You don’t have to understand the Higgs boson to love it

This is the physics version of the discovery of DNA” — Sir Peter Knight, President of the Institute of Physics.

It doesn’t really matter if you don’t understand the science of the Higgs boson discovery; science educators say the most important thing is that it’s in our consciousness. It’s on the front pages of the world’s newspapers and it’s the first question at the water cooler today: what the hell is the Higgs boson? Is it really the God particle?

Indeed, if you’re not a science nut, this morning’s media coverage might have had you baffled as to what all of the commotion was about. While there were calls all around for Nobel prizes, you might have been left scratching your head. Crikey asked leading science communicators if we were any closer to understanding the significance of this discovery.

Dr Susannah Eliott, CEO of the Australian Science Media Centre, chaired yesterday’s media briefing where journalists were given the low-down on the Higgs boson discovery. She says journalists and readers alike can often have difficulty getting their heads around scientific lingo.

Yesterday they tried to explain the experiments but I think it probably went over most people’s heads,” she said. ”I think the media has probably done as good a job as can be expected given the difficulty journalists will have had getting their heads around the topic.”

But Eliott says the most important thing is that it’s captured the nation’s attention and is a welcome escape from the same-old news cycle.

At least they will have picked up some of the excitement of this finding, and perhaps even the bigger picture of our small lives and the minute specks that we are in the universe. It’s nice to get away from the day to day muckracking of petty politics and the daily grind,” she said.

Niall Byrne, creative director at Science in Public and media director for the High Energy Physics Conference, also believes having such a cutting edge discovery as a leading story is the real win — whether people understand it or not.

It’s really exciting that fundamental science is on the front page of the world’s newspapers. Normally I’d say that we have to make a special effort to make science research accessible … but we should be excited about this and recognise that it’s fundamental without really getting it,” he said.

The Herald Sun gave it half a page. Okay it was after the Hoddle St murderer but it was half a page in a paper with the largest circulation in the country. So I’m very happy.”

While it was the leading story most media outlets around the world ran with today, Byrne points out that perhaps the most fascinating part of the discovery is the discussion it has created on social media.

Because physicists are very engaged with social media, we can track through the hash tag for the conference (#ichep2012) that it’s reached nearly 1.8 million Twitter accounts. Now, the press coverage would have reached perhaps a billion people — certainly 500 million or so. But this new media has directly reached 1.8 million,” he said.

Byrne reminds us that it’s a relative contrast to the reporting of significant discoveries made years ago. ”Back in the day — back in 1953 — when Watson and Crick discovered the double helix structure of DNA they didn’t get press attention for weeks or months, and it took years before most people recognised its significance,” he said.

While confusion abounds, Byrne explains that there are two ways of reporting a story like this. Firstly, “try to make it relevant” —  to give people a sense of what it means today. We might not know what it means today, but neither did the discoverers of radio waves imagine the smart phone, or the inventors of the wheel conceive a Formula 1 car.

Secondly, “make it all about the geek moment” — recognising that no one knows what it’s done but we still need to give it its moment.

And what a moment it has had.

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55 Responses

Comments page: 1 | 2 |
  1. As far as I’m concerned, the good thing about the Higgs boson is that it gets rid of supersymmetry, extra dimensions (does anyone understand what 7 extra dimensions curled up so small they can’t be seen actually means?) and string theory, and might explain what dark matter is.

