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Regina Caputo | USLHC | USA

View Blog | Read Bio

Aggravating the gods

Sigh…
I was reading the New York Times today (ok so I’m a couple of days behind because I was reading it from October 12th) and I came across this article:

The Collider, the Particle and a Theory About Fate

To save you some time, the article references an arXiv paper posted in 2007 about backward causation and time travel. (for those who don’t know arXiv is not a publication, articles are posted, and not necessarily reviewed – although it has to be approved). They argue that any collider searching for the Higgs is destined to fail because god/nature/or whatever doesn’t like little Higgsies. They then point to the failure of the SSC, and the recent failures at CERN as proof.

Instead of trying to refute this, because I think it’s silly, I’d like to discuss correlation. I’ve been watching a lot of baseball recently because the play-offs are going on (poor Rockies just got defeated by the Phillies in a nail biter on the 9th). Anyway, baseball is littered with uncorrelated statistics. Batter X hits a 0.280 on Thursdays against right handed pitchers as opposed to Fridays when he bats 0.320. Does the day that the batter is at bat really change how well he hits? Maybe he’s working for the weekend, but it could be a coincidence or other factors that we’re not taking into account which are correlated and this result is just part of the picture.

I’m sure those who are versed with pastafarians are familiar with the argument that the decreasing pirate population is causing increased global temperature. Sure, the number of pirates has decreased over the past 150 years, while the global temperature has increased (seen below), but does the presence of pirates inherently cause a decrease in the global temperature. I think I’m going to go with probably not. There are clearly other factors to take into account.

Pirate number vs. golbal temperature

Pirate number vs. golbal temperature

Anyway, why do I bring this up? People like to find correlation between things. Our inherent nature as humans forces us to like to try to understand relationships between events. That’s why I want to be a scientist when I grow up. That being said just because as one thing is happening, another happens too, doesn’t mean that they have anything to do with each other. To say that there is evidence to show that god/nature/or anything else is spiting scientists for searching for the Higgs is not only destructive, but unprovable and not science. Fermilab is currently running just fine and searching for the Higgs (a couple people in Stony Brook’s D0 group are doing just that, in fact.) But it also takes away from what the engineers and scientists are doing to make machines like this work. The LHC is a brand new machine pushing the limits of engineering. Of course it’s expensive and things don’t work as we expect. (we have no examples to base our expectations on). And as for the SSC, I think that’s more an example of how scientists need to better explain to Congress why science funding shouldn’t be cut than someone out to stop us from finding the Higgs.

But I guess that’s what I get for reading essays in the NY Times. I should stick to the food section 🙂

Until next time,

-Regina

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