At least they didn't call it the God particle. But that's about the only redeeming feature of Time's recent blurb on the Higgs. I don’t know whether Jeffrey Kluger at Time nominated the Higgs Boson as candidate for “person of the year” or someone assigned him the task of explaining why someone else thought it was a worthy, if weird choice. Here’s the result:
Take a moment to thank this little particle for all the work it does, because without it, you'd be just inchoate energy without so much as a bit of mass. What's more, the same would be true for the entire universe. It was in the 1960s that Scottish physicist Peter Higgs first posited the existence of a particle that causes energy to make the jump to matter. But it was not until last summer that a team of researchers at Europe's Large Hadron Collider — Rolf Heuer, Joseph Incandela and Fabiola Gianotti — at last sealed the deal and in so doing finally fully confirmed Einstein's general theory of relativity. The Higgs — as particles do — immediately decayed to more-fundamental particles, but the scientists would surely be happy to collect any honors or awards in its stead.
I don’t know if Kluger did any research or just made the whole thing up. His short piece bears little resemblance to anything I’ve heard from physicists. Many were clear last summer in explaining that the Higgs field is not responsible for most mass. And the idea that the Higgs confirmed Einstein's relativity? Where did that come from? And how can a fundamental particule decay into "more fundamental" particles? It’s a shame because in my experience high energy physicists are generous with their time and eager to try to help the public share in their excitement.
Scientific American blogger Michael Moyer apparently had a similar reaction to mine. This post points out errors in every single sentence of Time's blurb. I really enjoyed the post, since it addresses some of the most common misunderstandings about the Higgs, as well as some errors that I’d never seen until Kluger’s piece.
I don’t think Time's blurb had to be written by a physicist. But I think it should have been written by someone who at least made the effort to call a physicist or two. Journalists have written wonderful stories and books about particle physics. Nobel Dreams by Gary Taubes is a classic. But it takes good research to pull it off.