Higgs boson virtually discovered

This is one of the cases where the circumstantial evidence is overwhelmingly convincing – the gun has smoke and fingerprints, we saw the murderer buy it, we saw him take it with him, we know he was at the scene, and we know he wanted to pull the trigger, but we didn’t actually see him fire the gun:

To the layman, the Higgs boson is the “God particle” and a key puzzle piece in the scientific explanation of the origin of the universe. Physicists around the globe—and perhaps elsewhere, given the size of the universe—have invested billions of dollars in research and have been hunting for the Higgs boson for decades.

Researchers at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (or CERN) are expected to announce Wednesday that they have proof of its existence, reports The Associated Press.

The Higgs boson appeared 13.7 billion years ago in the chaos of the Big Bang and turned the flying debris into galaxies, stars and planets.

Its formal discovery, according to a broad scientific consensus, would be the greatest advance in knowledge of the universe in decades and a key to confirming the standard model of physics that explains what gives mass to matter and, by extension, how the universe was formed, according to the AP…

[S]cientists are in a bit of a quagmire, according to the AP. While they appear to have enough evidence to report the existence of the “God particle,” they still hedge on whether to report “a discovery.” It’s a fine line, indeed, but one that scientists will likely continue to debate.

“I agree that any reasonable outside observer would say, ‘It looks like a discovery,'” British theoretical physicist John Ellis, a professor at King’s College London who has worked at CERN since the 1970s, told The Associated Press. “We’ve discovered something which is consistent with being a Higgs.”

I’m actually not sure if my analogy does all this justice. They may be closer than any layman really knows. And since my whole thing is biology, I’m not going to bother trying to dissect it all. I will, however, be ready to post whatever great explanations I do find on this. (I’m look at you, Ethan Siegel.)

Well, that was interesting

I recently praised PZ for finally looking to shed his extra pounds. Aside from his lack of health being disrespectful to his own body, he runs the chance of leaving his loved ones behind too early – and for no good reason. I stand by that praise, and even though I am fully aware that it comes across as if I am just trying to insult a fat guy, I do genuinely mean it.

Unfortunately, PZ doesn’t see it that way. In the comment section of the post that inspired what I wrote, things took an ugly turn. I presented my argument that it is wrong to not try to be healthy. The first reaction – and it is always the first reaction – is to say I think it is wrong to be fat. I don’t. The issue is with putting forth an honest effort to be healthy. The results are not important, morally speaking. And just as I did in my post about obesity, I allowed for a huge swath of caveats. Some people have conditions which prevent them from putting forth the same effort as others. Other people work long hours and have to take care of children at the end of the day. Still other people have limited access to healthy food. It would be unreasonable to expect everyone to be able to put forth the same effort. That doesn’t mean, though, that it is magically impossible for people to attempt all they can – there is almost always a better choice available on the grocery store shelves – but I fully acknowledge that it can be difficult. I always have.

This, unfortunately, led to an extended discussion on poor people and food stamps. Apparently I hate them all because I don’t want to subsidize lobsters. The truth is, welfare funds are a limited resource. If we allow people to spend money on expensive items, they will have less for what they actually need. I saw this first hand while working at a grocery store in high school. People would use the last of their food stamps regularly on $30-70 worth of lobster. I can think of far better ways to use those funds.

The “counter” (if you can call it that) to this argument is that people get X amount of dollars and so it doesn’t matter how they spend them. (Oh, and I don’t think poor people deserve nice things, apparently.) This is a patently stupid argument. If I am given $200 a month for food and I need $300, $100 is coming from my pocket. However, if I buy luxury items, that eats into what I have been given. That means I will get one nice meal, but that might add another $30 to what comes out of my wallet. This does not help the poor; it allows some people to abuse their funds, forcing them to stay on welfare longer. That is, nobody is going to get back on their feet by spending money on things they don’t need at the expense of things they do need.

And, of course, this all means I must be a Ron Paul-loving, Reagan-blowing libertarian Republican. Right. No, my position is a utilitarian one. Welfare funds are not unlimited. It doesn’t make sense to allow them to be used to buy anything under the Sun. In fact, PZ and co are in the minority in what they think. Most states restrict the use of food stamps on some items (such as expensive energy drinks), and certainly no state allows the funds to be used for restaurants. And the states are right to do so. But what’s really interesting about this is that PZ and everyone else, once we get past the government intervention, is kicking into uber-libertarian mode. “Who are YOU to say what people should buy?!” Right. I’m the libertarian here.

The end result has been a ban. I suppose I’m okay with this. After all, throughout my Maloney troubles, PZ never responded to a single email or request for help. He, of course, is not required to do so, but let’s not be coy. I have disagreed with his rampant sexism in recent months, so he has no interest in helping me fight junk science. Emotion overrides logic here; if I never commented on his site, he would have been the first to help me. Besides that, the majority of his posts have nothing to do with atheism anymore. Sure, he has those spammy “Why I am an atheist” posts that have given my scrolling finger a good workout, but he mostly writes about feminism and stupid Internet polls. Overall I have still enjoyed him, but that is happening less and less each day. Without the writing he had as of a few years ago, I don’t care for much of what he has to say anymore. I’ll stick with Jerry Coyne, Friendly Atheist, and Starts With A Bang! for my big name bloggers.

At any rate, I hope PZ does manage to lose the excess fat he has. He’s older and has had health issues, so I don’t expect fantastic results, but I’m happy he is at least trying. After all, that’s all that matters.

Scale of the Universe

There’s an amazing interactive application I just came across which shows the scale of the Universe. It ranges from strings up to the entirety of the Cosmos (i.e., beyond merely what we can observe). Give it some time to look through all the graphics; it’s pretty mind boggling.

via Starts With A Bang.

Starts With A Bang

Starts With A Bang is yet another great offering from Scienceblogs.com. Its author’s posts are always excellent and easily worth my time. (That author being Ethan Siegel, by the way.) I added the link to my blogroll last week and that turned out to be a very good decision. I’ve been going to his site more frequently as a result and learning quite a bit in a short period of time. Definitely check it out.

A second chance to see the Aurora Borealis

It’s still possible to see the northern lights tonight, so I hear. I just took a look with somewhat clear skies, but I couldn’t see anything. Of course, something so spectacular is worth a second shot in a couple of hours.

Info and image via Starts With A Bang.