...a blog by Richard Flowers

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Day 2350: Have you found god? (Particle, NOT delusion!)


Excitement in the world of PHYSICS this week where it is rumoured that FERMILAB in America may have found the Higgs Boson.

What you may very well ask is the Higgs Boson, and why are we looking for it, and who lost it in the first place?

Well, the FUNDAMENTAL FORCES that hold the Universe together – namely gravity, glue, Blu-tack™ and magnets – are supposed to work by itty-bitty particles exchanging other itty-bitty particles called BOSONS. For example, the STRONG Nuclear force works by swapping GLUONS; and the WEAK Nuclear Force is controlled by the “W” BOSON. (Not to be confused with the Weak Force in Iraq that is controlled by the “Dubbya” BOZO!)

That all makes sense, EXCEPT that the theory says that these particles should not have any MASS. This is fine for the photon (works for electromagnetism) but the other bosons are a bit massive. That does not mean that they are HUGE but that they have some MASS. In fact I suspect that they have done like Daddy Richard and put on a bit of weight[*].

[*] okay, I KNOW that in proper physics weight is not ACTUALLY the same as mass.

So, that seems to be a bit of a problem. But look! Here comes Mr Professor Higgs and says “Do not worry!” He suggests that actually, the bosons that make the force work ARE massless like they should be, but there are some STEALTH BOSONS – called Higgs Bosons, obviously – that kind of tag along.

(Interesting fact about Bosons – unlike fermions and, despite what they seem to think, passengers on the London Tube – you can have two bosons in the same place at the same time!

Scientists have been looking for the Higgs Bosons for a long time. Personally, if I was Professor Higgs, I would look where I last put them down, but apparently these engineers have built an enormous particle collider instead.

If they can find it, it will prove that all of physics works. Which is nice. In fact, some people have nicknamed the Higgs Boson the “God Particle”, because it is so important. And NOT because people believe in it even though there is no evidence for its existence.

Which reminds me – this was reported in the Metro just a few pages after this interview with my CHUM Mr Professor Richard!

Anyway, all of this is working towards telling you how EXCITING physics is, how we can discover a theory which lets us work out the formulae so we can calculate predictions and devise experiments that prove whether we have got it right or wrong.

I am telling you this because I have read a VERY SAD letter from a physics teacher called Mr Wellington Grey who is LOSING HEART because of the new national curriculum.

Mr Wellington says that the new curriculum is LESS about knowing the theories and working things out, and MORE about talking about global warming and discussing why science might be wrong. If this is true then it is VERY BAD NEWS.

In science and ESPECIALLY in physics, then you CAN come to a conclusion about whether something is right or wrong, and it should NOT depend on how good you are at convincing people but on the QUALITY of your evidence.

You have probably noticed though that newspapers and television ALL TOO OFTEN like to present a CLASH of OPINIONS, a controversy or a SCARE STORY! E.g MMR vaccine – NO EVIDENCE that it causes autism, lots of evidence that it prevents plagues of measles, but is THAT the story that papers carry? E.g. electromagnetism from wi-fi – NO EVIDENCE that it fries your brain, but is THAT the story that Panorama-rama-lama-lama-ding-dong runs with?

And now the government seems to be trying to sneak this sort of “science is who can shout loudest” into the schoolroom. We should NOT be surprised; it is very NuLabour: never mind the evidence, just talk a good story. But why would our GOD FEARING soon-to-be-ex Prime Monster want to undermine scientific thinking in schools?

Apropos of nothing, all this reminds me of the GRANDDADDY of all these wedges: Intelligent Design, the way that Creationist loonies try to get their version of god into the classroom by pretending that “god did it” is a scientific theory in the same way that “evolution” is a scientific theory. After all, they say, if they are both “theories” then the class should “discuss” them and learn to doubt the science.

Which means it probably WAS a good thing that Mr Professor Richard was in the Metro!

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