Wednesday, July 14, 2010

No Higgs.... YET!

I originally refused to report on this. Tommaso Dorigo "reported" another unconfirmed rumor (no, in this case, that is not redundant) that one of the light Higgs was detected either at CDF or D0 at the Tevatron. Of course, the various blogs and news agencies decided to report such speculative ramblings off someone's blog, and the whole internet was a buzz with this rumor. I refused to be suckered into reporting such a thing, considering that Dorigo has cried "wolf" before!

Word from Fermilab is that there is no such detection. So now all those various news agencies will print the official statement that there is no such discovery after all. What a waste of time, effort, and bandwidth!

When I read this, my jaw dropped wide open:

Dorigo has somewhat of a "boy who cried wolf" reputation among physicists, a reputation he embraces as healthy for science.

"Keeping particle physics in the press with hints of possible discoveries that later die out is more important than speaking loud and clear once in 10 years," he wrote in his blog.

This makes him the Paris Hilton of physics, because it appears that he cares more about being in the news than actually having anything of substance to say. And it is NOT true that keeping something in the news is better or more important than speaking loud and clear once in 10 years. If you continue to cry wolf often enough, the public will not only lose interest, but you lose CREDIBILITY. The health food industry is suffering from the same debacle, where almost every week or months, we get new reports on what's healthy and what's not. When people are bombarded with a constantly changing picture, they TUNE OUT. Is this not a possibility that Dorigo has ever considered? Of course not!

This is an irresponsible behavior. If it only reflects badly on him, I would have cared less. He could continue to ruin his credibility as much as he want. But this reflects badly on not only particle physics, but also physicists in general. Science, and definitely physics, cannot be done via speculation and rumors like this, especially when it gets into the public domain. Honest reporting of results, even if it is new, is one thing. Reporting 2nd or 3rd hand rumors is another. They are not the same thing, and doing the latter is utterly irresponsible.

But the problem here isn't just him. These various news agencies that do not seem to care that they are reporting a rumor that was reported on someone's personal blog, no less! The fact that they are using a source that had done this before AND shown to be unreliable is incredibly amazing. Have they lost all standards on having credible sources? Even if this turns out to be all true, that the Tevatron actually did produced Higgs, someone's blog would be the LAST place that a credible news agency should go to to get the news and confirmation. Am I being unreasonable here?

In the race to be the "first" to report things, we have lowered the quality of reporting and dismissed accuracy and replaced it for being fast. We don't care if something is accurate or not, let's just put it out there as soon as we can. This is a stupid and silly scenario.


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