Science on Sunday: The Higgs Fake

I’ve just read The Higgs Fake by Alexander Unzicker. He says physicists such as Einstein would have considered the “discovery” of the Higgs boson to be utterly ridiculous. And more. Unzicker really rips into particle physics. Not physics, particle physics, also known as high energy physics or HEP. But note that Unzicker isn’t some anti-science zealot. See the author section on Amazon along with his CV and his arXiv papers. He’s a whistleblower, which is why he’s written this book.

You know this when you’ve read A Zeptospace Odyssey by CERN physicist Gian Giudice, because then you know a few things. Like the Higgs mechanism is “frightfully ad hoc”. Like it’s responsible for only 1% of the mass of matter. Like the Higgs boson isn’t the central particle of the Standard Model. So you know there’s a big difference between the facts and the mystery-of-mass hype. And you know that there’s particle physicists out there who know the facts but keep quiet, whilst others hype the hype and tell fairy tales about cosmic treacle.

So you know Unzicker isn’t talking out of his hat. You know Unzicker is right when he says particle physicists haven’t reduced the number of parameters or incorporated gravity. You know they haven’t explained the fine structure constant. Or the mass of the electron and the proton. Or why the electron and proton and their antiparticles are the only stable massive particles. You know particle physicists haven’t explained spin, or charge, or Beta decay, or any of the other puzzles that bothered Einstein and Bohr and Pauli and Schrödinger and Dirac. You know instead that particle physicists have made things more complicated rather than more elegant, going against the grain of scientific progress. You know that instead of explaining things, particle physicists have invented things. Things like supersymmetry, which is now a dead man walking. Things like isospin and color and hypercharge and strangeness. Things that aren’t explained at all, and things that are swept under the carpet, like quark confinement.

So you smile wryly when Unzicker quotes from The End of Physics by David Lindley, a former editor at Nature: “In the end, the quark model succeeded by the ironical trick of proving that no quark would ever be directly seen by a physicist. This liberated physicists from any need to demonstrate the existence of quarks in the traditional way”. You smile some more when Unzicker quotes from Constructing Quarks by Andrew Pickering: “A critic could easily assert that the sea quark and gluon components were simply ad hoc devices, designed to reconcile the expected properties of quarks with experimental findings”.

But you don’t smile when Unzicker reminds you that the fabulous Higgs boson appears to have a lifetime of only 10-25 seconds. Because like Unzicker says, such “particles” don’t even leave the collision point. They have never made it to any detector. Their bump-on-a-graph existence is “inferred” from triggering and selection and damn statistics. And from decay products and missing momentum. Which means decay products that weren’t actually seen, are used to proclaim the existence of particles that weren’t actually seen.

Whatever existence there was, was fleeting, transient, ephemeral. And there is no public data like there is for the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. Like Unzicker said in a joint paper, it really isn’t clear what if anything was discovered. But what his book makes crystal clear, is the driven desire for “the discovery of the century”. Because particle physicists are desperate to persuade the public and politicians that they deliver value. When actually, they don’t.

It all makes grim reading. All the more so because what Unzicker is also saying, is that particle physics has form. He tells us about the neutral current that dates back to 1973, and how data analysers cherry-picked 100 out of 290,000 photographs. He refers to How Experiments End by Peter Galison about the contradictory paper that was never submitted to a journal. Unzicker also tells us about the W boson which dates back to 1983. He tells us it has a lifetime of 10-25 seconds, and should decay into an electron and an invisible neutrino. So what was actually detected? An electron. And check this out:

“Rubbia urged his collaborators to work day and night before his visit to various institutions in the USA. He took a picture of a ‘W-event’ with him. There, Steven Weinberg, Abdus Salam and Sheldon Glashow all happily agreed that it was the long sought-after W boson (which confirmed their theory, by the way)…”

