An article that claims to explain the importance of the Higgs boson

Hoping to inform myself, I eagerly clicked on an article at Forbes, “The Higgs Boson: Why You Should Care About the God Particle. And, Sadly, Why You Don’t.” It is by Ainissa Ramirez, described as “a Yale University materials scientist and TED Talker.” I then sent it to several correspondents, including Dean Ericson, with this note:

Just start reading it. I will say nothing more.

Dean Ericson replies:

That’s funny. She bemoans scientists’ poor communication skills and says she’s going to tell us why the discovery of this thing is so important. Then she flaps her fingers for 1000 words and says … nothing. Nothing besides, “We were right.” And that if the Higgs boson hadn’t been found, everything scientists understood about how the universe works “would have been crap. That would have been $10 billion flushed down the toilet … ” The trash-talking empty black suit has found a berth at Yale. You can see why, given that she is that rare PC prize, a science department-quota three-fer: black, Hispanic, and female. Imagine if she were a lesbian as well!

Hmm, let’s google “Ainissa Ramirez Yale University lesbian.” Bingo. Here’s a bulletin from the “National Organization of Gay and Lesbian Scientists and Technical Professionals, Inc.”

Under the headline, “Presidential Appointments Project Update on GLBT Appointees for Positions on Commissions and Panels,” we find this: “Ainissa Ramirez, Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science at Yale University, has been appointed as a member of the Committee on Equal Opportunities in Science and Engineering at the National Science Foundation.”

So here’s a black, Hispanic, female, lesbian, empty-suit scientist. For her, in PC Topsy-Turvy Land, the sky is the limit!

Mr. Ericson has got it, making it unnecessary for me to write my own commentary on the article, except to point out that this is the quality of our “scientists” today. These are the people who are commanding us to be in ecstasy over the possible discovery of the Higgs boson, even as, in every single cheerleading (or rather cheer-commanding) article they write, they decline to tell us how they discovered it and what it was that they found. All they tell us is that it is extremely important, that it changes everything, and that we must share their state of exaltation. Science today has been so merged with liberal fascism and the liberal cult of self-esteem that it’s impossible to tell if there’s any legitimate science left.

Also, I immediately thought from Ainissa Ramirez’s photo, in which she has close-cropped hair and is wearing a man’s suit jacket, that she was a lesbian.

- end of initial entry -

Jake F. writes:

I thought this article at Forbes did a much better job explaining why the Higgs boson is important, specifically to financial services. It’s satire of the hype, but at least it communicates something: how little the Higgs Boson discovery means to almost everyone.

Ramirez’s article only managed to communicate that we won a bet. Whoop-de-do. Organizations win and lose bets all the time. Solyndra could have won its bet, for example. At least that would have had implications that we could understand.

For what it’s worth, I found this guy’s article more understandable and a lot shorter. He says, as Ramirez does, that the big deal is that we won a bet. He also helps us understand why winning that bet is important: It means that we’re on the right track with our current model, which probably means that we’ll get an even better-refined view of science and, in the long run, amazing inventions.

Super. Kudos for scientists finding out that the last 50 years of their collective careers weren’t wasted, and here’s hoping for further developments. (Raise glasses.) That, of course, also explains why scientists are getting weepy over it. It’s not about how important a discovery it is for mankind—that may be true, but we probably won’t know for a long time; it’s about how important it is to them. Few things are more punishing emotionally than knowing that your life’s work has been wrong. These scientists feel they dodged a bullet.

Which brings us back to Ramirez: She thinks we should all get more excited about this, but it’s not in human nature to get that excited about someone else’s life work. For most of humanity, this is an intellectual event, not an emotional one—if it’s an event at all.

Gintas writes:

Without reading your post, I did what you told Dean to do: “Just start reading it.” This is as far as I got:

My friend and collaborator Ainissa Ramirez, a Yale University materials scientist and TED Talker, likes to call herself a science evangelist…


Stan S. writes:

The abysmal level of thought in the article by a Yale scientist may be partly the result of affirmative action, but I think it also reflects the anti-intellectualism and lack of culture among scientists as a group. From my experience at university, it’s unusual to find a physicist who can expound the basic concepts of his field in language that could be understood by an intelligent outsider. When talking to colleagues and students, physicists rely on professional jargon accessible only to a fraction of other scientists; when talking to the general public they use language that would be condescending to a 10-year old. Students who would discuss the subtleties of, e.g., statistical or quantum physics in plain English are derided as would-be “philosophers” and advised to “shut up and calculate”—an only half-joking adage repeated by physics professors.

Moreover, textbooks written by physicists, and intended for the teaching of undergraduate and graduate students, all agree on the basic techniques and equations in their subject but often contain mutually incompatible accounts of the reasoning behind those techniques and equations. Such discrepancies never affect the reputation of a book or its author, because such discrepancies are said to belong to the subject of “foundations”—that is, “philosophy.” In the culture of physics today, conceptual understanding is regarded as, at best, an optional pursuit, and at worst a distraction from “doing physics,” i.e., applying standard techniques with the aim of publishing as quickly as possible. It’s no surprise that such a culture does not produce many people who can convincingly relate the significance of their subject to lay persons.

LA replies:

Thank you for this information. Your key sentence is worth remembering:

In the culture of physics today, conceptual understanding is regarded as, at best, an optional pursuit, and at worst a distraction from “doing physics.”

And because today’s physicists don’t care about conceptual thinking, they think that the only way to communicate physics to laymen is by emotional manipulation (“This is the most tremendously exciting event in the history of the universe! You MUST share the excitement!”) and insultingly stupid pop culture references.

