The coming year is shaping up to be an important one for physicists all around the world. Earlier this month, it was announced that two teams of experimenters have narrowed down the field for locating the Higgs boson using the Large Hadron Collider (LHC).
“Scientists say that two experiments at the LHC see hints of the Higgs at the same mass, fuelling huge excitement. But the LHC does not yet have enough data to claim a discovery. Finding the Higgs would be one of the biggest scientific advances of the last 60 years. It is crucial for allowing us to make sense of the Universe, but has never been observed by experiments.” (link) Prof Rolf-Dieter Heuer, director-general of Cern, the organization that runs the LHC told BBC News: “We can be misled by small numbers, so we need more statistics,” but added: “It is exciting.”
Columbia University physics professor and author Brian Greene was visiting ASU for a conference on quantum mechanics when the announcement was made. He and ASU’s own theoretical physicist and best-selling author Lawrence Krauss made a video to answer questions about the Higgs and the LHC.
Krauss says the existence of the Higgs would be amazing but he also mentions that sometimes as a scientist it’s even more exciting to be wrong. Greene agreed saying “We love the unexpected…but it’s great to see something that I’ve learned as a student, graduate student, talked to students, actually apparently coming to life.”
Krauss said, “It’s an amazing testimony to the power in some sense the human intellect.”
The best part about this announcement is that it really demonstrates what good science is all about. The Standard Model for physics has been predicting the Higgs boson (and other particles) for nearly 50 years. But actually testing the two hypotheses, the first hypothesis that it is does exist and the null hypothesis that it doesn’t exist, has been complicated. Even with this announcement scientists are not saying all their hard work is done. They have acknowledged that the statistical data isn’t definitive enough to say for certain that the Higgs exists.
“Birthers” is a term to describe a group of people who doubt the legitimacy of President Barack Obama’s status as a natural born citizen. This group continues to doubt the president’s legitimacy despite the fact that he released not one but two versions of his birth certificate, the short version was released in 2008 and the long version was released earlier this year. It has been reported that Obama had hoped that releasing the long version would lay to rest the conspiracy theories that birthers have been touting ever since he announced his campaign, but conspiracy theories never seem to die they just get more convoluted.
What’s worse is that Monmouth County’s Sheriff Joe Arpaio has decided to run his own private investigation in to the validity of President Obama’s birth at the urging of a few members of the local Tea Party. According to the New Times (linked here) “Arpaio says he doesn’t have an opinion either way about whether Obama is a U.S. citizen. He says, though, that members of a local Tea Party came to him with 200 signatures asking him to look into it.” His investigation is focusing on microfiche documents from the state of Hawaii: “According to the sheriff, two twins — the Nordyke twins — were born on August 5, 1961 at the same hospital as the president. August 5, 1961, is one day after President Obama was (allegedly — if you ask a ‘birther’) born in Hawaii. The twins’ birth certificates can be found on microfiche documents that the sheriff says are on file with the Hawaii Department of Health, or some Hawaiian government agency. If Obama was born in the same hospital the day before the twins, according to the sheriff, the posse should be able to locate the president’s birth certificate on similar microfiche files.”
Now apparently that privately funded investigation has hit a snag and Sheriff Joe needs more funding in order to continue (linked here). The problem with this investigation is that it not only is completely unnecessary but it also lends credence to the conspiracy theory claims. If the microfiche documents are good enough to prove the President’s legitimacy why aren’t: the copies of his birth certificate, the Hawaii newspaper birth announcements, and the statements made by Hawaiian health department officials? Sheriff Joe save yourself some time and your donors’ money just go to Snopes.com, which has an excellent breakdown and takedown of the birthers’ arguments (linked here).