January 31, 2008

Constructing construction of the LHC

Symmetry magazine has some good articles in their most recent issue. Which is another way of saying "there are some parts that aren't about the LHC." First, an article by Dennis Overbye about the wretched "God Particle" terminology. I think he arrives at the wrong conclusion (he says it's ok), but I admire the effort.

Physicists groan when they hear it referred to as the “God particle” in newspapers and elsewhere (and the temptation to repeat it, given science reporters’ desperate need for colorful phrases in an abstract and daunting field, is irresistible). Even when these physicists approve of what you have written about their craft, they grumble that the media are engaging in sensationalism, or worse.

Seriously dude. There is enough God in other places, lets keep science a nice pristine, hypoallergenic, god-free zone. Through stake-burnings and heavy sack beatings if necessary. This god particle business is really dragging down our atheist world conspiracy.

Secondly, is this weird blip about some lady studying the "anthropology of physicists." I kid you not. Anthropology, it seems to me, ran its course about 50 years ago. Once they finished off the idea of cultural, um, whatever we called the concept that it Europeans should take over third world nations and make them wear pants. And yet, despite our now-complete picture of human behavior, anthropologists continue to exist. Camping out in banana republics, publishing papers on how the introduction of plastic bags has impacted indigenous communities, and using the word "construct" in an incorrect social-sciences sense that annoys those of us with a grasp on the English language. After a term of anthropology as an undergrad we had heard so many accounts of trips to Papua New Guinea that we began to assume the constant influx of anthropologists there to observe its many diverse and isolated cultures was propping up the local economy. At one point I asked the professor whether any anthropologists had studied the culture of anthropologists working in Papua New Guinea -- the answer was yes. Why the field of did not self-destruct at that moment has eluded me.

But enough diversion. The woman observing particle physicists is about one step away from that.
“I’m interested in how social convention or custom enter the objective world of physics,” Roy says. For example, the use of “right-handed” and “lefthanded” to describe the parity of particles can be seen as a link from concrete, observed reality to the abstract workings of the mind...Roy also examines the assumptions made by particle physicists and the effects of those assumptions on their results. She is interested, for instance, in the criteria that the ATLAS Trigger Data Acquisition group use for deciding which particle collisions are interesting enough to record, and which to throw out.

There might be something to the first question, but the second is a technical one. Now if only we can find someone to tail the anthropologist, we could better understand her culture...