What Higgs rumors, you may ask? Well, there aren’t any that I know of, yet. But there might be soon…
There might be rumors soon because we are about to do another round of updates, for the 2012 Hadron Collider Physics Symposium (HCP). There aren’t any yet because our results (at least on CMS) are still “blinded,” which means that we haven’t actually looked at the “places” in the data where we see signs of our new boson. What we’re doing instead is looking at simulated data to see how much our results might improve when we add in the collisions we’ve recorded since ICHEP. We’re also putting in a few new analysis techniques, and checking them in the same way. And of course we are looking at data in other “places,” and we’re comparing it to simulations to make sure they’re doing a good job.
There will be several weeks between the moment we “unblind” — that is, look for the first time at what our signal looks like with the new data — and when results are shown at HCP. This is just as things were at ICHEP, and during those few weeks there were a lot of rumors around. It’s not possible to confirm or deny rumors when you know the status of ongoing work but haven’t yet agreed with your colleagues that it’s finished and ready to talk about publicly. So this time, I’m going to get in some general comments about rumors before I know anything at all about actual results. These comments will apply just as well to future updates.
What are we doing during the gap between unblinding and the conference? We’re checking our results, and putting them in a final presentable form. This is already compressed into a very short, hectic time, as I’ve written about before.
Are the rumors true? They are definitely not our official results, but they might turn out to be close. Or they might not. Specifically, the possibilities are:
- A rumor is pretty much right. It’s no secret that particle physicists are bad at keeping secrets, and we really don’t want to be good at it. If one in 3,000 physicists decides to tell the Internet what our first-pass internal results look like, we can’t really stop them. Of course they’re breaking the rules, and we wish they wouldn’t, because it’s a collaborative effort and we’d prefer to agree together that we’re finished before announcing our results — because we want to make sure we did everything as well as we can. But still, our first-pass results are usually pretty close to final.
- A rumor isn’t quite right. This could happen if we do find small mistakes or make refinements in the last few weeks of analyzing the data. This changes the answer by a bit, so the rumor is out of date. You could also make up a “not-quite-right” rumor just by making an educated guess based on our last results and how much new data we’ve taken!
- A rumor is just plain wrong. Nobody says rumors have to be based on anything. Or they could be based on a misunderstanding of far-from-complete internal results.
We physicists working on this stuff don’t find it easy to wait for the answers either, and as Jon Butterworth has pointed out, rumors of other experiments’ results are actually dangerous for our work! For everybody else who’s tempted to indulge in rumors, just remember: you might be getting part of the picture early, or you might not. The only way to be sure is to wait for the next real update.