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New Higgs Results Bring Relief—and Disappointment

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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Potential Higgs to photon decay event as seen by the CMS experiment at the LHC

Higgs to two-photon candidate event as seen by CMS in May 2012

This past July, physicists at the Large Hadron Collider announced that they had discovered a new particle that looked much like the long-sought-after Higgs boson. In fact, the Higgs-like particle they found was nearly perfect—based on the available data, it looked almost exactly like what the Standard Model of Particle Physics predicts the Higgs to look like. This finding gave physicists encouragement that they had finally bagged the elusive Higgs, but it fed the dread that the LHC won’t come up with any shocking new observations to puzzle over. For if physicists don’t find anything that conflicts with existing theories, how will we deepen our understanding?

This week physicists working at the LHC are sharing the first batch of Higgs data since that initial announcement. The LHC can’t observe the Higgs directly, of course, since it quickly decays into other fundamental particles. Instead, physicists must count up the number of particles that detectors observe and tease out those that may have come from a momentarily existent Higgs. If the Standard Model is correct, physicists know how many of these daughter particles they should see. Any deviation from these expected numbers would indicate that something is happening beyond the Standard Model.

Alas, most of the Higgs results being presented this week at the Hadron Collider Physics symposium in Kyoto, Japan, have been well within our standard understanding. Physicists at ATLAS and CMS, the two largest particle detectors at the LHC, have about double the amount of data they did in July; this new data hasn’t dramatically changed the tentative conclusion that the LHC is seeing a plain-old Standard Model Higgs.

To be sure, these are still early days, and with time and data physicists could learn that the Higgs differs from Standard Model predictions, or even that there’s more than one Higgs to be found.

And that’s also not to say the new results lack intrigue. In July, physicists found that the Higgs decays into two photons slightly more often than it was expected to. Could this have been a hint of new physics? Possibly. It could also just have been a statistical blip that would wash away in the coming flood of data. But while ATLAS and CMS physicists have this week updated their results for many other Higgs decays, on the question of photon decay they have chosen to remain silent. This week, the most tantalizing observation is the one that doesn’t exist.

Image courtesy CMS/CERN

About the Author: Michael Moyer is the editor in charge of space and physics coverage at Scientific American. Follow on Twitter @mmoyr.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. jtdwyer 7:23 pm 11/14/2012

    Nicely informative posting with plenty of links – thanks!

    However, because of all the initial hyperbole about the ’5-sigma’ certainty that the Higgs boson had been dicsovered, I have to question the veracity of the statements:
    “In fact, the Higgs-like particle they found was nearly perfect—based on the available data, it looked almost exactly like what the Standard Model of Particle Physics predicts the Higgs to look like.”

    As pointed out later, only expected decay products indicate the potential presence of a new candidate Higgs boson particle. There really isn’t sufficient information available to indicate how these candidate Higgs bosons interact with other particles to impart mass. Until that can be determined, there isn’t really any direct validation of the hypothesized Higgs mechanism, is there?

    Link to this
  2. 2. Torbjörn Larsson, OM 9:24 pm 11/14/2012

    Not surprising no surprise.

    @ jtdwyer:

    It is no hyperbole that the certainty is 5 sigma and that it is enough to claim the particle expected from the Higgs mechanism. So that is a reasonably safe assumption. It is the whether the decay pattern tests a standard Higgs or something else Higgs that is outstanding precisely because these observations are used to make the 5 sigma observation and isn’t 5 sigma by themselves.

    As the last referenced Strassler says:

    “You see there are four bumps, one in each plot, and they are all lying within a GeV of one another. The chance of this is obviously very small. You can imagine one, or even two perhaps, of the bumps is due to a mistake or a fluke, but to have both experiments have two mistakes or flukes that sit in the same location is very, very unlikely. In fact, to have even two bumps in the same location is unlikely. In short, both experiments have strong evidence, and thus each one can be viewed as confirming the other.”

