Be Precise

So you’ve heard about CERN scientists finding evidence that confirms the Higgs boson. This is huge news. Scientists have found a *new kind of particle*. I’m not going to talk about the actual physics behind the discovery, because far more qualified people have talked about it at length and I can’t make their explanations any better than they already are. Suffice it to say that this is one of the most important advances in the sciences in the last forty years.

I would, therefore, like to talk a bit about how much it twists my knickers every time someone says something about the “God particle”.

First, there’s no such bloody thing as a “God particle”. The idea of a “God particle” is just bloody ludicrous. Both for science and for religion.

Second, and this is probably the more important point, is that Professor Peter Higgs, who is a theoretical physicist who teaches in Edinburgh, is one of the physicists who first postulated the existence of this particle (and/or its mechanism) in 1964. He has been working on this theory for FORTY EIGHT YEARS. He deserves to have his name attributed to this boson (bosons are, scientists tell me, subatomic particles). There is a reason it’s called the Higgs boson. So stop insulting the physicist who first theorised its existence in the 60s. Stop insulting the teams of scientists who have been working on finding evidence for its existence for the past 48 years. It’s just rude, and ultimately, it’s kind of silly and stupid to do otherwise.

I understand that the phrase “God particle” came from a book about particle physics. And I understand our tendency to grab on to something and cling to it regardless of whether or not it is accurate, as long as it has a catchy slogan or jingle. This is, of course, the very basis of marketing.

Scientists dislike the moniker for many reasons. Not because all scientists are atheists and they find the attribution of a religious connotation to their work as insulting (this is something I read today that made me grind my teeth). Among the many reasons that there may be to despise this nickname are: it’s inaccurate; it’s meaningless; it superimposes a greater importance to this particle than is accurate; and, I’m sure there are many more reasons scientists may have to dislike the name “God particle”.

cenobyte
cenobyte is a writer, editor, blogger, and super genius from Saskatchewan, Canada.

3 Comments

  1. I read that the original term Lederman used was “goddamn” particle, but the embarrassed publisher changed it to God particle on editing. Apparently bookstores weren’t ready for that sort of title :)

  2. Also-too, Media dudes: a boson is a type of subatomic particle. It is a noun, not a proper noun. So “Higgs boson” should appear as so: Higgs boson. Not Higgs-Boson (it’s not the marriage of the physicist and the particle, although that would be cool). Not Higgs Boson. Not Boson-Higgs. Not Boson Higgs. It is a Higgs boson particle.

    “Higgs” is the name this particular particle has been given, to honour one of the physicists whose work theorised its existence and properties.

    “boson” is the type of subatomic particle in question. In this case, “boson” acts like an adjective, modifying

    “particle”.

    Sometimes, near as I can figure, “particle” is left off the end because to people who are far more educated about this than I am, “Higgs boson particle” is redundant.

i make squee noises when you tell me stuff.

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