    by wayne robinson on Jul 5, 2012 at 1:11 pm

  2. I have some questions for you, and you must answer them. “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell me, if you know so much. Do you know how its dimensions were determined and who did the surveying? What supports its foundations, and who laid its cornerstone as the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy? “Who defined the boundaries of the sea as it burst from the womb, and as I clothed it with clouds and thick darkness? For I locked it behind barred gates, limiting its shores. I said, ‘Thus far and no farther will you come. Here your proud waves must stop!’ “Have you ever commanded the morning to appear and caused the dawn to rise in the east? Have you ever told the daylight to spread to the ends of the earth, to bring an end to the night’s wickedness? For the features of the earth take shape as the light approaches, and the dawn is robed in red. The light disturbs the haunts of the wicked, and it stops the arm that is raised in violence. “Have you explored the springs from which the seas come? Have you walked about and explored their depths? Do you know where the gates of death are located? Have you seen the gates of utter gloom? Do you realize the extent of the earth? Tell me about it if you know! “Where does the light come from, and where does the darkness go? Can you take it to its home? Do you know how to get there? But of course you know all this! For you were born before it was all created, and you are so very experienced! “Have you visited the treasuries of the snow? Have you seen where the hail is made and stored? I have reserved it for the time of trouble, for the day of battle and war. Where is the path to the origin of light? Where is the home of the east wind? “Who created a channel for the torrents of rain? Who laid out the path for the lightning? Who makes the rain fall on barren land, in a desert where no one lives? Who sends the rain that satisfies the parched ground and makes the tender grass spring up? “Does the rain have a father? Where does dew come from? Who is the mother of the ice? Who gives birth to the frost from the heavens? For the water turns to ice as hard as rock, and the surface of the water freezes. “Can you hold back the movements of the stars? Are you able to restrain the Pleiades or Orion? Can you ensure the proper sequence of the seasons or guide the constellation of the Bear with her cubs across the heavens? Do you know the laws of the universe and how God rules the earth? “Can you shout to the clouds and make it rain? Can you make lightning appear and cause it to strike as you direct it? Who gives intuition and instinct? Who is wise enough to count all the clouds? Who can tilt the water jars of heaven, turning the dry dust to clumps of mud? “Can you stalk prey for a lioness and satisfy the young lions’ appetites as they lie in their dens or crouch in the thicket? Who provides food for the ravens when their young cry out to God as they wander about in hunger? Job 38

    by Elohim on Jul 5, 2012 at 1:58 pm

  3. Mentoined this to a friend the other day. He said: “Didn’t he bowl leg spin for Australia?” :)

    by Andrew L on Jul 5, 2012 at 2:09 pm

  4. *Mentioned

    by Andrew L on Jul 5, 2012 at 2:10 pm

  5. I don’t think the Higgs boson eliminates the need for supersymmetry. From what I can tell by completing the standard model it paves the way forward for research into unifield field theory which solves the problem of the Higgs boson being subject to quantum corrections. Now that we know the boson exists we can get on to unifield field theory and proving SUSY.

    by Daniel Ruben on Jul 5, 2012 at 2:27 pm

  6. I am sure that “Elohims ” paraphrasing was not meant to be contrary to the very well written article written by Karla and especially not contrary to the excellent comments from Wayne Robinson and Daniel Ruben, but maybe a dig at ” some ” the so called science - press experts who continue to look in the wrong places.

    by JG Downs on Jul 5, 2012 at 2:54 pm

  7. The Higgs Boson walks into a church.

    The priest says, “We don’t allow Higgs Boson in here.”

    Te Higgs Boson says, “But without me how can you have mass?”

    by Mike Smith on Jul 5, 2012 at 3:38 pm

  8. Mike! A classic!

    by Andrew L on Jul 5, 2012 at 3:59 pm

  9. hehehe…very cute Mike.

    by Larry on Jul 5, 2012 at 4:41 pm

  10. …and Andrew.

    by Larry on Jul 5, 2012 at 4:42 pm

  11. @Elohim - “I have some questions for you, and you must answer them.”

    Sure - the answer is Chuck Norris.

    by mikeb on Jul 5, 2012 at 5:37 pm

  12. The Higgs boson walks into a bar, the barman asks “What’s the matter? You look like you’ve got the weight of the world on your shoulders”

    by Andrew L on Jul 5, 2012 at 5:43 pm

  13. the so called science - press experts who continue to look in the wrong places.