Unzicker says the official announcement was given in a common seminar of groups UA1 and UA2, which reminds you of 4th July 2012. He says CERN management provided Rubbia with the UA2 results privately, and that believing in independent analysis is like believing in Santa Claus. He talks about the top quark which dates back to 1995. He tells us it has a lifetime of 10-25 seconds, and had to exist because: “the bottom quark needed a partner, as the Ws and Zs had to exist because otherwise the standard model was wrong”. We’ve never seen a free quark, remember? This top quark was seen to decay into a bottom quark and a W boson. But we’ve never actually seen a top quark, or a bottom quark, or a W boson. The top quark was inferred from particles that were inferred. And after that ”something had to be found in the theoretical boxroom to inspire the next round of high energy experiments”. Groan. Those of you who are old enough to remember might recall that the Higgs boson just didn’t feature in 1995. But now it does.

Only it doesn’t explain “the mystery of mass”, because it’s E=mc² on the T-shirts, and there is no mystery of mass. You may recall that Einstein said the electron is a body, and the mass of a body is a measure of its energy content. And you may recall pair production and annihilation, and the wave nature of matter, and magnetic dipole moment, and the Einstein-de Haas effect. You make an electron out of light, and when you destroy it you get light again. In between there’s something going round and round like Dirac’s belt, such that an electromagnetic field variation now looks like a standing field. What can it be? Cheese? No. So you may appreciate that photon momentum is a measure of resistance-to-change-in-motion for a wave propagating linearly at c, whilst electron mass is a measure of resistance-to-change-in-motion for a wave going round and round at c.

And so it goes, what goes round comes round, and here we are. We have no electron model within the Standard Model. Instead we have what Unzicker described as epicycles. Because of groupthink and big science and singing in the choir. Because of mindcuffs and peer review and the ”suppression of opinions that would endanger the sacred cows of an established field”. Oh it makes grim reading all right. All the more so when you know that particle physicists have painted themselves into a corner. They can’t admit that any of it is wrong. And yet, whilst they dismiss the turkey delusion, they know in their hearts that if things don’t change, they’re in for the chop.

Merry Christmas to one and all.

  • jazz606

    As a non scientist, I have for some time wondered if this Higgs boson thing was just a gigantic scam. It may not have started out that way, but it’s been going on for a long time, had massive investment and has a lot of jobs attached to it.

    • John Duffield

      Scam is the wrong word jazz. It’s more like big-science particle physics aka HEP is a vested-interest group that’s been obstructing scientific progress for decades.

      • jazz606

        Actually that sounds a bit like a scam to me.

      • nikkkom

        How exactly they “been obstructing scientific progress”? They did not allow alternative theories to be published, or what?

        • John Duffield

          It isn’t that they didn’t allow alternative theories to be published. It’s more like they didn’t allow publication of anything that challenged “conventional wisdom”.
          Imagine you’re in a history class. Your history teacher teaches you about some subject, and asks you all to write an essay, saying the 5 best essays will feature in the school magazine. You do your own research and talk to your grandfather and dig up old newspaper reports. Then you write an essay. It’s a brilliant essay, full of robust facts. But it isn’t in line with what the teacher taught, so you get an F for it.

          • nikkkom

            > It’s more like they didn’t allow publication of anything that challenged “conventional wisdom”.

            Do you have an example of such prohibition?

          • John Duffield

            Yes. But I’m not going to share them with you. Sorry. Physicists tell me things in confidence, and I will not break that confidence in case it makes life more difficult for them.

    • vircantium

      OK, I’ll say it…

      A bit like Climate Change then?

      • jazz606

        It did cross my mind.

      • John Duffield

        It is a bit like Climate Change I suppose. But I’d say it’s more intellectual arrogance and bureaucratic groupthink than pc-accredited vote-buying that turns a blind eye to fraud and greed.

        By the by, CERN stands for “European Centre for Nuclear Research”. If they’d been doing what they were originally set up to do, we might have cheap clean thorium energy coming out of ears by now. I guess they’ve allowed themselves to be so sidetracked into things that are irrelevant and wrong that they no longer see the need for relevance. They don’t appreciate that they could say “we are researching the secrets of matter and energy so that one day you won’t have to put petrol in your car. So that one day we can journey to the stars”.

