Just before 3 p.m. on Wednesday, June 20, 2012, the elusive Higgs boson made science history: it topped the list of trending Twitter topics -- all because of a flurry of rumors that began on a handful of physics blogs, and quickly spread to media outlets.
It started when physics blogger Peter Woit of Not Even Wrong posted a short item:
Reliable rumors couldn’t wait, and they indicate that the experiments are seeing much the same thing as last year in this year’s new data: strong hints of a Higgs around 125 GeV. The main channel investigated is the gamma-gamma channel where they are each seeing about a 4 sigma signal.
Translation: Both the ATLAS and CMS experiments at the Large Hadron Collider have detected signals that could very well be the Higgs boson in their latest data, right in the range where the LHC announced preliminary results last December.
Back then, ATLAS reported a 3.5 sigma signal, while CMS reported a 2.6 sigma signal.
This is not sufficient to warrant a declaration of discovery; you need a five-sigma signal or higher for that. But it was certainly a tantalizing hint.
The latest rumors center on a possible 4-sigma result -- very close to the threshold indeed. Cue Higgsmania!
All this has particle physicists a bit exasperated with all the hysteria -- like Matt Strassler, who noted that "the experimentalists can't possibly have their data in presentable form yet, so the rumors can't be correct in every detail."
"Please do not believe the blogs," Fabiola Gianotti, the spokeswoman for ATLAS, pleaded in an e-mail to theNew York Times' Dennis Overbye.
And Michael Schmitt of the Collider Blog questioned whether all these wild rumors floating about are really worth the extra blog traffic, given the grief they cause for colleagues:
As a member of the CMS Collaboration, I know precisely what we have. But my loyalty remains with my collaboration, especially the people who are working right now to carry out the analysis and verify the results, as well as to the people at the top who have to chart strategy and make difficult decisions. A little splash in a blog is not worth the bother it would cause all these people.
Whatever they are, the results will be announced at the International Conference on High Energy Physics, or ICHEP, in Melbourne, Australia, starting July 4. So, you know, chillax, people. We'll know one way or the other in just a few weeks.
In the meantime, I thought it would be fun to highlight some of my personal faves from those wags on Twitter having fun with the #HiggsRumors hashtag. Enjoy! (And you can buy the plushie Higgs boson pictured above here.)
— skullsinthestars (@drskyskull) June 20, 2012
— Matthew Francis (@DrMRFrancis) June 20, 2012
They say that if you stand in front of a mirror and scream "Higgs Boson!" three times, Feynman rises from the dead...TO FEED #HiggsRumors
— See Arr Oh (@SeeArrOh) June 20, 2012
The Council of Troyes originally sanctioned the Knights Templar in order to protect the secrets of the Higgs boson. #HiggsRumors
— Sean Carroll (@seanmcarroll) June 20, 2012
— Julianne Dalcanton (@dalcantonJD) June 20, 2012
ATLAS and CMS both beaten to Higgs detection by Chuck Norris #HiggsRumors
— Stephen Serjeant (@StephenSerjeant) June 20, 2012
On the Summer Solstice, you can balance a Higgs Boson on end. #HiggsRumors
— Tree Lobsters! (@treelobsters) June 20, 2012
During the "Luke, I'm your father" Star Wars scene, Higgs stood in as Vader's voice. Lucas thought it would "add more gravity." #HiggsRumors
— Dr. Ian O'Neill (@astroengine) June 20, 2012
The Higgs Boson is coming from INSIDE THE HOUSE! =80 #HiggsRumors
— arclight (@arclight) June 20, 2012
#HiggsRumors The Higgs boson is a liberal conspiracy to get the government more involved in mass.
— skullsinthestars (@drskyskull) June 20, 2012
Scientists found the Higgs boson decades ago...when it crashed in Roswell. #HiggsRumors
— Blake Stacey (@blakestacey) June 20, 2012
Higgs bosons found hiding among Fermilab bisons. #HiggsRumors
— Lori Ann White (@loriannwhite) June 20, 2012
The elusive Higgs particle has finally been found in an offshore Jersey bank account #HiggsRumors
— Neil Huggan (@hugan) June 20, 2012
The Higgs boson prowls the city at night as a masked vigilante. #HiggsRumors
— Frank Castle (@FCdeuterium) June 20, 2012
I heard the Higgs boson thinks Switzerland is just too expensive to visit #HiggsRumors
— Andy Hall (@TestTubeGames) June 20, 2012
The Higgs boson secretly sabotages your experiments when you're not looking. #HiggsRumors
— Unstable Isotope (@UnstableIsotope) June 20, 2012
The Higgs boson *does* give particles mass, except in North Carolina, where it is banned from doing so. #HiggsRumors
— Luke Dones (@lukedones) June 20, 2012
Jimmy Hoffa didn't die, he accidentally stepped into a particle accelerator and was transformed into Higgs bosons. #HiggsRumors
— Chemjobber (@Chemjobber) June 20, 2012
The God Particle actually is an atheist #HiggsRumors
— Tom Roud (@tomroud) June 20, 2012
Finding the Higgs is nice, but wait until the world finds out that I have a magnetic monopole in my closet. #HiggsRumors
— Mike Solontoi (@RocksInSpace) June 20, 2012