Saturday, July 14, 2012

Summing Up the Higgs

Steven Weinberg, writing about the discovery of the Higgs boson in the New York Times:
"On a longer time scale, the advance of technology will reflect the coherent picture of nature we are now assembling. At the end of the 19th century physicists in England were exploring the properties of electric currents passing through a near vacuum. Although this was pure science, it led to our knowledge of the electron, without which a large part of today’s technology would be impossible. If these physicists had limited themselves to work of obvious practical importance, they would have been studying the behavior of steam boilers."
Then there's this letter to the editor, from last week's Financial Times:
Sir, Am I alone in finding that the scientific community’s response to thetentative confirmation of the existence of the Higgs boson demonstrates science’s failure to sell itself well?

Science has to answer E.M. Forster’s critique that while science explained it would never give understanding. Responses that the Cern finding is comparable to the discovery of the structure of DNA are simply sheer speculation demonstrating a paucity of imagination about what science has achieved: in short, that the tale science has to tell is not one full of sound and fury about the possible implications but a tale of awe and wonder about the complexity and beauty of the natural world that has fundamentally changed the way people think – a tale which is comparable with, if not better than, anything that the artistic world has to offer. Scientists’ failure to understand and explain the significance of their own work suggests a need to get a better grip on reality.

Jonathan Osborne, Shriram Family Professor of Science Education, Graduate School of Education, Stanford University, CA, US

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