Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: Higgs Live!

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  • merc,

    137

    Since Dec 2006 • 2471 posts Report Reply

  • James Butler,

    And then Richard said:

    The #higgsboson is big news – on a par with Rutherford’s discovery of the nucleus, or JJ Thomson finding the electron.

    While the news from CERN is important, I'm not sure you can put it up there with Rutherford's or Thomson's results. The thing is that in both those cases the result was surprising, and both required new theory in order to explain them, thus expanding our understanding of the world (although I'm sure the experimenters had some kind of idea that there was something unusual worth finding out). The Higgs Boson, on the other hand, has been predicted by theory for decades, and experimental physicists have in essence been spending the intervening time trying to get particle accelerators up to the energy level where they were pretty sure they would see it. And, voila, there it is.

    It's an important result, and a real endorsement of the predictive power of the Standard Model. I also don't doubt that high-energy physics might have surprises up its sleeve for us in the next few years, as the CERN programme racks up more results at higher energies. But for experimental physics junkies, it lacks a bit of that wow factor.

    Auckland • Since Jan 2009 • 801 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz,

    While finding the Higgs is of great importance, and well worth the euros and dollars spent, I'd take issue with the quote "on a par with Rutherford's discovery of the nucleus, or JJ Thomson finding the electron" unless it's meant in a context of pure science.

    Those discoveries had imminent practical application - knowledge of the electron transformed chemistry (and consequently biology) and enabled electronics. Understanding the nucleus led directly to nuclear energy. Between them, those discoveries defined the 20th century,

    The elucidiation of the Higgs field doesn't, I think, presage any such technological change - partly because it's so hard to measure an effect.

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 4463 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to James Butler,

    While the news from CERN is important, I’m not sure you can put it up there with Rutherford’s or Thomson’s results. The thing is that in both those cases the result was surprising, and both required new theory in order to explain them, thus expanding our understanding of the world

    You’ll have to have that one out with Richard, but as I understand it part of the excitement around Higgs is its potential to surprise as research continues.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 18969 posts Report Reply

  • Danyl Mclauchlan,

    It's big news for physicists because it helps validate the standard model. If they didn't find it they'd have about a century of really hard work ahead of them.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 902 posts Report Reply

  • James Butler, in reply to Danyl Mclauchlan,

    It's big news for physicists because it helps validate the standard model. If they didn't find it they'd have about a century of really hard work ahead of them.

    You see, that would have been exciting!

    Auckland • Since Jan 2009 • 801 posts Report Reply

  • merc,

    I'm not on Twitter, in the name of science can I say,
    Bloggers, post a thread, called a post.
    Readers, read the post, called readers (uncommon).
    Commenters, read the post (hopefully), and comment (I know the button reads POST, this can vary).
    A reader can be a commenter, a commenter comments, a blogger posts.

    The thing regarding comic sans is relevant in so far as there has always been debate around how one chooses to illustrate their theory.
    I am now quite possibly in the danger zone.

    Since Dec 2006 • 2471 posts Report Reply

  • Martin Lindberg, in reply to Rich of Observationz,

    While finding the Higgs is of great importance, and well worth the euros and dollars spent, I'd take issue with the quote "on a par with Rutherford's discovery of the nucleus, or JJ Thomson finding the electron" unless it's meant in a context of pure science.

    The thing about discovering the nucleus and the electron is that it would have been almost impossible for those not to have been found around that time anyway. The discovery of the Higgs Boson, by contrast, required millions of man-hours and billions of dollars spent.

    Stockholm • Since Jul 2009 • 797 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    There was, of course, a greater crime: Gianotti was using the perennial whipping-boy of every font geek on the planet – Microsoft Comic Sans.

    The history of science is several steps above my pay grade, so I’ll not jump into the discussion. But really, even if you want to focus on epicdesignfail the font was really that bad? I was too busy feeling nauseated by the field of baby shit olive to get that fussed.

    But since trolling font geeks is irresistible, I insist Comic Sans hereby be known as The God Font. Helvetica can suck my low-hanging serifs.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12034 posts Report Reply

  • richard,

    I gave some thought to my analogy -- the Higgs is not "just another particle" but is the keystone to the Standard Model. In the 60s physicists realized they could make sense of particles with spin, and particles with mass, but not particles with spin AND mass -- and the electron and the quarks that make up the proton and neutron all have both spin and mass.

    The Higgs solves the problem by postulating a particle with mass but no spin -- something which had never been observed in nature until yesterday (and creates it via an elegant mechanism called spontaneous symmetry breaking) -- particles with spin then acquire their mass by interacting with the Higgs.

    The Higgs is not a surprise (although there was no guarantee it was there) -- but its discovery changes our understanding of the physical universe at the most fundamental level, just as the discovery of the electron, atoms and the nucleus did.

    Each of these discoveries peeled another layer of the proverbial onion, and this takes us a level deeper than we were before.

    Not looking for New Engla… • Since Nov 2006 • 259 posts Report Reply

  • 81stcolumn,

    The discovery of the Higgs Boson, by contrast, required millions of man-hours and billions of dollars spent.

    And what a magnificent endorsement of Science as an enterprise.