  • Roderick

    This article is populated by a whole barnful of strawmen, and reeks of sour grapes.

    • John Duffield

      What strawmen? Point one out.

      There’s no sour grapes. It’s a detective story.

      • Roderick

        Here’s the first. I got bored with them soon after.

        “Like the Higgs boson isn’t [ironical negative] the central particle of the Standard Model.”

        Nobody connected with Professor Higgs has ever claimed that it was the central particle. They all recognise the major gaps in the theory.

        • John Duffield

          See page 173 of Guidice’s book where he talks about the Higgs boson, then google on “higgs boson central to the standard model”. Spot the difference between fact and hype that goes uncorrecterd.

          • Roderick

            The point about Professor Higgs’ achievement is that he postulated the existence of the Higgs Boson back in 1964, at a time when there was no way of determining its existence experimentally. That CERN has now been able to prove it exists is a cause for celebration, or in your case, sadly, vilification. Are you seriously suggesting that Professor Higgs should be held responsible for the alleged misrepresentation of his work by others?

            Perhaps in the interests of scientific integrity you would be kind enough to declare your interest in all of this. I for one am not buying the ‘detective story’ justification for your poison pen piece.

          • John Duffield

            My interest in all of this is the need for demonstrable credible scientific progress in the face of ever-increasing funding pressures. Physics now plays second fiddle to biochemistry. Physics is under threat because particle physics, the “queen of physics”, has demonstrated no credible scientific progress in decades.
            I’m not suggesting that Peter Higgs should be held responsible for “the alleged misrepresentation of his work by others”. On page 115 of his book Unzicker says Peter Higgs “appears to be a modest old gentleman who honestly wonders how all this hype has fallen into his lap”. And do please note that I haven’t said anything that contradicts that sentiment in any way.

          • Roderick

            So to sum up your position: Biochemistry good, particle physics bad. Got it, thanks.

          • John Duffield

            That isn’t my position. My position is physics good, psuedoscience bad.
            I’ve never been particularly interested in biochemistry. But I care about physics. With a passion. I will not sit idly by while it withers on the vine because of vested interest. Physics will not slip away into irrelevance and history, not on my watch.

          • nikkkom

            > My position is physics good, psuedoscience bad.

            You did not show one single example of _pseudo_science in today’s HEP.

          • John Duffield

            Not in this article. I’ve done it elsewhere though. For example, take a look at gamma-gamma pair production. Wikipedia is faithful to the Standard Model when it says “a photon can, within the bounds of the uncertainty principle, fluctuate into a charged fermion-antifermion pair, to either of which the other photon can couple”. But think about it. That’s saying pair production occurs because pair production occurs, spontaneously, like worms from mud. And that a photon spends its time constantly morphing into an electron and a positron, which then magically morph back into a single photon, which nevertheless manages to keep on going at the speed of light. It’s garbage, it’s pseudoscience, it’s cargo cult science. And that turbine hum you can hear is Feynman spinning in his grave.

          • nikkkom

            > It’s garbage, it’s pseudoscience, it’s cargo cult science.

            No, it is not garbage. It’s a theory.

            The theories are not judged by whether they make sense to you or me. They are judged by whether their predictions match observations.

            If the theory that photons can produce virtual (and having sufficient energy, real) electron-positron pairs, makes some predictions about experimental results, and then actual experiments show results which match the prediction, then theory is onto something.

          • nikkkom

            > Physics now plays second fiddle to biochemistry.

            Because there are TONS of things yet to be discovered in biochemistry, most of which do not require multi-billion investment, and can have immediate real-world uses (such as curing ill people).
            Fundamental physics discovered most of the “easy” stuff. It’s hardly scientists’ fault that remaining stuff is hard, and often not immediately useful.

          • John Duffield

            It hasn’t, nikkom. And that’s the problem.

