and interviews is, to say the least, stunningly ubiquitous – far greater than his station as a former physicist specializing in string theory could possibly demand. At the very least he deserves reprimands from scientists in whose fields he shamelessly intrudes upon. And producers who keep soliciting his opinions buying into his ‘stereohype’ of the gifted public-friendly scientist-personality are pathetically ignorant of the vast and diverse breadth of resources and talent available but seem too lazy to look up. But a Carl Sagan he certainly is not. He’s a science PR disaster.

  6. I’m frequently troubled by Prof. Kaku’s science outreach attempts, but I think for completeness’ sake, it should be mentioned that in Guth’s 1980 article, he indeed proposed a Higgs field (in some SU(5) GUT, I believe) as the driver of inflation. But I believe this idea hasn’t really been on the table in years (although I think there might’ve been a paper or two trying to revive it on the arXiv since the Higgs discovery).

  7. I long ago stopped paying much attention to Michio Kaku. I got tired of his gross distortions and hyperbole in science specials. I’d find myself stopping the video and telling my family, “OK, that’s not really accurate …” almost every time he said something. Now I just shake my head and let the video go on …

  8. I was going to say “the truth, and nothing but the truth”. But in my heart-of-hearts I don’t believe it. I love physics. I think it, and the scientific method utilized by the hard sciences in general, is the real path to the truth. However, it doesn’t come cheap. (Let’s face it the days of rolling balls down an inclined plane are long gone). To convince the General Public, who supply the money, and politicians, who control the money required for the experiments to get us to the next step generally requires an exciting narrative. Even now you hear people ask, especially since the Higgs – the capstone on the Standard Model, why any machine beyond the LHC is required. We have painted ourselves into a corner, and it is very hard to do a 180 degree turn and tell the public and politicians: “Listen we were just kidding about the Higgs being the be-all and end-all of particle physics. Now that we found it we need to greatly tone down all the hype about it that we have been feeding you about it for years and years. Honestly, we want to build the next machine just to see what’s beyond…” This will not get you to the next machine. So, yes we need an exciting narrative, and yes, not for their love, but to get to the next step…I would lie to them. As to Dr. Kaku’s comment, just pretend it was made before BH (before Higgs) rather than AH.

    1. Particle physics, like any successful and well-treated subject, has many enemies in other areas of physics and science more broadly. I have been the victim of that enmity; I have seen it up close. So if you’re going to lie, you have to assume that almost everyone else is too stupid to notice (not very likely) and that none of those who are smart enough to notice will want to shove that lie back down your throat (also not very likely.)

      Lying and being caught usually leads to worse consequences that making your best honest case and losing. Those are the risks that your course of action involves.

  9. I think Professor Kaku took it backwards. If you’re a theorist interested in Big Bang and Inflation, then discovery of Higgs is a big deal for you as it promises you new discoveries, confirmations or disprovements in your field. And Kaku’s performance makes sense if you assume he’s looking at things from this angle. Unfortunately he’s also suggesting that it’s the standpoint of all physicists which is not true.

  10. There was so much hype about the Higgs prior to its discovery. Who can blame Michio Kaku for trying to inject a little excitement into the mind of the General Public after the inevitable post-Higgs yawn? I think Higgs is aptly called the ‘God particle’ because like the gods of old – everything we really don’t understand yet – mass, gravity, cosmic inflation, dark matter, dark energy, etc. is being attributed to the Higgs. A civilizations technology flows from its science. I suspect that when we really have an understanding of these things we will also have vehicles that can travel faster than light, control gravity, and defy inertia – things we now consider impossible. In 2013 we have a spin zero boson that is gone in an instant…and in all likelihood, that’s all we have.

    1. Well, excitement followed by disillusionment is arguably worse than a yawn. That’s really the question here, yes? Should we lie to the public just so that they’ll love what we do?

