I mean, it’s not an accident that there’s a lot of excitement about the maybe-sorta-kinda discovery of the Higgs. This is the product of years of relentless hype from the particle physics community. They’ve been talking about this goddamn particle for longer than I’ve been running this blog, and it’s finally percolated out into the general public consciousness enough that buzz about it can trend on Twitter. Complaining that your persistent effort to get people to care about particle physics esoterica has led to people being excited about particle physics esoterica seems more than a little churlish.
So, lighten up. Revel in the success of your hype machine. God knows, if there were a Twitter trending topic about Bose-Einstein Condensation or anything else in atomic physics, I’d do the Happy Dance all the way down the hall. You’ve worked hard to make your elusive particle a celebrity, now reap the rewards.
If you really can’t stand the buzz you’ve created then, I don’t know, check into the Betty Ford clinic, or lay low at L’Hermitage, or whatever it is that celebrities do to escape the spotlight. Or, better yet, hunker down in the lab and nail this discovery down so we don’t have to go through this dingbat kabuki routine every six months.
So, inspired by Chad, here's a small questionnaire for you.
1) Are you unhappy about people blogging and tweeting rumors about the results of your experiment ?
2) Do you feel robbed of your hard-earned right to be the first one to tell the news on the organization of the subatomic world ?
3) Do you hold that one should trust published results, and distrust unpublished ones ?
4) Do you believe that new discovery rumors on blogs or tweets damage science ?
5) Do you believe science is damaged more by the distribution of private information than by the lack of communication with the public ?
If you have answered "yes" to all the above questions, I hold that you have got it backwards. And I can only attribute it to the following: groupthink and short-sightedness.
You should not be proud. But you should not feel too bad, either: you are in good company - there's a large number of colleagues (the majority, certainly), all with a PhD and IQ well above 140, who have fallen in the same trap.
So let me tell you what I think instead. Beware: I enjoy your same privileges, and I have hard-earned them as hard as you have. But for some reasons I have started blogging eight years ago, and my perspective of things have changed since then. It appeared crystal clear to me how huge was the gap in communication we had created with the general public, and yet how the internet age was offering solutions.
Every scientist should blog about their research. Every Jane or Peter who work for the advancement of human knowledge should care just as much to push forward the top as to pull the trailing edge. The shearing of the probability density function of human understanding and care for knowledge which is caused by hard science being kept hard to reach for outsiders looks to me exactly as the widening of the distribution of wealth and well-being in the human population of the world which is caused by greed: very few individuals are becoming horribly rich, and large masses are becoming poor. The median is not moving forward! This is both immoral and stupid.
But there are even pragmatic reasons, not idealistic ones, that should bring you to change your opinion. You should be happy that scientific news get, sometimes, promoted to the public arena and be discussed by laypeople just as eagerly as soccer matches. Because your job, and with it the progress of science itself, is eventually at stake. Remember, taxpayers pay your bills because their taxes finance basic research, but this is not a mathematical necessity: if taxpayers get fed up of our ivory tower science, politicians will learn the lesson, and our ass will soon be grounded. If we do not get taxpayers to understand what we are doing and feel excited as we are about our progress in science, we are losing everything!
Ah, and - I was just about to forget. One of the biggest baloney I have heard on this topic is that we should worry about "media fatigue". Media fatigue! If we "announce" unofficially some discovery too many times, people and the media will lose interest. I think there is no such a thing. If you think scientists should be concerned about the media stopping to care about their research because of that, think again. Say "dark matter" to a layman once, and he will forget. Say "dark matter has been discovered" twentyfive times, each time explaining what the thing is and why we believe this is important, and something will stick. At the end you will get people's attention -more of it, not less !