Do you like to spread rumors?

June 17, 2012 at 2:47 pm 15 comments

Everyone is excited about the coming ICHEP conference and what will be shown by CMS and ATLAS concerning the search for the standard model Higgs boson. It is hard to be patient, and the urge to indulge one’s curiosity and to speculate without bound is hard to control.

One must ask, though: is it really OK to spread rumors?

The main rumor-monger these days is Peter Woit at Not Even Wrong — a formerly excellent blog that in recent months sometimes seems more devoted to scandal and gossip than to education. You can read there that ATLAS and CMS are seeing “about 4 sigma” in the H→γγ channel. Peter’s statements were quickly echoed over on viXra log and even Tommaso Dorigo posted an elliptical entry on Quantum Diaries. I’m sure other blogs are posting rumors – I am too lazy to go look for them now.

As a member of the CMS Collaboration, I know precisely what we have. But my loyalty remains with my collaboration, especially the people who are working right now to carry out the analysis and verify the results, as well as to the people at the top who have to chart strategy and make difficult decisions. A little splash in a blog is not worth the bother it would cause all these people.

I don’t mean to sound sanctimonious. I am just stating who I am and what choice I have made. Other people obviously make other choices, for all sorts of reasons. The education of the interested public is essential and I applaud those who do it well. The desire to get off of high horses and to step out of ivory towers is good and I value that, too.

But where does one draw the line? At what point does a blogger make a transition from expressing his/her enthusiasm, and explaining something to the general reader, toward increasing ratings and readership of his/her blog? Maybe I am too straight-laced, hailing from New England, while others prefer to hang loose. I guess the only thing to say is, as one says in this part of the world : vive la différence!

About these ads

Entry filed under: Particle Physics. Tags: .

The Flame Challenge Independence-Day Higgs Seminar

15 Comments Add your own

  • 1. ICHEP Higgs Rumours = Discovery ? « viXra log  |  June 18, 2012 at 1:52 am

    [...] also an article on the collider blog questioning the practice of spreading these rumours. For what its worth, I agree that it would be [...]

    Reply
  • 2. Tony Smith  |  June 18, 2012 at 11:12 am

    Do you draw a distinction between different types of rumours?

    For example:

    The Peter Woit rumour of ““about 4 sigma” in the H→γγ channel”
    really does not convey much useful information
    because it does not enable you to compare histograms
    of ATLAS and CMS for 2011 and 2012 to see exactly how
    their bumps do (or do not) match up.
    (my guess is that CMS and ATLAS did not present a 2011 combination at Moriond because it was not clear whether or not
    their histograms really had peaks and valleys in the same places)

    On the other hand, some time ago,
    there was a slide with plots etc shown by CERN people at FERMILAB which slide was put on the web by someone who
    thought that the presentation was public. There was controversy
    over that point, but the information on the slide turned out to be
    accurate and useful and informative,
    and the slide had been produced by good people (at CERN) who
    got full credit for producing it.

    Do you think that the latter type of rumour (informative CERN slide)
    is less objectionable than the vague (really almost meaningless)
    Peter Woit example ?

    Of course, ICHEP is less that 3 weeks away which is really not a long time for us outsiders to wait,
    and it is really a short time for the CERN insiders to not only
    produce histograms for digamma and ZZ to 4l
    and estimates of cross section for each possible peak
    (which are the things that I really care about)
    but also
    to produce secondary stuff like Confidence Level charts
    that I really don’t care much about (although they seem
    to be the things that get the most publicity).

    Tony

    Reply
    • 3. Michael Schmitt  |  June 18, 2012 at 12:11 pm

      hi Tony,

      thanks for your question – it is a good one.

      I guess the physics world wants to know: is the 2011 peak at 125 GeV signs of a real particle, or was it a fluctuation? The only way to answer that question is to take more data and see if the peak re-appears. Officially, the question is still open but in the blogosphere, an answer is now circulating that has no clear origin. I don’t like doing science this way, and I don’t like communicating the results of major, and expensive, science experiments this way. For me it is like taking a rumor about President Obama and spreading it, possibly to his detriment, for the sake of ratings. One should at least be able to cite sources, right?