  11. I have a question. If inflation has nothing to do with Higgs, at what point (time during the first second) Higgs field came out from vacuum?. Presumably, quarks and electrons (with zero masses) came out long before hadrons.Grand unified interactions were already there before the presently known Higgs was ordered to rearrange weak and electromagnetic interactions. I am using the words came out which are probably wrong, but I don’t know what else to use. At some point everything was vacuum. Right?
    Thanks for taking time to answer such questions,
    kashyap vasavada

    1. Yes, it is difficult to get the words right, and easy to have them be ambiguous… let me see if I can help somewhat.

      We don’t know what happened before inflation. During inflation (if it occurred — remember it is plausible but unconfirmed speculation at this point) the universe was extremely cold. Inflation rapidly makes everything into vacuum — meaning that as space expands rapidly it becomes empty of particles — but this is a false, eventually unstable vacuum. All the fields of nature already existed, including Grand Unified fields if they exist, and including the Higgs field, electric field, quark fields, etc. However, the Higgs field can be “off” or “on” (i.e. it can have an average value which is zero or non-zero). Today the Higgs field is on. I think your main question is: was it on or off during inflation? We don’t know, because the answer depends on precisely how inflation took place.

      Inflation is caused by having a lot of excess energy (often called “dark energy”) in the vacuum of empty space. The easiest way to have inflation *and* to have it come to an end (because obviously it did end!) is to have a field or fields, usually called the inflaton or inflatons, that store that energy but gradually lose it as the universe expands. At some point one inflaton field becomes unstable, starts changing wildly over time and space, and turns all of its leftover energy into various types of particles, including quarks, antiquarks, electrons, positrons, photons, Higgs particles, W particles, and everything else, leading to the hot dense period that we think of as the usual “Big Bang”. (This process is called “reheating”, since during inflation the universe is very cold.)

      Whether the Higgs field was off or on during inflation depends on precisely how the inflaton field affects the Higgs field. This is something we don’t know. It could go either way.

      But we can more or less calculate, without too much speculation, what happens after reheating, assuming the Big Bang was at some point hotter than roughly a thousand trillion degrees [1015 degrees]: the Higgs field was certainly turned off during the hottest period of the Big Bang, and it turned on, once and for all, when the temperature cooled below about a thousand trillion degrees.

      1. Thanks Prof. Strassler. I will wait for the time when you guys settle instanton-higgs battle! One more question.
        What do you think? Were hadrons formed after weak-electromagnetic intn were separated?
        kashyap vasavada

        1. The answer to that is known, and has been known since the 1970s, with increasing precision over time.

          Hadrons form when the temperature drops low enough that quarks and gluons start binding together. That “QCD phase transition” temperature can be calculated, about two trillion degrees (i.e. about 1000 times lower temperature than when the Higgs field turns on and the weak and electromagnetic interactions separate.) Can’t find a great review article for you right now, but for evidence that this is well accepted, try pages 2 and 27 of http://www.thphys.uni-heidelberg.de/~wetteric/phasetrans.ppt .

  12. For those who entertain the idea that science is mere speculation, or that a scientist’s opinion is as valid as another’s just because none is absolute ‘truth’, Isaac Asimov wrote a brief and famous essay called “The Relativity of Wrong” explaining effectively to non-scientists how science is constantly corrected and perhaps never perfect and still approaches truth through accumulation of evidence and understanding (the more important standard, and basis for, scientists’ ‘community opinion’). I suggest that understanding this concept is among the most fundamental requirements for comprehending the value of science. Well worth the 5 minute read:

    1. Thanks for bringing our attention to this brilliantly constructed and beautifully worded essay. It’s a lesson for non-scientist readers, and also for those scientist writers, such as myself, who are still learning how to communicate the lessons and methods of science.

  13. I’m glad I’m not the only one, who calls him out. A few years back I bought Hyperspace by Michio Kaku, and came to the exact same conclusion about him. I have been questioning his credibility ever since.

    To put it strongly, he is either ignorant or lying. First about relativity (in Hyperspace, which is a sub par pop science book), and now about the Higgs-field (in this article). Now I know this to be his habit.

