No News

I’ve been hearing no interesting news from the LHC recently, about all I’ve learned is that CMS/ATLAS haven’t even decided whether it’s worth combining their latest public data (probably not, what is much more interesting is the large amount of data they are now analyzing separately). So my plan for next week is to travel to Antwerp, where I’ll try and get Tommaso Dorigo drunk and see what I can find out. We’ll both be at TEDx, he’s got more of the story here.

Adrian Cho has a wonderful long piece in Science (and podcast here) about the sociology of the two big experiments at the LHC. It gives some insight into the process by which a Higgs result is likely to emerge, including the steps being taken to make sure that some group doesn’t “parachute in” at the last moment to try and capture glory. I’m still trying to figure out who gets a Nobel prize if the Higgs is found.

For some other reading material, there’s John Ellis’s 65th birthday colloquium, an interview with Bianca Dittrich, and yet more evidence that MathOverflow rules.

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71 Responses to No News

  1. bruno says:

    I’m still trying to figure out who gets a Nobel prize if the Higgs is found.


  2. Bobito says:

    I love math overflow, but why has Lurie’s answer gotten 68 votes? Many much more informative answers get only 5 or 10 votes. The answer to my question is that the answer was by Lurie.

  3. Octoploid says:

    > I’m still trying to figure out who gets a Nobel prize if the Higgs is found.

    Lyn Evans would deserve it…

    BTW there will be an interview with Lisa Randall on Charlie Rose tonight.

  4. DB says:

    Cho makes the interesting point that with groups the size of CMS and Atlas with around 3,000 physicists in each, the issue of competition within groups is a phenomenon which may need to be reckoned with, as compared with the straightforward traditional competition between groups, illustrating it via the story of how, earlier this year, the University of Winsconsin was accused of trying to steal a march on “discovering” the Higgs boson diphoton decay, a decay mode memorably described by Tommaso Dorigo as: “two angry gamma rays, each roughly carrying the energy of a 2 milligram mosquito launched at the whooping speed of four inches per second toward your buttocks.”

  5. Jack Levitt says:

    Peter, the obvious answer re the Nobel question, while the discovery of the Higgs is certainly worthy of the prize, no person or group of persons have done enough (in comparison to their colleagues) to warrant the award. Hence, no Nobel for the Higgs should be awarded. Simple, huh?

    By the way, please take care in Antwerp. I hear the city has gotten more violent in recent years.

  6. Yatima says:

    That should be “angry gamma quanta”, I guess.

    Slow news day? Slow news day. But we have this:

    “Results from 730 kg days of the CRESST-II Dark Matter Search”

    64 events maybe.

  7. Peter Woit says:


    Somehow, ambiguous claims to see dark matter that conflict with other experiments no longer seem newsworthy…

  8. weichi says:

    bobito – but isn’t Lurie’s answer the only answer?

  9. Garrett says:

    Hey, cool — have fun at TEDx.

    The nobel committee will no doubt struggle to outdo their previous curious decisions.

  10. Dan L says:

    Actually, your link is one more example of why MathOverflow appears to be more interesting than it really is. The stated purpose of the site is for researchers to answer research questions posed by other researchers. The link is to a question that a (presumptive) graduate student asked that could have been answered simply by looking at the Preface of the book. This is one of many examples of what I would call “lazy grad student” questions on MO.

    Frankly, I have no idea how successful MO is with its stated goal. That is because its greatest successes are too technical to be understood by a broad audience. If an answer to a question gets 50+ votes, then maybe it’s a great little exposition of some piece of mathematics, but I seriously doubt that it was an answer to true research question, because real research questions are typically only understandable by a few dozen people in the country (if that). The main exceptions occur only when you need something from outside your field of expertise.

  11. Dopey john says:

    Maths Overflow is an amazing success, probably because f**kwits like me can gawp at the brain exploding questions being asked there, and check out the profiles of today’s rising stars and Fields medal winners. There’s now a high-brow theoretical physics version currently private, but going public in 6 days time: Who knows, even Witten may post there someday if it’s as successful as Maths Overflow. On the other hand, maths seems to be far more popular than physics so it may not flourish.

