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Race For the "God Particle" Heats Up 397

Posted by kdawson
from the mister-higgs-i-presume dept.
SpuriousLogic writes "CERN is losing ground rapidly in the race to discover the elusive Higgs boson, its American rival claims. Fermilab say the odds of their Tevatron accelerator finding it first are now 50-50 at worst, and up to 96% at best. CERN's Lyn Evans admitted the accident which will halt the $7B Large Hadron Collider until September may cost them one of the biggest prizes in physics."
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Race For the "God Particle" Heats Up

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  • by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Tuesday February 17, 2009 @09:16AM (#26885217) Homepage Journal

    Giving odds for finding a theoretical particle is like giving odds on finding life in the solar system. Without any data to base your odds on, you're just making some shit up. Not only is their level of precision low, but there is zero confidence.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 17, 2009 @09:22AM (#26885251)

      I see nothing wrong here. As they say - it's 50-50: they either find it, or not.

    • by Prof.Phreak (584152) on Tuesday February 17, 2009 @09:23AM (#26885259) Homepage

      Also, what are the odds the particle doesn't exist AND they find it?

      • by Hogwash McFly (678207) on Tuesday February 17, 2009 @09:25AM (#26885305)

        1/0

        • Oh c'mon guys, it was funny. Not only was it two answers to two questions, it was also the very likely definitive answer of the combined probability. And it most likely evaluates to "FILE NOT FOUND" as per TDWTF, making it a valid probability...

          I say this is brillant!

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by PopeRatzo (965947) *

        Also, what are the odds the particle doesn't exist AND they find it?

        Probably pretty good. After all, God doesn't exist, but millions of people are finding Him all the time.

        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by Jawn98685 (687784)

          Probably pretty good. After all, God doesn't exist, but millions of people convince themselves that they are finding Him all the time.

          There. Fixed that for you.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          After all, God doesn't exist ...

          "When a distinguished but elderly scientist [or /.er] states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible [or nonexistent], he is very probably wrong."
          -- Arthur C. Clarke's First Law

      • by russotto (537200)

        Also, what are the odds the particle doesn't exist AND they find it?

        You got modded funny for this, but it's a reasonable question. It's certainly possible they'll conclude they've found the Higgs even if it doesn't exist.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by mysticgoat (582871)

        Yeah.

        We know that the observer is an integral part of the experiment; at this level of physics there is no such thing as a third party observer.

        But I understand that we cannot assess in advance the degree of effect the observer will have on an entirely new experiment.

        Which leads me to the uncomfortable recognition that we might create the Higgs boson as we get better at looking for it.

        What is uncomfortable about this is the way it raises the question: "If we are literally making it up as we go along, is

    • by ByOhTek (1181381) on Tuesday February 17, 2009 @09:33AM (#26885367) Journal

      What data are they lacking? The math and physics from other experiments that suggest that the Higgs Boson exists, along with a lot of details about it? Or the fact that it is by far the simplest solution to a number of phenomenon? Remember, much more often than not, the simplest solution that fits the math tends to point to the correct answer.

      Oh wait. They aren't lacking those.

      • by ByOhTek (1181381)

        Addendum,

        this could also be bad journalism, they may simply mean demonstrating that it does or does not exist.

        Either way, probabilities can be given. The former situation (proving it does exist) has a more rough probability since it it would use similar, but nonetheless different circumstance, while the latter (proving that it does or doesn't) exist is requires less external data, and is thus a less rough calculation

      • Its mass for a start. If that was known then it would either have already been found (LEP or Fermilab) or will be found (CERN) or won't be found (yet) because we'd know where to look for it.

        We have a good idea of what sort of range its mass is likely to have but that's not certain. Some physicists are even hoping that it won't be found, pointing to a much larger mass and interesting new physics to explore.

        We're approaching a nadir much like classical physics pre 1905. Are we destined to now spend our time d

    • by Gromius (677157) on Tuesday February 17, 2009 @09:42AM (#26885469)
      somebodys not a Bayesian :)

      Anyway theres pretty reasonable indirect evidence for the Higgs, lets just say to make all our measurements consistant, it would be nice if a fundamental scalar existed around 115 GeV. And it would be even nicer if it generated all the masses in the Standard Module while it was at it. There is certainly enough to have a reasonable Bayesian prior.
    • by Smidge204 (605297) on Tuesday February 17, 2009 @09:45AM (#26885497) Journal

      The great thing about scientific theory - real scientific theory - is that is has predictive capabilities. Theory predicts that the Higgs exists. If the theory is correct, they feel that their experiment has a 50% to 96% chance of finding it.

