Why Scientists Hate ‘The God Particle’ July 5, 2012

Why Scientists Hate ‘The God Particle’

(This is a repost since the original article didn’t post correctly!)

Scientists are thrilled about the Higgs boson. But many of them are sick of that term “The God Particle.”

Sarah Pulliam Bailey summarizes the history of the term and how scientists (including Peter Higgs) aren’t fans of the misleading term.

The best big involves physicist Leon Lederman, who wrote in his book of the same name that he intended to call it “The Goddamn Particle” but wasn’t allowed to:

This boson is so central to the state of physics today, so crucial to our final understanding of the structure of matter, yet to elusive, that I have given it a nickname: The God Particle. Why God Particle? Two reasons. One, the publisher wouldn’t let us call it the Goddamn Particle, though that might be a more appropriate title, given its villainous nature and the expense it is causing. And two, there is a connection, of sorts, to another book, a much older one…

The nickname is silly now, anyway. Unlike god, we now have pretty solid evidence that the Higgs boson actually exists.

Image via @vihartvihart

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • ortcutt

    Religious pandering is a plague in popular science writing.  I don’t know who is to blame for this, the editors or authors who want to sell books to our sadly religious-fanatical population.   If popular science writers want to buy beach houses with their royalties, they should find an honest way of doing it that doesn’t sow confusion among the public.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    “Free Higgs” – as if. The LHC cost billions of Euros.

  • DoctorDJ

    I heard Lederman talk at a physics colloquium not long after the book came out. He quite clearly blamed his editor/publisher for the title, with the sole purpose of being more provocative (and thereby increasing sales).

  • ortcutt

    It’s a little disingenuous to blame his editor/publisher when he ultimately has control over the content of books that have his name on the cover.  Popular science authors need to take some responsibility. 

  • Stev84

    Now that there is evidence for the Higgs boson it really can’t be called “god particle” anymore

  • Dylan

     I don’t think you really understand how much control publishers actually have over their writers’ work. Unless that writer is publishing himself, the publisher can basically just refuse to publish unless the language is changed, giving them the ultimate decision on the content.

  • Patterrssonn

    We’re not talking about Salman Rushdie here.

  • 3lemenope

    LOL. I think they mean free as in liberated, not free as in beer.

  • Lance

    Well the thing is with god and science is that god can neither be proven nor disproven, but the acts that are claimed to come from god can be proven or disproven. The discovery of this particle will not destroy religion, it couldn’t. I’m not certain here, but the connection between the Higgs boson and the big bang is still “Theoretical Physics”, as it can never be known for sure.

  • ortcutt

    Authors need to push back and if necessary refuse to publish the book if unacceptable demands are made.  The problem is that authors don’t push back because they think that a little religious pandering is harmless puffery.  The public’s bizarre inferences of religious implications from the discovery of the Higgs Boson prove that is is far from harmless.

  • Jose Reyes

    I SERIOUSLY dislike the term. A local newspaper published an article about the Higgs boson today online, calling it “god particle” and everyone was commenting that it wa stupid that science had to prove it, because “of course god exists.”

  • God can’t be disproven. But it might be possible to prove the existence of a god (with at least as much confidence as anything can be proven to exist).

  • “God particle” is a poor term, mainly because of the confusion is creates amongst non-specialists.

    All the same, there’s something attractive about reducing God to a mindless quantum field, that serves only to make things ponderous.

  • Well, first we kinda have to DEFINE what we mean when we say “a god”. And anything less than a “SOURCE OF ALL THERE  IS” suddenly drops it back into the realm of natural science, versus supernatural. It might appear “god-like”, but so did cargo planes to South Pacific islanders.

  • jdm8

    Higgs is the Pope particle.  That’s because Higgs gives mass.

  • And I am sure his agent was ALL FOR IT, because of the increase in sales that it might generate. The publisher and the agent would both see nothing but $$$$ at stirring the pot with a controversial title (after all, there is no such thing as bad PR– and if you don’t believe me, ask yourself this– everyone STILL references this book originally published in 1993, but can you name off the top of your head the THIRD book he published…? Unless you are in the field, the answer will most likely be NO.) with no regard to the ramifications to the author, or even the scientific community. When the bottom line is to sell as many books as possible (make as much money as possible) integrity and truth in advertising kinda hit the side of the road.

  • True. But “God” as in the Abrahamic one usually under discussion here could have its existence proven. Whether it could convince us it has actually existed forever and was the only god is another question.

  • Gunilla

    Many years ago tw colleauges and I wrote  an article for th company journal,  give the company some cred. After the editors werethrough with it it was so far from reality one ofmy cllegue andme refused to stand as authors, So they published the dishonest text with the third colleage as single author. I an still very happy about my decision no to have that on my CV!

  • MariaO

    My pet hobbyhorse for harmful scientific entities is “chaos theory”. What a crop of strange new age theores the mere name has created, when its just a cute name for the behavior of systems of partial differential equations that do not fulfil the Cauchy-Kovalevaskaya border conditions.  

  • The Captain

    This is deeply naive.

    The publisher/author relationship is very similar to the movie director/producer relationship.  Sure the writer is the creative force driving the work, but it’s the publisher that is footing the bill, just like the producer. In many circumstances it’s the publisher/producer that has the actual rights to the work. Even if not, most times and advance has been given for the work, so either way the publisher probably has final say over content. 

    Now to say that the author should simply refuse to have a book published is easy to do when it’s not your reputation on the line. Even if the author has the legal right to stop publication (if advances where made, then probably not) they would cost the publisher looses on the book, which they never got. So just like a director that kills a mostly completed movie in a fight with a producer, the authors reputation would be so tainted that they would be lucky to find a future publisher to work with ever again.

  • HughInAz

    CERN announces discovery of Satan particle

  • raerants

     Does anyone here read Minimumble?
    (I promise this is not spam.)

  • Sindigo

    No, but I will now. Thanks for that, it’s awesome.

  • moo

    i’d like to know what y’all think of this article 🙂


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