Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Race For The God Particle

This is a rather lively article from the NY Times about the search for the Higgs at Fermilab, and how "rumors" about any hint of discovery is being spread. In the age of the internet, what used to be simply a piece of information that only a few people would have known, is now being reported by some worldwide, either via unconfirmed news reports, or people's blogs.

I don't know about you, but I consider scientists who report on unconfirmed discovery as being irresponsible. We run the risk of looking like the heath industry, where it seems that every few months, something else is right and something else is wrong. The general public can't tell which is a rumor, which are still not confirmed, and which are truly verified and accepted. As someone who has to battle crackpots often, I see it all the time. People scoop what they read, especially when it was written by a "legitimate" scientist, and use it to further their ignorance.

This issue was covered recently in the May 2007 issue of PhysicsWorld. News media were picking up reports from blogs, of all places, about this "bump" in the D0 data. This is not how science should be done, and certainly not how physics is done. Scientists have the responsibility not to cry wolf, especially when such a thing can be avoided. We're not talking about legitimate reports or results that eventually proved to be mistaken. We're talking about knowingly reporting something that is still in the early stages of being verified. It is of my opinion that such acts is motivated by the need for publicity, which is one of a scientist worst enemies. Just ask Fleishman and Pons.

I just wish these physicists involved with this debacle would grow up and learn from what has transpired.



Anonymous said...

"It is of my opinion that such acts is motivated by the need for publicity, which is one of a scientist worst enemies. Just ask Fleishman and Pons."

Best have a look at this:


ZapperZ said...

While publicity certainly can be a component of this, I do not believe it is a major component. One doesn't go through many painful years studying physics in college, go on to do postdoctoral work, accept entry position as a physicist with an income less than most, and go do physics with a major aim to get publicity. Physics is just way too difficult to do it for the wrong reason.

I have also interacted first hand with many of these people. At no time did I ever get the impression that publicity was their main goal. There is some urgency to do their work, and it would be a bonus if they make the first discovery, yes. But doing it mainly for publicity? Nope. I don't see it.

BTW, Fleishmann and Pons are chemists.