In a thought-provoking post on RD just before the weekend, Yoni Pasternak highlighted some of the enchanted language that has been associated with CERN’s announcement of a Higgs boson-like particle discovery. The Higgs boson has been labeled the “God Particle,” and numerous scientists and journalists have described the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) as a “magical” device. If news about the Higgs boson has struck you as esoteric and confusing you are not alone, but the video embedded in Pasternak’s post offers a nice primer.
As Pasternak points out, even this explanatory video is full of magician’s hats and pink elephants. The fact that scientists themselves are using this vocabulary, he argues, “is a sign of the utility that these supernatural concepts still maintain” for describing our universe.
The use of supernatural concepts to describe the Higgs boson has been hotly debated ever since CERN’s announcement. Over at io9, Dave Goldberg makes all the best arguments against it. The “God Particle” was coined by Leon Lederman in a book detailing how essential the Higgs is for the Standard Model of Physics. The press subsequently took this idea and ran with it, Goldberg argues, in yet another example of savvy-science-promotion gone awry. For Goldberg and others, supernatural language is a tactic scientists use to communicate complicated ideas to laypersons, such as friends, journalists, and the politicians who control budgets.
This position hits a wall when it has to account for the excitement and wonder that you hear in CERN physicists’ voices…
[continues at Religion Dispatches]
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