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The Higgs Fake: How Particle Physicists Fooled the Nobel Committee Paperback – October 9, 2013
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About the Author
Author Bio Dr. Alexander Unzicker is a German theoretical physicist. He has degrees in both physics and law and a PhD in neuroscience from Munich University (summa cum laude). While working as a high school teacher of math, physics and astronomy in Munich, Unzicker published papers on Einstein's unified theory and on a cosmology with a variable speed of light. His current field of research is Mach's principle and tests of gravity. Unzicker became known for his popular science book “Vom Urknall zum Durchknall” published by Springer, a scientific imprint. The harsh critique of string theory, parallel universes and cosmic inflation scandalized a part of the scientific community, however the book was awarded “Science Book of the Year” by leading science journalists in Germany. In his follow-up books “Auf dem Holzweg durchs Universum” and the English “Bankrupting Physics – How Today's Scientists are Gambling Away Their Credibility” (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013) he attacks the so-called standard models of physics, which, according to Unzicker, are too complicated to be credible. With “The Higgs Fake – How Particle Physicists Fooled the Nobel Committee” Unzicker has launched a still harder attack on today's big science experiments and the theoretical models. Unzicker is married and has three children. Besides physics, his hobbies are chess and classical music. He lives in Munich. More details: www.alexander-unzicker.com/CV.html
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Unzicker is a science journalist that has been tracking these ‘atom-smashing’ projects for several years and is almost unique in challenging the researchers both directly and in print. As a result, he is now able to share his deep criticisms with the general-public, some of whom have been long captivated by this modern saga. He does a magnificent, ‘no-holds’ hatchet job on this merry band of 10,000 bandits led by famous academics with super-sized egos, such as Gell-Mann, Glashow, Lederman, Ting, Rubbia, etc. (all well rewarded with Nobel prizes and huge salaries) while promoting abstractions that can best be understood as modern theology. The whole process illustrates consensus construction (‘group-think’) through sociological pressures. This project is one of today’s major secret scandals.
Far too many careers in physics, over the last 50 years, have been constructed around these endeavours, so that few professional physicists dare join Unzicker and risk their own careers by publicly criticizing what has become the orthodox mainstream of academic physics. As one who decided many years ago that modern physics had just become a “math game” and resigned from professional physics to pursue real world opportunities, I have no hesitation in adding my informed support to Unzicker’s attacks on “baloney”.
I share Unzicker’s respect for the ‘giants’ of quantum mechanics (Dirac, Einstein, Bohr, Pauli, de Broglie, etc.) who moved our investigations down to the atomic level in the 1920s and 1930s. This reductionist program went off the rails when the search for smaller and smaller components of matter was pushed below the nuclear level while many unsolved problems still remained at the atomic level. In fact, the whole research program needs to be reversed and science needed to start investigating the synthetic challenge of how larger and larger aggregations of matter arise in nature. Even the “second simplest” atom (namely helium) has resisted insightful investigations that were so fruitful with the simple two-body hydrogen atom. Indeed, contrary to modern mythology, quantum mechanics itself is still riven with massive problems of its own interpretation (such as ‘waves’ and ‘spin’); when the truth is that all we have are “mathematical recipes” for calculating simple results in trivial situations. These were the challenges facing the quantum giants when they died but the following generations quickly avoided these deep problems and substituted massive (and expensive) machinery to continue smashing matter into increasingly ephemeral fragments. These never-seen (imaginary) ‘particles’ are simply bundles of imaginary (unobservable) mathematical properties, such as: strangeness, isospin, colour, fractional electric charge, which are all localized to a point (thus particle), so the mathematics of field theory may then be invoked. Unzicker summarizes all this quark quirkiness as “eightfold crap” [p. 104].
