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Why Were So Many "Crazy" Higgs Boson Stories Published? 291

Posted by samzenpus
from the what-can't-it-do? dept.
The presumed discovery of the Higgs boson may be one of the most important scientific discoveries ever, but it did bring out quite a bit of "strange" science reporting. In addition to blogs, many mainstream news sites jumped on the crazy headline bandwagon. The ability to soon travel at the speed of light, the building of a Star Trek style transporter, and many stories of the particle proving God doesn't exist have made the rounds in the past week. Is the particle's discovery just on the fringe of common scientific knowledge and therefore prone to wild speculation, or does this all come down to having the most sensational headline?
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Why Were So Many "Crazy" Higgs Boson Stories Published?

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  • by E1910 (2681139) on Tuesday July 10, 2012 @11:13AM (#40602221)
    Let me steal this first post to invite fellow slashdotters to a Higgs Boson Scientists Launch Party next weekend in San Francisco. We have friendly people, interesting discussions and huge orgy. Everyone is welcome to come! WOOOHOOO
  • Seriously? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anrego (830717) * on Tuesday July 10, 2012 @11:14AM (#40602227)

    The exact same reasons we read headlines about creating universe eating black holes when the thing started up.. about global pandemics that are going to wipe us all out.. about “Africanized” bees. It gets eyeball time, which is what it’s all about.

    “A long held theory has been possibly confirmed”

    Vs.

    “THE FUTURE IS HERE, LIVE LIKE THE JETSONS IN 5 YEARS!”

    One of those is going to sell a _lot_ more toothpaste.

    • I'm waiting for the one-time-application tooth-enamel-protector we will surely have in 5 years thanks to the discovery of the Higgs!

      Sorry advertisers, your current pre-Higgs-announcement product lines are already obsolete so I won't be buying any of them.

      • by geminidomino (614729) on Tuesday July 10, 2012 @11:34AM (#40602521) Journal

        I'm waiting for the one-time-application tooth-enamel-protector we will surely have in 5 years thanks to the discovery of the Higgs!

        You know, I'd be happy with just a new way of getting a cleaning.

        We put men on the moon. We can remove an internal organ through an incision smaller than a Kennedy half-dollar. We've discovered the Higgs Bosun. So why the FUCK are dental hygienists still using techniques clearly dreamed up and perfected by friggin' Torquemada?!

        • by Anrego (830717) * on Tuesday July 10, 2012 @11:45AM (#40602683)

          As someone with a lot of dental problems.. so much this.

          I mean there is a lot of advancements in the dental industry.. composite fillings, implants, etc.. but some stuff is just conspicuously primitive. Maybe there really is no better way than physically scraping the junk off with metal picks.. or maybe it's impractical for whatever reason.

          Personally I'd like to see one of these nifty painless numbing methods I've been hearing about as "just around the corner" since I was in high school to actually show up at my dentists office. Metal picks I don't mind.. my dentist trying to directly freeze my brain stem or something with a needle the size of a drinking straw and then STILL feeling it kinda gets on the nerves..

        • by operagost (62405) on Tuesday July 10, 2012 @11:53AM (#40602801) Homepage Journal
          At least the dental hygenists are still hot.
    • Re:Seriously? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by datavirtue (1104259) on Tuesday July 10, 2012 @02:24PM (#40605113)

      It's the age of Adsense. All that matters is traffic. Some will do whatever it takes to get it. I see traffic grabs all the time, but most people don't realize how much money is in it.

  • Where were they? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 10, 2012 @11:14AM (#40602235)

    I didn't see any articles like that, are you confusing random small blogs for mainstream news sites? Or was this an American news thing?

