Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Losing Faith in God Particles

The "God Particle" is (almost) dead:
A few years ago, celebrated British physicist Stephen Hawking was widely reported in the press to have placed a provocative public bet that the LHC (along with all particle accelerators that preceded it) would never find the Higgs boson, the so-called “God particle” believed responsible for having imbued massive particles with their mass when the universe was very young...

...informal polls of physicists over the last decade have shown that an overwhelming majority believed that the existence of the Higgs was a foregone conclusion and that all that was needed was simply to run the LHC long enough...

But the Higgs boson never appeared...

And yesterday, August 22, ... CERN scientists declared that over the entire range of energy the Collider had explored—from 145 to 466 billion electron volts—the Higgs boson is excluded as a possibility with a 95% probability.

...there is still a 5% chance that the Higgs is hiding somewhere ... But the Higgs is quickly running out of places to hide.
Fortunately, particle physics isn't nearly as politicized as climate science, so Higgs boson skeptics probably needn't worry about being likened to racists. But the possibility of erosion of faith in science causes some to fret:
Another, less profound, but far more obnoxious, outcome is that people who choose to dismiss science altogether simply because it doesn’t have the all the answers (in this case, the answer to, “How did we come to exist in the first place?”) will have new ammunition for their arguments. So, don’t be surprised when CERN’s troublesome admission that Higgs boson is likely a myth is cited as a reason that global warming doesn’t exist.
I don't know anyone who's "dismissing science altogether," but the fact of the matter is that the hard work of science can be a miserably difficult and disappointing endeavor.

And science isn't democratic in the sense that it can be settled by comfortable consensus. Fueled by skepticism, science is never "settled."

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