      And if they don't find it, it would actually be a bigger deal than if they do. It means something was off either in the experiment or the theory, and that means it's back to square one!
      =Smidge=

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by CrazedSanity (872448)

        The problem with searching for something that only theoretically exists is that it is profoundly easier to prove that something exists (by finding it) versus proving that it does not exist ("we've done a lot of searching without result, but we cannot conclusively say this [x] does not exist"). If they find it, yay search is over. If they don't... well, they'll probably just keep looking until they rip a hole in the space/time continuum or create a blackhole that rips the Earth from existence... I'd rather

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by John Hasler (414242)

          They aren't searching. They are performing experiments for which current theory predicts certain results.

    • by 0xdeadbeef (28836) on Tuesday February 17, 2009 @09:50AM (#26885557) Homepage Journal

      Giving odds for finding a theoretical particle is like giving odds on finding life in the solar system.

      So it's one, then?

      • by genner (694963)

        Giving odds for finding a theoretical particle is like giving odds on finding life in the solar system.

        So it's one, then?

        I think he ment intelligent life.
        The odds are dependent on you faith in humanity.

        • by rubycodez (864176)

          I'll ponder that as I watch my Jackass reruns......... bwahahaha, he got it right in the balls, again!!!

    • The LHC will be to give a definitive answer to the question as to whether the Higgs Boson can exist. the LHC will pretty much give a clear yes or no answer, its not going to be indeterminate. They have create the conditions where they know that one will have to appear, with certainty that if they cannot produce it, it will indicate that Higgs is likely impossible to exist. This is an important moment for verifying the Standard Model and has will be one of the greatest discoveries lately.

    • Well, if the theory includes any sort of number of those particles that would be required for it to fit the problem that the theory was trying to solve, and you have other theories that fit with less things observed previously, then no, it's fairly sensible to quote the odds.

    • by PopeRatzo (965947) *

      Even so, 50-50 to 96% is a pretty good spread of odds.

      I'd bet those all day long. If someone told me my horse in the fifth race at Belmont had "somewhere between 50-50 to a 96%" chance of winning the race I'd feel like I'd made a pretty good bet.

      Anyway, with all the money they're spending looking for the God particle, they better not lose it again.

    • by The_Wilschon (782534) on Tuesday February 17, 2009 @10:57AM (#26886411) Homepage
      What they mean (yes, I'm on CDF, and beginning my own segment of a Higgs search analysis), is that there is a 50/50 chance that the Tevatron will have acquired sufficient data for us to be sensitive to a Standard Model Higgs at reasonable mass ranges (115 - maybe 300 GeV/c^2). Thus, if it exists (the SM Higgs specifically) we'll be able to tell it is there, and if it does not exist, we'll be able to say with a high level of confidence that it is not there.

      To discover the Higgs, we must show that given a theory without the Higgs, our data would only occur 1 in 2 million times we did an experiment like this, (5 sigma significance, standard for particle discovery) and of course the the difference in the data is consistent with a Higgs.

      To exclude the Higgs in a certain mass range, we must show the opposite: if there were a Higgs, our data would only occur some very small percentage of the time (I can't remember the exact significance, but it is less stringent than discovery, again standard).

      LEP already excluded masses below 114 GeV/c^2, and the Tevatron has excluded a small mass range around 160 or 170 GeV/c^2.

      However, all that said, I disagree with the apparently official Fermilab line (50/50). We have a small chance of excluding all the available mass ranges, but the amount of data needed to go from excluding it if its not there to discovering it if it is there is huge. We would need several times as much data as we will have unless we keep running for quite a bit longer. Maybe we can get a chunk of the gov't stimulus package? ;)

      Without any data to base your odds on, you're just making some shit up. Not only is their level of precision low, but there is zero confidence.

      Quite the contrary, sir, and I do somewhat resent remarks like these, although I understand they were made in haste in your frenzy to get first post. We have a tremendous amount of data, and we have theories that describe exactly what we're looking for. It's almost just a statistical game now. Our level of precision is in fact quite high (although not as high as is achievable at a lepton collider), and as I said above, we have excluded some potential Higgs masses to a high level of confidence.