  12. Bernhard says:

    If the Nobel committee follow what they did in the past, the answer is easy. They will pick up the spokesperson(s) of the experiment(s) . This used to make sense I guess, in the time of Rubia and Van der Meer. Now these would be a much less logical decision. First they have decide in ATLAS for example between F. Gianotti, current spokesperson, or P. Jenni, who was the spokesperson of ATLAS for years and in this sense who put things to work. In an experiment involving the LHC I´m afraid that´s not good enough, why not give some credit to the accelerator guys? So, best solution, give it to CERN, and let Rolf Heuer go to Stockholm to get it, in the same way that UN got a piece prize. Otherwise my suggestion is to give the prize to Tommaso Dorigo, because even people working in experimental collaborations learn more reading his blog than actually working, so this should have an influence in the discovery itself 🙂

  13. null says:

    Would a Nobel be awarded for establishing the Higgs does NOT exist?

  14. Anon says:

    I think one would do well not to start counting Nobels (or Higgses) before they are hatched.

  15. Alex says:

    LHC and collider physics are clearly dead…check out the new OPERA results next week: it seems that neutrinos are tachyons !!!!

  16. Artie says:

    Dan L: I agree that the link is a pretty terrible example of what MO is good for, but I disagree with your overall premise. There’s a lot of material on MO that isn’t research-level but is fascinating nevertheless (irrespective of the site’s stated goal). And there are plenty of fascinating things that are research-level, but are not “too technical to be understood by a broad audience”, for example this question by Bjorn Poonen (which, I admit, is an outlier). I don’t expect anyone to come along and solve Poonen’s problem, but that doesn’t make the question any less interesting.

  17. Truly Anomalous says:

    I say give the Nobel to Tommaso D…

  18. Jeff M says:

    As a mathematician I’d have to agree with Artie about MO. Actually, one of the great things about MO is that as a researcher you can ask questions about areas outside your field, and get expert input. I’m a geometric analyst, but I’ve recently been using graph theory to get results about Riemann surfaces. I just posted a question to try and get unstuck on something that has been driving me crazy for a while now, it’s much easier than asking all my analysis friends if they happen to know a nice graph theorist I can bother 🙂

  19. johnR says:

    Octoploid I agree
    Lyn Evans would highly deserve it.
    Instead, I would hardly figure out which is the point to have some high level burocrat going to Stockholm to get the prize.
    Is Lyn still involved with the machine operation?

  20. anonymous says:

    I think we have a long ways to go before somebody gets a Nobel for HEP – this year’s Nobel will probably go for dark energy (Riess or Perlmutter is my guess), but I am thinking the Higgs is on it’s last leg (wouldn’t we hear some leaks by now)?

  21. lun says:

    Actually, the news that CRESST has found dark matter is accompanied by the news dark matter is incompatible with galaxy formation

  22. Thomas Larsson says:

    “Would a Nobel be awarded for establishing the Higgs does NOT exist?”
    Michelson won a Nobel prize, Morley not, so who knows.

  23. null says:

    “Would a Nobel be awarded for establishing the Higgs does NOT exist?”
    Michelson won a Nobel prize, Morley not, so who knows.

    It’s funny you say this b/c I’ve wondered whether the Higgs (and SUSY, GUT, string theory) is the”luminiferous aether”. of 21 century.

  24. visitor@CERN says:

    Here at CERN, My colleagues tell me that in a recent Scientific Policy Council meeting DG Rolf-Dieter Heuer was asking advice how to best tell European political leaders that there is no Higgs.

  25. not@CERN says:

    That is simply gossip and hearsay. The DG will necessarily have to prepare speeches for multiple eventualities. How can anyone positively conclude that there is “no Higgs” so early in the game? One can say that the task is very difficult, and there is no conclusive signal as yet, but a lot more – and painstaking – work remains to be done. The LHC has not even reached its top design energy of sqrt{s} = 7 TeV yet. Too much idle gossip.

    Blood, toil, tears and sweat?