    1. Any attention we pay to him is wasted. He is a media whore. I wish I knew of a constructive and legal way to shut him up.

      1. On the contrary, I think attention paid to him is necessary. We need to take clear stands on matters of principle; otherwise journalists and the public will conclude we have no principles.

      2. Nah nah, are you now not a bit exagerating and unneededly insulting?

        I think there is no need for ad hominem attacks of anybody after all …

  14. Machio Kaku seems to relate the Higgs particle to a family of particles including what I think he says is an “info-ton”? What the heck is an info-ton?

    1. The “inflaton” is a hypothetical field that may have been responsible for a process called “Cosmic Inflation”, during which the universe expanded extremely rapidly, leaving the region of the universe that we can observe in a relatively uniform and homogeneous state. What we normally think of as the hot dense period of the Big Bang followed immediately thereafter, or so goes the idea. Despite what Kaku said, any link between the Higgs field and the inflaton is purely speculative at this time; there is no experimental evidence nor clear theoretical argument that would make most physicists believe they must be related.

  15. I remember when the “Science” and “Discovery” brands were about science, not wormholes and motorcycles. And don’t get me started about The Hitler Channel.

  16. Is there any anticipated connection (theory) in between Higgs field and Gravity ?

    Can we say something a priori about Higgs field and Dark matter at the present at all, e.g. does Higgs field have influence over Dark matter, in principle ?

    Thank You Prof. Strassler.

    //The nature of dark matter is unknown. A substantial body of evidence indicates that it cannot be baryonic matter,
    i.e. protons & neutrons. The favored model is that it’s mostly composed of exotic particles formed when the uni-
    verse was a fraction of a second old. Such particles, which would require an extension of the Standard Model of
    elementary particle physics, could be WIMPs (weakly interacting massive particles), or axions, or sterile neu-
    trinos// (quote)

    1. First read http://profmattstrassler.com/2012/10/15/why-the-higgs-and-gravity-are-unrelated/ ; there is no reason to expect a direct connection with gravity.

      There is no obvious or automatic relation between the Higgs field and the Higgs particle on the one hand and dark matter on the other. The Higgs field may not provide any of dark matter’s mass. There are speculations that link the Higgs field and its particle to the particles that make up dark matter — for instance, the particle that makes up dark matter might be a super-partner (“super” as in super-symmetry) of the Higgs particle. (See http://profmattstrassler.com/articles-and-posts/some-speculative-theoretical-ideas-for-the-lhc/supersymmetry/supersymmetry-what-is-it/ for a bit about supersymmetry.) If dark matter is made from axions, another speculative type of partner, those axions might be (but probably are not) related indirectly to the Higgs fields of nature. Other links are possible, but not necessary. So let us say these questions are open, and must be addressed by experimental research.

  17. Tempest in a teapot given todays news cycle….

    That being said my recent introduction to Professor Kaku via “fluff” science shows leaves a bad taste in my mouth. IMO he projects little gravitas and almost gives the impression that with just a little imagination we can have whatever physics we want. And given the deplorable status of science in the US, this is not what the Doctor ordered….

  18. What the M. Kaku exactly said was “In quantum physics, it was a Higgs-like particle that sparked the cosmic explosion [the Big Bang]. In other words, everything we see around us, including galaxies, stars, planets and us, owes its existence to the Higgs boson.”

    He therefore didn’t talk about Higgs boson directly at all..


    1. Umm, I know what he said, and the fact that he said things in this elliptic and confusing way, such that you can’t even really tell exactly what he was talking about, does not make his presentation more acceptable.

  19. Matt,
    My first comment on your fine site.
    It’s hard for me to express how much I appreciate your tireless efforts to make your specialty accessible to “the common man.” Keep doing what you’re doing. Your approach of telling the truth (regarding what is known and unknown) and making the supreme effort to make it understandable by most people is laudable.

    Wild speculations are great in movies, entertainment and climate science… but not real science. We can handle the truth. Thanks for your respect for our intelligence.

