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04/09/2013

Higgs boson: Stop calling it the 'God particle', says Peter Higgs

Higgs
British physicist Peter Higgs arrives at the conference last July where the discovery of the particle that bears his name, the Higgs boson, was announced. (FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/GettyImages)

Tomorrow, the BBC is airing a special on Peter Higgs, the British particle physicist. Higgs is the namesake of the Higgs boson, the particle discovered at CERN last summer that is sometimes called "the God particle."

Higgs will use his BBC soapbox to ask us all to please stop it with the whole God thing.

"First of all, I'm an atheist," The Telegraph quotes him as telling the BBC.

"The second thing is I know that name was a kind of joke and not a very good one."

This is by no means the first time Higgs has mentioned his dislike for the term "God particle," and he is by no means the only person to harbour such feelings.

After a recent Star story about how scientists had confirmed the particle they discovered last July really was the long-sought Higgs, one reader had this to say:

"While I love science and stories about what's happening at the LHC (Large Hadron Collider), I take great offense to your use of the term "god particle" to describe something that has absolutely nothing to do with god. This is science, ma'am, not blind faith and ignorant belief."

"God particle" is certainly a silly name for the Higgs, whether you believe in God or not. Why should the particle (really more like a field) that gives all other particles mass be the "God" particle?

It was a term that two book authors used to describe the (then-undiscovered) Higgs in 1993, because, they said, their publisher wouldn't let them call it "the goddamn particle," for how tough it would be to discover. 

The name sort of stuck. The question is: is calling the Higgs a "God particle" an unnecessary distraction, or did it help the public latch on to what is otherwise a tough and obscure physics question? 

If it did help draw the public's interest, is that worth it?

Higgs is probably not the only one with an opinion on that question.

The BBC special airs tomorrow, Wednesday night, and can be viewed online here.

Kate Allen is the Star's science and technology reporter. Find her online at @katecallen.


Comments

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Great read Kate

Fascinating is what one character from Science Fiction used to say. Although there is not planet Vulcan...there is the scientific proof of a long sought after higgs particle that provides mass. Please not I am not a physicist. As to the more mundane part of the story of what to call this particle it is only worth noting that calling it a the god particle gives offence to the Mr. Higgs who has come out of the formerly crowded closet full of atheists. Such is life.

I guess Higgs finally had it. Why share the "glory" of a particle he discovered with the guy who invented it. I mean after all if we just keep telling ourselves he doesn't exist we can make it come true right?

Gee we are sorry Mr Higgs. Now what is your explanation for where this particle came from ? Can you tell us what existed before there was ANYTHING ? It is said, energy cannot be created or destroyed, so where did the energy come from for the big bang ?

@millz - Conversely, if you keep telling yourself that He exists despite an overwhelming lack of evidence, coupled with the thousands of other gods that people believe in that are just as likely to exist as yours is, and that science has consistently found natural explanations for processes originally prescribed to a god, then He MUST exist. You possess a great set of reasoning and logical skills.

@Ken Hedger - Why does the immediate default answer of what existed before the beginning of the universe have to be a god? It is dishonest for you to insinuate with any certainty that you know the answer, when in fact you are just as ignorant of what happened BEFORE the big bang (in physics, that concept is actually meaningless, but good luck for trying!).

If you were honest, you would have said "I don't know what happened. No one does.'

Also, given your layperson's understanding of thermodynamics, special relativity, quantum mechanics (read about Hawking radiation for instance... it is one of Stephen Hawking's most brilliant ideas), as evidenced by your false statement of how "energy cannot be created or destroyed", I would bet that you haven't seriously evaluated just how the universe could have started through naturalistic processes. You may as well claim that the universe had some magic monkey that sneezed and created the universe.

But that would be ludicrous, yes? But so is claiming that the ancient goat herding societies that wrote the Bible and who were ignorant of science knew with certainty.

@ Ken Hedger - No one knows what happened before The Big Bang. The Big Bang is the best explanation we have to describe how this universe started. You insult every great mind that has dedicated his or her life to the pursuit of science, knowledge and discovery. To elude to the idea that there needed to be a supreme being to start the whole process is nonsense. At least science has the good sense to say this is the best answer we have come up with the data and technology available. I don't what it is with individuals that try to undermine science at every turn. You do realize that the computer you use, the chair you sit on, the elevators that take you to and from, the roads you drive on, the cars you drive in, the cell phone you use, the food you eat, your whole entire life has been benefited by science. At least have some respect for it. At least science has proven its worth to us.

Energy can not be created or destroyed which means it ALWAYS exists. It changes forms, but it ALWAYS exists. That means there never was a 'beginning.' None, never, didn't happen: energy always existed. Things just cycle. Get a grip, it isn't hard to understand.

Blah, blah, blah....the moderately ignorant addressing the incredibly ignorant. Gimme a break...give it a rest.

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