    You got that right! They look in the wrong places because they are paid to look in the wrong places. What a great job being paid to be blind.

    by Lisa L on Jul 5, 2012 at 6:02 pm

  14. Scientists trying to create a new religion all of their own, (science= best guess scenario) what do they really know in the great expanses of the universe Zilch!!!

    by Owen Gary on Jul 5, 2012 at 6:37 pm


    by love mili on Jul 5, 2012 at 6:53 pm

  16. I hold in the greatest esteem our scientists. Men and women of courage, vision and above all, a willingness to be proven wrong (that is what the “scientific method” is all about). Our physicists, physicians, chemists, cosmologists, astronomers, biologists and all the others who use their intelligence, diligence, courage and honesty for the benefit of us all. I also esteem our philosophers, poets and artists who work to make this knowledge more accessible to us.

    But there will always be the weak, the lazy and the cowardly who prefer the easy way out and who smirk and say: “My invisible best friend made it all.” Whatever gets you through the night kiddies.

    by Andrew L on Jul 5, 2012 at 7:40 pm

  17. Weak? Yes
    Lazy? Yes Yes
    Cowardly? Yes Yes Yes
    “My invisible best friend made it all” Well, no actually.

    by Lisa on Jul 5, 2012 at 8:08 pm

  18. I believe that the point of the Old Testament quote is that “scientists”, natural philosophers by their other name, are attempting to answer those questions. (As requested).
    Also following another direction from the New Testament concerning science (or knowledge):
    “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free”.
    It follows that those who are anti-science are Anti-Christ, (Quoted above ) committed to ignorance and crawling in the dirt like worms.
    Definitely not free of fear, loathing and envy and harbouring a tendency to burn scientists at the stake.
    Looks like the devil worshippers are still with us, “By their actions shall you know them” indeed.

    by Hamis Hill on Jul 5, 2012 at 8:25 pm

  19. Owen Gary

    what do they really know in the great expanses of the universe Zilch!!!

    Firstly, who is this Zilch to whom you speak?

    Second and last, they might not know what it is or where it is, but they know how fast it’s moving.

    by fractious on Jul 5, 2012 at 8:26 pm

  20. Hats off Mike S, it’s the way ya tell ‘em :)

    by fractious on Jul 5, 2012 at 8:27 pm

  21. Always risky to cherry-pick favourite bits of the old testament. Either the book is meant to be embraced in entirety (in which case we would all be flat out stoning each other to death) or who is to say which bits are “real” and which bits are “allegory”. And who says you or I are the ones to decide it? :)

    by Andrew L on Jul 5, 2012 at 9:18 pm

  22. Wooooo!..hang on to your crucifix there Pardre Hamis Hill. JGDowns said the “science press “and not science or scientists in general, as everybody else here has alluded to that as well. Of course science and the OT,NT and what ever else T are a spiritual hand fitting a spiritual glove.

    Google Torah Science, The whole Torah is a scientific pictorial of what is happenning with the Cosmic processs as it unwinds. But even that can be corrupted by the science-press, but just so you understand, the science -press are a handful of individuals who get the air-time and quoted in the press and publish copious amounts of books all underwritten with someone elses money.Everyone else ( scientists ) on most occasions are locked out.

    by Lisa on Jul 5, 2012 at 9:26 pm

  23. J*W*H was the one who bigged up his B/S to give Job a hard time - the Elohim were more like Dionysus’ bachanni intent on having a good time with the Daughters of Men.
    Interesting that the poster above chose to type out that massive chunk … from what translation? New World, Gideon, Mormon? Certtainly not King jimmy’s approved version.
    Personally, I’ll wait for Iain M Banks to put Higg’s Bosun into a Culture novel, he’d be a wonderful character in one of those bizarrely named starships.

    by AR on Jul 5, 2012 at 9:38 pm

  24. So then Hamis Hill, you’d support a finite universe based on the book of Isaiah? “He stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them out like a tent.” …just curious.