      The point is not whether the rumor is accurate but rather: do you want to spread knowledge and understanding, or do you want to excite commentary on what may, in the end, prove inaccurate?

      When ICHEP comes, you will see the mass spectra and thousands of physicists will stand behind those results (including me, at least for the CMS results). You will also see the statistical analyses that help us interpret the results in terms of a standard model Higgs boson. One does not have to wait long, and from the perspective of the CERN insiders, those three weeks will seem far too short to get everything done!

      Michael

      Reply
      • 4. Peter Woit  |  June 18, 2012 at 1:27 pm

        Hi Michael,

        Actually I think the fraction of scandal and gossip I purvey on the blog hasn’t changed over the last 8 years, but people can judge for themselves. Personally I happen to like scandal and gossip, but only when it’s accurate. I do the best I can to maintain high standards of accuracy in all scandal and gossip purveyed. This includes the latest news about the Higgs (I’ve added some clarifications there, since the initial posting was an iphone effort that some people misinterpreted).

        The bottom line here is that over the last couple weeks, 6000+ particle physicists, the majority of the particle physics community worldwide, have seen or heard about preliminary analyses of data from their experiments which pretty conclusively confirm the existence of the Higgs. This is huge, historical news, and I don’t happen to see why it shouldn’t be shared at this point with the rest of the particle physics community. Notice that I’m not posting plots, or much in the way of detail. We all look forward to the day not too far from now when the best results possible from the new data are released, and we can all give heartfelt thanks to those like you who worked hard to get there.

        Blogs introduce a new vector for the spread of rumors, but surely you’re aware that historically the news of a big result has circulated fairly widely among physicists in the days and weeks before an announcement, often in highly inaccurate form. The current official policy that no one on an HEP experiment should breath a word about results before the public announcement doesn’t correspond to the historical reality of the field. For instance, I remember going to tea at Princeton one day as a grad student back in the 80s, where I joined a group listening to Carlo Rubbia explain to everyone, with details, that his group had the top quark “in the bag”. That’s obviously not much of a good model for how to do things either, but the model of “no one will say anything at all to anyone” is neither realistic nor grounded in past practice.

  • 5. pete  |  June 18, 2012 at 1:12 pm

    i like the “a formerly excellent blog”-part ;) but i maybe perter woit was just enthusiastic with his post. we will know the facts in a few weeks. until then it’s just rumors.

    Reply
    • 6. Michael Schmitt  |  June 18, 2012 at 1:18 pm

      Hi Pete, maybe that phrase was too harsh. Truth is, I could never match what Peter Woit does. But it was better in the past and I have gotten tired of the heated comments about supersymmetry and string theory. Even if I agree with him (and I do, as far as string theory is concerned), it seems too antagonistic and I don’t enjoy his blog as much as I used to. I’m sure that will change once discoveries burst forth from the LHC. ;)

      Michael

      Reply
      • 7. Peter Woit  |  June 18, 2012 at 1:39 pm

        Hi Michael,

        I’m probably more tired than you of the heated comments about string theory and SUSY…

        String theory is by now a very tired topic, with nothing new to say about it. The fact that LHC results are finally falsifying the very popular but misguided speculative ideas about TeV scale physics that have dominated the subject for the past couple three decades is a big story that deserves attention, so I’ll keep covering that.

        I probably should stick to blogging about things that I know about that are much more positive, but I suspect that you really won’t enjoy my blog once it becomes devoted to the mathematical structures behind BRST and Langlands theory. I promise though to throw in some scandal and gossip…

        Peter

  • 8. Tony Smith  |  June 18, 2012 at 2:50 pm

    Peter Woit said in a comment above:
    “… The bottom line here is that over the last couple weeks, 6000+ particle physicists, the majority of the particle physics community worldwide, have seen or heard about preliminary analyses of data from their experiments which pretty conclusively confirm the existence of the Higgs. This is huge, historical news, and I don’t happen to see why it shouldn’t be shared at this point with the rest of the particle physics community. …”.

    and he also said:
    “… Notice that I’m not posting plots …”.

