Quick Links

The New York Times has an article this morning by Dennis Overbye in its Science Times section about the hunt for the Higgs and the various rumors that were circulating earlier this year. It does a good job of accurately summarizing and reviewing the situation (although of course the blogs were and remain the place to go for breaking news, up-to-date and accurate information…). Steven Weinberg recalls the time back in 1977 when he quickly wrote up a paper with Ben Lee about a model concocted to explain rumored “trimuon” events (which turned out not to be there). There are quotes from bloggers Tommaso Dorigo, Gordon Watts and John Conway, and, in a new posting on his blog, Gordon is now trying to deny that he uses the term “Dude” in actual conversation. Unfortunately, anyone at D0 who knows anything seems to have clammed up, no more rumors that I’m aware of about whether they’re seeing anything exciting.

The 2007 Europhysics Conference on High Energy Physics is going on in Manchester, England, and many of the talks are already on-line. This is a conference more aimed at experimentalists than theorists, so there doesn’t seem to be much new in the theory talks. There are so many experimental talks that I think I’ll have to wait for the summary talk to appear to figure out what to pay attention to.

There’s a long list of things I was going to write about, but Sabine and Stefan at Backreaction got there first (here, here and here):

  • Nature has a special section on the LHC. Very good and much more in depth than most of the huge amount of press coverage of this story. Especially interesting is the article by Chris Llewellyn Smith telling the history of how the LHC came to be.
  • The LHC Theory Initiative, a now NSF-funded project that will provide some graduate fellowships and post-docs for people working in phenomenology relevant to the LHC, is being promoted with a University of Buffalo press release. It claims that currently Europeans dominate the field of LHC phenomenology, so the NSF funding is needed to stop this “outsourcing” of crucial high-tech employment to foreigners. HEP in the US is quite an amazing industry, the only one I know of that outsources technical work to countries where the labor costs more than it does in the US….
  • This year’s award for most ludicrous hep-ph paper is likely to be won in a walk by this one. Tommaso is even better than Sabine on the topic.
  • There’s a new chapter out of the particle physics novel The Newtonian Legacy (blogged about here) by Nick Evans. Not often that the Cern Courier carries material about Higgsless models and lingerie in its pages…

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    53 Responses to Quick Links

    1. Gordon Watts says:

      Dude! I really don’t use that word normally!

    2. Gordon Watts says:

      Dang it. How do you edit comments you’ve left?? 😉

    3. Kasper Olsen says:

      Concerning Holger and Ninomiya’s paper:

      Yes the idea is crazy, and contrary to what we know, but I don’t think it is fair to call it “ludicrous”. If you accept some of the premises — which of course might be very hard — then certainly the idea is not foolish, or completely unreasonable.

      Try to read the paper, and present your own reason for why you think it is “ludicrous”.


    4. DB says:

      Tommaso titles his review:


      Could it be, that as an alternative to such an archaic and defective way of relieving oneself, they are in fact taking the piss?

    5. Kasper,

      the idea is dangerously bordering into the ludicrous, but I accept that it is still valuable science to test for backward causation.

      However, the idea that 5000 physicists financed by fixed fractions of the GNP of participating states accept to put at stake 20 years of efforts spent designing, building, and making operative the most daring enterprise in physics ever, to look for an effect preventing higgses from being produced, or worse, saving the LHC from a flood or an explosion, or people from being injured (sic) is
      O U T R A G E O U S
      and brings shame to their purporters and embarasses most of the reasonable physicists working for the CERN experiments.


    6. matteoeo says:

      holger-ninomyia’s theory seems to be testable at least in principle, so it might still be better than ST in a sense…

      anyway is everybody really sure it is not a joke? maybe they tried to write nonsense with the previous paper (“hit by bad luck”) and, noticing no reaction, they have worsen it.

    7. Matteoeo, that would be a bit too much of a walk on the wild side. And if we have to live with either theorists who build non-testable theories or theorists who build theories whose testability depends on playing cards or “turn the bottle” kind of games, based on the chance of shutting down billion dollar experiments, I sincerely take the former.