    • Re:Where were they? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Trent Hawkins (1093109) on Tuesday July 10, 2012 @11:33AM (#40602507)
      Try the BBC: "The Higgs boson is another nail in the coffin of religion", "What do you get if you divide science by God?", "Is there room for Higgs Boson & Religion?"
      http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-radio-and-tv-18712238 [bbc.co.uk]
      http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/magazine/7955846.stm [bbc.co.uk]
      http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p00tt7kb/World_Have_Your_Say_WHYS_60_Is_there_room_for_Higgs_Boson_and_Religion/ [bbc.co.uk]
    • by Spad (470073)

      I'm going to go with the latter. I saw very little sensationalist nonsense from the UK media on the whole, nor did I see a lot on any of the sci/tech blogs and sites that I read. The only place I saw anything even vaguely stupid (that wasn't intended as such) related to the Higgs discovery was on Twitter, where you can find stupid related to *anything* at any time.

    • by irenaeous (898337) on Tuesday July 10, 2012 @11:44AM (#40602659) Journal
      Did you read the linked article? As a Christian, I rolled my eyes most at the BBC radio headline, "The Higgs boson is another nail in the coffin of religion." This seems like an equal opportunity attempt to offend. It attacks religion, but with an argument that is so stupid that it ought to offend atheists too who might be associated with such asininity. And this is the BBC who you think wouldn't do this kind of thing.
      • I'll happily be the atheist who agrees with you. Religion isn't science. Science isn't religion. They don't overlap and claiming either can prove the other wrong is absurd.
        • by gl4ss (559668)

          I'll happily be the atheist who agrees with you. Religion isn't science. Science isn't religion. They don't overlap and claiming either can prove the other wrong is absurd.

          most organized religions are about promoting how it(the religion in question) can prove itself as universal truth - you see, when religion is very tangibly used as explanation for how things work and came to be - and how they will be - then in a system like that there is no separation of "science" and "religion" and there really can't be. of course that sounds absurd if you're atheist though, since it creates humongous logical holes if you try to observe things yourself. religious authority says that world

    • by tverbeek (457094)

      "Or was this an American news thing?"

      If you RTFA, you'll see that the first two examples cited were from Canada's National Post and the BBC.

      • Re:Where were they? (Score:4, Informative)

        by CanHasDIY (1672858) on Tuesday July 10, 2012 @12:13PM (#40603061) Homepage Journal

        "Or was this an American news thing?"

        If you RTFA, you'll see that the first two examples cited were from Canada's National Post and the BBC.

        Well sure, but had he RTFA'd, he wouldn't have gotten to do any American-bashing, now would he?

        Not sure which is worse: AC's who only post anti-American nonsense, or the idiots who mod such posts Insightful... Hating on Americans must be trending.

  • A little from column A, a little from column B.
    • by Kelbear (870538) on Tuesday July 10, 2012 @11:32AM (#40602487)

      I like to try to stay reasonably well-informed relative to the general population, but I still needed about 2 hours of looking up summary articles and digging through wikipedia entries to make any goddamn sense of what was actually discovered, and what importance it has to progress in physics research. My highschool science classes never discussed anything below the atomic level. I had absolutely no awareness of where the Higgs Boson was theoretically supposed to fit into the "Standard Model" since I'd never even heard of the Standard Model either.

      Pretty sure the vast majority of the population still has no clue what the Higgs Boson hullaballoo entails. It's easy for misinformation to propagate on this subject because the audience has virtually no context.

      • by ColdWetDog (752185) on Tuesday July 10, 2012 @12:28PM (#40603299) Homepage

        That's why lots of sites had articles like this. [theatlantic.com]

        If you ignored the obvious idiot sites, I thought the general reaction to the Higgs Boson was pretty good. Idiot sites like ABC, CBC, MSNBC and CNN.

  • by MightyMartian (840721) on Tuesday July 10, 2012 @11:19AM (#40602297) Journal

    Science journalism sucks.

    • by gmuslera (3436)
      I would reduce that to 2 words: Hanlon's Razor
      • by Thud457 (234763)
        two other words : Sturgeon's law


        Allthough in the case of /., it should be amended to read "at least 90% of everything is crap"
    • Two words (Score:4, Insightful)

      by k(wi)r(kipedia) (2648849) on Tuesday July 10, 2012 @11:42AM (#40602639)

      Journalism sucks. But let me qualify. Science journalism and journalism in general suck when they're written to beat the deadline in attempt to be "fresh" or "hot off the press" (conference). You can picture the reporter emailing his or her story to the editorial department and the editor, finding the report, a bit dull decides to sex it up just a little, adding "factoids" lifted from Google or Wikipedia (the two not being mutually exclusive) or making snappy generalizations that can reduce to two or three words WTF the whole event is about.

