Want to know if your discipline is in over-hype freefall?   Look at all the empty seats in your session.   For "The Science of Kissing" session I talked about yesterday it was standing room only, even if most people there wondered how much of it was just made up, but at the "High Energy Physics: From The Tevatron To The Large Hadron Collider" session there were plenty of open seats.

Why?  Well, in June 2007 Lyn Evans said about the already perpetually late LHC:

“The low-energy run at the end of this year was extremely tight due to a number of small delays, but the inner triplet problem now makes it impossible,” said LHC Project Leader Lyn Evans. “We’ll be starting up for physics in May 2008, as always foreseen, and will commission the machine to full energy in one go.
We saw how that worked out last September.    Kerplooey.

So when a guy that Nature named its 2008 Newsmaker of the Year can hear birds chirping in his session, you know people feel like French government construction workers did the quality work you expect from ... well ... French government construction workers.   And they even had Maria Spiropulu , who had gotten so much press as the LHC hottie everyone wanted to interview (and has outstanding credentials).   Still, despite those names and even though I arrived after it started, I had no problem at all getting a seat in the front row.   And this is a science audience, not a high school, so people aren't shy about sitting in the front row.

 Hank Campbell
 I must be in the front row.   And that's not good, if you are trying to keep people interested in your project.   The Tevatron is looking pretty darn good these days.  Photo: Hank Campbell

Why so few people?   Well, there are no results.    It's not to say there weren't good speakers - Jacobo Konigsberg from University of Florida Gainesville was terrific - but there wasn't anything new.  Yes, the LHC will be 2X the luminosity and 10X the energy of FermiLab, as we have heard for a decade, but Fermi puts out new results every week.

Is there a race on to discover whatever the Higgs boson, the last Standard Model particle that needs to be found (we think), is?   There certainly is, and a few months ago CERN may have wanted less hype but I bet they wished for more press now.    Fermi is not giving up without a fight and, by my book, they are way out in front.

Unfortunately for the LHC, Eugenie Scott's "Evolution Makes Sense of Biology" session was happening at the same time so I couldn't stay for all of a physics session that was nothing more than a minor we-think-it-will-be-great marketing piece while knowing that Neil Shubin,Ken Miller, Olivia Judson, Dave Deamer and Sean Carroll were in another room talking about why evolution is wonderful to them.    

 Hank Campbell
Olivia Judson.   The other ones were too fuzzy with the phone cam.

Well, Sean Carroll flaked but everyone else was there and it was a terrific time.    They're certainly a rock star compilation of biologists.  Did you know we have common ancestry with fish?  Okay, you did, but Shubin can explain anything using fish and he can always do it in his funny, insightful way so it's worth a mention.  It was a pretty spectacular session from start to finish.

People were all milling around afterward so I walked out to throw away my coffee cup and by the time I walked back in, Dave Deamer was gone, so I didn't get to shake his hand, but when I was outside the room I walked through a poster session and saw Nobel laureate and Scientific Blogging columnist Carl Wieman, so I got to shake his hand and we talked about the next installment in his optimizing education series.

That's right, a Nobel laureate was quietly looking over student posters - without anyone else noticing, which says something is very wrong about who we idolize in mass culture - when I stumbled across him.   So, if you are reading this and had one there, take comfort that Carl Wieman is a guy walking the walk about students and improving education.

There were lots of other quality talks today but it's an unfortunate circumstance in a schedule that full that they will be in competition with each other - though that's a pretty good problem to have at a conference like this.

Tomorrow morning it's back to California and the real world.