    8. Arun says:

      I liked this from Overbye (emphasis added)

      Joe Lykken, a Fermilab theorist who said he first learned of the rumored bump the old-fashioned way, over lunch in the laboratory cafeteria, said: “Pre-blog, this sort of rumor would have circulated among perhaps a few dozen physicists. Now with blogs even string theorists who can’t spell Higgs became immediately aware of inside information about D Zero data.”

    9. Peter Woit says:


      Funny, but the dissing of string theorists by their colleagues has become so common-place that I didn’t even really notice Lykken doing this…

    10. Tony Smith says:

      Arun quoted Joe Lykken as saying
      “… Now with blogs even string theorists who can’t spell Higgs became immediately aware of inside information about D Zero data. …”,
      which supports my feeling that a lot of today’s theoretical physicists are so wrapped up in superstring abstract math that they don’t have the time and energy to really understand the Standard Model well enough (i.e., at a level of detail similar to that set out in the review sections of the Particle Data Group publications) to realize what fascinating stuff is being done at Fermilab and will be done at LHC.

      Further support comes from the Resonaances blog, which in a 1 July 2007 post entitled “Nima’s Marmoset” said:
      “… Nima Arkani-Hamed [formerly at Harvard and now at Princeton IAS]… gave another talk …[at]… CERN … advertising his MARMOSET … a new tool for reconstructing the fundamental theory from the LHC data …
      Nima pointed out …[that]… at the dawn of the LHC era we have little idea which underlying theory and which lagrangian will turn out relevant …
      Nima says that this new situation requires new strategies … The idea is to study physical processes using only kinematic properties of the particles involved.
      Instead of the lagrangian,
      one specifies the masses, production cross sections and decay modes of the new particles. The amplitudes are parameterized by one or two shape variables. This simple parameterization is claimed to reproduce the essential phenomenology that could equally well be obtained from more complicated and more time-consuming simulations in the standard approach …
      MARMOSET is a package allowing … Monte Carlo simulations of physical processes. As the input it requires just the new particles + their production and decay modes. Based on this, it generates all possible event topologies and scans the … parameters, like production and decay rates, in order to fit the data. The failure implies necessity to add new particles or new decay channels. In this recursive fashion one can extract the essential features of the underlying fundamental theory. …
      Proffesionals say that MARMOSET does not offer anything they could not, if necessary, implement within half an hour.
      On the other hand, it looks like a useful tool for laymen. …”.

      In short,
      Nima says that the Standard Model Lagrangian should be ignored
      “… we have little idea which underlying theory and which lagrangian will turn out relevant …”
      even though the Standard Model has passed EVERY experimental test for over 30 years, and there is NO experimental observation whatsoever indicating that the Standard Model is not the relevant “… underlying theory and … lagrangian …” for physics at the LHC.

      I disagree with Nima, and feel that the Standard Model Lagrangian (unless and until some experimental result disagrees with it) should be the primary basis for analysis of data from the LHC.

      As a layman who supports the Standard Model, and whose physics model includes the Standard Model as a subset, I resent the characterization of MARMOSET as “… a useful tool for laymen …”,
      especially when
      it seems to be primarily a tool designed by superstring theorists to enable them to avoid troubling their highly trained minds (a la Majikthise and Vroomfondel) with the details of the Standard Model.

      Tony Smith

    11. ObsessiveMathsFreak says:

      # This year’s award for most ludicrous hep-ph paper is likely to be won in a walk by this one. Tommaso is even better than Sabine on the topic.

      At one point I was regretting it, but right now I am so glad I picked mathematics instead of physics. The field is … a disaster.

      What we have got here, is a failure of process.

    12. Eric Mayes says:

      Actually, physics is quite healthy. It’s only because of the efforts of certain people to mislead and disparage that you have this impression.

    13. Xerxes says:

      This arxiv paper appears to have been cribbed from the plot of “Einstein’s Bridge”, a novel in which the reason for the SSC being canceled was that time-traveling physicists sabotage the effort in order to prevent a dire future catastrophe associated with particles produced there. Take SSC–>LHC and time-traveling physicists–>consistent histories interpretation of QM, and it seems a near match.

