Science Tuesday: from the Higgs Boson to the ID Bozos….

The Higgs Boson

Ok, no 60 symbols video, though this one was pretty cool anyway. For a background, here is an interesting interview with Lisa Randal (Harvard University physics department) in the New York Times.

Of special interest to me is how the data is being crunched and how it is interpreted (Sean Carroll at Cosmic Variance):

The news from Geneva this morning is in. Essentials: what we’re seeing is pretty consistent with the existence of a Higgs boson around 123-126 GeV. The data aren’t nearly conclusive enough to say that it’s definitely there. But the LHC is purring along, and a year from now we’ll know a lot more.

It’s like rushing to the tree on Christmas morning, ripping open a giant box, and finding a small note that says “Santa is on his way! Hang in there!” The LHC is real and Santa is not, but you know what I mean. […]

Let’s put it this way: if we were testing a theory that everyone thought was wrong, rather than one that everyone thinks is right, nobody would take these results as strong indications that the idea was correct. We have a strong theoretical bias that the Higgs exists and is somewhere close to this mass range, so it’s completely reasonable to think that we are seeing hints (tantalizing ones!) that it’s there, but wait-and-see is still the right attitude.

Here is one of the charts (see another at the source). The plot is, roughly, “observations vs. energy level” with “energy level” on the x-axis

The bands represent “standard deviations away from the expected” with the idea that if there is an extreme spike at a given energy level, we could reject the null hypothesis that there is nothing special at that energy level. Note they are doing the calculations with two different kind of p-values: one p-value is “what is the probability that we could expect a spike AT THIS ENERGY LEVEL of this magnitude if there were nothing special about this energy level (the local statistic) and the other is “what is the probability that we’d expect a spike of this magnitude anywhere within these energy ranges”.

Of course the sigmas they are using:

ATLAS gives 3.6 sigma local significance, 2.3 sigma global significance; CMS gives 2.6 sigma local significance, 1.9 sigma global significance (although CMS points to about 124 GeV, while ATLAS points to about 126, which might be important).

Uh, don’t physicists usually lampoon biologists for using such wimpy significance levels? 🙂 Ok, ok, they have admitted that the data is inconclusive so far.

Biology/Life Science/Evolution

No, we (humans) aren’t the only animals that “share”:

Sharing food has widely been considered by scholars as a defining characteristic of human behavior. But a new study by Iowa State University anthropology professor Jill Pruetz now reports that chimpanzees from her Fongoli research site in Senegal also frequently share food and hunting tools with other chimps.

Co-authored by ISU anthropology graduate student Stacy Lindshield, their study is posted online in Primates and will be published in a future issue of the journal.

The researchers witnessed 41 cases of Fongoli chimpanzees willingly transferring either wild plant foods or hunting tools to other chimpanzees. While previous research by primatologists had documented chimps transferring meat among other non-relatives, this is the first study to document non-meat sharing behavior.

Oh noes! The chimps are socialists! 🙂 Ok, no politics……but I will discuss some stupidity.

Evidently some “intelligent design” types (“tarted up creationism”, according to Charles Krauthammer) got their feelings hurt when mathematician Jerry Shallit and biochemist Larry Moran gave a rather blunt (and accurate) critique of one of their videos. I was made aware of this here, and this is the ID whine here.

My beef: the ID people have done nothing to warrant being critiqued seriously.
Think of it this way: I have a Ph. D. in mathematics and a very modest publication record. But I’ve shown that I can do mathematics and get stuff accepted by the peer review process in mainstream journals.
Were I to write something up, say, on the Higgs Boson and present some off-the-wall conjecture as a model, I am plenty capable of putting the ideas in rather dense “mathematical sounding” language and ideas.

But no one would take my “contribution” seriously nor would anyone waste precious weeks to months of their professional time to comprehend what I wrote. Why? I’ve done nothing, absolutely nothing in that field what would warrant my being taken seriously.

Now were I to claim to have, say, found a non-trivial smooth knot with a trivial Jones polynomial, then yeah, someone would probably check my work, provided I didn’t claim that the example had a low number of crossings (these have already been checked).

My point: one has to establish some credibility in order to be taken seriously, and the ID proponents haven’t come within miles of doing that.
When they do something like: we predict that “you’ll find this line of mutations in this environment” or design a vaccine that works because of ID principles, then ok. Otherwise, they are merely crackpots in the park:


December 14, 2011 - Posted by | astronomy, biology, physics, religion, science, superstition

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