The Higgs Discovery

Just got out of 8 days in the Grand Canyon which was spectacular,

Reliable rumors couldn’t wait, and they indicate that the experiments are seeing much the same thing as last year in this year’s new data: strong hints of a Higgs around 125 GeV. The main channel investigated is the gamma-gamma channel where they are each seeing about a 4 sigma signal.

More later when I reach civilization.

Update: Back in civilization, or at least New York City. The above was the first posting I’ve ever written on an iphone, late at night. Now I have a real keyboard, so I can write a bit more. The “4 sigma signal” refers to the combined 2011 and new 2012 data. To oversimplify the situation, last year both experiments were seeing roughly a 3 sigma excess in gamma-gamma around 125 GeV. This was enough to convince many people that it was highly likely that this was the Higgs. However, that size excess is not completely convincing, it is not unheard of for there to be statistical flukes of such size.

The 2012 data that is being analyzed for ICHEP is of a similar size to the 2011 data. If 2011 was a fluke, you expect to see nothing much around 125 GeV in the 2012 data. If the 2011 signal really was the Higgs you expect the signal to strengthen. What I’m hearing from both experiments is that they are seeing an excess in the new data, strengthening the significance of the signal.

Exactly how much data they’ll have analyzed by ICHEP and exactly what the significance of the signal in the gamma-gamma channel will be (as well as what other channels will show) is still to be seen. CERN will soon have to decide how to spin this: will they announce discovery of the Higgs, or will they wait for some overwhelmingly convincing standard to be met, such as 5 sigma in at least one channel of one experiment? The bottom line though is now clear: there’s something there which looks like a Higgs is supposed to look. Attention will soon move to seeing if this signal is exactly what the SM predicts (e.g. will the excesses in different channels agree with SM predictions?).

More details about this from Philip Gibbs (who is speculating about what will be announced), and from Tommaso Dorigo (who is keeping quiet about what he knows, but providing context for what the ICHEP announcements will mean).

Update: Matt Strassler has more about this here. He provides about 20 links to his own blog, no link to the source of his information (this posting). It appears that this is because I’m a “non-particle-physicist blogger” engaged in a conspiratorial plot with some of the 6000+ people who know this latest news to “subvert the scientific process” by sharing it with others.

Update: There are stories about this at Wired, New Scientist and the New York Times. The New York Times article emphasizes that the Higgs results are now “Shrouded in Secrecy”, with the spokeswoman for ATLAS pleading “Please do not believe the blogs”.

According to Matt Strassler “the experimentalists can’t possibly have their data in presentable form yet, so the rumors can’t be correct in every detail”. To clarify any confusion

“Exactly how much data they’ll have analyzed by ICHEP and exactly what the significance of the signal in the gamma-gamma channel will be (as well as what other channels will show) is still to be seen”

means that the above rumors were based on just part of the data (significantly less than half in the ATLAS case, somewhat more than half in the CMS case).

Update: I think I’m too old to ever really understand Twitter, but it seems that #HiggsRumors is a “Trending Topic”, whatever that means. More explanation available from Jennifer Ouellette, and sensible commentary from Chad Orzel.

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88 Responses to The Higgs Discovery

  1. Pingback: The Higgs Buzz « In the Dark

  2. Thomas Wheeler says:

    Please keep sharing. I love your blog.

  3. paddy says:

    I second Thomas Wheeler’s comments: thank you P. Woit. I need not, I think, go into why “blogs” provide some element of transparency which otherwise these days is not there. I also thank T. Dorigo for his insights (and will deny he has ever revealed anything he shouldn’t have).

  4. Richard says:

    This “subvert the scientific process” prissiness is just hilarious.

    The only people who really care about the results already know, via their own professional rumour mills, pretty much what is going on.

    The only other people in the world who care are people like me: amateur science enthusiasts, washed-out graduate students, and technically inclined bystanders of the type any academic professional who cared about the political realities of funding his/her field would go out of their way to engage with; engage even to the awful, awful, awful, unprecedented level of letting slip bits of excitement and scandalous, terrible, non-peer-reviwed rumours.