      Let's be honest, which would you rather read: "God particle may explain creation" or "CERN scientists discover new subatomic particle"?

      A common trick in newspaper headlines is to give off the impression of certainty where there is none. When you read something like "500 feared dead" the day after a disaster, you can be sure that the "500" is an approximation that most likely came from some random bloke or bureaucart.

      Wait a few more weeks or months, and the science reporting will get more sober.

  • by nedlohs (1335013) on Tuesday July 10, 2012 @11:22AM (#40602345)

    And journalists are morons.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 10, 2012 @11:25AM (#40602397)

      When it comes to quantum physics, almost everyone is a moron.

      • by mwvdlee (775178) on Tuesday July 10, 2012 @11:36AM (#40602563) Homepage

        Everybody is actually both a moron and a genius at the same time, until observed.

        • "Si tacuisses, philosophus fuisses" - Because this quantum wave easily collapses in the presence of human voice ;-)

          Btw.: Since English is not my native language, can anyone tell me an appropriate English proverb?

          • "Si tacuisses, philosophus fuisses" - Because this quantum wave easily collapses in the presence of human voice ;-)

            Btw.: Since English is not my native language, can anyone tell me an appropriate English proverb?

            Maybe if you translated it first.

            • Si tacuisses, philosophus fuisses

              I'll make a stab at it, quoting Mark Twain:

              It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one's mouth and remove all doubt.

    • by Necroman (61604) on Tuesday July 10, 2012 @11:39AM (#40602599)

      I wish I has karma to give you, as I was coming to say the same thing.

      The wikipedia entry [wikipedia.org] on the Higgs Boson has some quotes from the author who nicknamed the Higgs Boson "the god particle":

      While use of this term may have contributed to increased media interest, many scientists dislike it, since it is sensational and overstates the particle's importance. Its discovery would still leave unanswered questions about the unification of quantum chromodynamics, the electroweak interaction, and gravity, as well as the ultimate origin of the universe. Higgs, an atheist himself, is displeased that the Higgs particle is nicknamed the "God particle", because the term "might offend people who are religious".

      Lederman said he gave it a nickname because the particle is "so central to the state of physics today, so crucial to our understanding of the structure of matter, yet so elusive," and added that he chose "the God particle" because "the publisher wouldn't let us call it the Goddamn Particle, though that might be a more appropriate title, given its villainous nature and the expense it is causing."

      I understand he did it so his book had a catchy title, but the media decided to go crazy when talking about it. Sure, it's a big discovery to physicists and understanding how our universe works, it really shouldn't be receiving the coverage it's getting. There is just too many ignorant reporters trying to explain something, which is creating a lot of mis-information.

    • Lederman wanted to call it "the goddamn particle" it was his editor we have to thank for the stupid name.
  • by ackthpt (218170)

    It's been a slow news Summer.

    Unless you have a thick enough skin to get involved in the US election campaigns, which are like droning, dull soap opera.

    Come to think about it .. that's probably why Higgs-Boson was so exciting - it's a diversion from the horror or the rest of the news.

    Higgs-Boson Party at my house! Beer! Party hats! Quantum Physics! Whooo!

  • God particle (Score:5, Insightful)

    by techstar25 (556988) <techstar25@@@cfl...rr...com> on Tuesday July 10, 2012 @11:23AM (#40602359) Homepage Journal
    Calling Higgs boson "The God Particle" is probably the greatest marketing decision in the history of science.
    • by synapse7 (1075571)
      That was my conclusion, the stories created great traffic.
    • Re:God particle (Score:5, Informative)

      by PPH (736903) on Tuesday July 10, 2012 @11:36AM (#40602551)

      It wasn't the decision of the physicists. Leon Lederman originally wanted to title his book [wikipedia.org] the goddamn particle, but the publisher wouldn't allow it.

      Peter Higgs [wikipedia.org] isn't happy with the name either.

