CERN: Too Many Family Members

A repeating pattern in the Christmas season: At the end of the year a result is loudly announced, pyhsicists are on the verge of discovering something exceptional if not revolutional…. now it’s the „Fat cousin of the Higgs boson“ , a potentially „supersymmettric“ partner of the Higgs bosons. And again it’s some arbitrary signal to which scientists like to dedicate their fairy tale stories – as they managed to do in 2013 with the so-called Higgs discovery. I ask myself how long the public is willing to sustain this unshamed boasting and waste of funding. And I am curious how many arbitrary signals will come out of the CERN data wash that will be declared as “extensions of the standard model” – cousins, uncles, grand aunts and good sisters of the Higgs boson?
Not exactly what I consider a pleasure at Christmas…

The Art of Thinking Clearly, (not yet) Applied to Particle Physics


Rolf Dobelli’s collection of cognitive biases, fallacies and wrong decision strategies has become a bestseller because people are becoming more and more aware of the irrational elements of the human mind. The textbook example, of course, is economics, where nobody anticipated the 2008 crash. “Never has a group of experts failed so spectacularly,” Dobelli comments, but it is obvious that our deficiencies in rational decision making can produce bizarre situations elsewhere – particle physics is a field that comes to mind when reading Dobelli’s book.

An obvious concern is social proof or groupthink (Dobelli’s error No. 4). The particle physics community, consisting of more than 10,000 physicists, devotes its entire activity to a model of reality that may well be plain wrong (scientists prefer to call it “incomplete”) – but not a single individual dares to spell out the catastrophic consequences – that eight decades of research might be completely useless for a profound understanding of the laws of nature.

An important contributor at work here is the sunk cost fallacy (No. 5). The excessive funding for particle physics must continue – despite no visible advance either in fundamental questions or in technological applications. Questioning the need for a new particle accelerator would mean admitting that the investments of the past, tens of billions of dollars, would have been spent in vain. It is inconceivable not only for the experts working in the field, but also for those responsible for the funding (even if they happen to coincide frequently).

And when watching the CERN seminar in which the Higgs discovery was celebrated, the following description in the calamity of conformity (No. 25) fits perfectly: “Members of a close-knit group cultivate team spirit… if others are of the same opinion, any dissenting view must be wrong. Nobody wants to be the naysayer who destroys ream unity. Finally, each person is happy to be part of the group. Expressing reservations could mean exclusion from it.” Imagine a dissenting physicist in the seminar asking for more explanations of a certain data analysis… unthinkable.

But even when looking at more technical aspects, the experimenter’s ears should be burning when hearing about the rara sunt cara illusion (No. 27): the rarer the occurrence of today’s elementary particles, the more interesting they are considered – for no good methodological reason.

The deep reason why the standard model of particle physics has not been replaced yet is Dobelli’s illusion No. 11: “Why prefer a wrong map to no map at all. Well, we just have this standard model of particle physics”, which is what you hear everywhere. Many other fallacies could be mentioned:

- How bonuses destroy motivation (No. 56, the abundant funding…)

- Chauffeur knowledge (No. 16), which you hear from the dozens of science polularizers that allegedly `explain’ the Higgs boson…

- Make engineers stand underneath their constructions at their bridge opening ceremonies (No. 18, no way to implement such a policy in particle physics).

- Clear thoughts become clear statements, whereas ambiguous ideas transform into vacant ramblings… (No. 57 – think about it the next time somebody explains what the LHC might discover next).

- Effort justification (No. 60): Think about it when listening to particle physicists who tell you about their 20-year hunt for the Higgs boson.

Finally, there is one point where Dobelli explicitly mentions science, the feature-positive-effect (No. 95): “The falsification of a hypothesis is a lot harder to get published, and as far as I know, there has never been a Nobel Prize awarded for this.” Correct! That’s exactly what Gary Taubes noted in his book Nobel Dreams (about the W and Z boson search) … but this is another story!

In short, Dobelli’s book could well be useful for scientists, but alas, the last place its message is likely to sink in is a big science laboratory such as CERN.

The Higgs Fake …


And Why It’s Hard For Particle Physicists to Appreciate it

It is not particlularly surprising that my book will hardly appeal to particle physicists, and not even lay much of a basis they will wish to discuss. There is no way to convince an expert that he or she has done nonsense for thirty years.

Over the decades, high energy physicists have been hunting for ever rarer effects, just to declare as new particles everything they did not understand. Their model has grown to a nonsensical complexity nobody can oversee, thus their convictions about it rely – much more than in any other field of physics – on trust in expert opinions, one might as well say parroting. As a consequence, in any discussion with particle physicists one soon comes to know that everything is done properly and checked by many people. If you still express slight doubts about the complication, they will easily turn stroppy and claim that unless you study their byzantine model thoroughly, you are not qualified to have an opinion. But you don’t have to be an ichthyologist to know when a fish stinks.