July 10

Steve D. writes:

Did you catch this little tidbit?

“The men (and sadly, it is mostly men) in the ivy tower … “

Why “sadly”? Weren’t these the same courageous people who took an enormous gamble and succeeded by making this momentous discovery that changed everything about civilization forever and ever? Would the gamble have been more courageous, the discovery more momentous, and the effect on civilization more all-encompassing than they actually were, had women been involved in the proper proportion? Should we applaud the discovery as a step forward in knowledge, and at the same time lament it as likely to hinder the progress of global sisterhood, because it wasn’t done by the right people?

Is a “science evangelist” the same thing as a commissar?

LA replies:

Of course the discovery would have been more momentous had more women been involved in it. Here is the opening paragraph of the July 4, 2012 New York Times article on the discovery of the Higgs boson:

ASPEN, Colo.—Signaling a likely end to one of the longest, most expensive searches in the history of science, physicists said Wednesday that they had discovered a new subatomic particle that looks for all the world like the Higgs boson, a key to understanding why there is diversity and life in the universe.

So the first and main meaning of the Higgs boson is that it explains why there is “diversity” in the world, i.e., women, nonwhites, homosexuals, and people who have had sex change operations. For liberals, nothing—not even a sub-atomic particle—can be meaningful or important unless it is expresses the liberal paradigm.

So of course the meaningfulness of this discovery is somewhat lessened by the insufficient sexual diversity of the scientists involved in it.

Alexis Zarkov writes:

Egad. Reading about the Higgs boson in Forbes Magazine—in an article by a materials scientist. I will deal with some specifics of the article later. First let’s try to set a few things straight. First the so-called “God particle.” I quote from Wikipedia,

Because of its possible role in producing a fundamental property of elementary particles, the Higgs boson has been referred to as the “God particle” in popular culture, although virtually all scientists regard this as a hyperbole.

The name “God particle” comes from a book by Leon Lederman with that title. Lederman originally wanted the title “Goddamned Particle” because the Higgs boson was so elusive. He settled for the shorter title, and there is no theological connotation.

High energy particle physicists have something called the Standard Model, which took final form in the mid 1970s. The Standard Model has been an amazingly successful theory. It predicted the W and Z bosons, gluon, top and charmed quarks all before they were observed experimentally. It also predicts the Higgs boson, so naturally scientists have been anxious to find it. If they couldn’t find it, the Standard Model would be in doubt. But the Standard Model is hardly a “theory of everything.” For one thing it does not unify quantum mechanics and General Relativity. The former deals with small things, while the latter with very big things, like planets and stars. We can’t handle all the aspects of the Big Bang easily with two independent theories. Again quoting from Wikipedia,

The Standard Model falls short of being a complete theory of fundamental interactions because it does not incorporate the physics of dark energy nor of the full theory of gravitation as described by general relativity. The theory does not contain any viable dark matter particle that possesses all of the required properties deduced from observational cosmology. It also does not correctly account for neutrino oscillations (and their non-zero masses).

Note the part about “dark energy.” According to current theory, dark energy accounts for 73 percent of the total mass-energy in the universe. Some God particle. The Higgs mechanism (distinct from the boson itself) is the process by which elementary particles gain mass. The particles gain mass by interacting with the Higgs field which permeates all space. This gaining mass is why some people refer to the Higgs boson as the “God particle.” But as we see the discovery of the particle only confirms the theory of the Higgs field which was formulated in 1962.

Now the Ramirez article. In my opinion, Ramirez has given us an extremely dumb, ignorant, and misleading article. For example she writes,

This discovery is up there with Copernicus. If we did not find the Higgs boson, everything that we understood about how the universe works would have been wrong. We would have had nice equations that describe things we observed in the world, but they would have been crap. That would have been $10 billion flushed down the toilet with the creation of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) and we would have gone back to the drawing board with our tail between our legs after fifty years of an aimless pursuit.

Complete nonsense. If the LHC can’t find Higgs boson, it could mean the energy calculations are wrong and the LHC is not powerful enough to find it. Of course these machines are so expensive that might mean the end of the search. Even a contradiction of the Standard Model does not mean “everything that we understood about how the universe works would have been wrong.” It would not contradict either quantum mechanics or Relativity theory. Again, there is lots we don’t understand about the universe, like dark energy. She gives us another ignorant remark when she writes,

And while we don’t know exactly how, this discovery will shape our world and that of our great-grandchildren in ways that we can’t quite imagine. When the electron was discovered in 1897, its uses were not obvious.

We experience electrons (electricity) directly in our everyday existence. When you build up a static charge in the winter walking across a carpet you experience electrons. You can get a pretty nasty shock from an electric eel. And so on. The Higgs boson and the Standard Model are theories that relate to the basic physics of the big bang. The conditions that obtain around the instant of the big bang are far far removed from human experience. Might elementary particle physics lead us to a new energy source? Very doubtful. Physicists have been trying to get produce energy from controlled fusion for more than 65 years with no success.

Lesson learned. Don’t read articles about physics in business magazines written by people outside the field.

LA replies:

Mr. Zarkov may not realize it, but he, like so many others, persists in employing the good cop / bad cop tactic. He refuses to recognize what I have repeatedly demonstrated, that the “good” physicists on one side, and the “bad” physicists and “bad” journalists on the other, are all part of the same establishment and the same program and are actively spreading the same message.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at July 09, 2012 12:31 PM | Send

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