      Slashdot editors could do the world service by revising the name to its original whenever it appears here. Perhaps the rest of the world will pick up on the change.

      • by Millennium (2451)

        Of course the publisher wouldn't allow "the goddamn particle." You wouldn't want Batman suing you for infringement.

  • by iceaxe (18903) on Tuesday July 10, 2012 @11:24AM (#40602381) Journal

    Stupid sells even better than sex.

  • by necro81 (917438)
    I count as "crazy" any story that referred to the Higgs boson as the "God Particle."
  • http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/08/opinion/sunday/q-and-a-the-higgs-boson-and-you.html [nytimes.com]

    ...

    Q. Will the discovery affect everyday life?

    A. Well, duhhh.

    Q. Hey, I’m not a science-y person, O.K.?

    A. Sorry. The answer is absolutely. Sort of. Well, yes and no.

    Q. Can you be like a little more specific?

    A. For starters, you’re going to be hearing the phrase “Higgs boson” about 800 trillion times. You’ll be at a cocktail party talking about the Kardashians and someone will say, “OMG, Higgs boson!” and you’ll go, “No, no, no — please, no more with the Higgs boson.” So there’s that. Plus this Halloween, every other trick-or-treater is going to be dressed as — guess what? — the Higgs boson. What else? Ten bucks says Al Gore claims he discovered it. Another 10 says Mitt Romney picks it as his running mate. Romney-Higgs boson. Dream ticket. So, yes, it’s going to affect your everyday life. My advice? Deal with it.

    Don't even try to read the rest of it, unless you like wasting your time.

    Based on this famous quote:

    “Great minds discuss ideas; Average minds discuss events; Small minds discuss people.” -Eleanor Roosevelt

    That would put this sort of annoying Higgs boson chatter squarely in the realm of average minds.

    They can usually come up with something good to say about events most of us understand. But they can't understand the Higgs boson. Doesn't matter: the media is all about generating copy, this is the highest imperative. Making sense is secondary. And so not understanding doesn't prevent them from trying to say something. Nor should it, according to the logic of their profession, since the logic of their profession says the editorial has to be filed on time, the column must fit so many square inches of space, the front page must have timely links about today's news.

    And so they all come up with this WHARRGARBL like the NY Times story above. Welcome to the media industry.

    • by mwvdlee (775178)

      “Great minds discuss ideas; Average minds discuss events; Small minds discuss people.” -Eleanor Roosevelt

      Surely this counts as irony?

      • absolutely. we are here on slashdot, doing the same thing

        but we pretend at least to understand the topic

        having said that, now that you've pierced the irony... please don't pierce the hypocrisy! ;-)

    • Sad thing is, I clicked on your link, as probably did many others. Now their sales team is thinking "more articles like this one".
    • by gl4ss (559668)

      that new york times article was the best article about it I've read, beyond the news of the original discovery which essentially boiled down to one line, that they found it (with good probability).

      seriously, how many valuable discussions about higgs-boson have you had ever, before or after this? even if you hang out with university faculty the chances are pretty much nil, you probably read and understood as much as you can from an article and the discussions boil down just to "cool shit man!".

      at least it's

    • The story you linked is supposed to be funny. It is satirical take on the media's generally terrible explanations of the Higgs Boson. The author is a known satire writer.

      “Great minds discuss ideas; Average minds discuss events; Small minds discuss people.” -Eleanor Roosevelt

      They can usually come up with something good to say about events most of us understand. But they can't understand the Higgs boson

      Oh I see what you did there. You do get satire! ... Right?

    • by necro81 (917438) on Tuesday July 10, 2012 @12:28PM (#40603293) Journal

      And so they all come up with this WHARRGARBL like the NY Times story above.

      It was in the Opinion section, written by a prolific satirist [wikipedia.org]. Can't take a joke, can you?