    “No matter how you slice and dice this data, it looks good. And additional confidence comes from the fact that these measurements (unlike those from last December) were done with the signal region near 125 GeV blinded, until a couple of weeks before the announcement.”

    “It is the fact that we have four clean bumps, one from each of the easy searches by the two experiments, that gives me, and everyone else in the field, confidence that a new particle has been discovered — one that is consistent with a Higgs.”

    He has also a companion article where he goes through all the related tests passed that heightens his personal confidence:

    “All I’m telling you today is that I’d personally be very surprised if this were not a Higgs particle of some type. If you accept this point of view (and you shouldn’t do so without thinking it over and remembering the loopholes), then the next question is: is this an example of a simplest Higgs, or is it an example of a more complicated Higgs?”

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  3. 3. Torbjörn Larsson, OM 9:31 pm 11/14/2012

    I forgot: “There really isn’t sufficient information available to indicate how these candidate Higgs bosons interact with other particles to impart mass.”

    Here you invert the idea of a theory. It is the predictions out of the mechanism that are tested, and that includes the observed boson (and there may be more).

    You are describing how to make a theory in the first place. But knowing a mechanism “how … to impart mass” isn’t the same as testing the predictions out of such a mechanism.

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  4. 4. rloldershaw 9:45 pm 11/14/2012

    Prior to the start-up of the LHC, the possibility of finding nothing appreciable beyond the standard model of particle physics was called “The Nightmare Scenario” because that meant the most of the theoretical attempts over the last 40 years to explain the shortcomings of the standard model (e.g., string theory and supersymmetry, etc.) were misguided.

    The main problems with the standard model of particle physics are:

    1. The Standard Model is primarily a heuristic model with 26-30 fundamental parameters that have to be “put in by hand”.

    2. The Standard Model did not and cannot predict the masses of the fundamental particles that make up all of the luminous matter that we can observe.

    3. The Standard Model did not and cannot predict the existence of the dark matter that constitutes the overwhelming majority of matter in the cosmos. The Standard Model describes heuristically the “foam on top of the ocean”.

    4. The vacuum energy density crisis clearly suggests a fundamental flaw at the very heart of particle physics. The VED crisis involves the fact that the vacuum energy densities predicted by particle physicists (microcosm) and measured by cosmologists (macrocosm) differ by up to 120 orders of magnitude (roughly 10^70 to 10^120, depending on how one ‘guess-timates’ the particle physics VED).

    5. The conventional Planck mass is highly unnatural, i.e., it bears no relation to any particle observed in nature, and calls into question the foundations of the quantum chromodynamics sector of the Standard Model.

    6. Many of the key particles of the Standard Model have never been directly observed. Rather, their existence is inferred from secondary, or more likely, tertiary decay products. Quantum chromodynamics is entirely built on inference, conjecture and speculation. It is too complex for simple definitive predictions and testing.

    7. The standard model cannot include gravitation which is the most fundamental and well-tested interaction of the cosmos.

    Clearly it is time for a new approch to understanding nature. Almost certainly this will involve expanding the set of fundamental geometrical symmetries of nature. Time to seriously question the old and poorly tested assumptions of the past like strict reductionism and an absolute value of G for all scales of the discrete hierarchical cosmos.

    Time to study nature, not Platonic abstractions.

    Robert L. Oldershaw
    Discrete Scale Relativity
    Fractal Cosmology

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  5. 5. Laroquod 2:05 am 11/15/2012

    Which unifying theories is this bad for again?

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  6. 6. ottokrog 2:49 am 11/15/2012

    Last year in december the statistics on the Higss particle was 3 sigma. That is not enough to call it a scientific discovery. The July verdict was a 5 sigma, which is a close to 100 % discovery. But that 5 sigma was only that there is a particle, not on the qualities that is necessary to call it the Real Higgs particle. I don’t think that statistics on the qualities has changed much since last december, but I cannot say, because the media does not write about it, or at least I haven’t read it.

