John Horgan at Scientific American conducts a pretty merciless take-down of all the hoopla surrounding the hunt for the Higgs boson particle, which generates breathlessly bad, over-hyped headlines like “How The Higgs Boson Could Change the Universe,” “Has the God Particle Been Found?” and dizzy claims by no less than Michio Kaku that scientists pursuing the Higgs are close to nabbing “the biggest prize in physics” and a possible Nobel Prize.
The truth, as Horgan helpfully points out, is that the Higgs is predicted by the standard model of physics, and believed to confer mass to quarks, electrons and the other fundamental building blocks of our physical world. But the Higgs wouldn’t actually bring science closer, in any meaningful sense, to a unified theory of everything—the real holy grail of physics (to keep up the religious metaphors). Even worse, Horgan seems to suggest the standard model is hardly worth rooting for, citing Kaku’s assessment that it is a theory “only a mother could love” and noting that it is so incomplete as to exclude gravity.
Why is everyone, then, so fired up about the Higgs?
Well, I’d wager the media is in heat because of the “G” word. That nickname for the Higgs, “The God Particle,” is supposed to reflect its fundamental nature, its primary importance. But it is not as if it’s discovery will really put paid to the big mysteries. And, by the way, if you actually read the articles describing the search for this elusive particle, it’s abundantly clear that scientists are not the least bit closer to discovering the Higgs—or, at least, they don’t actually have any more evidence for it. In fact, they are getting closer only in the sense that they are running out of places to look.
All that said, the best article about the Higgs at the moment is pure satire: “Higgs Boson found on Navy Frigate,” which claims the Higgs wasn’t missing—just visiting his mum in Dorking.