    • by Goldsmith (561202)

      A few decades of particle physics experiments adds up to no data? That's pretty harsh.

      We're not butterfly collectors looking for a new color. We're physicists. Quantitative prediction of things we've never seen is what we do.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by bcrowell (177657)

      Giving odds for finding a theoretical particle is like giving odds on finding life in the solar system. Without any data to base your odds on, you're just making some shit up. Not only is their level of precision low, but there is zero confidence.

      Nope. Here's how it works. Other observations [wikipedia.org] show that the Higgs has to have a mass between 170 and 285 GeV/c2, with 95% confidence. Assuming a given Higgs mass, Fermilab can do Monte Carlo simulations [wikipedia.org] of the results of their experiments, and they can determine

  • race? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by period3 (94751)

    Why is there a race? Why aren't they working together to find it?

    • Re:race? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by arndawg (1468629) on Tuesday February 17, 2009 @09:24AM (#26885273)

      Why is there a race? Why aren't they working together to find it?

      Races are good. I don't think we would have gone to the moon so fast if it wasn't a race between usa and russia.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Vectronic (1221470)

        As true as the outcome may be, that still doesn't validate the necessity of a race to procure a speedier advancement.

        You don't think that if the USA And the USSR had worked together that we wouldn't have gotten there just as quick, if not quicker?

        We only had a "race" cause both sides decided to be assholes to eachother after WW2... this isn't a browser war, if we don't work together on it, we'll end up with a "winner" doing spacey stuff, and a bunch of losers back here on earth, and all that this new "class

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by arndawg (1468629)

          As true as the outcome may be, that still doesn't validate the necessity of a race to procure a speedier advancement.

          You don't think that if the USA And the USSR had worked together that we wouldn't have gotten there just as quick, if not quicker?

          We only had a "race" cause both sides decided to be assholes to eachother after WW2... this isn't a browser war, if we don't work together on it, we'll end up with a "winner" doing spacey stuff, and a bunch of losers back here on earth, and all that this new "class war" would create.

          I personally believe if you get a too large group of people. Some will end up not being heard, not work so hard because they feel redundant or just end up wasting a lot of time because of communication trouble. The competition aspect will probably motivate workers more and they will probably work harder. For ex. I think 1 programmer putting in 10 hours of effective work is more effective than two programmers working 6 hours each. There's a overhead in collaboration.

        • Re:race? (Score:5, Funny)

          by genner (694963) on Tuesday February 17, 2009 @10:36AM (#26886131)

          As true as the outcome may be, that still doesn't validate the necessity of a race to procure a speedier advancement.

          You don't think that if the USA And the USSR had worked together that we wouldn't have gotten there just as quick, if not quicker?

          No if we had worked together things would still be tied up in a international comittee and at best we would have a non-binding resolution to send a strongly worded letter to the moon stating our intentions to visit it someday.

        • by AaxelB (1034884)

          You don't think that if the USA And the USSR had worked together that we wouldn't have gotten there just as quick, if not quicker?

          We only had a "race" cause both sides decided to be assholes to eachother after WW2... this isn't a browser war, if we don't work together on it, we'll end up with a "winner" doing spacey stuff, and a bunch of losers back here on earth, and all that this new "class war" would create.

          We certainly wouldn't have gotten there quicker, if at all, simply because we (the populations of the US and USSR) wouldn't have had the motivation. I mean, yes, the USA and USSR working together would've had the capability to do more, quicker, and better than either could do separate. But without the fear of what the "enemy" might do if they got control of space, all the funding would dry up. The biggest justification (to the American public, at least) for the space race was "We can't let the commies win,

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      From a purely human point of view, competition makes us try harder. You may not like it, but it is the truth.

      From a purely scientific point of view, repeatability is an important thing. Having more than one experiment confirming the results isn't just a good thing, it is a requirement of science.

    • Re:race? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by bockelboy (824282) on Tuesday February 17, 2009 @09:45AM (#26885499)

      It's a very friendly "competition". While it *may* be possible for the Tevatron to locate the Higgs before LHC turn-on, it doesn't negate the fact that the LHC will use energies an order of magnitude higher than the Tevatron.

