The Best Physics Gossips You Should Be Reading

Today we found out that there's proof that the Higgs boson is out there. But you probably knew that if you were following the physics world's best gossips who broke the news two weeks ago.

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Today we found out that there's proof that the Higgs boson is out there. But you probably knew that if you were following the physics world's best gossips who broke the news two weeks ago.

Gossips. Apple has them. Celebrities have them. Even the gymnastics world has them.  So it's no surprise that the physics world, which is having a hard time keeping all that Higgs boson talk under wraps, has its fair share of rumor-breaking truth-tellers, the cattiness, and the teases any other gossip ecosystem has. With CERN due to officially announce its news on July 4 at a conference in Melbourne, these are the best blogs to be reading for the latest dish on particle physics.

The Gossip

Who: Peter Woit

Credentials: Senior Lecturer in Mathematics at Columbia, M.A. in Physics from Harvard, Ph.D. in Particle Theory from Princeton

Claim to Fame: Though some people won't admit where they got the CERN scoop from (and more on that later), Wired and The New York Times both reported on rumors and pointed back to Woit's post on June 17 on his Not Even Wrong blog as the scoop.  "If the 2011 signal really was the Higgs you expect the signal to strengthen. What I’m hearing from both experiments is that they are seeing an excess in the new data, strengthening the significance of the signal," wrote Woit. "The bottom line though is now clear: there’s something there which looks like a Higgs is supposed to look," he added.

And Woit is also the reason that scientists, as reported in The Times, have begun to try and quash the rumor. "Don't believe in the blogs" they said, when really they mean Woit.

Basically:  If the Higgs boson was a dead celebrity, Woit would be your TMZ — first to the scene, first to break it, and have it be right. And just like TMZ, he's still earning respect when it comes to breaking physics news because he's a "non-particle physics blogger." Hence this catfight:

Matt Strassler has more about this here. He provides about 20 links to his own blog, no link to the source of his information (this posting). It appears that this is because I’m a “non-particle-physicist blogger” engaged in a conspiratorial plot with some of the 6000+ people who know this latest news to “subvert the scientific process” by sharing it with others.

Which bring us to...

The Snob

Who: Matt Strassler

Credentials: Theoretical physicist; Professor at Rutgers University; Ph.D. From Stanford

Claim to Fame: Well, we can't ignore his testy encounter with Woit, and the audacity to not even link out or back to Woit. And then there's the fact that any rumor Strassler mentions links back to his own work.  His post is a bit denser and harder to follow (so much science!) than Woit's rumor, but essentially comes to the same conclusion:

 IF it is true that ATLAS and CMS see something of roughly the same size as last year, in exactly the same place in their plots, then that would mean that evidence for the existence of some type of Higgs particle in the 125 GeV/c2 range had firmed up considerably.  And that would be Very Big News. Well — we’ll find out soon enough.

Basically: Buzzfeed?  No, no we kid. But taking someone else's rumor, making it your own, and speculating on its significance isn't unlike The New York Times or any other big publication with a brand hearing things from an unnamed source--when all they really mean is TMZ.

The Tease

Who: Tomaso Dorigo

Credentials: Experimental particle physicist working with the CMS experiment at CERN

Claim to Fame: Where some people enjoy breaking the news (see above), Dorigo enjoys in teasing it out. We know he knows things (CERN, cough CERN), but he can't comment on them. Instead, he inundates you with context about what those announcements would mean--you know just in case the rumors are true. And we don't think anyone who devotes that much time and that much science into explaining a "maybe" rumor, would do it if the rumors were wrong.

Basically: Think of him like a silent approval. He won't necessarily break the news, but it wouldn't hurt to read between the lines into his posts (assuming you're fluent in science).

The Rebel

Who: Philip Gibbs

Credentials: Independent physicist in the UK

Claim to Fame: In order to understand Gibbs, you have to remember that he's the guy behind a rival site to  For the scientific neophyte, arXiv turned 20 years old last August and it's basically the archive of scientific preprints (drafts of unpublished work) — math, computer science, biology, physics you name it. But there was criticism that arXiv was blacklisting certain users. And that's where Gibbs comes in.  "Called, which is the reverse of arXiv, the rival server — unlike arXiv — places no restrictions on the sorts of papers that can be posted," explained Physics World in 2009.  "This is an experiment to find out what kind of stuff is not managing to get into the arXiv, as well as being a serious archive for people to put their research in," said Gibbs.

Given his credo for inclusion, it's no surprise that Gibbs didn't bat away the new Higgs rumors, and even gave Woit credit. He also takes the rumor a step further, explaining the significance of the different sigmas in a way we could understand. And being an apostle of inclusion and openness apparently has its perks, like a lot of  unsubstantiated Higgs rumors. Gibbs has this explanation of his gossip policy:

For what its worth, I agree that it would be better if no rumours emerged before the conference and I have resisted the temptation to reveal unapproved information from the experiments I have come across in the past whenever I knew it to be private, but once one blog has revealed something like this everyone will see it and follow-up postings like this one do not spread it any further.

Basically: If Gibbs confirms a rumor and comments on it, then it isn't the first time he's heard it and it probably has some weight.

Photos via: Woit, Strassler, Dorigo

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.