Sunday, April 22, 2012

How the Higgs boson became the Higgs boson

IIRC, I met Peter Higgs in Erice in 1990. He was quite a nice fellow, but the story below by Steve Weinberg illustrates how capricious is the allocation of credit in science.
NYBooks: (Footnote 1) In his recent book, The Infinity Puzzle (Basic Books, 2011), Frank Close points out that a mistake of mine was in part responsible for the term “Higgs boson.” In my 1967 paper on the unification of weak and electromagnetic forces, I cited 1964 work by Peter Higgs and two other sets of theorists. This was because they had all explored the mathematics of symmetry-breaking in general theories with force-carrying particles, though they did not apply it to weak and electromagnetic forces. As known since 1961, a typical consequence of theories of symmetry-breaking is the appearance of new particles, as a sort of debris. A specific particle of this general class was predicted in my 1967 paper; this is the Higgs boson now being sought at the LHC. [ Higgs boson != Goldstone boson ? I suppose "general class" means any new particle associated with symmetry breaking ... ]

As to my responsibility for the name “Higgs boson,” because of a mistake in reading the dates on these three earlier papers, I thought that the earliest was the one by Higgs, so in my 1967 paper I cited Higgs first, and have done so since then. Other physicists apparently have followed my lead. But as Close points out, the earliest paper of the three I cited was actually the one by Robert Brout and Fran├žois Englert. In extenuation of my mistake, I should note that Higgs and Brout and Englert did their work independently and at about the same time, as also did the third group (Gerald Guralnik, C.R. Hagen, and Tom Kibble). But the name “Higgs boson” seems to have stuck.

5 comments:

LondonYoung said...

Indeed, I would add the following.  Just a few weeks ago I was at a dinner for deep-pocketed donors to the physical sciences.  Several times it came up that data was available for the results of experiment xyz, but were being closely guarded until those close to the experiment had had full time to analyze it.  When I asked, "why not publish it as it comes out an give everyone a crack at it and advance science as quickly as possible?"  I was greeted with dumb stares.  It seems that many physicists care more about whether it is a "higgs boson" or an "abc boson" than that we just get on with it.  I salute those who just got on with it ...

David Coughlin said...

 All that experimentalists have to their credit is their data.

This made me chuckle, I was at a dinner for deep-pocketed donors to the physical sciences. for all the ambiguity it creates between you and the other members of Steve's audience.

Are you in NYC lately?  I am on assignment mid-week in the 'burbs from now until who knows when.

LondonYoung said...

In fact, the "London" part of LondonYoung has gone from 90% to 10% (thanks UK tax policy!) ... so, yes, I am in NYC lately ...

Noah Rahman said...

I'm just amused that 20 years later, Weinberg still hates Phil Anderson so much he only refers to him obliquely.

Il Memming Park said...

Here's an alternative history :http://www.pas.rochester.edu/urpas/news/Hagen_030708

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