      Fermilab - which is where the Tevatron is located - also has a huge number of people working on CMS - one of the LHC detectors.

      Most of the "US vs Europe" mentality and the "OMG we're losing our physics crown to some other lab" is a sidebar injected by the media and politicians. Otherwise, it can be very dry (aka, non-newsworthy) work punctuated by moments of "Eureka!"

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by The_Wilschon (782534)
        In fact, a large number of the Tevatron people are also working to some degree on an LHC experiment. I'm on CDF, and planning to do some work in the not too distant future on a CMS track trigger.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Gromius (677157)
      they are and they arent. Fermilab is a big contributor to the LHC (although some of the contributions did go bang, hmmmm) and will play a big role in its future. Lots of scientists are on both an LHC experiment and a Tevatron experiment (although they tend to be senior, PHD students and postdocs who do most of the work tend to be on only one). It would be actually hard for the labs to work together more than they actually are. But there is also definately a little bit of a (friendlyish) race on to be the fi
    • Sometimes races are a good thing. Sure, it's a sign of the imperfection of the human being as such... but we are what we are. And racing after a prestigious prize is sometimes the best motivation for groundbreaking science.

      Rather than whine that this won't get us peace in the world, I'd choose to be glad that humanity can pull off some stunning scientific breakthroughs.

      For the record, Fermilab were supposed to retire the Tevatron, since the LHC obsoletes it - so the US team is not completely imbued by natio

    • by sam0737 (648914)

      I think the same question applies to the Intel/AMD, Windows/Linux family...

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by yttrstein (891553)
      Because science isn't done for the discoveries alone my friend, it's done for the *recognition* in exchange for discoveries. I understand that I could very well be down modded for this sort of opinion, but I've worked in too many research facilities to see it any differently.

      Now boil your brain on the fact that the very same thing exists in medical research, and feel the creeping horror at what that implies.
    • There is no motivation without the fear of losing. Who cares about some God particle... I just want to see Jeff cry!

      Going to the moon was an afterthought. Beating Russia was the main purpose. There is no one to beat, so we aren't going there anymore.

      Colliding egos have contributed to more innovation in the History of Mankind than anything else. Team work, cooperation, common goals... are all overrated and there is plenty of evidence of that.

    • by jbengt (874751)
      "It's a race. Whoever is first is first."
      You were three minutes late.
  • by cjfs (1253208) on Tuesday February 17, 2009 @09:21AM (#26885245) Homepage Journal
    It's annoying on so many levels.
    • Even we do do find it it will open thousand more questions about it.
      Thus will keep the pointless debate of is there a God or Not going.

      I think they came up with the "God Particle" name as a way of saying to the people who beleave in God. Here we found out how the Universe works and THERE IS NO GOD See, you have lived your life on a false belief.

      Just as the religious people are hoping for the Second Coming to say to the atheists. Oh Oh here is God he about to put the smack down on you. You should have lived

      • Since when are did all religious people believe in the second coming of Jesus and have anything against atheists? And since when has all religion been against science?

      • by Culture20 (968837)

        Just as the religious people are hoping for the Second Coming to say to the atheists. Oh Oh here is God he about to put the smack down on you. You should have lived your life based on these values, and now you gonna pay.

        Technically, only a small percentage of Christians are actually hoping for the Second Coming, and for those that are, it's for different reasons than you espouse (usually a desire to see the permanent end to war/death/cyclical-suffering). I know quite a few Christians who fervently pray to forestall the Second Coming, hoping for more time to change the hearts and minds of those close to them.

        Back on topic: it's a silly name, but easier to remember than Higgs-Boson, so it's here to stay.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Sponge Bath (413667)

          ...time to change the hearts and minds of those close to them.

          As someone who does not believe in the magic bearded man in the sky and has been pestered for years by those who do, I say to them: please stop. It got old a long time ago, and nothing you say will make me worry about being punished by a supernatural booger man for my failure to adhere to modern human interpretations of ancient human originated scripts.

      • by genner (694963)

        the Religious people will probably kill Jesus for the second time, not the atheists.

        Religious people didn't kill him the first time, they petitioned their secular government to do it for them but feel free to wash your hands of the whole issue.