  20. I’m old enough to remember similar dismay amongst my lecturers at the name ‘big bang’. It became irresistible in the end, which is a great pity, as it causes endless confusion. I suspect it is also too late for the Higgs, but I find a small ‘g’ dulls the pain!

  21. You do realize that Kaku got his doctorate in 1972 & then spent a couple of years in the army? So saying that he was “known for his string theory work in the 1960s and 1970s” is probably a little off. No big deal, but thought it should be clarified. He’s frequently concerned me with the things he says. Things are difficult enough to understand without him confusing it more.

  22. Do you remember Carl Sagan lying to people just to get people to watch Cosmos? Of course not. He knew he didn’t have to do that.

    You mean the guy flying in an Spaceship at a faster than light speed? I loved that part.

    Meanwhile, if the inflaton… To suggest it has anything whatsoever to do with the Higgs particle is completely speculative.

    Mr. Kaku is a string theorists, speculation is his thing in particular and in physics in general.

    And besides, it is the Higgs FIELD, not the particle, that might just possibly be related to the inflaton.

    A related to B ; B related to C
    A related to C

    What this does is temporarily excite the public, but then, eventually, lead many of them not to trust scientists at all, once they realize they’ve been lied to.

    You have point, when I learned that Carl Sagan mislead me when I was a child with the faster than light Spacheship I turned into a Christian… nah.. come on. Fake pharma studies and Climatolgists do a much better job leading people not to trust science.

    What you see as “appropriate for the audience” seems to me to be patronizing at best, and damaging to science at worst. I think it best to assume people are generally pretty clever, not that they are sheep to be led wherever irresponsible scientists might like to take them.

    I happen to be the “audience” and I did not feel patronized or felt that my intelligence was being insulted by Mr. Kaku.

    I think all this dramatic reaction is more in the super-guru side, lay people enjoy the excitement of the fringe theories. I for once believe string theory is BS but that does not mean that I love hearing about it… I will never feel outraged and misled if it turns out to be just fancy math.

    I think we need to calm down in this one 😉

  23. Do you feel the same way about Kaku, Hawking, Greene et al, promoting the multi-verse and extra dimensions, string/M-theory? Another alternative explanation to multiverse is that string theory is physically wrong, it predicts an incorrect number of dimensions. But they never say this.

    1. Yes, sometimes it bothers me a lot. However, I am somewhat less concerned there because it is easier to see that these are speculative ideas. But the Higgs particle is definitely real, and people are trying really hard to understand it — so to mis-state the reason for its importance is really bad, in my view. There’s a real reason, so give it!

      “Another alternative explanation to multiverse is that string theory is physically wrong, it predicts an incorrect number of dimensions. But they never say this.” Well, that’s not really true in three senses. (a) we don’t know how many dimensions the world has (it could be more than the ones we can currently observe) so we cannot say that it predicts an incorrect number of dimensions; and also it is not true that string theory inevitably predicts more than 3 space and one time dimension (see for instance http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/055032139090304V — this is indeed sometimes left out of those presentations by Greene and friends.) And (b) they *do* say that string theory might be wrong; I’ve heard them say that numerous times, especially Hawking but even Greene. And (c) the multiverse can occur in theories other than string theory; indeed it was discussed long before the string theorists started talking about it.

  24. By the time Professor Kaku came on to the media scene I was too knowledgable and independently minded to find what he has to say as worthwhile for describing reality, and only worthwhile for describing the worst of speculative fancies that have a hold on some physicists.

  25. You wrote: “What this does is temporarily excite the public, but then, eventually, lead many of them not to trust scientists at all, once they realize they’ve been lied to.”
    My question is: how would the non-scientific public realize they’ve been lied to on subjects as exotic for them as this one?

    1. It depends how much they choose to read in future. Maybe they will hear a contradicting statement from somewhere, or a friend will tell them that he or she read something entirely different.