Unzicker loves to contrast this earlier QM search for meaning with today’s invention of these fictitious, short-lived “particles”. These lie at the heart of ‘The Standard Model’ with its hundreds of arbitrary parameters, not least of which are the masses (or even mass ratios) of these so-called ‘particles’ – a key physical concept (‘inertial mass’) at the heart of physics since Newton’s revolutionary theories around 1700. As few realize, the mathematics of field theory cannot explain ANY mass, so why the invention of a new field – the Higgs “boson” should ever have been thought to provide an answer has long been a mystery to me. Unzicker does a lovely dissection in his chapter 11 of the nonsense thrown up in this area, such as “symmetry-breaking” mechanisms, while failing to predict a single mass anywhere in the Standard Model; the foundational reason for this whole expensive exercise. Few physicists today dare criticize the primary mathematical toolset of theoretical physics, namely field theory, even though it is intrinsically riddled with self-contradictory infinities (except for finite crystal models in Solid-State theory). Every student selected to study physics today has to be at the high end of mathematical ability, so that PhD students in theoretical physics are simply applied mathematicians; today’s intuitives, like those earlier giants, such as Einstein and Rutherford with their huge intuitions for nature, are no longer given a chance to research the modern world.
The extensive use of super-computers for simulations and data analysis mean that few can check these calculations; indeed, experience with large commercial software programs implies that there are probably very many software bugs hidden in these millions of lines of computer-code that remain uncovered for years. Unzicker does a thorough job exposing the great likelihood that almost all these Nobel-earning “discoveries” are probably no more than instrumental artifacts due to selective data filtering based on anticipated underlying assumptions, such as the decay of unmeasurable, electrically neutral (invisible) intermediaries. What is never emphasized is that all we may be seeing in these super, high-energy collisions are ‘harmonics’ of complex interactions: effectively, just “wiggles on wobbles” – not new particles at all, especially as the inelastic “scattering process is not understood” [p.85].
Even Unzicker himself gets caught up in the mania for numbers that were assumed by Enlightenment mathematicians (like Newton and Galileo) to characterize nature when most people would be just satisfied with greater insight built on new (and often) simplifying assumptions. Just because a few experiments agree to huge precision with measurements does not mean that our theories are on the right track: Ptolemy’s model was vastly better (judged by numerical confirmation) than Copernican models. Unzicker also skewers several of today’s ‘pop’ physicists for their fatuous remarks, such as Brian Cox’s comment that: “The Higgs particle is one of the most important discoveries in the history of science, on equal footing with the electron.” [p. 130]. As Unzicker points out, there have been no new technologies arising from all of this CERN particle research, while the electron transformed the world within 20 years of its discovery.
Unzicker has annoyed people by pointing out that: “particle physics has come close to astrology.” [p. 124] but I view far too much of modern science, especially high-energy physics and cosmology, as retreating into its earlier obsessions with theology, including the origin of the universe and the foundation of reality. How anyone can give credence to invented particles like W bosons or ‘top’ quarks which exist for times too short to cross a proton [p. 43], never mind a human scale experimental detector, is beyond me. This really sounds like counting angels on the heads of very small pins. Furthermore, anyone relying on one special pair of invisible photons, out of hundreds of billions, to confirm the nature of reality should be awarded The Cross of St. Michael for proving the religious foundations of nature itself. Until the Renaissance, only the Vatican could fund thousands of highly educated specialists to investigate reality but they were never tempted to explode St. Peter’s Cathedral to unravel the mysteries of the world. How much more useful to everyone if all this academic brainpower (and billions of dollars) were to be focused on the real problems of the world instead of these theological obsessions. Let’s just stop all this self-serving, intellectual nonsense, get back to small-scale physics and like Unzicker suggests: “start paying physicists like monks while they follow their personal obsessions”.
Unzicker makes a clear plea for the public sharing of raw, unprocessed data from these taxpayer-funded projects so that science can return to an objective, independent analysis of experiments outside the fierce pressures of orthodoxy and hidden assumptions. How independent reviewers of these multi-thousand authored papers can ever decide that the experiments described therein are error-free or the conclusions are reasonable is another of today’s unexplained academic mysteries.