    Faster than light neutrinos were really good for physics. Higgs rumours are good for particle physicist’s employment and for their grad students’ prospects and for the public funding of incomprehensibly complex endeavours that no lay member of the public will ever comprehend except at the human drama level. Anything that gets anybody outside the experiments to give a damn about the way the universe works — and how science really works, warts and all — is good for humanity. These are massive, expensive, huge, public-funded collaborations, and human members of the public are interested in more than what a consortium Press Office approves for staged revelation.

    As far as I know there’s no neck-and-neck race on against the North Korean Muon Collider for publishing precedence and valuable electro-weak patent rights.

    Pursed-lip tut-tutting about proper processes and the sanctity of Phys Rev B does nothing for anybody.

    Save the secrecy and the dramatic revelations for blinded data analyses, where it actually does have any effect upon The March of Science.

  5. Anonyrat says:

    The New York Times: New Data on Elusive Particle Shrouded in Secrecy

    Quote: Nobody who has seen the new data is talking, except to say not to believe the blogs, where a rumor of an enhanced signal has ricocheted around, and to warn that even if the signal is real, it may require much more data and analysis to establish that it actually acts like the Higgs boson and not an impostor.

    “Please do not believe the blogs,” Fabiola Gianotti, the spokeswoman for the team known as Atlas, after its huge detector, pleaded in an e-mail.

    End quote.

  6. Pingback: Rumors of imminent Higgs boson announcement run amok on science blogs. Discovery might be announced next week

  7. David Roberts says:

    Your New Scientist link is pointing to Wired’s story.

  8. Peter Woit says:

    Thanks David, fixed.

  9. David Folsom says:

    Some great points Richard. I only half agree that super luminal neutrinos were good for science though. There are quite a few with influence in communities, churches, educational positions and politics that latch onto these things and say “See, they don’t know what they’re even talking about.” The angle that those reporting the anomalous results were at least on some level asking for help in finding the error in their experiment is lost on that crowd (or even before that, at the media editor level). All those people vote and have impact on science funding. The half agree part of me reminds myself that, as they say, there is no such thing as bad publicity. It’s a thin crowd here in the “technically inclined bystander” demographic, but in reading your post, I’m reminded that I’m not alone.
    Peter, I suppose the irony of “subvert(ing) the scientific process” by pointing out the lack of scientific rigor in string theory, etc. isn’t lost on you. I hope you can at least find some humor in it. You’re an inspiration. Thank you.

  10. Peter Woit says:

    Thanks David!

    I agree that we could have all done fine without the OPERA business. I tried to ignore it on this blog….

    Don’t worry, I find the many accusations I’ve gotten over the years about how I’m ruining science quite a bit more amusing than upsetting.

  11. Anonyrat says:

    “You are subverting science but I cannot tell you just how, that too is a secret” – Strassler is all stressed out. And he cannot let go of his absurd position. One would think the effect of a blog post is to change the measurement! If the result is so fragile, the public needs to know that it funded a boondoggle.

  12. Anonyrat says:

    Peter, this risks going off topic, but the effect of having the 2011 results available is a far greater potential source of bias than any number of rumors. CERN really needs data analysts that know nothing about 2011 results, if the 2012 results are so susceptible to contamination. I read Strassler as not liking you, and so making up some reason or other to bash you. And if Strassler is in any way right, then this is a huge scientific scandal, billions spent on what is a very fragile result.

  13. Pingback: Hot Physics Gossip Suggests Higgs Boson Discovery Coming Next Week | Con Games

  14. Peter Woit says:


    I don’t see any reason to take seriously Strassler’s claims about the Higgs data analysis being compromised by my blog posting. The idea that it is that fragile is just kind of absurd.

    You can be sure though that the experiments are doing the best they can with this very hard to see signal. It’s been a topic of intense study for decades, and the situation of barely seeing a signal in one run, and trying to confirm it in the next is not exactly an unusual experimental design situation. I’ve heard a lot more this year about blinding and “opening the box”. It’s possible they are doing some things differently this year precisely because of the 2011 data, but I don’t know. Tommaso Dorigo has been on the CMS statistics committee, so surely knows a lot about this, maybe he’ll blog about it (after the results are made public).

  15. anon. says:

    This exchange has been remarkable and revealing. It’s just about convinced me to completely stop reading one blog, and I don’t mean this one….

  16. David Brown says:

    I see the Woit versus Strassler debate as a dispute over institutional control of information — both sides have some good points.