      One way, of course, is that they (or one of their friends) might be reading this blog, or Sean Carroll’s book, or Lisa Randall’s, or others by responsible people. When irresponsible statements get made that contradict those by responsible people, this gives members of the public the impression that “scientists are all saying contradictory things, so who knows what to believe?!” And then they shut off and pay less attention. Whereas in fact, on my professional Facebook page where my colleagues are weighing in, there is an enormous amount of consensus that what Kaku said was at best badly misleading and at worst wrong… But how is the public to find that out?

    1. The notion that science is merely a matter of one person’s opinion against another is completely false. First, my opinion is of no importance at all; what is important is community opinion, and my respected colleagues will be happy to tell you virtually everyone in the field shares my opinion. Indeed, on this website I don’t give *my* opinion so much as community opinion; I tend, except in special circumstances and when stated, to hide my personal views. Second, what is important is not so much opinion but the blend of data and theory which we call understanding, and you should not forget we (the community) understand things well enough to have predicted the Higgs particle’s existence and some of its properties before we (the community) found it. We did this using the view of the Higgs particle that most experts share. The Higgs particle was not predicted and discovered by people like Kaku who believe (or are willing to say, even though they don’t believe) that it has something to do with the Big Bang.

      1. The (scientific) “community” understands the properties that are known as in their own era, this understanding has nothing to do with Truth, it seems at that era the truth but it is a temporal one that always changes as for the HIGGS particle (and field) it remains “an open question” and is looking “more and more like” the theoretical thought, we have “strong indications” that the spin-partiy is according to and so on, but it remains a theory with its base on the Standard Model .

        1. Of course the underlying science evolves, and is sometimes eventually proven wrong. Nevertheless, supportable theories and opinion are two different things. When your theory can be used to achieve repeatable, predictable real-world results, you’ve departed the realm of the subjective. It’s important to be able to distinguish between the two.

          1. “repeatable” is wishfull thinking you will never know if an experiment gives the same result as yesterday, because yesterday is history, now does not exist and tomorrow is a question…
            “predictable” is something vague, things we expect to happen, once it happened we say Halleluja, but then we fall back on the “repeatable” (see above)
            “real-world results” are those results that occured in the past and that we “accept” as congruent with our hypothesis…
            “the realm of the subjective” you can imagine yourself inside a sphere of subjective simultaneity, this is an unique sphere because every center (you) has different coordinates, on the surface of this sphere are also the incoming data of experiments that are done together with other centers (I’s), together these spheres are the origin of decoherence which is giving us the feeling of “reality”.

            1. If you really believe what you just wrote, I don’t see why you ever bought a computer or a cell phone, or why you drive a car or fly in a plane. Aren’t you afraid your computer won’t work tomorrow, even though it worked today? Aren’t you afraid your car will explode, or your plane will fall out of the sky? You’re putting your life at risk every time you breathe; maybe oxygen will be toxic five minutes from now.

              Science makes the same assumptions as technology and biology: that the rules that govern the world are the same today as yesterday and tomorrow. Those assumptions might fail. They are not guaranteed. But you live your life according to those same assumptions, and it is disingenuous to pretend otherwise.

        2. Truth and understanding are indeed different things. Absolute truth is not something you can obtain from science; from science you can obtain understanding, and that understanding is inevitably never unique nor complete, but it does allow you to predict how physical objects behave.

  26. Excellent article, I used to enjoy these programs until I tried to discuss the topic with some friends who knew nothing about it beforehand. Ended up with a group of people more confused about the Higgs than before they’d seen the program. They had no idea what was true, what had been exaggerated by the professor, and what had been blown of of proportion by the media.

  27. “Professor Kaku has some serious explaining to do — to his scientific colleagues, to the science journalist that he misled, and to the public.”

    Well, to be fair in the same interview he clarifies what he meant by “The Higgs put the Bang in the Big Bang”. He said that the Higgs bosson might belong to a family of bossons among which we can find the inflaton.