  • Perhaps it shows how much people are waiting for the next frontier to happen. You know .. space ships and robot hookers ... in fact .. forget about the spaceships.
  • by sandytaru (1158959) on Tuesday July 10, 2012 @11:28AM (#40602441) Journal
    I wanted to be a theoretical physicist when I grew up (oh, childhood dreams) and I've got an above average understanding of particle physics just from my general fascination with the subject. Even I have a tough time grasping the nitty gritty details of the Higgs field. The sensationalism stems from 1. The general population not understanding particle physics and 2. The general population not understanding the nature of the announcement. The Higgs wasn't so much discovered as it was confirmed to be exactly where we expected it to be all along. No new technology will come out of this so much as our understanding of the universe has been strengthened considerably - we're on the right track with the Standard Model after all.
    • we're on the right track with the Standard Model after all

      Well, several models that describe the Standard Model get thrown out, and a few remain. Zero or one of them can be correct, so now the next experiments can be drawn up to eliminate each of them.

      AIUI, all we definitely know is that there is a particle at one of the predicted energies for the Higgs, and it exhibits some Higgs-like properties. We don't know yet whether any of the higher-predicted energy Higgs also exist, though since the one that has

  • SCIENCE JOURNALISTS KNOW LESS SCIENCE THAN GEORGE W BUSH

    But it's not exactly news, is it? Science journalism works like this:

    1 Scientist writes paper about the biodiversity of the average suburban house
    2 Press officer at scientist's institution is bored and decides to read paper
    3 Press officer gets through three words of the paper before going to ask scientist for a canned summary
    4 Scientist writes a 20 word canned summary highlighting the unexpected variety of creatures to be found in the average househol

    • And, anyway, they all seem to have missed the point that finding the Higgs thingy isn't very interesting in itself, except that it proves that the Higgs Field exists.

  • It's obviously because of the name, I think it would have been better for the name to remain "Goddamned particle"... also prepare for similar reaction if they call a particle "the Devil's particle".

  • by bmo (77928) on Tuesday July 10, 2012 @11:47AM (#40602705)

    American journalists are idiots when it comes to science reporting. They even fail at the "Mr. Wizard" level of science. It's truly abysmal.

    And I took so long typing this, because I could not find the series of physics programs I grew up with as a kid in the early 70s. They involved a quite intense physics professor, and he used phrases like "boys and girls" when explaining things like magnetism and diamagnetism or thermal expansion and had this ... unique way of pronouncing "thermometer" as "thermal meter"

    It was on WGBH and it was a Canadian import.

    Halp. This is driving me nuts.

    But anyway, I was going to say that journalists also fail at that level too.

    --
    BMO

  • Remember how horribly stupid the media/news is about things they don't understand next time there is a story about the "right-wing" or they use eye-grabbing words and phrases like "fundamentalists" and the like. Chances are facts are blown out of proportion, details distort or flat out omitted, and everything is phrased in the most extreme way possible.

    Just as most scientific discoveries (like the Higgs boson) are rather mundane (by comparison to what the media/news tries to sell us) so are most people. Tha

  • The concept of the Higgs Boson is undeniably part of a branch of physics that the average person barely understands. In a society where concepts and values have to be expressed in terms of "real world" metaphors, like "The length of 6 football fields", or "The amount of concrete used could build a sidewalk from Boston to New York", or "Faster then NASCAR!", instead of just reporting on the fact that Higgs Boson was discovered reporters felt obligated to "enrich" their reporting by suggesting what could be

  • by Dracos (107777)

    The options presented in the post here are not mutually exclusive, and are probably both true. The general population is uneducated about science. News reporting sucks; science reporting is especially dumbed down, if not saturated with speculation and lack of comprehension of the topic.

  • 1. it's the current buzzword
    2. it's cool
    3. it's (mostly) European stuff
    4. there's nothing more interesting at the moment

  • by Theovon (109752) on Tuesday July 10, 2012 @12:00PM (#40602895)

    First of all, what was found is a particle with the same MASS as that predicted by the standard model. They haven't yet confirmed spin or other properties. But what this amounts to is confirmation of what was already suspected. Unfortunately, this isn't all that helpful, because we already know that the standard model doesn't predict everything correctly. If we hadn't found the Higgs Boson, then perhaps it would have helped us to fix the standard model. As it is, this can't help us improve the standard model. In other words, this is great, and it's nice to know that brilliant scientists in the past century were right, but it isn't any kind of revolutionary progress.

