I’m painfully aware of abundant serious problems in physics of the largest phenomena, meaning “Standard” Cosmology-astrophysics (Big Bang/LCDM). Those include definitional and procedural problems, along with fundamental substantive errors and logical flaws likely created and nurtured by serious cognitive biases.
However, for some reason, I assumed that physics of the smallest phenomena, Particle physics, was a very different story.
Perhaps due to my indirect and limited exposure to it, I always imagined particle physics as a gold standard where proper physics experiments are conducted. After all they’ve got laboratories to look at things closely with immense control, while we have to struggle with totally uncontrollable, ancient phenomena, no closer than billions of miles away.
Concerning my nagging questions about particle physics, how all those ideas that just wouldn’t add up or make sense, I figured that particle physicists must know what they were doing, they were just dreadful at explaining their ideas . . .
Well . . . maybe not.
The Higgs Fake: How Particle Physicists Fooled the Nobel Committee by Alexander Unzicker, exposes my embarrassingly innocent belief that high energy particle research is built upon responsibly conducted experiments. This book, by an award-winning science writer, relentlessly exposes legitimate problems to the point where the credibility of high energy particle experiments almost fully evaporates and disappears.
I’ll give the book 9.7 out of 10 stars. I wanted to give it 10 stars. My only complaint is its lightly frustrating lack of “smoking-gun quantitative-specificity” for the actual Higgs experiments promised by its title. That is not exactly the author’s fault. It is ironically due in large part how the Higgs experiments themselves are so grossly lacking quantitative specifics (and partly how data is kept secret and particle problem debates are held in secret). What the book does do is walk you through the vital parts of a behind-the-scenes and not-so-pretty history upon which the questionable Higgs experiments, procedures and analysis are based.
If the book title has you expecting indisputable evidence that the Higgs experiments were fraudulent – you may be disappointed. Most, though not all, of the described problems with particle experiments are (systematic) procedural negligence or statistical issues. They are mostly process, rationale and probability problems – not direct numeric conflicts that you can take to the bank.
The book does point out one unfortunate Higgs issue you can hang your hat on – the 124 GeV Higg’s lifetime is purely theoretical – not derived from any experiment. That is seriously dismaying because with a theoretical lifetime so short, the massive particle could never reach a detector. How dastardly (in)convenient.
Echoing the genuine principle illustrated by the Boiling Frog myth, the “Elephant in the living room” of Particle physics is a decades long illogic-creep / rationale decay where poor assumptions are heaped on top of earlier assumptions until the whole endeavor, established as standard practice, ends up stuck in a bog, miles away from physics of reality, of actual phenomenon in nature. I’m feeling queasy (and not just because I’ve used five different metaphors in a single paragraph).
The author does provide extraordinary specificity for some key people and history leading up to the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN, bringing characters’ personalities to life – for better or worse. Amazingly, when it comes to unethical missteps, the book names names and describes where at least one celebrity particle physicist literally made up data to get a Nobel prize !
Probably as alarming is how this inappropriate behavior is apparently widely known – yet no one with authority will do anything about it.
Remember this phrase — “consenting silence while nonsense is purveyed.“
“The Higgs Fake” asks and answers an armload of questions I’ve had about the particle physics’ “Standard Model” — the idea’s awkward vagueness and ambiguities, contradictions, 18 or 19 adjustable parameters and nonsensical explanations.
In fact, the book includes a set of 20 questions to ask any particle physicist. The questions illuminate remarkable ideas which are generally kept secret from the larger physics community.
A problem particle physicists will have with this book is — it makes sense. It makes more sense, a lot more sense, than the “standard” explanations, based on math and statistics.
Ever try to put together a jig-saw puzzle with pieces from several different puzzles ? They don’t fit. At best, they don’t fit well and you know something is wrong. That’s how “standard model” particle physics has felt to me.
Here are some amazing things I read that seem to check out (you might want to insure that your seatbelt is secure) —
* The Standard (particle) model says nothing about gravity or mass.
Its no secret the particle standard model conflicts with General Relativity, a Gravity model, but it wasn’t clear (to me) before that the Particle Standard Model ignores/avoids gravity. Apparently, there is no way to get mass (kilograms) to show up in Standard model equations.
Wow. That’s a well hidden secret which, for me, weakens the fundamental credibility of the so-called “Standard model.” If it doesn’t deal with mass, I’m left wondering what it does address besides Electromagnetic and Strong forces. And what other limits aren’t we told about ?
* The Standard model says nothing about “radioactivity, space, time or inertia.”
Oh, those are some limits we weren’t told about.
* The Standard model avoids quantitative predictions.
I’m stunned; speechless. What ?!
It gets worse.
* There is No formula to calculate high energy scattering; no reliable concept for how charges radiate – even when you are given full charge acceleration data. This means high scattering energy (and the relevant mass) is simply not understood !
What ? If this is true, this is jaw dropping. Ahem, . . . pardon me, what I meant was — a Glorious Opportunity for a clever theory designer.
Holy Cow. That means the 15 GeV wide “Higgs bump” at 124 GeV which is barely 6% wide, could be entirely fictitious artifacts (false positive detections of phenomena that do not really exist upon closer inspection).