    by Dave on Jul 5, 2012 at 9:47 pm

  25. @AR

    If Edward James were here he would have up on a Public Trust Journalist charge..hehehe

    Elohim is just the plural for the singular Eloah as one of the many titles, but not names, of God. Having a good time with the daughters of men is a reference to the fallen angels who changed their molecular structure and did copulate with the daughters of men. The offspring of which were known as the Nephilim. Enjoy the novel.

    by JG Downs on Jul 5, 2012 at 10:07 pm

  26. @AR: Iain would probably promote Higgs from Bosun to First Mate!

    by Mike Smith on Jul 5, 2012 at 11:43 pm

  27. Yeah, but did n’t Ian Bosun captain the English cricket team?

    by Larry on Jul 6, 2012 at 8:18 am

  28. Larry, that’s not even funny. Everybody knows that Bosun was Marine Boy’s underwater second in command.

    by Dave on Jul 6, 2012 at 11:20 am

  29. If I had a crucifix, Lisa, you’d be be the first to know just where I’d like to stick it. Lucky I’m not into crucifixes or scientists being burned at the stake.
    As for the “science press” what exactly do you mean?
    I used to subscribe to New Scientist, written by journalists who are scientists and for the “Man in The Street” as demanded by the original, 1956, financier-publisher.
    Not what you mean by “science press”?
    Just what connection with science has this press of which you complain?
    As much as your own going from your strange reaction to my post?

    by Hamis Hill on Jul 6, 2012 at 12:44 pm

  30. So Dave, as a life-long atheist I’m not sure I know just what it is to which you are alluding.
    And not really that interested. Just keep crawling, you might get somewhere in about half a billion years. Just remember, “The Devil loves you!”. Don’t get too scared now!

    by Hamis Hill on Jul 6, 2012 at 12:59 pm

  31. someone overdramatised a story by using the “god” word. lots of hilarious off-topic ranting ensued…

    by Simon on Jul 6, 2012 at 2:04 pm

  32. Didn’t someone mention it should have been called the “god damn” particle because it was so very hard to find?

    by Gocomsys on Jul 6, 2012 at 6:33 pm

  33. @Hamis Hill

    In which area of science do you worship (pure science or corporate science) either way they both serve the same master$$$

    I have nothing against pure science, but because a few boffins get together to prove a theory it doesn’t necessarily mean they are right and for the most part their theories are usually corrected decades or centuries later, because they lack the very understanding of the nature of all things.
    It’s more a battle of ego’s than a search for useful advances that end up suppressed by those who control. There have been many delusional scientists throughout history as well as some brilliant ones. “Once again take your pick” but dont buy into everything!!

    by Owen Gary on Jul 6, 2012 at 8:11 pm

  34. Sorry Wayne!

    Re the Higgs Boson:

    For example, studying our new particle may provide the first evidence for extra dimensions or a whole new zoo of supersymmetric particles mirroring the known particles.”

    Karl Ecklund in

    by iggy648 on Jul 6, 2012 at 9:38 pm

  35. My Gosh starting a post with “I believe” on an article referencing “god” sure does drag in its fair share of nutters. Could have written “I think” instead but must admit that deliberately “baiting” said nutters proved far too tempting. And then there they were biting away. Definitely demented.
    Sorry, other posters.

    by Hamis Hill on Jul 7, 2012 at 2:15 am

  36. @Hamis:

    y Gosh starting a post with “I believe” on an article referencing “god”

    is known as a tautology??

    by Mike Smith on Jul 7, 2012 at 2:25 am

  37. Just a pedantic point. The particle is a ‘Boze-on’, not a ‘Bosun’, as being reported on TV and radio. It is one of a class of particles called ‘Bosons’, named after the physicist Satyendra Nath Bose.
    Professor Higgs and most physicists dislike the term ‘God Particle’. The name was coined by a writer of popular science to increase interest on the part of the media and general public.