  • http://www.thebunsenburner.com/news/a-higgs-boson-impostor-thats-the-theory-put-forward-by-physicists/ [thebunsenburner.com]

    Besides if the Higgs Boson verified no energy is lost than in our ever increasing expanding universe no new energy is created and we will eventually expand into nothing as we stretch and thin out all the energy to where its ... well no one to notice it.

  • As if this kind of sensationalistic ignorance is confined to the Higgs discovery. Here [nasa.gov] is a similar example of a recent article by a NASA "science" writer. I can't even fathom what kind of leap of ignorance it takes to frame the relatively banal topic of connections between the Earth and Sun's magnetic field in terms of sci-fi "portals" (as in wormholes), but there you have it.

  • Piss poor science reporting, is likely due to the shit-for-brains idiots we jokingly call "journalists".

    Bearing in mind here, that "media studies graduate" is a perjorative phrase for something a bit dense from a well-off background, who had Mummy and Daddy pay their way though university, and ended up doing a soft-option humanities course as a prelude to working as a "writer" or "journalist"; because they were too stupid and dishonest to try anything more challenging or of any social utility whatsoever.

    I

  • by hAckz0r (989977) on Tuesday July 10, 2012 @12:15PM (#40603097)
    Considering that we havent verified anything yet, these stories really make Science look cheap.

    "We interpret the new particle at the Large Hadron Collider as a CP-even scalar and investigate its electroweak quantum number. Assuming an unbroken custodial invariance as suggested by precision electroweak measurements, only four possibilities are allowed if the scalar decays to pairs of gauge bosons, as exemplified by a dilaton/radion, a non-dilatonic electroweak singlet scalar, an electroweak doublet scalar, and electroweak triplet scalars. We show that current LHC data already strongly disfavor both the dilatonic and non-dilatonic singlet imposters. On the other hand, a generic Higgs doublet and a triplet imposter give equally good fits to the measured event rates of the newly observed scalar resonance, although a Standard Model Higgs boson gives a slightly better overall fit. The global fit indicates the enhancement in the diphoton channel could be attributed to an enhanced partial decay width, while the production rates are consistent with the Standard Model expectations. We emphasize that more precise measurements of the ratio of event rates in the WW over ZZ channels, as well as the event rates in bb and tau tau channels, are needed to distinguish the Higgs doublet from the triplet imposter. "

    http://arxiv.org/abs/1207.1093 [arxiv.org]

  • Michio Kaku popularized this sort of thing on the Art Bell show back in the late nineties. While Dr. Kaku can speak intelligently about such topics the average science reporter cannot, but that doesn't stop them.

    Where does the Higgs get its mass?
  • samzenpus (TFA) said:
    The presumed discovery of the Higgs boson may be one of the most important scientific discoveries ever, but it did bring out quite a bit of "strange" science reporting.

    It did?

    In addition to blogs, many mainstream news sites jumped on the crazy headline bandwagon. The ability to soon travel at the speed of light, the building of a Star Trek style transporter, and many stories of the particle proving God doesn't exist have made the rounds in the past week.

    Hilarious. To bad i have not re

    • by Barryke (772876)

      having the most sensational headline?

      Bingo!

      Of all people, samzenpus (Rob Rozenboom) should know.
      He's jumped to 3th place in most active authors: http://slashdot.org/hof.shtml [slashdot.org] but all i see is slashdot going down the drain. There is a /. community, but the /. news is no more.

  • by Ukab the Great (87152) on Tuesday July 10, 2012 @12:27PM (#40603279)

    Mr. McGuire: I just want to say one word to you - just one word.
    Ben: Yes sir.
    Mr. McGuire: Are you listening?
    Ben: Yes I am.
    Mr. McGuire: 'Higgs Boson.'
    Ben: Exactly how do you mean?
    Mr. McGuire: There's a great future in the Higgs Boson particle. Think about it. Will you think about it?
    Ben: Yes I will.
    Mr. McGuire: Shh! Enough said. That's a deal.

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