One of the positive results of reading this short book (152 pages) is to encourage readers to deepen their awareness of nature by studying earlier books by Andrew Pickering (“Constructing Quarks”), David Lindley (“The End of Physics”) and Sheilla Jones/Unzicker (“Bankrupting Physics”), which provide more extensive descriptions of this whole sorry ‘Quarky’ era. As one who gained much from reading this enjoyable book, I can only plea for a more extensive index and a larger bibliography. I must also confess how relieved I am that my life was not wasted in this pointless pursuit of particle physics as was possible when I was studying under Salam and Kibble. So, sorry folks, modern physics has not provided a satisfactory alternative explanation of the universe but then, again, neither did the professional theologians after 2,000 years of thinking. Each group demonstrating how self-serving some intellectuals can become, especially when working in large, well-funded ‘believing’ organizations.
It is fortunate that not too many physicists have been lured into this Weird Wonderland as they continue to explore more fruitful areas of physics, such as Solid State, quantum optics and nanotechnology. Meanwhile, Unzicker characterizes CERN as “a Nobel-greedy big science company seeking to get close to politics and big money” [p. 111]. He also points out on the same page that: “Nobody ever got the Nobel prize for proving that something didn’t exist or by showing that someone else was wrong.”
In that year, Einstein, Erwin Schrodinger and Louis de Broglie squared off in a debate against Wolfgang Pauli, Niels Bohr, and Werner Heisenberg. E/S/B made their case that quantum mechanics should be derived from underlying principles, that it should be *grounded* and not simply be a statistical game. P/B/H, on the opposing side, argued that, well, the mathematics work, underlying principles be damned. If calculations can be calculated, then there is no need to go through the trouble of tying calculations to, well, reality. E/S/B lost, the "Copenhagen Interpretation" of P/B/H won out, and theoretical physics has blossomed since then into a fog of calculations only occasionally and begrudgingly anchored to an observable world.
Enter the high-energy particle smashing parties at CERN. The particle accelerators in use now achieve energies much higher than any current set of formulae can accommodate. Each experiment results in a gargantuan eruption of numbers, a data cloud so large it takes hundreds of computers spread across many countries and continents, involving thousands of individuals sifting through these clouds. In order to identify new particles, an exceedingly large percentage of these data points have to be attributed to "background noise," so that the hypothesized new particle can be interpreted in the leftovers.
"When physicists try to separate 100 billion pairs of photons of 'background' from the one pair which originated from the decay of a Higgs boson, it is rather contrived to speak of an "observation" (p 43).
Unzicker's book is an angry peak behind the headlines of modern particle physics. The Higgs boson was among the most celebrated "findings" of modern science. And like so many particles announced before it, the Higgs stands at the end of a mind-numbing inferential chain. Consider that both top quark and W boson have half lives of 10^-25 seconds, meaning that they will travel about the diameter of a proton before decaying. As such, neither of them could make it out of the collision space and hit a detector so it could be "seen." And yet, both of these presumed particles enter into the calculations that "confirmed" the existence of the Higgs.
As Unzicker notes, there is no data that could be produced by one of these high-energy collisions that wouldn't be celebrated. If data confirms a prediction, it is heralded. If, as is more common, data is astray of predictions by several orders of magnitude, it is called "exciting" and "unpredicted" and "in need of more study." Billions of dollars are now being funneled into this circus. New particles are proposed so that equations work correctly, collisions are orchestrated, a tsunami of data is generated, equations get coerced into removing unwanted "background" signals, and a Nobel is handed out for seeing a particle in the Rorschach blot of leftover data points. "Yesterday's Nobel Prize is today's background," one CERN particle physicist quipped.
Unzicker's book is a great read. As a physicist he writes as an insider. He is not saying that the entire edifice of particle physics is a house of cards. He is saying that it is a house built of both mortar and cards, but we have no way currently of distinguishing which particles are made of mortar and which made of cards. Maybe a few, maybe damn near all of them. I highly recommend the book to anyone with an interest in the politics of science, not just as a sociological study but as those politics play themselves out behind the headlines of the latest discoveries in physics.
Not mathematical in approach, and credits all the true geniuses for their work.
Highly recommended as a comprehensive summary and wake up call.