Monday, April 05, 2010

Bad Glossary of Particle Physics Terms

Good intentions, bad execution.

Reuters decided to published what it calls a "Factbox", containing a list of glossary of terms commonly used in particle physics reporting. Unfortunately, it is wrought with errors and misleading definitions. Here it is in its full glory (I'm copying the entire list in case the news item gets deleted.

CERN - The European Organisation for Nuclear Research, a major laboratory located near Geneva on the Swiss-French border.

PARTICLE - An object which is sub-atomic -- smaller than an atom -- and has a definite mass and charge.

HADRON - A particle with mass, made up of smaller units called quarks that are bound together. Protons and electrons are types of hadron.

LHC - CERN's Large Hadron Collider that has been under development for 20 years, with a total project cost of 10 billion Swiss francs ($9.4 billion).

PARTICLE ACCELERATOR - A machine used to accelerate streams of particles in a defined direction at high speeds. The LHC is the world's largest.

COLLIDER - An accelerator in which two beams traveling in opposite directions are steered together to induce high-energy collisions between particles in one beam and those in the other.

HIGGS BOSON - A theoretical particle which is thought to give matter its mass. First proposed by Peter Higgs of the University of Edinburgh in 1964. The LHC should confirm whether it exists.

STANDARD PRINCIPLE - The standard theory of modern physics, based on two other theories -- general relativity and quantum mechanics. Its main weakness is that it cannot yet fully describe gravity or mass.

You get no points for pointing out the error in the "example" of a hadron, or the weird definition of a "particle" (is a neutrino not a particle then since it doesn't have a charge? Really?), and the rather strange definition of the Standard "Principle" (Standard Model, and when did GR got into it?).

The sad thing in all of this is not that they got it wrong. I would not expect a reporter to get all of this correct. The sad part is that (i) no one bothers to fact-check them and (ii) they don't have a expert staff or a physicist on call to give this a quick glance. How difficult can it be? It just shows a total lack of respect for this area of reporting.



darkritual said...


Jalyth said...

So what would be the correct chart? I've only gotten through Physics 203.

rallain said...

Wow. This is like something an 8th grader could have done (looking up terms).

Couldn't they just use wikipedia? I really don't get these media people. They might as well use cooler terms from star trek or something.

I hate to attack things like this because we all make mistakes - but these are from a group, not a blogger.

Unknown said...

I agree. Sad to see that they didn't check their facts here.

May I point out a little typo in the entry though? It should be "hadron". Pun intended? ;)

ZapperZ said...

Thanks for the catch on the typo. Maybe I had a dirty mind subconsciously! :)