    "give us sh*tloads of money, we know what we are doing"

    The enlightened leaders did on our behalf and the scientists proved they could be trusted.

    Now on to the interpretation of science and how to test for trustworthy financiers and corporate leaders.

    Nawthshaw • Since Nov 2006 • 727 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Craig Ranapia,

    epicdesignfail

    Agreed - font was the least of it. The garish block colours and boxes around everything really honoured the 1980s/90s roots of CERN's other great contribution, the world wide web.

    However they must have been downright impossible to read from even a few rows back. Good communication design is a valuable skill just like herding particles and crunching numbers.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 16771 posts Report Reply

  • JacksonP,

    An oldie, but a goodie.

    XKCD

    Auckland • Since Mar 2011 • 2144 posts Report Reply

  • merc, in reply to richard,

    Thank you for this concise explanation.

    Since Dec 2006 • 2471 posts Report Reply

  • DeepRed,

    Comic Sans? Just when you thought we’d seen the back of it. I suppose it’s better than the overused Arial, the junk food of typefaces. Where possible I stick to Helvetica & Frutiger, in spite of what Craig R says. ;)

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 4355 posts Report Reply

  • Tom Beard,

    I was annoyed by the Comic Sans hating at first, thinking it was churlish and trivial to criticise the presentation when such an important result was being announced. After all, we don't expect scientists to be graphic designers, and they probably just fired up PowerPoint and started typing in the default font.

    But then I saw this, and the use of such grotesque clip art suggested that Comic Sans had been actively chosen as part of an effort to make difficult science seem friendlier. Unthinking use of Comic Sans would be the equivalent of an absent-minded professor wandering onto the stage in a rumpled sports coat and scuffed shoes, but this is more like someone putting on a Mickey Mouse tie and huffing helium before giving a speech.

    If you look at the full presentation (warning: very large and very ugly) you'll see that they had to keep dropping into another font (probably Arial) for every psi, mu or sigma. Apart from being jarring, the fact that Comic Sans doesn't have Greek letters should have been a good hint that it's not suitable for scientific communication.

    I don't buy The Guardian's argument that it helps make difficult research accessible:

    We joke about how inscrutable the research at Cern is, so why make it seem even more austere? Yes, the Higgs boson is a serious business – but that's all the more reason to communicate it in as friendly and accessible a way as possible.

    No matter how "friendly" a font might be (and Comic Sans' version of friendliness is as welcome as an incontinent puppy), there's no way that it will make a sentence such as "Photon isolation requirement: ET < 4 GeV inside cone ΔR < 0.4 around γ direction" any more accessible to non-specialists. The content makes it clear that this is no "Quantum Mechanics for Dummies" but a detailed technical presentation, and "accessibility" in that sense is not really an option. And talk of Comic Sans' accessibility to dyslexic people is a red herring, since there are plenty of other options that are at least as good.

    This wouldn't be worth getting het up about if it were just an indication that physicists don't care or know about typography. I'm not going to join the calls of "Oh lol, the geeks used an uncool font". But if it was deliberately chosen in an attempt to make it "friendlier", then it's a misguided and ultimately patronising decision. Scientific communication needs clarity, precision, imagination and awe, not a fake grin.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 1039 posts Report Reply

  • Lilith __, in reply to Sacha,

    Good communication design

    Speaking of oldies but goodies, was something wrong with tablets of stone?

    Dunedin • Since Jul 2010 • 3468 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia,

    Intriguingly, some people – including Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei – expressed discomfort with the cost of the LHC project, and felt that the money would have been better spent alleviating poverty than seeking intangible knowledge. Let me put that into context for you.

    Let me put this into a slightly different context. Nobel laureates Alexander Fleming, Ernst Boris Chain and Howard Florey were drawing academic salaries and research budgets during the Great Depression.

    if you're one of the uncountable millions whose lives have been improved - or even saved - by Penicillium-derived antibiotics, you tell me if that was a good investment.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12034 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Tom Beard,

    we don't expect scientists to be graphic designers

    But we do expect them to have the professionalism to know their limits and call in help. I've seen better from any high school (basic design, that is, not the science which is brilliant).

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 16771 posts Report Reply

  • merc, in reply to Lilith __,

    Since Dec 2006 • 2471 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Lilith __,

    ah, the birth of serifs..

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 16771 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to merc,

    portability :)

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 16771 posts Report Reply

  • richard,

    These slides actually present an interesting design issue.

    As someone who regularly hears talks by high energy experimentalists, these were fairly standard examples of the genre, and the content was largely pitched to specialists, and I found them comprehensible (and that is a big screen).

    But if you are not taking in much of the content, design elements probably look more important.

    Personally, my feeling is that any mathematical typesetting done in Microsoft looks like arse -- I would have used LaTeX.

    Not looking for New Engla… • Since Nov 2006 • 259 posts Report Reply

  • Lilith __, in reply to Sacha,

    the birth of serifs

    Indeed :-)

    Nobody could call your ideas lightweight. ;-)

    Dunedin • Since Jul 2010 • 3468 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Tom Beard,

    talk of Comic Sans' accessibility to dyslexic people is a red herring, since there are plenty of other options that are at least as good

    A useful reference, thanks.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 16771 posts Report Reply

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