    So I think he meant that proving the Higgs bosson’s existence supports the existence of this family of bossons and, therefore, the mechanics of the inflation, which is the Bang in the Big Bang.

    So unless this explanation is entirely false as well I’d say that, from a lay man’s perspective (and I’m an expert on that since that is exactly what I am), Mr. Kakus’ explanation is quite exciting and appropriate for the audience.

    1. Oh, thanks for this clarification.
      Together with this explanation it seems not that bad after all what he said and I was probably a bit fast with my long comment…

      1. Dilaton — In my view it is very bad when scientists make remarks that are highly speculative but do so without stating that they are highly speculative. That leads to whiplash among members of the public, and it leads many individuals not to believe anyone at all. Loook at the comment by wlhemus de wilde — he is not alone in thinking it is just one person’s word against another. Facts and clearly established understanding (such as the fact that the Higgs particle is important because it tells us the Higgs field exists, and the Higgs field is important because without it electrons would lose their masses and atoms would fall apart, meaning there would be no ordinary matter out of which to make us and our planet) need to be stated as such, and pure and wild speculations (such as the notion that maybe the Higgs particle is related to some fields that have something to do with inflation) need to be stated as such. If not, how can we have serious discussions about even more important topics, such as climate change and the pros and cons of fracking?

        1. Thanks for this answer Prof. Strassler 🙂

          maybe the main problem is that Prof. Kaku should more properly take into account to what kind of audience he is talking …

          I think when addressing a broader non expert public who has not an (advanced) knowledge of particle physics of its own, it is a must to clearly distinct between established facts and interesting unproven more or less far outlying theoretical ideas.
          However, in certain physics blog that are mostly read by experts (or nearly experts ) such as this one for example,


          I think the adjective “(highly) speculative” can be dropped when talking about BSM physics and certain cosmological topics, since everybody reading this blog knows what is established knowledge and for what ideas direct or indirect experimental hints still have to be found.

          So I agree that making such remarks adressed at this kind of audience is probably very inappropriate since most of the people in this audience have no idea what exactly he is alluding at and they dont need to know since it is very far outlying.

          But I am not sure if I personally would call what Prof. Kaku said “lying to the public” and similar things, since the underlying ideas are not 100% off base or proven to be complete nonsense as far as I have heard (?)…
          To me this incidence is not more upsetting than what other people and well known bloggers, who highly enjoy it to be heared loudly in the mass media too, do when claiming that SUSY is in the hospital or dead, any BSM physics is no good and worthless crap and theoretical and experimental investigations into it should immediately be dropped and stopped, etc … you know what I mean 😉

          Maybe things will sort out a bit by reasonable and elucidating discussion here, on Cosmic Variance, and other places.

    2. The Higgs boson has specific properties that allow it to give mass to the W and Z particles. It definitely exists. It’s a real thing, about which we know a great deal. It is crucial for the existence of atoms and therefore for all ordinary matter. Meanwhile, if the inflaton even exists, it probably has other properties, probably has no connection with the Higgs particle, and in any case at this point we know nothing about it. To suggest it has anything whatsoever to do with the Higgs particle is completely speculative. And besides, it is the Higgs FIELD, not the particle, that might just possibly be related to the inflaton.

      It is irresponsible (even if it sounds exciting) to declare entirely speculative ideas the same as established knowledge, and it confusing the public nad leads to CBS journalists making outrageously wrong statements, such as the ones quoted by Sean Carroll: that the Higgs is called the God Particle because it triggered the Big Bang, etc.

      What this does is temporarily excite the public, but then, eventually, lead many of them not to trust scientists at all, once they realize they’ve been lied to. What you see as “appropriate for the audience” seems to me to be patronizing at best, and damaging to science at worst. I think it best to assume people are generally pretty clever, not that they are sheep to be led wherever irresponsible scientists might like to take them.

      Do you remember Carl Sagan lying to people just to get people to watch Cosmos? Of course not. He knew he didn’t have to do that.