    My prediction is still that the qualities of the Higgs particle, necessary to prove the standard model right, will not reach 5 sigma. The simple argument is that these qualities do not exist.

    The standard model in its formative states, concluded that there is no mass. That sounded weird to Peter Higgs, and therefore he mathematically predicted the Higgs particle.

    I think that the standard model is right, when it comes to the conclusion of no mass. I, as Einstein did in his older days, think that everything, including gravity, can be explained through electromagnetism. On top of that I think that above the force of electromagnetism there must be a force that we do not know, yet.

    I have a videopresentation on my blog, that explains this in details. But beware I am no physicist, I am a philosopher using physics to make my point.

    Link to this
  7. 7. jctyler 9:48 am 11/15/2012

    If physicists would say that the search/dream/quest is useful, good enough. It is. But to keep pretending it exists simply to uphold the illusion is counterproductive. There is very probably a boson managing mass production but THERE IS NO MASSIVE BOSON.

    IOW the mechanism described is illogical therefore the Higgs does not exist.

    That the guy who prefers to roast in the sun instead of pelting his wife one has resigned on his bet is not a proof either.

    Social comparison bias and the dependence on gold-filled subsidy troughs has blinded the field.

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  8. 8. jtdwyer 10:20 am 11/15/2012

    I should have better explained what I meant by the announcement hyperbole. If you search for “higgs 5-sigma” you’ll find a few good explanations of what that really implies, such as:

    You’ll also find many news articles and blog reports generally claiming that the the Higgs boson has definitely been discovered, with a 99.99994 percent probability.

    As explained previously, the 5-sigma applies only to the probability that the two photon particle detections were not the product of ambient detector noise.

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  9. 9. vulvox 2:56 pm 11/15/2012

    the silence is deafening

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  10. 10. jctyler 2:56 pm 11/15/2012

    Leaving aside my personal POV, may I interpret your post to say that:

    - 5-sigma definitely excludes that whatever was detected was the result of noise? (so what else is new? that there are even smaller/more/unknown particles out there?)

    - this exclusion does NOT mean that whatever was detected was the Higgs?

    - within the quest for the Higgie, and cutting through the “hyperbole”, that this much quoted near-certainty proves – nothing? at least not as far as the Higgs proper is concerned?

    - in the end we are as near to the Higgs as we were donkey’s years ago?

    Ah, but the salaries, the toys, the plush offices… just hoping that Peter H. gets at least an annual month-long all-bells vacation from the GAC-EPA.

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  11. 11. voyager 3:26 pm 11/15/2012

    English major apologizes: I can’t find any place on line catering to the scientific curiosity of non-scientists. Sci Am is the closest I can come, but these discussions are in large part a few notches beyond my ken level, so the questions I have are likely at what you folks consider kindergarten level. If somebody has time on hand and a teacherly instinct to help, I’d appreciate it.

    Several decades ago, there was general satisfaction at light’s curving around an eclipsed mass, confirming Einstein. Today, there’s general disappointment when the LHD data confirms or nearly confirms the existence of the calculated particle, or something else like it that confers mass.

    The bent light didn’t indicate there was physics beyond Einstein’s theory. Why is there dismay that the LHD data doesn’t indicate physics beyond the standard model?

    Thanks for listening and maybe responding.

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  12. 12. Mythusmage 4:16 pm 11/15/2012

    What if the Higgs Boson is only Aether reborn” Something we expect to find, so we find it? What if all particles are but illusions rising from patterns which arise from lesser illusions, till, finally, we get down to the fundamental object, and that turns out to be the stuff the universe is made up in an alternate state?

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  13. 13. jctyler 6:35 pm 11/15/2012


    “Today, there’s general disappointment when the LHD data confirms or nearly confirms the existence of the calculated particle, or something else like it that confers mass.”

