Friday, November 07, 2014

Particle Fever: nearly all good

I finally got around to watching all of Particle Fever. It’s great, and makes me all the happier that Fabiola Gianotti will be the new director. I fully agree with Peter Woit that “if you want to get someone turned on to high energy particle physics, or just convince a young person that a career in science is an attractive idea, the CERN footage in this film should do the job better than anything I’ve seen from even the highly competent CERN press office.” I don’t withdraw my complaint about how the director has spoken about the role of the LHC in physics more generally, but that’s a minor quibble given what a splendid job he’s done.

But I was intrigued to discover this comment from Woit:

“As for the really bad idea, it’s the introduction of the multiverse into the theory part of the film. Kaplan is shown claiming that the multiverse predicts a 140 GeV Higgs, based on this paper of Yasunori Nomura and Lawrence Hall (who was Arkani-Hamed’s advisor). This is at a time when there were experimental hints of a 140 GeV Higgs. After they went away, and the mass came out at 125 GeV, the “prediction” is forgotten, but a long segment still has Arkani-Hamed going on about the CC and arguing for the multiverse. Just before this segment though, Dunford the experimentalist is shown Skyping with the filmmaker, warning them “Don’t listen to theorists”. At the film showing, Kaplan and Arkani-Hamed were there and answered questions at the end. One of the first questions (not from me…) was from an audience member who asked why they had put the material about the multiverse in the film, even though it had no real link to the Higgs or the LHC experiments. Arkani-Hamed admitted that the 140 Gev prediction was tenuous, there was no “sharp” link of the multiverse to the Higgs, and that no way is now known to get predictions out of the multiverse idea or test it. Kaplan explained that the intention was to make an “experiential” film, focusing on what theorists were talking about and thinking about, without getting into really trying to fully explain the scientific issues. The problem with this is that the film comes through as promoting the Dimopoulos/Arkani-Hamed view that no SUSY means a multiverse, without showing any challenge to such an argument.”

I’m no expert, to understate absurdly, but Woit is, and it does rather sound as though there was a little bit of an agenda here. After all, everyone loves a good multiverse. Or do they? Watch this space.

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