    14. H-I-G-G-S says:

      The amusing thing about the Lykken quote is that not that long ago
      he was selling himself as a devoted string theorist on NOVA. He, like
      the author of this blog, is an opportunist.

      NOVA: What is so compelling about string theory to make you want to devote your career to it?

      Lykken: I think when a lot of people go into theoretical physics, they’re looking for the big answers to the big questions. String theory holds out the promise that we can really understand questions that you might not even have thought were scientific questions—questions about how the universe began, questions of why the universe is the way it is at the most fundamental level. The idea that a scientific theory that we already have in our hands could answer the most basic questions is extremely seductive. Of course, for this to really happen, string theory first of all has to be right, which we don’t know, and then we have to be able to test it and understand it eventually in experiments.

      String theory itself probably won’t be understood even in my lifetime at the deeper level. But I do think that there are ideas coming out of string theory that we will test and we will confirm hopefully in experiments, and that’s what I’m really hoping for. I want to see during my career that at least some of these big ideas coming out of string theory we’ll actually get our hands on and see that they do happen in the real world.

    15. Peter Woit says:


      OK, I see that there is one string theorist who can spell the word…

      You may be right that there is a certain amount of rats/sinking ships going on here. As for the accusation against me of “opportunism”, I’ve been saying things critical of string theory and the behavior of string theorists for a very long time. When I decided to start doing so publicly, many people told me I shouldn’t do this, that it wouldn’t be good for me at all, and that I’d become the target of personal attacks, often anonymous ones…

    16. Aaron Bergman says:

      Apparently people can’t even make jokes these days.

    17. anon says:

      Aaron, you are not even funny.

    18. Tom Whicker says:


      To say “String theory itself probably won’t be understood even in my lifetime at the deeper level” is to beg the question that there
      *is* a deeper level to string theory. It is similar to Jackson Pollock
      putting the last drips of paint on “Full Fathom Five” and saying
      “I may never fully understand this art work.”


    19. anonymous says:

      It seems to me that being skeptical of string theory has become fashionable of late. I’m pretty sure this is a phenomenon of those who aren’t skilled and smart enough to work in string theory. Some of these people are crackpots, and some are real physicists who work on topics which are a little out of the mainstream (i.e. ‘alternative approacjes). I guess they think being skeptical makes them look smart, even though these people generally produce nothing of their own. It’s always easier to sit back and criticsize than to do some actual work.

    20. Aaron Bergman says:

      Aaron, you are not even funny.

      But do the lurkers support me in e-mail?

    21. Peter Woit says:


      Well, I’m pretty sure that you and other string theorists’ conviction that skepticism about string theory “is a phenomenon of those who aren’t skilled and smart enough to work in string theory” is a phenomenon of people crippled by a pathological degree of arrogance.

    22. wat happened to Lubos? says:

      Maybe it’s inappropriate to ask here but I’m curious to know if Lubos has been fired or if he voluntarily resigned. If he did get fired, was it due to his blunt remarks and disrespect for other academic researchers?

    23. amused says:

      I’m pretty sure that if string theorists were as smart as they think they are then ST papers would be dominating the pages of PRL, just like the papers by the smartest mathematicians dominate the pages of Ann. Math. and Invent. Math. (Of course, string theorists profess not to care about journals any more, but it’s hilarious to see how keen many of them are to submit to PRL whenever they think they have a chance.)

    24. anonymous says:

      Most string theorists don’t like to publish in PRL because it’s too restricitive. It’s difficult to communicate results in string theory to a broad, general audience within the four page limit. Most string theory papers will be found in JHEP, Nuclear Physics B, Physical Review D, or Physics Letters B.