  26. not@CERN says:

    E_max = 7 TeV/beam, sqrt{s} = 14 TeV

  27. topper says:

    The Tevatron came online in 1985, with adequate energy to produce top quarks, but the top quark itself was discovered only in 1995 (approx). It required a lot of integrated luminosity and also enormous data analysis to discern the top in all of the accumulated data. (The Tevatron devoted part of its time to fixed-target experiments. The LHC devotes part of its time to heavy ions. Then there is downtime for maintenance. This all takes time.) So no reason to panic about `no Higgs’ just yet.

  28. Peter Woit says:

    topper + people@CERN,

    The Standard Model makes very precise predictions about the Higgs, and, if all goes well, the LHC experiments should have the necessary luminosity to test the prediction, letting us finally know whether there is a SM Higgs or not. Waiting for higher energy or much higher luminosities should not be necessary to decide the question of whether the SM is right. It’s true that, for Higgs masses near the lower bound, the statistics will be near the edge of what is necessary for 95% exclusion, and one may end up with an ambiguous result. But, even in that case, the luminosity available in the first part of next year should decide the issue.

    Coming up with a CERN statement for the case of no Higgs has been an agenda item for quite a while at their Scientific Policy Council, so that’s not necessarily indicative of anything. It’s an interesting question whether the DG is being fed inside rumors from the experiments about what the data is saying. Quite possibly not, in which case he knows no more than the rest of us about the Higgs existence question.

  29. Yatima says:

    “DG Rolf-Dieter Heuer was asking advice how to best tell European political leaders that there is no Higgs.”

    That’s pretty simple, innit “THERE IS NO STANDARD MODEL HIGGS and here is where we go from here: … “.

    Why do I get the feeling that some think the situation is that of Admiral Piett having to tell Darth Vader that Han Solo hast just slipped through the fingers of the combined might of the imperial expeditionary force.

    Please stop it!

    I find it actually refreshing that some things in this universe do not bent to incessant spin, political hemming and hawing or Jedi mind tricks.

  30. OhDear says:

    “I find it actually refreshing that some things in this universe do not bent to incessant spin, political hemming and hawing or Jedi mind tricks.”

    Me too, but unfortunately government funding of scientific research is not one of them.

  31. Shantanu says:

    Peter, maybe you could blog about Avi Loeb’s talk which is a must watch for particle physicists (than astrophysicists) esp. now that there is no evidence for supersymmetry, extra dimensions etc

  32. Marcus says:

    Shantanu, which Avi Loeb talk is that? Is there an abstract, or slides pdf, or online video? I searched and could not find any recent talk by Loeb.

  33. Shantanu says:

    Marcus see
    He also gave a similar talk at CFA, but I can’t find a link right now.

  34. Peter Woit says:


    By Loeb’s investment analogy, I’d say most particle theorists right now have moved to cash (most risk-free investment), waiting for ongoing market crashes to get sorted out. SUSY and extra dimensions are in free-fall, with people trying to get everything they’ve invested in them out before the market value is zero. Depending on the Higgs/no Higgs question, the field could look very different in a few months, but I have no idea which way this is going to go, so no idea what happens next.

  35. Peter Lee says:

    Is there any comment to be had concerning the current and ongoing (??) debates within the Gran Sasso neutrino experiment (including the views of the Lyon data analysis team) about the potential (but possibly/probably false?) signal of supra-luminal neutrinos in that experiment?

  36. Peter Woit says:

    Peter Lee,

    Someone wrote a comment about this here 3 days ago.