    Your “or” makes it sound as if there was a negligible difference between “confirms” and “nearly confirms”. The “nearly” makes ALL the difference. The Higgs is either confirmed beyond the shadow of a doubt or it isn’t. And confirmation starts at the “five-sigma level of certainty”. Anything less than that you’re no good.

    The only thing confirmed here is that there is “something” that does not result from noise. But this something does not confirm that there is a Higgs.

    “Why is there dismay that the LHD data doesn’t indicate physics beyond the standard model?”

    The Higgs would confirm the standard model. So they need desperately to find it else their standard model starts to look shaky.

    But if they can’t prove their standard mode, the SM guys are bolted. It their guiding light in the uncharted seas of ultimate physics. Take that away from then and they won’t know which way to swim. Way, way out at sea… that sinking feeling… scary, no?

    English major, eh? My non-native-English English making sense?

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  14. 14. jtdwyer 9:50 pm 11/15/2012

    I strongly suggest that you read the references I’ve provided, as I am certainly no physicist. I’ll try to respond:

    “5-sigma definitely excludes that whatever was detected was the result of noise? (so what else is new? that there are even smaller/more/unknown particles out there?) …”

    As I understand, at hadron collision energies of 125 and 126 GeV for CMS and ATLAS experiments’ detectors, respectively, expected boson decay products (pairs of photons) were detected, with 99.99994% certainty that those signals were not produced by ambient background noise. As I understand, those energies at which the expected decay products were detected are the energies which theory predicted that Higgs bosons should be produced.

    However, as I understand, that is essentially all that is known about those events. This does not definitively confirm the Higgs mechanism that is proposed to impart mass to selected particles (I’ve got my own ideas about that – I’ll spare you for now). At the very best, it might eventually be determined from these experiments that the Higgs boson was produced as the disintegrating particle’s mass was dissipated (which IMO may be correct) which, as I understand, theory predicts.

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  15. 15. jtdwyer 9:52 pm 11/15/2012

    - The preceding comment was intended as a reply to jctyler (11)…

    Link to this
  16. 16. voyager 11:02 pm 11/15/2012

    Thanks for throwing light at the lower rungs of this subject. A big help. I’m sure there will be a next time, and hope there’ll be responses then too. There must be other non-scientists out there who get as flummoxed and frustrated as I do.

    Link to this
  17. 17. jctyler 6:36 am 11/16/2012


    “those energies at which the expected decay products were detected are the energies which theory predicted that Higgs bosons should be produced”

    Yes, so?

    “However, as I understand, that is essentially all that is known about those events. This does not definitively confirm the Higgs mechanism”


    What I said.

    Link to this
  18. 18. jctyler 6:51 am 11/16/2012

    jtdwyer: maybe it helps if I rewrite my post to which you responded but without the question marks and the personal asides:

    “If I understand correctly what you (jtd in comment nr 1) said, and I would agree with that:

    - 5-sigma definitely excludes that whatever was detected was the result of noise;

    - this exclusion does NOT mean that whatever was detected was the Higgs.

    This means that within the quest for the Higgs the last announcement from CERN only reconfirms that they have found something unknown that is not noise but that this is not the Higgs either. It is only an n repeat of what we have heard before and that in the end we are as near to the Higgs as we were twenty years ago.”

    I’ll summarize my personal asides in my first reply as “a lot of scientists incapable of intelligent creative out-of-the-box thinking now reduced to clinging to those straws that hang off the money train”.

    IOW I agree with and confirm your comment.

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  19. 19. mntmn3 5:19 pm 11/21/2012

    This is quite an “evolving” article. It goes from calling the experiment results “a new particle that looked much like the long-sought-after Higgs boson” to “the Higgs-like particle” to “Higgs data” to “the Higgs”. Something that looked like the Higgs to “the Higgs”. Sloppy is as sloppy does.