It is hard to make somebody understand something when his income is based on not understanding it. – Upton Sinclair

An obvious argument to make is that more than 10,000 physicists, obviously skilled and smart people, would not deal with a theoretical model if it was baloney, and presumably this is the strongest unconscious argument for all of them. It is a flawed argument, however, disproved many times in history. And it is inherently biased because it disregards all other physicists (probably the majority) who intuitively realized at the outset of their careers that a giant experiment involving a huge number of people was not the field where their creative ideas would flourish. Quantum optics, astrophysics and fields like nanotechnology have attracted the most talented in the past decades. No one who had a proper appreciation for the convictions of Einstein, Dirac, Schrödinger, Heisenberg or de Broglie could find satisfaction in post-war particle physics. This does not mean that all high energy physicists are twerps. Religion is said to make good people do evil things. To make intelligent people do stupid things, it takes particle physics. Many scientists, by the way, are busy fighting the religious nonsense that pervades the world’s societies (let some political parties go unnamed). Intellectually, this is a cheap battle, and thus some are blind to the parallels of science and religion: groupthink, relying on authority, and trust to the extent of gullibility.

Though people will accuse me of promoting a conspiracy theory, I deny the charge. Most high energy physicists indeed believe that what they are doing makes sense, but they are unable to disentangle their belief from what they think is evidence. The more thoroughly one examines that evidence, however, the more frail it becomes. But, above all, it is impenetrable. Only the super-specialized understand their small portion of the data analysis, while a superficial babble is delivered to the public. This is a scandal. It is their business, not anyone else’s, to provide a transparent, publicly reproducible kind of evidence that deserves the name.

It is no excuse that, unfortunately, there are other degenerations of the scientific method in the realm of theoretical physics: supersymmetry, and string theory which never predicted anything about anything and never will.1 It is a sign of the rottenness of particle physics that nobody has the guts to declare the nontestable as nonsense, though many know perfectly well that it is. They are all afraid of the collateral damage to their own shaky building, should the string bubble collapse. The continuous flow of public funding they depend so much on requires consensus and appeasement. However, experimental particle physics is somehow more dangerous to science as a whole, because with its observational fig leaves, it continues to beguile everybody that they are doing science instead of just pushing technology to the limits.

I don’t care too much about the public money being wasted. We live in a rotten world where billions of dollars are squandered on bank bailouts, while every ten seconds a child dies of hunger. But the worst thing about the standard model of particle physics is the stalling in the intellectual progress of humankind it has caused. We need to get rid of that junk to evolve further.

 Beware of false knowledge, it is more dangerous than ignorance – George Bernard Shaw

The Higgs Fake

How Particle Physicists Fooled the Nobel CommitteeHFcoverPr

The 2013 Nobel Prize in physics was awarded very soon after the announcement of the discovery of a new particle at a press conference at CERN on July 4, 2012. The breaking news caused excitement worldwide. Yet the message conveyed to the public, as if something had happened like finding a gemstone among pebbles, is, if we take a sober look at the facts, at best an abuse of language, at worst, a lie.

What had been found by the researchers did not resolve a single one of the fundamental problems of physics, yet it was immediately declared the discovery of the century. Whether this claim is fraudulent, charlatanry, or just thoroughly foolish, we may leave aside; that the greatest physicists such as Einstein, Dirac or Schrödinger would have considered the “discovery” of the Higgs particle ridiculous, is sure. They would never have believed such a complicated model with dozens of unexplained parameters to reflect anything fundamental. Though on July 4, 2012, the absurdity of high energy physics reached its culmination, its follyhad begun much earlier.

I shall argue in my book that particle physics, as practiced since 1930, is a futile enterprise in its entirety. Indeed physics, after the groundbreaking findings at the beginning of the twentieth century, has undergone a paradigmatic change that has turned it into another science, or better, a high-tech sport, that has little to do with the laws of Nature. It is not uncommon in history for researchers to follow long dead ends, such as geocentric astronomy or the overlooking of the continental drift. Often, the seemingly necessary solutions to problems, after decades of piling assumptions on top of each other, gradually turn into something that is ludicrous from a sober perspective. A few authors, such as Andrew Pickering and David Lindley, have lucidly pointed out the shortcomings, failures and contradictions in particle physics in much detail, providing, between the lines, a devastating picture. Though their conclusions may not be very different from mine, I cannot take the detached perspective of a science historian. It annoys me too much to see another generation of physicists deterred by the dumb, messy patchwork called the standard model of particle physics that hides the basic problems physics ought to deal with.

Therefore, my opinion is expressed very explicitly in the book. It is written for the young scholar who wants to dig into the big questions of physics, rather than dealing with a blend of mythology and technology. It should demonstrate to the majority of reasonable physicists that the high energy subsidiary is something they would be better getting rid of, because it doesn’t meet their standards. All scientists who maintain a healthy skepticism towards their particle colleagues should be encouraged to express their doubts, and the general public, many of whom intuitively felt that the irrational exuberance of July 4, 2012 had little to do with genuine science, should come to know the facts. Last but not least, it should provide journalists and people responsible for funding decisions with information they need to challenge the omnipresent propaganda.

Read more or have a look at amazon.