    The rumor seems to be a “6 sigma” observation of timings indicating faster than light propagation of neutrinos. This seems almost certain to be a mistake; to believe it, you would need overwhelming evidence. Supposedly details to be released later this week, we’ll see. If it is real, presumably it should also be observable by other experiments in other conditions. My rule of thumb is don’t believe something like this until it’s confirmed by a second experiment: people on the first experiment want to believe they’ve found something revolutionary, people on the second experiment want to shoot down the result of the first experiment…

  37. none says:

    Thanks for the Loeb link. In addition to the paper linked there
    (Taking “The Road Not Taken”: On the Benefits of Diversifying Your Academic Portfolio, there is also a recent paper
    (Rating Growth of Scientific Knowledge and Risk from Theory Bubbles with abstract:
    In physics the value of a theory is measured by its agreement with experimental data. But how should the physics community gauge the value of an emerging theory that has not been tested experimentally as of yet? With no reality check, a hypothesis like string theory may linger for a while before physicists will know its actual value in describing nature. In this short article, I advocate the need for a website operated by graduate students that will use various measures of publicly available data (such as the growth rate of newly funded experiments, research grants, publications, and faculty jobs) to gauge the future dividends of various research frontiers. The analysis can benefit from past experience (e.g. in research areas that suffered from limited experimental data over long periods of time) and aim to alert the community of the risk from future theory bubbles.

  38. Zathras says:

    Regarding superluminal neutrinos, this is not the first time the possibility has come up. In the early 90s, there was a nuclear experiment (sorry, can’t remember the name) which produced a Curie plot for neutrinos indicating that the square of the neutrino mass was negative. Such a result is consistent with superluminal neutrinos.

  39. Reply to Zathras says:
    lists some of the experiments with negative neutrino mass-squared.

  40. SpearMarktheSecond says:

    I doubt their will be any Nobel for a Higgs or no Higgs. Too many cooks. Unless there is a twist that some clever group figures out and sees the Higgs in an unexpected manner.

    Peter Woit is right… dark matter has lots of claims and counterclaims, and is just a mess right now.

    No Higgs? The DG should just say, `Waxahachie’.

    As for superluminal neutrinos, I thought Telegdi ruled that out years ago for electron antineutrinos, and then someone else did it for muon neutrinos. But, who bothers to read the literature anymore? Perhaps I’m misremembering though.

  41. Charles says:

    Pretty safe bet that there will not be a Higgs Nobel on October 4, 2011 for Theory or Experimental. Awarding would bring too many questions and undermine final steps in confirmation of the theory.

  42. Bernhard says:

    The shut-down of the Tevatron in nine days or so is perhaps a new subject to be discussed (on the absence of something more exciting).

  43. kristo says:

    (@Jack Levitt)
    I will be volunteering at TEDx Antwerp. There is nothing unsafe about walking around in Antwerp – at any hour. True in certain quarters there has been more ‘uproar’ in recent years, but this is restricted to some streets in certain area’s a normal visitor of Antwerp will not stroll into.

    European (Belgian) cities are nothing like what I hear from US main cities, where walking around in the evening or at night is indeed dangerous. Quite the contrary here. US visitors are amased when you say during or after a night out that you’re walking to another place or homewards. BTW I live in Ghent, you should visit.

  44. M. Wang says:

    Dr. Woit, the superluminal neutrino story has hit the Economist. Will you do a more detailed blog entry when more info is released in the next few days?

  45. Bernhard says:

    Not only the Economist, the buzz is growing exponentially and will hit the official peak tomorrow when CERN will make the announcement.

  46. Low Math, Meekly Interacting says:

    Seriously: WTF is up with the superluminal neutrinos???

  47. Peter Woit says:


    I’ve spent a day in Antwerp and enjoyed it a lot, maybe I’ll run into you. No sign of anything dangerous. It’s also true that in Manhattan these days, you would have to go to a fair amount of trouble to find a place that wasn’t safe to walk around anytime of day or night. Both New York and major European cities are much safer now than what I remember several decades ago. Several people have told me I must see Ghent, and maybe a plan to visit Bruges will be modified to add a short trip to Ghent.

  48. Peter Woit says:

    About the superluminal neutrinos. My initial reaction is that this has to be a problem with the experiment, and making a big public announcement of this is a really bad idea, even if you do this together with explaining that it’s almost surely an experimental problem. If I get time and there’s something more interesting to the story, I’ll try and write a posting on the topic.

  49. Andrew Foland says:

    If ever there were an experimental result that deserved the tagline “not even wrong”, surely it would be superluminal neutrinos.

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