    by Steve777 on Jul 7, 2012 at 8:06 am

  38. This finding is of great intellectual interest to the physics community and to those interested in pure science, but at this early stage has no apparent commercial or military use - rather like ‘E=MC squared’ when it was first formulated. Expect lots of investment in particle physics should anyone identify a way to make money from it. Let’s hope it has no military applications.

    by Steve777 on Jul 7, 2012 at 8:16 am

  39. Not taking even a little nibble there Mike? It is called irony. Most people don’t bother catching
    the correctamundos because it is too easy and you have to throw them back because they are quite useless for anything. Come on take the bait, is the nibbling order replacing the pecking order?
    The concept of a perfect, faultless being is interesting but many of the scientific advances were made when imperfect humans failed at their attempts to discover one thing and seredipitously discovered another. If it were up to the correctamundos all w’ed remember would be the failures.
    All too philosophical for you? Go back and read the article it is about what the French still call natural philosophy. A necessarilly, fault filled, imperfect and very human search for the truth.
    Try quibbling or nibbling with that. It is better than taking the bait.

    by Hamis Hill on Jul 7, 2012 at 1:21 pm

  40. At 2:25 am my irony has reached its curie point.

    by Mike Smith on Jul 7, 2012 at 4:38 pm

  41. (“The Devil loves you!”. Don’t get too scared now!)

    hehehe…yeah, I know, that’s the problem. I got this kink in my neck from looking over my shoulder.

    The Dark Master has n’t helped the Melbourne Demons though…2 wins from 14 starts sounds more like the need for divine intervention rather than demonic activity. Either that or they need a clean-out. ( exorcism )

    by Dave on Jul 8, 2012 at 10:55 am

  42. Hamis, what people call the “Devil” is really just the opposing forces of the Sitra Achra. It’s more of a collective rather than anything singular. In kabbalist traditions, it is used to refer to the forces of evil which underlie all of reality.

    In this great Cosmic game-plan there has to be an element that challenges and opposes the intended process of good verses evil, otherwise all spiritual achievements would be without merit.

    I, YWHW, am the one who does these things. … I form the light, and create
    darkness; I make peace, and create evil; I am YWHW, that doeth all these
    things” Isaiah 45:7

    When I say Kabbalist traditions, I don’t mean the false sciences of “Qabbalah” or Cabbalah” that are really just mental gymnastics in alchemy and other hocus-pocus…the true science of Torah based Kabbalah is the most perfect model that exists, that fill in many of the gaps in the scriptures.

    There is a tradition that says a person must be at least 40 years of age and had at least 10 years Torah study under their belt before they can even attempt it, but hey, with you ….the sky’s the limit and you have my complete confidence.

    The true Kabbalah just means “recieved ” or to “recieve”..and there is a school of belief that says it originated from the “Oral Torah” handed to Moses on Mt Sinai parallel to being given the two stone tablets of the Law and handed down through the ages to the Patriachs and onwards etc etc. The word “Occult” is no big deal either, it’ just means “hidden”….so don’t YOU get too scared either. ;-)

    All the signs are good with you.

