So Was The Rumor More Than Just A Rumor, Or Was It A Honest Rumor?
    By Tommaso Dorigo | July 17th 2010 04:42 PM | 35 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Tommaso

    I am an experimental particle physicist working with the CMS experiment at CERN. In my spare time I play chess, abuse the piano, and aim my dobson...

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    So, now we know. There is no 3-sigma signal from the Tevatron.... Sure, because they have not combined their MSSM searches yet!


    I will spend little time here discussing the various colourful ways by means of which I have been depicted:

    - unreliable source of information
    - fame-seeking blogger
    - Paris Hilton of Physics
    - Less trustworthy than Paul the Octopus
    - and I could go on, but I prefer to leave these envious utterings where they first diffused their stench.

    I am amused by the attention, but rather disappointed by the utter failure of all these commentators to understand what went wrong here: the press jumped at this gossip, without a blink, where there simply was no story !

    In fact, I said it from the outset of my original post: I knew nothing. This is therefore a textbook example of something out of nothing: a lot of media hype about a stated zero-information text.

    Do I feel guilty ? Of what ! Of having gotten the Higgs boson in the press once again ? Come on -it only does good to Science to get people interested in High-Energy Physics. Of having cried wolf, to the detriment of fund collection by experiments ? Give me a break. The people who act as reviewers and who distribute funds to experiments are a lot smarter than me and you, and they know perfectly well how this media system works.

    It must be the fear of the dumb congressman. Sure, but the dumb congressman has done a lot of damage in the past -we should have grown ways to prevent such pitfalls as the cancelation of the SSC by now. Or are you willing to blame yours truly for that too ?

    I am really a patient person, but I am tired of explaining these things. I can only say that old ideas die with the people who support them, and new ideas run those people over. Have fun, whether you are taking the part of the asphalt or the wheel in this rather undramatic play.

    The Facts (Not Gossip)

    The DZERO search for  events, which provides a complementary view of the same supersymmetric Higgs particle (actually, two almost degenerate states, in part of the parameter space) from the one recently published by CDF, evidences a similar, albeit smaller, excess of signal-like events that the former search did. Is this what some theorist got excited about ?

    Let us have a look at the graphs. The one from CDF, obtained by searching for an excess in the mass distribution of pairs of b-quark jets in events containing a third b-jet (and discussed a month ago here), is shown below.

    Before you start wondering what the graph shows, it is best to explain what is an "expected limit". Basically, before they actually look at real data, the analysts determine what is the limit on the parameter space (in this case, the parameter called "tan(beta) as a function of mass of a Higgs particle called "A") that the amount of data in their hands, and the search methodology, grant on average. Average here is a unfortunate word: what the "expected limit" curve shows is actually the median of a distribution of limits extracted from a large ensemble of pseudo-datasets, all constructed under the hypothesis that no signal is present.

    In the graph you can see a wide light-blue band and a smaller dark-blue band. These determine where the actual limit calculated with real data should fall, 95% of the time (the yellow band) and 68% of the time (the green band).

    The departure of the observed limit in tan(beta) /the black line) from the expected limit (the hatched line at the center of the "expectation" band) does not mean much -something like that does happen a few times in a hundred, in the absence of any Higgs signal. But it does say that CDF did see more data compatible with a 130 to 160 GeV Higgs boson than they predicted. Of course, nothing to get excited about -the more so since such broad-band searches for a particle of unknown mass are liable to yield some significant departure, here or there in the analyzed spectrum. This is the so-called "look-elsewhere effect", which I have aptly discussed elsewhere.

    Now let us look at an independent search from DZERO -the one released yesterday by Marco Verzocchi at the Wine and Cheese Fermilab seminar. They have looked for the same signal -supersymmetric Higgs bosons- produced in the same way (associated with a b-quark) but decaying to a different final state: a pair of tau leptons. Higgs bosons at high values of the tan(beta) parameter do like to decay to b-quarks or tau leptons, because of their increased coupling to such bodies.

    The DZERO tan(beta) limit is also larger than the expectation. But how much so ? The graph does not say, due to the absence of 1- and 2-sigma expectation bands. One needs to fetch that information in another graph produced by DZERO, where the cross section is plotted on the vertical scale rather than the critical tan(beta) parameter. Still, the information is there. Have a look.

    Here you can see that DZERO does see a very mild, but not insignificant, upper fluctuation of their data, since the observed cross section limit is higher than the expected one by about 1.5 standard deviations, for Higgs masses between 120 and 140 GeV.

