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Suppose you come to the 72nd hole in regulation at the Masters golf tournament and you are tied for the lead with only a 2 foot birdie putt separating you from victory. You drop down, line up the putt and maybe circle the area to survey the break, etc. Then, just as you assume your stance and are about to stroke the putter and drop the ball into the cup, the awards committee walks out on to the green with the green jacket and trophy...to shove it in your face. You quickly mark your ball and back away because now the entire tournament committee, the press, your family and friends are surrounding you to give you the award. But wait a second, the tournament isn't over yet. The 2 footer still needs to be made and never mind that you've been making them all week. The TOURNAMENT is NOT OVER!!!
This rationale did not stop the Nobel Prize in Physics from being awarded this week to Peter Higgs and François Englert who in 1964 theorized about a sub-atomic particle subsequently called the "Higgs Boson" and later referenced as "The God Particle." These two geniuses have surely earned many accolades because to be blunt their "theory" about the existence of the Higgs Boson is beyond stellar. In fact, it is a great, great and dare I say very great theory. There's just one little problem. It is still just a theory. Yes, the Higgs Boson is not unlike a short gimme putt that must be made on the last hole of the Master's.
I say it's a great theory because after all shouldn't I assert such a thing given all of the numerous billions of dollars spent all over the earth trying to locate or prove the existence of this theoretical particle? (For example, the Large Hadron Collider alone cost $10Bil to build) What a wonderful theory this one is given all the cash spent chasing physical proof that the theory is correct. And don't get me wrong, I'm sure one day soonish physicists will be immanently discovering said particle definitively and yes, perhaps maybe even in the near term. Ahem. But it ain't done yet, folks! And why are we giving away this precious, holy, sacred, noble Nobel unless we're 100% certain that the final putt is in the bottom of the cup?
Sure, I'm the crazy lone person pointing this out to you. I accept it. But let me prove it to you now. Just let me prove to you that we are on the final hole of the Masters and the putt is not yet sunk. This all started back in March of this year when the scientists around the Higgs research started dancing around declaring not that they had found the Higgs but that they had PROBABLY found it. I'm not kidding! Here's an example from Joe Incandela from the CERN team:
The preliminary results with the full 2012 data set are magnificent and to me it is clear that we
are dealing with a Higgs boson, though we still have a long way to go to know what kind of Higgs
boson it is.
The CBS News article I'm quoting goes on to point out that "whether or not it is a Higgs boson is demonstrated by how it interacts with other particles and its quantum properties, CERN said in the statement. After checking, scientists said the data "strongly indicates that it is a Higgs boson."
STRONGLY INDICATES?? WTF?!!?? When you toss a hand grenade and get close to your target, the blast ensures that close is sufficient to destroy it. In horseshoes, when your tossed ring lands near the target, you get to flip it up to see if it touches the target. This is why the phrase "close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades" came into circulation. Now, we must amend that phrase to read "close only counts in horseshoes, hand grenades and Higgs Bosons."
Of course, the media can't be troubled with all of the detail about whether or not we have data proving the existence of the Higgs Boson. They just openly declare it found and point to all the March 2013 articles as proof. Here's a New York Times example. Well, we assume there are idiots in the media but what about the Nobel Prize committee itself? What exactly are they awarding this year's prize for anyway? Sit down, you're going to love this. It is taken straight from the official Nobel Prize website:
The Nobel Prize in Physics 2013 was awarded jointly to François Englert and Peter W. Higgs "for the theoretical discovery of a mechanism that contributes to our understanding of the
origin of mass of subatomic particles, and which recently was confirmed through the discovery of the predicted fundamental particle, by the ATLAS and CMS experiments at CERN's Large Hadron Collider"
They are getting the award for a "theoretical discovery!" :-) (snort) They should have just stopped right there because the rest of the sentence is false. No one at CERN is confirming the existence of the Higgs Boson, ie "the predicted fundamental particle." All that has been claimed is that it is likely the predicted particle. Look even the good people maintaining the Higgs article at Wikipedia understand the distinction:
The Higgs boson or Brout-Englert boson is an elementary particle initially theorised in 1964, and tentatively confirmed to exist on 14 March 2013. The discovery has been called "monumental"because it appears to confirm the existence of the Higgs field, which is pivotal to the Standard Model and other theories within particle physics. It would explain why some fundamental particles have mass
For the record, I have highlighted in bold italic underlined RED the key elements of the statement expressing the lack of certitude inherent to the status quo. In plain english: they haven't found it yet!!! The theory is not fully confirmed!
This of course hasn't stopped the Nobel Prize committee from telling Higgs and Englert to simply pick up their ball and that the final putt has been conceded. Here is the committee in its own words:
On 4 July 2012, at the CERN laboratory for particle physics, the theory was confirmed
by the discovery of a Higgs particle. CERN’s particle collider, LHC (Large Hadron Collider),
is probably the largest and the most complex machine ever constructed by humans. Two
research groups of some 3,000 scientists each, ATLAS and CMS, managed to extract the
Higgs particle from billions of particle collisions in the LHC.
Only one problem here: CERN isn't claiming what the Nobel committee is claiming they are claiming. To distract, we are told the Collider is complex and confirmed to not be the result of a little help from aliens from outer space. In case you missed it, this is "a Higgs particle" not "THE Higgs particle."
This great theory is supposed to explain where Mass comes from. Forgive me if I'm just not there with these great geniuses just yet. I prefer we all agree to be there before we declare we're there. The way this theory is being rewarded despite the missing confirmational data required to put the nail in the coffin certainly reminds me of a "God Particle." And that's why, we can all safely conclude that science has finally joined religion in declaring the supremacy of the likeliest explanations...even if they aren't yet confirmed. Welcome to the party, science. OK, that's an aside.
Since the Nobel Committee has declared the Higgs Boson located based on work done by CERN, you may wonder what does CERN actually say about all of this? (I mean besides congratulating this year's winners) CERN says:
A problem for many years has been that no experiment has observed the Higgs
CERN's Large Hadron Collider announced they had each observed a new particle
in the mass region around 126 GeV. This particle is consistent with the Higgs boson
but it will take further work to determine whether or not it is the Higgs boson
predicted by the Standard Model.
Ahem. Is it sinking in yet? Are you following me? All of these Higgs press releases, speculations, media articles, awards, etc are all premature. In a sense, they are almost worse than an EEStor press release with it's missing parameters to declare objective merit.
Ok, I'm going to end this article now with a concession. I concede that WHATEVER it is that Higgs and Englebert actually contributed theoretically is with merit and deserving of the award. But! You can't tell me the theory is proven until they confirm locating the actual Higgs Boson predicted by the model. And until it is confirmed, I won't be 100% certain their likely merit is actual merit. I will follow the herd and honk appreciation like everyone else but I have no clear understanding of why I would be doing that with the rest of the herd. What I will confirm is that close enough is good enough for the Nobel these days. But you already knew that given how they throw around the peace prize at just anyone.