  • nikkkom

    > “In the end, the quark model succeeded by the ironical trick of
    proving that no quark would ever be directly seen by a physicist. This
    liberated physicists from any need to demonstrate the existence of
    quarks in the traditional way”.

    What’s wrong with that?

    If you or anyone else has another theory which explains hadrons, their properties, decays, collisions and so on, better or at least as well as Standard Model, feel free to post it.

    • John Duffield

      What’s wrong with that is that quarks are described as “fundamental particles” when actually they’re “partons” or mere parts of particles.

      As regards “another theory”, check out Topological Quantum Field Theory. I referred to it here:

      Note the trefoil knot. Start at the bottom left and go round it anticlockwise calling out the crossing-over points. Up down up. When you break this thing you don’t see three other things called quarks. Because they’re mere parts of other particles, like the loops of a knot. There is no magic to things like pair production or annihilation or decay. The various particles are just different energy/wavefunction configurations, that’s all. It’s that simple. But I’ll wager you’ve never heard of this. And if not, ask yourself why not. Why in all the press releases and reportage concerning the LHC, have you never heard mention of TQFT? It isn’t some my-theory junk from some ignorant kid. But it isn’t the Standard Model either.

      • nikkkom

        > What’s wrong with that is that quarks are described as “fundamental particles” when actually they’re “partons” or mere parts of particles.

        I don’t care how you describe them.

        We have results of proton-proton scattering. We need a theory which explains them (meaning: “which produces predictions about proton-proton scattering which match what we see”).

        If you or anyone else has a theory which does that, and which is “better” (more elegant, simpler, with fewer free parameters, or whatever other criteria you like), please go ahead and publish it.

        I don’t believe that any substantial number of physicists will fight a good theory just because it’s your theory. They would *love* to have better theories: existing ones are hard enough already.

        • John Duffield

          I’m not talking about my theory, I’m not some “my theory” guy. I’m talking about anything that challenges that conventional wisdom. And about physicists who can’t publish it because other physicists will fight anything that points out their errors.

          Re the above threadlet, it is garbage. A photon does not spontaneously morph into an electron and a positron which then magically morphs back into a single photon which nevertheless manages to keep on going at the speed of light. Conservation of momentum applies, and pair production does not occur because pair production occurs.

          Theories are judged by whether they include garbage. But if they do, this doesn’t mean you throw out the whole theory. Instead you throw out the garbage. Then you realise the theory is incomplete, and you improve it. But sometimes conventional wisdom means that judgement is delayed. For example, virtual particles aren’t particles, see Matt Strassler’s website and note this: “A virtual particle is not a particle at all”. So in gamma-gamma pair production, there ARE no electrons, and the above IS garbage. But that doesn’t mean QED is garbage. Instead it means there’s a photon-photon interaction, and that QED is incomplete.

          • nikkkom

            > Re the above threadlet, it is garbage.

            It isn’t.

            > A photon does not spontaneously morph into an electron and a positron which then magically morphs back into a single photon

            I guess photon told you so?

            > which nevertheless manages to keep on going at the
            speed of light. Conservation of momentum applies, and pair production does not occur because pair production occurs.

            Pair production is a postulate. From it, and other ideas of QED follow some numerical results – such as quantum corrections to magnetic dipole moment of electron.

            “It is garbage” and “it is not garbage” are opinions. Every asshole has one. They don’t count for much.

            OTOH, measured magnetic dipole moment of electron is a FACT. It *counts*. If QED predicts it with the precision of 10^-10, you better have a theory which does at least as good to declare that QED is garbage. If you don’t have a good alternative, I am going to ignore you.

            > Theories are judged by whether they include garbage.


          • John Duffield

            Pair production is not a postulate, nikkkom. I can only tell you about the physics, and about people like Carl Anderson. But since you are determined to adhere to your own “conventional wisdom”, and since I didn’t “declare that QED is garbage”, I think it might be best all round if you did ignore me.