How science works: the Higgs particle, and neutrinos that aren’t really faster than light

I didn’t really blog about the exciting Higgs boson verification* a couple of weeks ago. I was too busy reading about it myself, and was also on a work trip.

But it is thrilling. It’s exceedingly strong experimental support for a subatomic particle that was the missing piece of the Standard Model. It’s one more piece in the jigsaw we’re assembling about how the universe came to be and how it works. (But it’s clear we’re going to need more than just the Standard Model.)

I think the recent discovery is just as important as a public illustration of how science works: posit a theory that fits the facts, then go about trying to prove and disprove it.

And the Higgs wasn’t the only newsworthy item that happened at CERN this year to demonstrate this. Remember the big news several months ago that experimental results showed that neutrinos were travelling faster than the speed of light, which nothing should be able to do according to Einstein’s theory of relativity? Those results have since been shown to be incorrect: there was a cable loose somewhere. This guest post on the Freakonomics blog spells it all out really well.

Checking and re-checking: that’s how science works.

If you want more on the Higgs, I really like the way this guy explains what the discovery means.

*Pretty much. Within 5 standard deviations.