    25. amused says:

      Well, string theorists don’t seem to have any problems when it comes to hyping their work in the general press, where the audience is even more broad and the restrictions more severe…
      It’s no more difficult to communicate results in ST than in other areas of formal theory, and from what I’ve seen most string theorists love publishing in PRL just as much as the rest of us, even though they are a bit reluctant to admit it 😉

    26. DaveC says:

      My impression is that the peer expectations amongst string theorists don’t push them towards PRL as they do the rest of us. At the same time there is surely some awareness that most of their results don’t actually meet the PRL broad interest requirement. On the other hand the arrogance of anonymous is laid out as clear as day before us here. Does s/he think any physicist outside string theory (the vast majority of us, remember) is going to be impressed by moaning about the four-page limit?!

      More on-topic, Gordon has called me ‘dude’ quite a few times. He shouldn’t be allowed to get away with denying it, but I also hope he doesn’t stop.

    27. Amos Elberg says:

      I have the same question about Lubos…

    28. random dude says:

      Dudes, why does this Gordon Watts dude have a problem with the word `dude’?

    29. SnarkFest says:

      Skepticism about X is a phenomenon of those who aren’t skilled and smart enough to work in X.

      Now that’s a nice rhetorical trick! I think I’ll start using it…

    30. mclaren says:

      Snarkfest’s comment seems apropos. The comment by anonymous that skepticism of string theory is a phenomenon of those who aren’t skilled and smart enough to work in string theory is nothing but the old long-debunked ad hominem argument. Anyone who disagrees with my arguments is too stupid to understand them, therefore not worth bothering to refute.

      The 2 obvious problems with this kind of ad hominem argument are:
      [1] it is demonstrably untrue, since highly skilled and knowledgeable phycisists like Peter Woit and Lee Smolin and Steven Wienberg have been vocal about their skepticism of string “theory”; and [2] the implication behind this kind of ad hominem argument is that we cannot apply the generally accepted requirements of the scientific method to string “theory” because string “theory” is so allegedly complex and so purportedly sophisticated.

      Let’s review the generally accepted requirements for a scientific theory, shall we?

      (A) To qualify as a scientific theory, it must have a rational basis and must use a maethmatical framework to describe nature. String “theory” qualifies on this point.

      (B) To qualify as a scientific theory, the mathematics must yield testable falsifiable predictions. String “theory” fails on this point.

      (C) To qualify as a scientific theory, the theory must be fertile and give rise to additional insights about the physical world which in turn can be tested and confirmed or disconfirmed, and lead to additional areas of productive research. String “theory” also fails on this point.

      The entire purpose of the scientific method and the peer review process is to insure that people who not extreme insider experts in a narrow niche field can nonetheless make a general evaluation of claims by other researchers. To claim that each field of scientific knoweldge is so esoteric and so advanced that no one outside that tiny subspeciality is qualified to evaluate the validity of papers published in that field, is to deny altogether the utility of peer review and, in effect, to abandon the scientific method. If that were really the case, only the handful of specialists in any given field would ever be qualified to judge the validity of that science, which means that essentially everyone would be UNqualified to evaluate whether ANY science was valid.

      Nope. Wrong.

      Peer review works. The scientific method works. I don’t have to know all the details of the latest experiments in shotgunning out blocks of conserved junk DNA in mice to know that it heralds some important new discoveries about the relationship between the various kinds of RNA and the traditiional paradigm of information transmission through the genome. I don’t have to know these details in order to eb sure the science is valid, because these papers have been published in peer-reviewed scholarly joujrnals, and their results have been replicated by other researchers.

      String “theory” does not even qualify as a scientific theory because it has made no testable falsifiable predcitions and no resarch data (obviously) have been published in peer-reviewed scholarly journals replicating those findings. It’s not necessary to know anything more than that to become skeptical that string even qualifies as “theory.” If we deny this chain of logic, we must abandon the peer review process and throw out the scientific method.

    31. mclaren says:

      …Being skeptical of string theory has become fashionable of late. I’m pretty sure this is a phenomenon of those who aren’t skilled and smart enough to work in string theory.

      The old ad hominem fallacy.

      Ad homneim arguments won’t convince anyone that string is a “theory,” but falsifiable testable predictions might.

      Got any?