    • by master_p (608214) on Tuesday February 17, 2009 @10:08AM (#26885805)

      Ok. How about the Allah Particle?

      • by sorak (246725)

        Ok. How about the Allah Particle?

        If it creates a black hole that takes out half the galaxy, then yeah, we can call it that.

    • by necro81 (917438)
      Here, here!

      About the only relationship to God the Higgs boson has is that there's a whole bunch of people that devote their lives to it, building temples, and yet so far have to take its existence of faith. I sometimes wonder if their zeal isn't more like idolatry than adoration.

      Rather than searching for the thing itself, I think it better to reflect on what the thing's existence would mean in the grand scheme of things.
    • Let's just stick to calling it the Higgs Boson. God Particle is just a meaningless snippet that the scientifically semi-literate have latched onto because it sounds cool.

      Just like Theory of Everything, actually.

  • CERN needs money badly. By crying out "The Yankees are catching up!" they hope the politicians would hear and pay them more fresh euro.

    In this economy, do you really believe the scientists care that much about the God Particle? If your answer is yes, do you really think it's "yes"?

    If they lose jobs and food, how can they go on chasing the Higgs particle?

    • by Eravnrekaree (467752) on Tuesday February 17, 2009 @10:08AM (#26885801)

      Its very important for us to improve our data base and understanding of physics. While for some it may seem abstract it is often the case that data which at first seems to be inconsequential and a curiosity plays a critical role in developing some new technology. Understanding how atoms work for instance, gave rise to many new inventions that were probably not anticipated originally, such as understanding how transistors work.

      Science is very important to solving our economic problems and collecting data allows science to better understand the universe and be able to develop better technologies. I am one who thinks we need to prioritise resources on science and education funding (especially our badly neglected gifted programs to allow high IQ students to fully develop their maximum potential and go through their course as fast as they wish) , and environmental protections.

  • by haleyeah (691260) on Tuesday February 17, 2009 @09:30AM (#26885347)
    Yeah, but can the tevatron create black holes or rip the fabric of the time/space continuum? GO CERN!
  • by gmuslera (3436) on Tuesday February 17, 2009 @09:36AM (#26885399) Homepage Journal
    One thing is to prove than a theoretical particle exist, and another to give the world a new (and somewhat clean) source of energy and/or world peace, all humanity together... well, at least if the resulting black hole is stable enough.
  • by petes_PoV (912422) on Tuesday February 17, 2009 @09:42AM (#26885463)
    It's all about funding. If one establishment can make an unsubstantiated claim that attracts publicity and therefore money, then why not. It's not as if their scientific credibility (cough, cold-fusion) will be questioned. If so long as they don't say it's certain that they'll produce a given result, they can always claim "well, if we'd had more money ..."
  • Hmm (Score:4, Funny)

    by LizardKing (5245) on Tuesday February 17, 2009 @09:54AM (#26885611)
    If this is anything like the last time a scientist tried finding the clitoris it could be a long wait.
  • The newsies will never understand this, but it would actually be more interesting and significant if both Fermilab and LHC fail to detect the Higgs.

    • Merely failing to detect it would not be terribly interesting (although a highly unlikely scenario). Actually ruling it out (very possible) is what would be tremendously interesting. Although, to be fair, most of the alternative theories are very similar at the end of the day, just with different decay and production signatures and such, so it might not be such a huge deal.
  • "But don't forget, there is also a whole spectrum of physics to be investigated at the LHC which the Tevatron can never do." Yea the Tevatron is a lot more boring too, is not likely to make black holes that may or may not swallow itself and/or parts of the planet
  • that has to rank as the all time most annoying monikers ever.

    Quantum Diaries Survivor [wordpress.com] is perhaps the best blog on whats doing at Fermilab, though it is technically inclined, and is done by a member of CDF

  • by mzs (595629) on Tuesday February 17, 2009 @11:47AM (#26887265)

    This is from the Symmetry magazine blog:

    http://www.symmetrymagazine.org/breaking/2009/02/16/hunt-for-the-higgs-kicking-into-high-gear/ [symmetrymagazine.org]

    There is a lot of talk about this recently because of the AAAS meeting in Chicago. Also here is another neat article (not related):

    http://www.symmetrymagazine.org/breaking/2009/02/16/a-first-string-theory-predicts-an-experimental-result/ [symmetrymagazine.org]

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