By now I’m sure anyone who reads this blog has heard that CERN made an announcement concerning the Higgs boson this morning. The results hint strongly that the Higgs – or something – is there. There are two detectors that are involved in the search – CMS and ATLAS. The statistical confidence (don’t even get me started on that one) of CMS is between 2 and 2.5 sigma while it is between 3 and 3.5 for ATLAS. The FQXi Facebook page (which I presume is being handled by Zeeya Merali this morning) noted that, apparently, biologists are mocking us (i.e. physicists) for not taking a sigma of less than 3 as definitive proof. Zeeya (er, whomever is tweeting/Facebooking this morning) notes, however, that roughly 50% of particle physics experiments with a sigma of less than 3 are false positives. Such is the life of a physicist.
Archive for December, 2011
My own brief (and somewhat unplanned) talk at the FQXi conference has finally been uploaded to the site. It’s not quite as embarrassing as it felt at the time, though I say “uuhhh” a lot (which I hate doing and try not to do in my presentations). Kudos to Shevaun on making the videos look nice.
UPDATE: I fixed the link. Doh!
Perhaps certain segments of science feel threatened by the growing anti-science rhetoric one seems to encounter each day in the media and elsewhere. Perhaps it is just another example of the sense of absolute surety that people nowadays have about their own ideas and convictions. Regardless, there is a growing trend in science of absolutism – that certain ideas are sacred and infallible. Unfortunately, this not only goes against the core principles of science (it is inherently “updatable”) but has the potential to hinder progress.
The latest example I have stumbled on is an ongoing discussion on LinkedIn about the nature of mass. One individual declares that mass is just energy. It’s a perfectly valid argument, but one I happen to disagree with for a number of reasons. In declaring my disagreement, however, I incurred a great deal of wrathful assertions that I was simply wrong and that there was no real debate about this point anymore (which is not true since plenty of peer-reviewed journals still publish articles on this topic). It was accompanied by the usual vitriol that is seen in online discussions (why do I let myself get sucked into these things?).
So what is there that can be done about it? I have no idea. I try very hard to educate my students not to do things like this. It’s a start, I guess. I’m also thinking of suggesting an article that confronts this topic to some of my acquaintances at various journals and magazines. Otherwise I’m at a loss. For all our pomposity about our superior methods of thinking, scientists are just as ideological and stupid as everyone else.