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Rumors July 18, 2010

Posted by gordonwatts in Critical Thinking, Gossip, Higgs, Rumors.
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Who doesn’t love a little gossip every now and then? Tommaso, as is usual for his style, started one the other day – that the Tevatron claims to have seen a light standard model Higgs. For whatever the reasons (both positive and negative) this one caught like wildfire. You know its big when it shows up on this site!

But to make this really work – and I mean really work in that rumors provide some sort of science payback – you need a conversation. Someone has to say the rumor (to start it). Then someone else picks it up and perhaps spreads it. But then people want to join in on the conversation. For example – “there is no way that can be true because of x, y, and z”, and then someone else says “ah – but you forgot that x can be zero, and if that happens then y and z don’t matter, and this becomes possible once more! Ha!” And so on.

That part of the rumor and gossip conversation I do consider useful. For one thing, it makes the gossipers smarter. Assembling the set of critical arguments to work out the possibility that a rumor is true or not often takes some pretty deep knowledge of the field. And from this discussion new ideas can come as well. For example, I learned quite a bit by watching the gossip and speculation after the CDF forward muon results (shoot, I can’t find a link for that result!) and DZERO same sign asymmetric muon results were released.

Which brings me to the real reason I’m writing this result. That conversation. Currently I see it on Facebook. Seriously! In my circle of friends there are a bunch of experimentalists and theorists who get into some pretty serious discussions using nothing more than one or two lines of text – or perhaps a paragraph. It is excellent. Facebook does an excellent job of re-creating the water cooler – a bunch of people standing around. Though it is better – even if you have to be busy in a meeting or teaching a class you can skip out and rejoin the conversation and read up on what everyone said! This style of conversation is also very important for someone like me: who is constantly traveling and can’t always drop by an office to catch up on the latest.

Before Facebook this happened mostly in blog comments. It still does, and the quality is quite high there, but it seems like it moves more slowly. How about twitter? I did a search over there, and there is lots of chat. But the quality level is pretty low – it is mostly people riffing of the idea or pointers to articles, etc. Are there other places people discuss this sort of thing, but at a physics level? Or perhaps better ways to use tools like twitter to find good conversation? Where else do these conversations occur in the modern digital world?

Favorite Higgs joke seen on twitter. 🙂

P.S. It is almost impossible for me to participate in this particular rumor/gossip because I am an active member of DZERO, one of the two Tevatron experiments. No matter what I say, I’m screwed. So, best not to say anything. Sorry if you came to this post expecting something else!