    So what is a sound way to address this combined information ? One way to take a conservative stand would be to say that the CDF excess pointed to a MSSM-like 140 GeV Higgs boson decaying to b-quark pairs (I abstain to discuss the detailed phenomenology of the five Higgs states of their theory, but they are mostly irrelevant here). Once that observation is in the bag, one may say "fine -we see something odd there, now let us forget about that "evidence" and seek independent confirmations".

    If that stand is taken, one should conclude that DZERO provides a 1.5-sigma "confirmation" (please put the word in the right context) of the CDF excess. Too little to get excited, definitely, but still something to watch closely in the future.

    If, on the other hand, one were to hard-nosedly combine the two observations by CDF and DZERO (and I know for a fact that there are theorists who are doing precisely that kind of exercise), we would get a 2.5 plus 1.5 sigma hint at about 135 GeV. Now, significances which are uncorrelated add in quadrature, which means that you first square them, then add them, and finally take the square root of the result. What do we get ?

    We get a roughly 3-sigma indication of a MSSM Higgs boson in that mass range. Is this what some of the voices I overheard (and reported as rumours, getting crucified despite my self-confidence of not doing anything wrong) got excited about ? Apparently, yes. But is it right ? Well, yes and no - the tan(beta) regions do not coincide. A real combination of the results would need to be carried out, but this is highly unlikely to happen in the near future, unless things grow more interesting by adding more data. Theorists will be happy to continue speculating on the effect, but admittedly there is not much more press to publish on the matter, for now.

    My Take

    I have said it before; I have bet $1000 on it; I have repeated it ad nauseam. I feel compelled to say it again: I do not believe it is a real signal. I think it is a fluctuation. I do not believe in Supersymmetry. I think these searches are underestimating their systematical uncertainties in the QCD background.

    That said, you might probably wonder why the heck I have made a fuss about the rumours. The answer is simple: I haven't!!! I have reported two corridor voices, explicitly saying that I knew nothing about it, and that I believed they were not anything trustable. Watch the result: dozens of newspapers jump at the story, Fermilab feels compelled to negate the rumour, spokespersons dub me a unreliable source of information, people liken me to Paris Hilton or Paul the Octopus. What a bunch of clowns. They do not realize that they are the clowns, not me. Can you explain, otherwise, how a Fermilab joint experimental-theoretical physics seminar becomes a place where two out of 45 slides of a highly anticipated talk are devoted to having fun of my blog and my person ?

    I am mostly amused, nonetheless: the "Paul the Octopus" slide by Marco Verzocchi is really funny. I have my reservations on the way he used his seminar time, but admittedly my money does not pay his salary, while some of you cannot say the same.


    I like the "Paris Hilton of Physics". Just please don't show your crotch.

    Who ever wrote that probably meant Perez Hilton. The gay Hollywood gossip blogger. Since they did not know the difference it just shows what a fool they are.
    Science advances as much by mistakes as by plans.
    I'd rather be Paris Hilton.  She is famous just for being famous and gets $20K just for showing up at a club.    So if Tommaso becomes the Paris Hilton of Science Blogging the rest of us can ride his coattails and make enough money from his leftover audience traffic to buy a big trampoline for the office.     That would be awesome.
    True that. She is given money basically for being rich and famous. The people who pay her to show up would probably not give a starving orphan a dime. The only physicist who gets anything like her treatment would be Stephen Hawking. (Imagine if we had him. He could write what he had for lunch and get a million clicks.)
    Science advances as much by mistakes as by plans.
    Bonny Bonobo alias Brat
    I think everything is clear. It was an honest rumour. Keep up the good work Tommaso.
    My article about researchers identifying a potential blue green algae cause & L-Serine treatment for Lou Gehrig's ALS, MND, Parkinsons & Alzheimers is at
    Well, the Paris Hilton of Physics remark is more of a comment on the worthless, unthinking hype culture of today than it is a comment about you. If the currency of pop physics is Successful Outreach, then I guess you are a good analogue of Paris Hilton. Nothing to be ashamed of ... since we are not actually comparing your standards to those of her world.

    Don't let it get you down, you are doing a great job.

    It is perfectly acceptable for blogs to discuss pure speculations, unfounded rumors and even pure, blatant nonsense if the author feels like it as long as it is clearly labeled as such. Such information however should not be relied on by regular media and sold to general public but it's their fault not yours.

    Next time you may want to add a big disclaimer targeted to potential journalists stating that the contents of the post is pure rumor/speculation/nonsense and not suitable for regular press/you don't want it republished. Whether it will work is hard to tell but it will at least make your position immediately clear to everyone.

    If this is the biggest controversy here, I'd say that we are doing pretty well.  Other sites have actual ethical controversies that have caused people to leave and slaughtered their reputations.   This was just a discussion of possible results, with a disclaimer in the first paragraph of your original piece and then 3 more disclaimers.
    You are not at fault, and 100% correct that this is good for HEP and science in general.
    Keep your chin up and the good work coming.

    I think, high energy physics has its own set of narcissist people and they are just jealous you write such a good blog, with your own name, and you are quite popular among physicists. There are these people who cant stand someone being better writer, more popular etc. In academic, it is always easy to criticize, but to provide answers, proposals with own name, take responsibility, and do this also in in public not just in coffee table with one colleque.... that is were the biggest criticizers fail I think.

    A real crucification would be if you lost your job for this. or lost your head in reality.
    Researchers toes are tender. Ego's big. Emotions high, and they are afraid. Some real narcisst people are surely also there. In top science they are usually more abundant, like aspbergers, autists etc.

    I think my position as 'outstander' is good for these kinds of questions. I have no name to loose, no ego to fight for, no own interest at all. As a person not knowing too much physic I am free to ask also stupid things. Sometimes it is those stupid questions that are the good ones. Those questions that a more educated physician don't dare to ask loudly.

    But I am no crackpot as Lubos say, because a crackpot is a person that think he is surely right, although he is wrong. He is so sure he is right that he can call everyone else a crackpot, also non-physicians, as if everyone would learn physic with the breastmilk.

    A sound way to do science is to be open for own mistakes and ask those stupid questions, if not loudly, so at least quietly for himself. To discuss possibilities as you do. Thanks.

    The "Main Stream Media" are always desperate to be the first to announce something before their rivals. The journalists get paid for that. They will always jump on a story like this making it sound more significant than it is, then if it turns out to be nothing they just make another story out of the retraction. Nothing unexpected in that, the only alarming part was the reaction of Fermilab. I think we just have to ignore them and continue with the more honest form of reporting that we provide in the blogosphere :)

    CDF and D0 excesses, even if you take them seriously, correspond to different preferred values of tan(beta). Thus they cannot be combined to produce 3 sigma.

    Be careful Paul, the MSSM parameter space is a mess. I do not think you can make such a claim without studying in detail the data from the two experiments. The largest effect of tan(beta) is to enhance the coupling to down-type fermions, which makes the production larger and the decay rate more frequent to these particles. The hard-nosed example I gave was just an example of what one could start speculating on, but in effect things are much less simple.

    "What a bunch of clowns. They do not realize that they are the clowns, not me." Exactly. This story was absolutely disgusting. Someone places a huge disclaimer and says for once I'm free to, hello, speculate, and then hell breaks loose. I'm sorry to say that all these reactions and the not-public ones I heard can only reinforce my belief that certain exhibitions of interpersonal idiocy which are not tolerated by society in general for anyone, are tolerated for academics and supposedly highly intelligent professionals.
    What do I mean? Telling a colleague of yours, eg, that you told him the exact opposite of what you wrote in an email a few minutes ago, or not showing up at an appointment you set yourself, isn't tolerated for "uneducated" people or with "middle education". But a professor or (slightly less often) a researcher feels perfectly excused to do so and act contrary to every sense, and the only limit is often his/her own values.
    Isn't what happened here a perfect example of this? I believe many laymen followed the links and read your original post, and thought "What the ... The man is speculating so what's the big story?" while several academics read only the headline and could only think of cheap jokes involving boobs and tentacles.

    It is quite true that most of the detractors did not stop and read the posts. Of course! Their time is too valuable to spend it achieving a fair view to the issue, plus they loathe blogs because they are against such rubbish. Cheap jokes take much less time, as does having a strong opinion based on gut feelings rather than hard facts.

    Often such topics are way over my head and I resist commenting because I don't like looking stupid. I won't make such comments now. It just never ceases to amaze me, however, just how ignorant a large part of the population is. Their comments show they know nothing at all. Then there are the comments advertiseing dating services, actually ads for sex, that in no way touch upon the subject. If I did not enjoy the article's subject or want to learn from it I would not be making comments. I can at least say that my comments are based upon the minimal knowledge I have of the subject and are, therefore, a plea for help and understanding.

    It's simpler than you pretend it is. If the coupling to b and tau are enhanced by the same amount (depending on tan(beta)), than CDF and D0 results are inconsistent (if viewed as a signal). If they are enhanced by a different amount, then it's not MSSM and you cannot combine the results meaningfully since you have one more free parameter. End of story.

    It is not only about the couplings - it is about the relative weight of the two observations. Excluding a value of tan(beta) at some c.l. and admitting it more than you would think you would exclude it are two things that need to be combined, and to combine them you need the full profile likelihoods.

    Hi Tommaso,

    Please keep up the good work, I have learned a lot from your blog. I print them and keep them as a text book and I read them and study them carefully to learn as much as I can.
    You are doing a good job and please continue doing it, lots of people learn from them.

    Thank you Ahmed, I know that my posts have some (limited) utility and I continue to publish them.

    Sorry to rain on the lovefest, but I think you walked into this one.

    Not to say I think the media should have reported on a non-story, particularly without discussing it with you directly. They are the real villains here, clearly, and the ones doing a bad job at the work they are paid for. But why would you write a blog entry saying "I know nothing, but to amuse myself here are some unfounded speculations"? Who would find such a thing interesting? Where is the scientific value in it? Like I wrote above, you walked into the reaction you got by trying to be cute instead of trying be a good blogger. Sure, D0 is overly sensitive. But ya know, that is because the last time you did this, it ended up in the New York Times. Learn the lesson and prove the critics wrong about your motivations, already!

    You could have taken the scientific content of your "rumor" post and chosen to write: "Here is the state of the Higgs searches at the Tevatron, if something is to appear, statistics say it is likely to be here or here". That would have been interesting, even informative, and it would not have opened you up to the dark side of the media.

    I think you do some good for the field, Dorigo. Don't dilute it with crap posts that turn into crap media and from there into crap between you and your colleagues.

    "I am amused by the attention, but rather disappointed by the utter failure of all these commentators to understand what went wrong here: the press jumped at this gossip, without a blink, where there simply was no story !"

    Please Tommaso, give me a break now... Haven't you dealt with the press before? Can you honestly declare that you expected ANYTHING different? Really? REALLY? You wanted attention and you got it, hopefully you enjoyed it, now move on and don't play victim. Cheers, Ptrslv72

    Hi Ptrslv,

    I disagree. I have given phone interviews several times now. Often these have not turned into hyped articles. This time, I did not even get a phone call -probably the reporters understood that if I said I knew nothing, it was better to contact somebody else. In any case, if they had called me I would have said what I had written in the post, and nothing more.

    Well, you weren't born yesterday, this is the same press that filled pages with planet-eating black holes, time travelers from the future and the baguette bird. If you throw a such a big piece of red meat, you can't act all surprised when some of them jump at it without verifying the source. Besides, you are being inconsistent: first you were claiming that it's a good thing that the newspapers talk about the Higgs, even if the rumor is false. Now you seem to be claiming that they shouldn't have published a story about nothing. You should choose one line and stick to it. Cheers, Ptrslv72

    Dear Ptrslv, I claim that it does a lot of good to science popularization. I also claim that I did not search expressly for it. Is that too hard to understand ? I never said they should not have published a story about nothing. Only, I would have expected that they checked sources a bit.

    I'm a regular lurker here. Keep up the great work :)

    Tommaso, I just finished Richard Westfall's 800+ page biography of Newton, "Never at Rest" and I'm pretty sure that scientific arguments are far milder now than they were 300 years ago.

    Hi Tommaso,
    I would be flattered by the comparison with Paul The Octopus. He is a star, he got 8 predictions correct out of 8, and I bet he also tastes great with persil and olive oil. Can you compete with this?

    Admittedly he did very well, but he is now retired. Probably the competition with crocodiles is making him a little shy...

    You seem to be taking it in stride, as the Paris Hilton of Physics is no small insult ;) Really, I think this is kind of standard operating procedures for the papers and a lot of "news" is like this, based more off of what sells papers and less off of reality.

    Rick Ryals
    Tommaso said:
    I have said it before; I have bet $1000 on it; I have repeated it ad nauseam. I feel compelled to say it again: I do not believe it is a real signal. I think it is a fluctuation. I do not believe in Supersymmetry. I think these searches are underestimating their systematical uncertainties in the QCD background.

    Hi Tommaso,

    I would be interested to know what direction that you think that science should go if neither the higgs, nor supersymmetry are found?  Would you think that scientists should keep trying to force their beliefs to work via even more exotic ideas, or should they look for something fundamentally wrong with existing theory?

    I hope it's the latter, and here's a good place to start... ;)
    This is an excellent question Rick, and I have no answer. I think it would force a reevaluation of several of our basic beliefs, yes -but I do not know how deep, nor what we experimentalists would do in the meantime.

    Rick Ryals
    Thanks T, and I hope you're right.

    Since the W is a massive spin-1 particle, W-W scattering will violate unitarity without being rescued by the Higgs or something like it. So when you say "no Higgs" you mean to include all varieties of things that look like Higgs and act like Higgs, then yes, there would be something fundamentally wrong with our deeply held beliefs! But that won't happen. One way or another Peter Higgs will get his Nobel prize, although he may have to wait for it.