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Blog

Will CERN scientists announce the discovery of the Higgs boson on 4 July?

By James Dacey

Since my blog on the topic last week, speculation has intensified even further over whether CERN scientists are on the cusp of announcing the official discovery of the Higgs boson. The reason being that officials have announced an extraordinary scientific seminar to be held at CERN on 4 July, the eve of this year’s major particle-physics conference, ICHEP, in Melbourne. Journalists have been invited and promised updates from the LHC’s two main experiments looking for the Higgs – ATLAS and CMS.

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The seminar, announced last Friday, appears to be CERN’s response to avoid facing a potentially difficult quandary. In brief, the issue is as follows. Everybody knows that both CMS and ATLAS researchers have spent the first half of 2012 ploughing through new data. These LHC scientists are looking to either confirm, or to destroy, the bumps that appeared in their respective datasets last December, corresponding to a possible Higgs particle with an energy of roughly 125 GeV/c2.

If indeed they have both confirmed the particle to the gold-standard statistical level of “5-sigma significance” then they would surely have to reveal this to the physics community at the ICHEP conference. But from a political point of view, it would seem a bit odd to make the long-awaited Higgs discovery announcement in Australia, a country that is halfway across the world from the LHC and not a CERN member. Indeed, CERN’s PR guru James Gillies was quoted a couple of weeks ago as saying that the Higgs announcement will be made in Geneva. So the decision to hold this seminar next week is surely CERN’s way of making the announcement in Switzerland, while avoiding the need to withhold new science in Australia.

That said, perhaps it is not as clear-cut as the situation suggests. A source at CERN close to Physics World says that LHC scientists will not be declaring an official “discovery” unless both ATLAS and CMS have 5-sigma results that don’t disagree with each other. According to our source, for researchers to reach this point by 4 July “might be a tall order”. I reckon that if the scientists do not quite have the statistics for an official discovery – or indeed one or both of the two bumps have vanished – it could still make for an interesting seminar. But it will certainly leave the scientific leaders at CERN with a tough gig next Wednesday when sharing this news with the assembled journalists who have flown into Switzerland from around the world at fairly short notice.

So the question in this week’s poll is:

Will CERN scientists announce the discovery of the Higgs boson on 4 July?
Yes
No

Let us know by visiting our Facebook page. As always, please feel free to explain your choice by posting a comment on the poll.

As excitement builds towards the seminar, you may want to hear Peter Higgs talk about his life in science and the search for the eponymous boson in a special audio interview with Physics World.

In last week’s poll we asked you whether CERN scientists should be encouraged to discuss ongoing LHC analyses with the outside world. It was fascinating to see that opinion was divided on this issue. 55% of respondents opted for “Yes, they should discuss the scientific process in the open”, while the other 45% went for “No, they should wait until conclusions are firmly established”.

The question was asked because amid all the recent speculation over the Higgs, there has been little on the blogs from the LHC researchers themselves over these latest developments in the Higgs hunt. You could argue of course that there are very good reasons for this, not least because this is an incredibly important and busy time in their scientific careers that requires complete focus. But on the other hand, if LHC scientists were to share their current thoughts with the outside world (outside the walls of the LHC experimental control centres) then it could provide a fantastic insight into how science really works.

The poll also attracted some interesting comments including this one from Larry E Jaynes who wrote: “By all means be as transparent as possible. It serves no purpose to talk about sigma confidence of findings when the public doesn’t have a clue as to what that represents. I say if it’s not ‘local confidence’ don’t improvise to fool the public.”

Thank you to everyone who participated and we look forward to your responses in this week’s poll.

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