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  20. 20. mounthell 2:29 pm 11/22/2012

    @voyager, in my opinion, the Higgs search is a sociological phenomenon in which, generally, the physics tribe is looking for evidence of new pathways in particle and astrophysics. Not finding such avenues is dismaying.

    If the standard model prevails it means that nature is dynamically stratified by domains, and that mass and energy are emergent properties (as some us suspect and are finding in other domains).

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  21. 21. Zephir_AWT 5:39 am 11/23/2012

    I can explain the nature of this problem illustratively with water surface model of space-time. At the water surface the particles are represented with Russel’s solitons, which are formed with mutual interference of transverse and longitudinal waves in different ratio. Supersymmetry considers the existence of solitons formed in similar way but inverted ratio. Such a particles correspond the Falaco solitons which are formed at the water surface too, but in the underwater. But when you observe the smallest density fluctuations, like the Brownian noise (analogy of Higgs field), then the character of both types of solitons converges mutually and these these solitons don’t differ each other anymore. It results into blow of theories, like the SUSY, which predict the dual version of each solitons at the water surface. Supersymmetry appears broken heavily with extradimensions at the Higgs boson energy density scale. Actually the only particles similar to SUSY models are neutrinos, which are superpartner of photons.

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  22. 22. vulvox 3:09 pm 11/24/2012

    cant believe the good news, the standard model is alive.

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  23. 23. buddhacosmos 8:02 pm 11/24/2012

    What an IDIOT! the Higg’s Boson was a search for support for the Standard Theory. They found it. Revolutionary Science in itself. Now this commentator says Oh! Big Deal! NOthing New! In science we like to have proof for our theory. And by this research we can find out more about what we DO know! thiss idiot is like, nothing in science is interesting unless it overturns everything we know. If science continually DID THIS, what would be the point of research. Certainly not real knowledge. Seems for Michael Moyer as a technician? is more interested in something new, even if it’s imaginary, rather than real knowledge and sound theory.

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  24. 24. debu 10:28 pm 11/24/2012

    Durgadas Datta published some revolutionary papers in ASTRONOMY.NET in year 2002 and circulated to all leading scientists in the world to consider the effect of ether which he called gravitoetherton soup or as dark energy and calculate and modify standard model. How can you look at new findings with an old standard model based on wrong relativity and quantum physics. We have been sleeping from theoretical front and experiments gone ahead to show us wrong today.Now no hook or crook but a new understanding beyond Einstein,Newton and Bohr ,Schrodinger,Feynman model quantum physics can be developed based on ideas of Durgadas Datta where he proposes new atomic model of balloon inside balloon charge theory with dark energy inside and outside atom having neutron at common center rejecting the requirements of strong and weak nuclear forces etc etc.His balloon inside balloon theory of matter and antimatter universe on opposite entropy path producing dark energy or gravitoethertons at common boundary by annihilation and injected into our universe etc etc with new atomic model perfectly works well with scattering and other effects to be developed further. Now have patience and develop new physics beyond Einstein and others to understand phenomena in a non isotropic gravitoetherton soup electric charge -magnetic universe due to mono magnetic coupling of gravitoethertons. Think different and think ahead and do not be in a hurry at this critical hour of new physics. May God bless you.

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  25. 25. kienhua68 11:05 pm 11/24/2012

    Once all this Higgs hoopla has subsided, what do we do
    next in the quest to solidify the theory?
    Is the experiment repeatable?
    Though exciting, none of it is ready for prime time yet.

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  26. 26. Plain-2009 2:08 am 11/25/2012

    It is still not quite entirely clear (to me)but it is quite interesting. The search should continue (in all fronts). Congratulations! We feel proud of you!

    Link to this
  27. 27. europamoon100 7:50 am 11/25/2012

    The accumulated experimental data on the Higgs Boson is supporting the previous theoretical work.
    Michael Moyer (the author of the article) is NUTS if he thinks that this is a cause for dismay for anyone, including physicists. What else is the matter with you? You are trying to attract attention with crazy statements?

