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Have they discovered the Higgs boson? Probably

I feel that we should acknowledge the announcement made at CERN this morning. As put by Brian Cox on Twitter: “ATLAS and CMS have independently discovered a new particle mass ~ 126 GeV which behaves like [the standard model] Higgs”. This is all based on statistical analysis of experimental data and, since the Higgs cannot be observed directly, there are some outstanding questions that require further research.

Have they discovered the Higgs boson? The answer is: probably. If it’s the Higgs, then it’s a nice example of theoretical physics making demonstrable predictions about nature. If the discovered particle is something else, then there’s a bunch more theoretical work to do to understand this.

The Telegraph have a live transcript/account of what happened in the announcement if you would like more information. In this, Peter Higgs is quoted saying this is “really the most incredible thing that has happened in my lifetime” and CERN Director General Rolf Heuer is quoted saying:

We have reached a milestone in our understanding of nature… The discovery of a particle consistent with the Higgs boson opens the way to more detailed studies, requiring larger statistics, which will pin down the new particle’s properties, and is likely to shed light on other mysteries of our universe.

This is an interesting result in physics and a triumph of international collaboration on, and funding for, basic science.

Now we wait to see how the media reacts to this announcement. I notice the BBC are spot on with the headline “Higgs boson-like particle discovery claimed at LHC“, but a quick search shows the Belfast Telegraph going with “Large Hadron Collider scientists claim Higgs boson God particle find“. In fact, the article text under that headline begins with “Scientists believe they have captured the elusive ‘God particle’ that gives matter mass and holds the physical fabric of the universe together”. Captured, really? Worse, the Sydney Morning Herald goes with: “Confirmed: the Higgs boson does exist“. It’s a masterclass in communicating uncertainty.

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