July 24, 2007

Blogging the Hunt for the Higgs Boson [7:16 am]

A look at the evolution of the way that science gets done: The Race is on for the God Particle

The excitement has been ratcheted up by the speed and ubiquity of information on the Internet.

“It is exciting even if you think the chances of it being true are only 0 or 10 percent,” said Tommaso Dorigo, from the University of Padua in Italy, who helped spread the D Zero rumor in June on his blog, A Quantum Diaries Survivor (http://dorigo.wordpress.com). “It’s something you were looking for and would be very happy to find.”

Joe Lykken, a Fermilab theorist who said he first learned of the rumored bump the old-fashioned way, over lunch in the laboratory cafeteria, said: “Pre-blog, this sort of rumor would have circulated among perhaps a few dozen physicists. Now with blogs even string theorists who can’t spell Higgs became immediately aware of inside information about D Zero data.”

[...] On May 28, an anonymous physicist wrote to the comments section of Dr. Dorigo’s blog, asking if it was true that D Zero was seeing an excess of so-called b-quarks spitting from the Tevatron. This excess, or bump, was supposedly at the level of 4-sigma or 5-sigma and thus, if it withstood scrutiny, it would have to be taken seriously as a sign that the Higgs boson was there with a mass of about 180 billion electron volts.

Dr. Dorigo is in the C.D.F. collaboration and thus had no inside knowledge, but repeated that he had also heard the rumor. The rumor was picked up by the publications Slate and Wired.

In response, Gordon Watts, a physicist from the University of Washington and longtime member of the D Zero team, scolded Dr. Dorigo for speculating on rumors.

“Dude! If you get called by the press to comment on this rumor — you will be making secondhand comments on rumors!” Dr. Watts wrote on his blog, Life as a Physicist.

Dr. Watts pointed out that until a result had passed several levels of rigorous reviews within the team, including redoing analyses with different computer programs, there was no result, and nothing to say in public. “I don’t think D Zero has ever had an analysis that was given this much external scrutiny before its official release,” Dr. Watts wrote in an e-mail message, adding that the blogs had already quieted down.

Nice to see that WordPress gets a few points, too!

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