    Physicists have done repeated experiments of different kinds that have done the following:
    1. Confirmed and reconfirmed Einstein’s Theory of Special Relativity.
    2. Confirmed and reconfirmem Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity (which includes gravitation).
    3. Firmly dismissed the notion that there is some “aether” that permeates everything and carries electromagnetic waves.

    All of these confirmations have been a source of joy and satisfaction, and NOT dismay.
    What fantasy makes you think that there should be, Mr. Moyer?

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  28. 28. iWind 9:11 am 11/25/2012


    I think the journalistic references to disappointment are somewhat exaggerated, but the point is that the standard model doesn’t explain “everything,” and physicists would like some day to have a theory that describes “everything.” Basically the Standard Model explains everything that can be observed in a laboratory, except for gravity. In addition to gravity, some cosmological effects may be, or are beyond the standard model.

    For many years, much of the particle physics research has been focused on checking predictions of theories that already had other data to support them, and as far as the Standard Model is concerned, the main piece remaining to be confirmed is the Higgs particle.

    If the newly discovered particle behaves exactly as would be expected according to the Standard Model, it means that first, it gives no hints at what kind of theory might be useful for a more complete description, and second, without some idea of what kind of more complete theory may be right, it’s hard to say what kind of experiment to perform to test it. Would a slightly more powerful accelerator tell us something new? Even just an upgrade to the LHC? Would we need an accelerator the size of the Milky Way? Can it be tested in some completely different way? Without some data to point at something beyond the Standard Model it’s impossible to say what is needed. Well, some other data may come along and hint at the right theories to test.

    Don’t worry about the discussions being beyond your level – most of the commenters here don’t have a clue, no matter how many reams they write.

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  29. 29. Miguel Orozco 12:04 pm 11/25/2012

    We got the time to accept, find another physics or continue persevering in wanting to understand the new discoveries with incomplete and obsolete theories?All this incomprehensible proceed for maintain the “status quo”, demonstrar our fear by leaving the comfort zone and avoid all discovery to demonstrating the inconsistency of establecido.Como knowledge for example, to dispose of without any scientific justification of weight, to the light neutrino widely documented by OPERA at CERN, but aceptting without any objection, the proposal speculative of the Higgs bosson. We most to listen, the scream of two photons.

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  30. 30. heelanp 10:39 pm 11/25/2012

    Very interesting conversation … I learned a lot! Patrick

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  31. 31. debu 12:04 am 11/26/2012

    Dr.Europamoon100 is misunderstood by some reports that ideas of Einstein in special relativity has been tested by gravity probe-B and found correct. But Einstein has not been tested beyond our solar system. Durgadas Datta published a paper -Misjudgement by Newton and Einstein in ASTRONOMY.NET in year 2002 to announce that our universe is non isotropic gravitoetherton soup and at large distances neither Newton nor Einstein is valid. Ether is not rejected because this is dark energy . Let us go beyond Einstein and Newton . Revolution in physics will come from experiments in CERN.

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  32. 32. dipayankar 1:19 am 11/26/2012

    I am slightly worried that they say the Higgs Boson decays very quickly. If the very basic particle decays, it should take a long time to decay. Why should it decay in a very short period of time?

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  33. 33. jtdwyer 7:30 am 12/2/2012

    jctyler – Thanks for explaining in comment #19 – I think we are in agreement. Sorry for my earlier misunderstanding of your comments.

    So, I think it’s fair to say that a new boson has been discovered that initially appears to be a potential candidate Higgs boson – to be determined at a later time. IMO, this is a far cry from the typical science journalists’ news reports indicating: ‘The the Higgs boson has definitively been discovered – with absolute certainty!!!!!’

    IMO this may in fact turn out to be the manifestation of disintegrated particle mass binding energy, but even then it will not prove that particle mass was imparted to selected particles as described by the Higgs mechanism.

    Link to this

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