I was busy with some personal issues over the past few weeks, so I hadn’t even really been following the rampant speculation about the Nobel Prize for this year. Apparently a lot of people (including some of my colleagues) thought that the July discovery, at the Large Hadron Collider [LHC] experiments ATLAS and CMS, of a new particle resembling the long-sought Higgs particle would generate a Nobel Prize in 2012 for Peter Higgs and for the other physicists who predicted the existence of such a particle.
Well, I never thought this notion was very plausible; I was confident it wouldn’t happen before 2013. And that is for several reasons.
The first and most important is that although the evidence that a new particle has been found is very strong, the evidence that it is a Higgs particle of some type (which I’ll describe below) is still only moderate. Personally, I’m convinced that the new particle is a Higgs particle, but that is based partly on the evidence from the data and partly on theoretical prejudice — on my knowledge of theoretical physics and of what the alternatives to the Higgs-particle interpretation of the data are. If I’m wrong, too bad for me, but no harm done. However, the Nobel Prize committee is making a permanent, irrevocable award for the history books, and the bar for evidence from the data alone should be very high. Now here’s the key point: by March 2013 at the latest, the data from all of 2012 will have been analyzed. The amount of data that will be available by then will be about three times as much as was available in July 2012 — enough to change the current moderate evidence to strong evidence, if in fact we’re dealing with a Higgs particle of some type. The Nobel Prize committee is surely well aware of this — that by next year the situation is likely to have qualitatively changed, with the evidence beyond controversy. So it makes sense to wait until 2013, when the case is likely to be closed.