LHC excitement over discovery of nothing, predictions failure (Sabine Hossenfelder)


EXCERPT: . . . One of the key questions to be addressed by the new data analysis is whether the “lepton flavor anomalies” persist. [...] You should take such combined analyses with several grains of salt. Choosing some parts of the data while disregarding others makes the conclusion unreliable. This does not mean the result is wrong, just that it’s impossible to know if it is a real effect or a statistical fluctuation. Really this question can only be resolved with more data. CMS, another one of the LHC experiments, recently tested a specific explanation for the anomaly but found nothing.

Meanwhile it must have dawned on particle physicists that the non-discovery of fundamentally new particles besides the Higgs is a problem for their field, and especially for the prospects of financing that bigger collider which they want. For two decades they told the public that the LHC would help answering some “big questions,” for example by finding dark matter or supersymmetric particles [...] However, the predictions for new particles besides the Higgs were all wrong. And now, rather than owning up to their mistakes, particle physicists want you to think it’s exciting they have found neither dark matter, nor extra dimensions, nor supersymmetry, nor anything else that is not in the standard model....

MORE: https://backreaction.blogspot.com/2019/0...-over.html
Sabine says: "The logic here seems to be this: First, mass-produce empty predictions to raise the impression that a costly experiment will answer some big questions. Then, if the experiment fails to answer those questions, proclaim how exciting it is that your predictions were wrong. Finally, explain that you need money for a larger experiment to answer those big questions."

I'm inclined to agree. There does seem to be a sense that the physicists might in many cases be barking up the wrong tree, so just insisting that they bark even louder is foolish.

And perhaps in hopes of illustrating her point, Sabine quotes James Beacham as saying, "We're right on the cusp of a revolution but we don't really know where that revolution is going to be coming from. It's so exciting and enticing. I would argue there's never been a better time to be a particle physicist."

But contra-Sabine, I'm inclined to maybe agree with him as well.

James Beacham is a young Duke University post-doc working at CERN. So sure, there's an element of him wanting to convince himself that he hasn't chosen to pursue one of physics's dead-ends. He wants to think that he has a career ahead of him.

But he does seem to me to have a point that at least the way Sabine describes it, particle physics does look like it's in a Kuhnian-style "pre-revolutionary" situation, much as 19th century classical physics was in prior to the appearance of relativity and quantum physics. If nobody's making much progress, maybe that suggests that problems need to a attacked from a new direction. And in a perverse sort of way, that's very exciting.

Perhaps in order to make progress, the theoretical particle physicists might need to start conceiving of their subject and its issues in some highly original manner that hasn't yet been discovered. So Beacham might be on to something if the opportunity to be particle physics's new Planck or Einstein lies right before their noses, waiting for somebody to get their mind around it and seize it.

Perhaps that's what's driving the situation that Sabine criticizes in her 'Lost in Math' book, where young ambitious physicists spin theories out of pure mathematics without a lot of experimental justification, based largely on aesthetic considerations. So far, those new speculative ideas haven't worked by producing experimentally confirmed predictions. But if they ever do, then new chapters in the histories of physics will be written and the Nobel prizes will be flowing freely.

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