LHC Fever! (And more bad science journalism)

The LHC has turned on! W00t! Last night a few of us had an LHC “party” where we stayed up until 3 am to watch the webcast of the machine turning on. Of course, the webcast didn’t work, and we all just went home and today I’ve been exhausted and gotten no work done. 

I’ve been impressed by the media coverage of the LHC; with a few exceptions. Once again James Owen Weatherall has graced the pages of Slate with his dubious writings on particle physics. His articles continue to baffle me. In his  most recent one,  the main points seem to be:

1. The discovery of the Higgs is bad for particle physics because then the standard model would be complete, and there would be nothing else.

This was the subject of his first article which came out last year here, and which I tried to refute  here. Let’s reiterate: no. Everyone (at least, everyone who knows what they’re talking about) expects some new TeV physics besides the Higgs. There are all sorts of indications that this should be the case, from cosmological constraints on dark matter, to suggestions from the hierarchy problem.

2. Even so, there’s no reason to expect us to find the Higgs. Glashow, Weinberg and Salam included it as the simplest way to induce electroweak symmetry breaking (ok, he doesn’t quite put it this way), but there are many other possibilities. 

Well, sort of. There are many other ways of inducing electroweak symmetry breaking (a higgs sector, little higgs, technicolor, etc), but my understanding is that precision electroweak constraints can rule out a lot of these models (for example, I think technicolor is mostly considered ruled out), and that plain old vanilla Higgs still looks like the best bet. Anyway, it doesn’t matter, it’s not really the point. When physicist say the “Higgs” what they really mean is “the Higgs, or something very much like it” (a higgs sector, little higgs, technicolor, etc, i.e. a particle or particles responsible for electroweak symmetry breaking). 

Again, Mr. Weatherall might have cleared up his numerous misunderstandings had he talked to any actual physicists (Glashow, Weinberg, Salam, Higgs seem like good possibilities, since he’s talking about them all over the article). In what sense is this man qualified to write articles about particle physics?!

I leave you with an  article  about what some actual physicists think the LHC will find.


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