    32. anon. says:

      mclaren, if string ever made any truly falsifiable predictions, nearly everyone in that subject today would run away, for fear of it being disproved. You don’t have the intelligence to grasp that not having any falsifiable predictions actually makes a science more attractive to slow thinkers. If they try working in a fast moving research program which makes falsifiable predictions, their future is insecure.

      The brains behind all big corporate research efforts involving many people is lack of falsifiability. It is a great benefit in many areas, not just religion but also politics, and now string theory. You just need to become more broad minded, then you’ll begin to understand how stupid your comments are. You’re under the illusion that string theory should be a ‘shut up and calculate’ discipline. The whole point is that it’s a ‘shut up and speculate’ subject. The less likely it is to ever make a falsifiable prediction, the stronger it becomes, since moronic critics can’t disprove any of it.

    33. lyme says:

      Steven Wienberg have been vocal about their skepticism of string “theory”;

      As far as I know, S. Weinberg is an advocate of ST, though not a practitioner himself.

    34. lyme says:

      Maybe I should give some basis to my opinion.
      See hep-th/9702027 and hep-ph/0401010, for example. A short quote from the latter paper,

      I am emphasizing here that it took a long time before we realized what these ideas
      were good for partly because I want to encourage today’s string theorists,
      who I think also have good ideas that are taking a long time to mature.

    35. schtirlitz says:

      “highly skilled and knowledgeable phycisists like Peter Woit and Lee Smolin and Steven Wienberg”
      LOL, very amusing indeed!

    36. schtirlitz says:

      “To qualify as a scientific theory, the mathematics must yield testable falsifiable predictions. String “theory” fails on this point.”

      Is the existance of the Higgs boson a falsifiable prediction of the Standard Model?

    37. schtirlitz says:

      Oops, I meant EXISTENCE

    38. Peter Woit says:


      Please stop posting rants here. This isn’t helpful and does nothing to encourage informed discussion, quite the opposite.


      Yes the existence of the Higgs is a falsifiable prediction of the Standard Model. All its properties, including its spin, charge and all couplings to all known other particles are predicted. There is one undetermined parameter in the Standard Model, the Higgs self-coupling, which, if known, determines its mass. The LHC should be able to cover the entire energy range where effects of the Higgs are supposed to show up, no matter what the self-coupling. If the LHC sees no sign of the Higgs, the Standard Model is falsified. We’re hoping this happens….

    39. schtirlitz says:

      Thanks Peter! I agree, although the Higgs mass cannot be predicted, there exists an upper bound which the LHC covers. BUT it only becomes falsifiable once the LHC comes about.
      OK, then a similar question:
      Was the existence of the 3-rd generation of quarks a falsifiable prediction? It seems to me that there was a huge uncertainty about the top mass in the context of the SM. Am I wrong? If the top mass were ~O(few TeV), would the SM have been falsified?

    40. Peter Woit says:


      As I’ve often written about here, the notion of “falsifiability” is not such a simple one. Different theories contain different amounts of wriggle room, from one extreme where nothing is adjustable to another where almost eveything is. The Higgs is a good example of a conventional falsifiable theory, with one undetermined parameter, and a vast number of highly precise predictions with zero wriggle room that can be made and tested for each value of that parameter.

      Once the tau was found in the mid-seventies, the SM predicted a bottom and top quark with specified properties, except for two undetermined parameters, the masses. The bottom quark mass was fixed by the observation of the Upsilon in 1977. After that, I believe there were various upper bounds on the top quark mass from precision electroweak experiments, but I don’t remember the details of that story.

    41. schtirlitz says:

      Thank you for your answer Peter but to be honest, I’m not satisfied with it. I agreed with your answer about the HIggs mass but don’t you think that the discovery of Upsilon was a lucky thing in itself?
      I thought that the answer to my question was trivial:
      The existance of the 3-rd generation was not falsifiable since, for example, the masses could not be fixed by the theory. It took about 20 years of searching to discover the top – a clear indication that it’s existence, predicted way back in the early seventies was pretty much in the same category as either technicolor or superpartners or extra dimensions right now – unfalsifiable!