(This reminds me of Cosmology’s embarrassing Microwave “background” scandal where the basic claims require many magnitudes more instrument resolution than the instruments provide. We might diplomatically call that “over-interpretation.”)
It also kind of makes laughable the widely spread myth that the Standard model is “the most accurate physical theory ever created. It has been proved to be valid to a very high precision.” With 6 percent energy resolution. Really ?
* There is no credible ElectroWeak unification.
These are such huge, serious fundamental issues – which are dramatically contrary to what particle experts have led me to believe – in large part by their consenting silence while nonsense was spread to the rest of us.
As an analogy, it feels like they were claiming they had dinner – but only upon questioning it turns out there wasn’t actually any food or eating involved.
If the Standard model ignores all these vital, bedrock fundamental concepts – what does it do that has any use or value whatsoever ?
But wait, there’s more —
* The definition of the W boson is hidden (literally secret) in the computer code that detects it.
That gives me a whole new skepticism of the W and Z bosons.
* A credible paper debunking “neutral currents” was widely read, then politically censored by CERN and never published.
* Renormalization is a math trick that likely doesn’t apply to physical reality.
* Isospin (strong force “charge”) may be imaginary. (This claim does not persuade me.)
One of the great questions this book asks is — whether several particle “principles” such as quark confinement were designed to be non-falsifiable ?
Returning Particle Physics to Solid Ground
Seeking solutions, the book includes an nicely articulated and unarguably reasonable set of suggestions for making Particle physics transparent and accountable.
Well, should you read it ?
Yes. This 150 page claim-packed book exposing meaningful secrets is clearly written in plain English (roughly a Scientific American reading level) and well organized. While I am not buying the book’s claims wholesale, many, many of them make sense. (His annoyance with excess complexity while well founded, interesting and reasonable is unpersuasive.) I use several color felt tip pens to underline vital passages in my most meaningful books and this book is now filled with a rainbow of my colored underlines. Only a couple of pages remain without any colors.
Other than the lack of quantitative specificity explicitly about the “Higgs” I only found 2 or 3 trivial errors (remember this is not my field so I can’t verify everything). That’s not bad at all, particularly for someone whose native language is not English, who is doing ground breaking work, and considering that the author apparently didn’t have a publisher’s help.
He introduces many marvelously memorable picturesque and useful terms and vibrant phrases including “dimensionful (vs dimensionless)” “observational fig leaves,” “social non-falsifiability,” and “fake understanding.”
Gratuitously Throwing Gasoline on the Fire —
Unfortunately, while entertaining (like watching a car crash), part of the book is an expose of patently silly advocacy by prominent people in the particle community. I’m not sure that embarrassing them is the most effective way to bring about the needed improvements. Hopefully more diplomatic methods work.
I will not be surprised to find defenders of off-in-the-weeds physics trying to divert attention from the serious charges the book raises by pointing out how the book is self-published (A standard irrelevant distraction tactic to avoid legitimate debate on genuine problems. With a book this jaw-droppingly powerful, it is easy to understand why timid mainstream publishers would pass on publishing, called “Publication Bias.”)
Unfortunately, naming names and self-publishing essentially insures that particle physics leaders might not take this book as seriously as it should be.
Which is why the Physics community at large, everyone outside the Particle discipline, should be taking these complaints seriously; very seriously.
There may not be enough evidence to convict any specific particle physicist of fraud (and I hope there isn’t), but there is far more than enough evidence here to indict the entire field of high energy particle physics of taking Billions of dollars to conduct what could easily be mistaken for pseudoscience with really expensive toys. I expect it won’t be long before the greedy and powerful who want government science funding diverted to non-science will be clamoring for heads to roll.
After verifying some of the book’s key claims, I am persuaded that it is reckless to award any more Nobel prizes to Particle accelerator results – until, at a minimum, the transparency guidelines (“Where’s the Data?”) included in the book are solidly implemented.
In fact, it appears that if the Particle physics community as a body has any ethics, at least one of those Nobel prizes might have to be returned. Or will the Physics community continue to embarrassingly look at their feet while these insults to our field continue ?
“Higgs Fake” is a landmark book. Period.
It exposes the misguided track of particle physics so vividly it cannot be ignored without serious credibility repercussions. (Laughably absurd, a cover-up was actually urged by a reviewer of an earlier book by this author.)
However, this book is not merely a critique, the author also provides a blueprint for how to get particle physics back on track. I will not be surprised if textbooks are re-written explicitly due to the memorable clarity with which this book illuminates problems.
Unless you are content to ignore huge, serious problems in particle research, I heartily recommend this book.
And if you are upset by the book, I would welcome reading a merit-based fallacy-free rebuttal to
each any of the serious concerns Unzicker has raised in Higgs Fake. Or a response could simply answer the set of 20 vital questions, (actually 24 questions), that the author asks any particle physicist to answer. I’ll be happy to publish either here.
The Higgs Fake: How Particle Physicists Fooled the Nobel Committee is easily available here at Amazon.
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