  17. Pingback: Don’t give in to Higgsteria, officials advise | Uncommon Descent

  18. Christian says:

    The notion that posting rumours of results can in any possible way subvert the scientific process is just absurdly precious.

    They’d have to be an apology for working scientists that’re working on the data if a bit of hype about what’s been seen so far has any kind of affect on the outstanding work.

    Heaven forbid the general public are allowed to get a teensy bit excited about the work (they funded) before the final results are in, eh?

  19. Pingback: Higgs Rumors Are the Price of Success – Uncertain Principles

  20. David Nataf says:

    Remember the Eot-Wash experiment?

    There were rumors, sometime around 2006, that they had found deviations from the inverse square law at short distances. That didn’t stop them from doing a competent analysis, and in the end their results were vanilla.

    In that case I think the rumors were good for science. I was an undergraduate at the time and I thought it was really cool that these physicists were exploring fundamental science by basically building a super-sophisticated pendulum, aka applying classical mechanics. It certainly picqued my interest.

  21. Peter, your link to Chad points to a post of his from 2010. You want this one:

  22. Peter Woit says:

    Thanks Doug, fixed.

  23. Pingback: To Higgs or not to Higgs – and who owns the information? « theoretical ecology

  24. sasqwatch says:

    Only discovered your blog moments ago (through Coyne’s WEIT website posting), though I thoroughly enjoyed “Not Even Wrong” a few months back. I also recommend Lee Smolin’s popular works to readers here, having just finished
    “Three Roads to Quantum Gravity”. Thanks for continuing to make this stuff accessible. It is much appreciated!

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  26. Yatima says:

    Woah this Higgs Discovery Meme is about to die of overexposure any minute now. But soon there will be another Greek Default or Lindsay Lohan story and things will calm down again.

    I can only agree wholeheartedly with the sentiment that “pursed-lip tut-tutting about proper processes and the sanctity of Phys Rev B does nothing for anybody”. Indeed. Getting stuffy in the ivory tower and making mysterious noises will just cause people to think one is in hock with the Synarchic Knights of Templar Rebirth to generate antimatter to kill the pope.

    I’m off to quaff some beer while reading about quantum computing.

  27. Former CDFer says:

    Once upon a time I was a physics professor doing experimental particle physics in a large collaboration. My basic take is: an experimenter who finds that these rumors hamper their ability to search correctly for the Higgs is an experimenter who needs to turn in their badge and gun.

  28. M says:

    Actually the most important rumor/news is about the central value of the gamma gamma rates: in agreement with 2011 data they are ***(self-censorship)*** than what predicted by the Standard Model Higgs, both in CMS and in ATLAS!

  29. Neil Bates says:

    For a humorous interlude, here’s my offering of what Dirty Higgsy had to say about all this:

    I know what you’re thinking: “Did we find five sigma, or only four?” Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement, I’ve kinda lost track myself. But being this is the LHC, the most powerful collider in the world, and would blow your mind clean off, you’ve got to ask yourself one question: “Do I feel lucky?” Well do ya, punk?

  30. Peter Woit says:


    What are the uncertainties in the Higgs production cross-section? Could they be a fraction like **self-censorship** -1?

  31. jpd says:

    its the quantum theory of blogging:
    posting a blog about an upcoming event changes the outcome of the event.

  32. Pingback: Una sorpresa que podemos esperar en el canal difotónico para la búsqueda del Higgs | QUE NO TE CONTROLEN

  33. Pingback: The Higgs Boson is a Liberal Conspiracy To Get The Government More Involved In Mass* « The Inverse Square Blog

  34. Pingback: BBC News – Excitement builds over Higgs data « Στα ίχνη της Γνώσης … Tracing Knowledge

  35. lib says:

    Thanks for the post.
    If the Higgs is found, how long will experiments continue at CERN in the field of dark matter research?

  36. Peter Woit says:


    The Higgs question very little if anything to do with the dark matter question. Research into dark matter will not be affected at all by what is learned about the Higgs at the LHC.

  37. Pingback: Nächste große Higgs-Enthüllung in fünf Tagen « Skyweek Zwei Punkt Null

  38. Pingback: AP: There Is Proof Higgs Boson Exists | Con Games

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