  28. Wow, I do not exactly follow what Prof. Kaku says on TV ect, but from what I picked up in passing by I have since quite some time now the impression that he overdoes it a bit sometimes … I do not take him too serious about everything he says because he likes to emphasize very far outlying things because they sound more exciting and spectacular.

    But the newest one now is really bad, to me it seems it is almost in the same category as those annoying silly stories about creating black holes at the LHC that will eat the earth, that circulated some time ago in the mass media :-/

    However, I remember vaguely having heard or read somewhere about (far outlying !!!) speculative theoretical ideas that some kind of a “higgs like” field could take the role of some kind of an inflaton or something like that, and Prof. Kaku maybe wanted to allude to such ideas (?) …
    I do not know as much about inflationary cosmology as I’d like to since this quite interests me too.

    Anyway, I think saying such a thing in the mass media was not a good idea, it does the public image of particle physics no good 🙁

  29. I tried to figure out what he might be thinking to justify to himself what he said. My guess is that a few times he said the Higgs “belongs to a family of particles” and at the end he mentioned the inflaton. So maybe he was thinking, “scalar field” and then justified equating the Higgs and the inflaton since they are both scalar fields. My guess is that is how he would reply.

      1. Kyle — I am sure that is exactly what he was thinking. Leon Lederman said the same things in his talks back in the 1990s, when he was promoting his book “The God Particle”, and back then I rolled my eyes at the lies but couldn’t do anything about it. Is there’s some connection between the Higgs *Field* [not the particle of course] and Cosmic Inflation? It’s not out of the question, but there’s no evidence for it and it is unlikely… and so to say the Higgs *particle* is important because of this extremely unlikely link with some field that probably it has nothing to do with is straining truth to the breaking point. No — what we’ve really learned in the last two days is that there is a connection between the Kaku Boson and Cosmic Conflation.

        1. Dear Prof. Strassler,

          I praise your high standards for pedagogy (your post explaining why the Higgs is not the source for all mass in the universe) and I understand the need for accuracy in reporting and commenting on science information (your point about Higgs like particle and Standard Model like one). Now as an educated science enthusiast (thanks to people like you and my former teachers or professors) I can also find interesting to listen sometimes to popularizers like Kaku who dares to connect latest facts with (wide?) speculations. He speculates faster than light ? Yes probably ! But he used to be a theorist right? I wonder if the next particles to be found at the LHC are less unlikely to be connected with SUSY (solving some hierarchy problem or unifying some fundamental interactions close to the Planck scale) than the Higgs field has a chance to be related somehow to an inflaton, a dilaton or whatever new scalar field one can find in serious scientific papers (on arxiv or elsewhere). Science needs rigour and imagination I guess…
          To conclude I would say some correct results to physics problems lie perhaps on an even number of sign errors … just like enough inaccuracies can make the popular speaker safe against any too detailed refutations 😉

          1. “Science needs rigour and imagination I guess…” Absolutely! It needs both, and one needs to be clear about which is which. I have no problem with someone telling the public about imaginative speculations — as long as they make clear to the public that this is what they are. But since there is a very well-grounded and established set of reasons why the Higgs particle and Higgs field are important, I don’t see why Professor Kaku should instead give a reason that is grounded in speculation — without saying so! After all, there are other speculations one could make too that are just as likely to be right (i.e., not very.)

  30. For some time now I have believed that Michio Kaku was mumbling. He’s a depiction of what you have to be for the media to like you. He had a program on Discovery Channel about some future inventions – I tried to watch it, but it was too mediocre – mainly because of his “well-designed speeches”

  31. There will also be a special episode of Through the Wormhole, airing tomorrow night, dedicated to the Higgs particle. I would expect Professor Kaku to make an appearance. On the one hand I’m ecstatic that particle physics is once again rising in popularity and interest amongst non-scientists, but on the other I’m dismayed that people feel misrepresentations are necessary to convey the concepts and implications. Thanks for keeping the record straight, Matt.

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A decay of a Higgs boson, as reconstructed by the CMS experiment at the LHC


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