    42. Peter Woit says:


      I don’t have time to look up the references, with a little effort you can find them yourself, but precision electroweak measurements implied a specific range of values for the top quark mass. Before its discovery there were only a range of values for the mass such that the SM was consistent with all the data. The SM made a falsifiable prediction that there would be a top quark with specific properties in a specific mass range. A particle with exactly these properties was found in exactly the predicted mass range. This is a textbook case of a conventional sort of testable, falsifiable scientific prediction.

      The other things you mention are a mixed bag each with different degrees of wriggle room.

    43. lyme says:

      Without claiming any expertise in these matters, I’d say that without a 3rd generation there’d be no CP violation in the SM, and it’d go down the experimental drain.

      With a non-standard 3rd generation, without a top, there’s no anomaly cancellation in the SM and, again, it’s falsified.

      No top = no SM.

    44. schtirlitz says:

      “Before its discovery there were only a range of values for the mass such that the SM was consistent will all the data.”

      But the data you are referring to was only available a few years before it was discovered. It took 20 years of data collection to nail it down! It was unknown upriory what its mass range would be. The SM itself does not require it to be that much heavier than the other quarks, does it?

      So, by the same token MSSM pheno people can say that there exists, for instance, a gluino with very specific properties and the upper bound on its mass still undetermined for the lack of precision data, just like was the case for the mass of the top quark in the 70s. If the LHC discovers a gluino it will be just like the dicovery of Upsilon you mentioned above – a lucky accident!

    45. schtirlitz says:

      “With a non-standard 3rd generation, without a top, there’s no anomaly cancellation in the SM and, again, it’s falsified.”

      Nope, the anomalies cancel in each successive generation.
      It was CP violation by K_0 that prompted Kobayashi and Maskawa to suggest the existence of the 3rd generation.

      But again, low scale superpartners have been suggested to stabilize the hierarchy, explain the electroweak symmetry breaking (why the Higgs mass parameter turns negative), dark matter, gauge couling unification, etc. The MSSM has many input parameters which can in principle be fixed by precision data, so what? It’s just like the Standard model in the 1970s when a lot of its parameters were not fixed!

    46. Eric Mayes says:

      Don’t forget that the top mass was predicted to be very heavy by radiative electroweak symmetry breaking in minimal supergravity back in the early 80’s, which is another strong piece of evidence for the ‘not even wrong’ theory called supersymmetry.

    47. Peter Woit says:

      1 undetermined parameter or 105, it’s exactly the same! A theory that has been tested precisely 1000s of times or one that predicts almost nothing, exactly the same!!


    48. Eric Mayes says:

      It seems to me that supersymmetry predicts much more than ‘almost nothing’. In addition to radiative electroweak breaking and a correspondingly large top mass, it predicts the existence of superpartners to the known particles, which are estimated to be in the TeV scale range. Your point seems to be that this idea is useless since we cannot predict what the precise masses and mixings of these states will be, since this depends on the exact mechanism by which supersymmetry is broken. I and others have pointed out that this is no different that the situation in the 60’s and early 70’s when the Standard Model was just beginning to emerge from the fog. You seem to be in denial about this and oblivious to the way science actually works.

    49. Peter Woit says:

      “oblivious to the way science actually works”


      You really should consider whether ad hominem attacks and insulting people is the right way to carry on a scientific discussion.

      I’m not going to review the history of the Standard Model here, it’s a complicated story, one that is very different than the story of supersymmetry.

    50. lyme says:

      Nope, the anomalies cancel in each successive generation.

      That’s what I meant. After the Upsilon was discovered there had to be a top for the anomaly to vanish.

      But, more to the point, and I’m speaking only for myself, I wouldn’t say susy is not even wrong. My personal opinion is, it’s theoretically compelling but phenomenologically ugly due to the abnormal obesity of its superrenormalizable sector… But it might well happen that either an experimental discovery or a theoretical breakthrough give it the plastic surgery it needs to be pretty again.

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