    Since it is the plots,
    not the opinions of “the majority of the particle physics community worldwide”,
    that tell the story of whether the peaks support (or not) a
    a single Higgs with Standard Model cross section,
    I think that it is irresponsible to quote rumors of opinions
    without quoting at least some plots to support those opinions,
    especially when Peter Woit’s words imply that he has seen the plots and is withholding them.

    In short, my view is that if you are not free to share plots,
    you should shut up until ICHEP
    (unless CERN makes them available sooner).

    Tony

    Reply
  • 9. Tony Smith  |  June 18, 2012 at 2:57 pm

    Peter Woit said in a comment above:
    “… The bottom line here is that over the last couple weeks, 6000+ particle physicists, the majority of the particle physics community worldwide, have seen or heard about preliminary analyses of data from their experiments which pretty conclusively confirm the existence of the Higgs. This is huge, historical news, and I don’t happen to see why it shouldn’t be shared at this point with the rest of the particle physics community. …”.

    and he also said:
    “… Notice that I’m not posting plots …”.

    Since it is the plots,
    not the opinions of “the majority of the particle physics community worldwide”,
    that tell the story of whether the peaks support (or not) a
    a single Higgs with Standard Model cross section,
    I think that it is irresponsible to quote rumors of opinions
    without quoting at least some plots to support those opinions,
    especially when Peter Woit’s words imply that he has seen the plots and is withholding them.

    In short, I think that unless you are free to share plots,
    you should shut up until ICHEP
    (unless CERN releases plots sooner).

    Tony

    PS – My apologies if this comment is sent in duplicate.
    I am having problems with my interface.

    Reply
  • 10. Michael Schmitt  |  June 18, 2012 at 3:37 pm

    Hi Peter,

    I am very happy to see your replies to my post.

    You are right, that blogging represents a new vector for communicating scientific results both to the general public and also within the scientific community. In fact, this is why each of us needs to think about how to use that new vector – this is the real point of my post. Extremes are obviously bad: peddling too much blather will pollute this new vector, and a too strict and narrow channel will become sterile and redundant with physics journals. Why don’t we see how things develop – especially now that we have something really important to blog about…

    One thing though: of the 6000+ physicists on CMS and ATLAS, only a very small fraction divulge the results of their colleagues – or their own results. Yes, you are right, some colleagues (even distinguished ones) will not be able to resist talking about discovery data. That *is* the way of the world. But I work amongst all those people, young and old, who hold their tongue and wait for the grand event.

    cheers!
    Michael

    Reply
  • [...] anderer Teilchenphysiker redet seinen Kollegen im Collider Blog regelrecht ins Gewissen: “Wollt ihr Gerüchte verbreiten?” lautet die rhetorische [...]

    Reply
  • [...] And Michael Schmitt of the Collider Blog questioned whether all these wild rumors floating about are really worth the extra blog traffic, given the grief they cause for colleagues: [...]

    Reply
  • [...] And Michael Schmitt of the Collider Blog questioned whether all these wild rumors floating about are really worth the extra blog traffic, given the grief they cause for colleagues: [...]

    Reply
  • 14. extra virgin olive oil ojai oliveoil  |  November 6, 2012 at 7:21 am

    Ok so I am thinking about removing my website from Tumbler and get it to a WordPress blog. I think this is a wordpress blog right? If it is, may I ask where you got the theme? Thanks a bunch!

    Reply
  • 15. CMS looking back « viXra log  |  January 30, 2013 at 5:04 am

    [...] lid with his leak about the new results. This was a little upsetting for them at first as shown by the response from CMS blogger Michael Schmitt who later calmed down a bit. One argument they gave was that they [...]

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Trackback this post  |  Subscribe to the comments via RSS Feed


Recent Posts

June 2012
S M T W T F S
« Mar   Jul »
 12
3456789
10111213141516
17181920212223
24252627282930

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 48 other followers

%d bloggers like this: