Predictions for 2014: No firm direct detection of dark matter, a better understanding of the Higgs boson, an announcement that Fermilab will live with a muon and neutrino related program, and a surprising and troubling reception for Neil DeGrasse Tysons Cosmos. Those are my predictions for 2014. Various collaborations are working very hard to detect dark matter and it seems we have tantalizing clues that something is there to find. 2014 will see more clues but not a discovery. As we work on the Higgs we will understand it better. I predict it will be well explained by the standard model of particle physics. That Fermilab will have a new lease on life with a neutrino and muon based program in the future is a bit of a gamble. Last but not least will be Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s remake of Cosmos on network television. I predict that this will surprise us with how many people are interested in the mysteries addressed by cosmology and physics. On the other hand, a surprising and distressing number of people will for the first time see a black person speak of science with his own voice. They won’t all react in an enlightened fashion but most will.
To understand the why of each prediction read on.
No firm detection of dark matter.
In the last year we have had hopeful and disappointing results in the search for dark matter by direct detection. For example The LUX detector failed to see even one event (http://www.science20.com/quantum_diaries_survivor/lux_no_dark_matter_sensitive_direct_search-123473)of a kind that the venerable CDMS detector had seen. Lux should have seen about 1500 of those events (http://www.theguardian.com/science/2013/oct/30/dark-matter-lux-detector-...). The cosmological and astronomical case for some phenomena with the same effect as a type of dark matter is quite solid. However just what that phenomena is, matter, or an alteration of gravity at cosmological length scales, or a combination of the two, is an open question. In 2014 that will continue to be an open question.
A better understanding of the Higgs boson.
Right now what we have is a particle of the right mass to be the Higgs Boson. What we need to understand are its properties in greater detail. The Higgs boson is a scalar, spin-0 particle in the standard model. Physicists need to confirm that is truly the case for the particle we have found. An intense search for beyond standard model physics relating to the Higgs is also in store for 2014. I predict that the standard model of particle physics will explain the Higgs exactly or almost exactly leaving little room for beyond standard model physics (in this particular direction. The real nature of gravity at the quantum level is still an open question).
The future of particle physics at Fermi National Accelerator laboratory (Fermilab).
Right now the particle physics community in the United States of America is deciding how it will support particle physics in the next ten to twenty years. In a meeting I attended at Fermilab it was made clear that there are two real options for keeping a vibrant science program there. One is Fermilab-neutrino factory and the other is Fermilab –Muon collider. It is possible to do both. I predict that we will end up doing both on some level. In 2014 we will have a much better idea of just what Fermilab’s long term future will be.
Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s“Cosmos: A Space-time Odyssey'”, will have a huge and complex cultural impact.
In the age of utterly debased reality TV which now makes the“Survivor” and “Big Brother” of the early 2000’s look like “Masterpiece Theater” FOX will put a science documentary on national network television.
This will be the story with the most appeal to the general public in all of science this year barring a disaster related to science.
Documentaries about science do not appear on national network television. They are on specialty channels or on PBS where either donations support them, or people pay for them. Advertisers are placing their money in the hands of Neil D. Tyson, and Seth MacFarlane to do this in a way that will hold the attention of not just the old and wise but of the young demo’s who have the patience for a tweet or two. It takes real guts for FOX, MacFarlane, and Tyson to bet so much of heir time, money, and credibility on the general population’s interest in science.
I predict that they will not be disappointed. Contrary to what PBS tells us, implicitly when they are asking for donations, plenty of people want to watch quality television. They just can’t afford to donate, or pay for the Science Channel, or they don’t like to hear things explained with the typical British accent (Sorry Patrick Stewart). Who knows? However, the success of Sci-fi and Science related fiction shows there is a basic interest in the subject. Hollywood and Madison Ave. tend to think that people ages 18-24 or 15-35 are only interested in debauchery. If the producers of this new version of Cosmos have calculated that the market is now saturated with boobs, booms and violence and science would be a good change of pace then they are correct. I really hope they are correct.
Sadly, I must also predict that one of the big cultural impacts will be that for many young Americans seeing a black scientist on TV will be a first for them. I know talk of race makes many uncomfortable,yet it needs to be said. Aside from one depiction of two black scientist on “CSI”, one of the doctors on “House MD” and Cliff Huxtable on the “Cosby Show”, and “Steve Urkle” there haven’t been any characters who were black and who held advanced credentials or ability in science on TV. Their depiction was made comical (Urkle, Huxtable), or they were portrayed as kind of brutish ( Dr.Foreman, even named after a boxer). For many young people of all colors seeing a Black person speak of the issues in cosmos in their own words will be a surprise. Judging by past feedback Tyson has on his Twitter for most of them it will be a pleasant surprise. However, knowing America it won’t be all good.
In my own experience in 2012 I have had people who never ever met me, or read anything I've written, assume that I would speak in vintage 70's jive. We live in the same America where in 2013 a commercial about Cheerio’s showed a family, not unlike the one Dr. Tyson actually has, and the reaction from many was so racist it became a story in and of itself. It was part of the reason Youtube is moving towards having people comment under their real legal names. Maybe this series will correct those perceptions.
I’m also sure some commentators on MSNBC will try to make something out of this being on FOX.
Too long; didn't read:
There will not be an unambiguous detection of dark matter in2014.
Humanity will have a better understanding of the Higgs boson’s real properties.
The future of particle physics at Fermilab and in the US will be decided.
“Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey” will surprise people and impact the culture in many positive ways.