    by JG Downs on Jul 8, 2012 at 12:00 pm

  43. JG, if I don’t believe in God what makes you think I believe in the Devil?
    Although Abbott comes close to an embodiment of evil, it is his supporters who enable him.
    Looks like there’s an unmet demand for religiousity in Crikey world though.
    Please refer your posts to “Elohim” above.
    Or take regard of the 2,500 year old play by Aeschylus. “Prometheus Chained”.
    Prometheus (forethought) represents a titanic force of nature which, in the myth, predates the Top God.
    Taking pity on Humans. whom the top god plans to destroy, Prometheus steals knowledge of fire from the gods, against the “rules”. (humans not allowed to have fire).
    And becomes “Lucifer” the light giver. Forethought is saved by the son of the chief god by a mortal woman who is given a series of miracles to perform before being “taken up to heaven”.
    Sound familiar?
    Aeschylus’s second play Prometheus Unchained, (forethought unchained? think about it) is “lost”, repressed in the coming centuries.
    In the first play, in conversation with The top god Prometheus describes himself as the teacher of
    “science” to humanity.
    Do you get it “Lucifer” teaches “scientists”, which leads certain religious fanantics who should not be encouraged, to burn the early scientists at the stake. No you don’t get it do you!
    Do we have to spell it out for you?,already done, with apologies to posters who already know all there is to know about scientists and gods and their particles and the science press, etc.
    Read the english translation of the play, it is bound to be on the internet somewhere.

    by Hamis Hill on Jul 9, 2012 at 9:52 am

  44. @Hamis Hill

    (If I had a crucifix, Lisa, you’d be be the first to know just where I’d like to stick it)

    Sorry Hamis, I don’t do crucifixes, especially on the first date. But man, I am very concerned about your “rocks “.

    by Lisa on Jul 9, 2012 at 11:30 am

  45. LISA, as for the science press? Don’t do crucifixes? Just go aroung sticking them in other people’s hands, miraculously, it seems. (Or did you use a keyboard?)
    But this “science press” of which you complain?
    But LISA you’d have been more concerned if you had been threatened with “finding out” rather than the less explicit coming to know.
    But it is your crucifix, LISA, and I am very concerned that you keep that crucifix to yourself.
    Spare us the details though.
    Don’t do crucifixes! Yeah, Right. The “science press”? Still guessing. Can’t remember that either?

    by Hamis Hill on Jul 9, 2012 at 12:04 pm

  46. When I was at school there were four fundamental forces, now there are six. Dark energy which causes the galactic expansion to accelerate, and the energy of the Higgs field carried by the elusive bosun. Exciting times ! I wish coverage had extended to the following:

    The Higgs field accounts for inertial mass, why is gravitational mass exactly the same value ?
    Is the period before the Higgs field “switched on” the time of “inflation” ? Are Higgs bosuns ubiquitous and permeate all mass, like neutrinos are, or rare and only ever existed at the start of the universe and at CERN ?

    by Andybob on Jul 9, 2012 at 1:40 pm

  47. (But it is your crucifix, LISA, and I am very concerned that you keep that crucifix to yourself.
    Spare us the details though.)

    Hmmm?!?!?….are you saying keep it to yourself or are you saying that you are “concerned” that I am keeping it to myself?

    by Lisa on Jul 9, 2012 at 2:10 pm

  48. Science Press LISA, that science press of which you complain, now focus!

    by Hamis Hill on Jul 9, 2012 at 2:42 pm

  49. It’s not just the “science-press”. Within a similar context ,eg.. it’s the arts-press, the medico-press, the academic-press, finance-press etc etc.. and any other group of individuals who’s views get heard, promoted and financed in many different ways over a more wider group of different opinions.

    The funding for these groups often comes from Think-Tank-Thought-Police type operations or other interest groups who have a vested interest in maintaining a particular belief pattern.

    No rocket-science here, just manipulation and control.

    But you know this, so why are you “pressing.”?

    by Lisa on Jul 9, 2012 at 3:11 pm

  50. (Looks like there’s an unmet demand for religiousity in Crikey world though)

    Would n’t say “religiosity ” but perhaps a scope to include people’s search for a sense why, who what and when with their own personal inner reality and identity. If anyone thinks this makes one a religious nutter then the point has been lost.

    I know from my experiences in life that people from all walks of life are searching but are themselves locked out because the only frame of reference they have is corrupted religion and the bulwark of disinformation which is designed to keep them ignorant, dumbed-down and spiritually lost..the devil wins, to speak.

    by JG Downs on Jul 9, 2012 at 3:38 pm

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