back to article Higgs boson chasers: Now only 1-in-300 MILLION chance we're wrong

CERN boffins are growing in confidence that the particle they spotted in the latest data from their Large Hadron Collider is indeed a Higgs boson. The Atlas experiment team has upped its level of certainty for Higgs-ness in a paper [PDF] for Physics Letters B, putting the sigma level at 5.9, which translates into a one-in-300- …

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  1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
    Headmaster

    > Nevertheless, upping the significance of the particle find brings us a step closer to knowing that this is a new and Higgs-like elementary particle that has never been seen before. ®

    HARRRRUMPH!

    "Nevertheless, upping the significance of the particle find brings us a step closer to knowing that our mathematical descriptions of nature (based on Lagrangians, Gauge Symmetry, Lie Groups and yadda yadda) are unreasonably correct even though they cannot in the end be totally correct."

    1. Mips
      Childcatcher

      > Nevertheless, upping the significance of the particle find brings us a step closer to knowing that this is a new and Higgs-like elementary particle that has never been seen before. ®

      HARRRRUMPH!

      And you haven't SEEN it now either. But you can prove it or something like it exist.

      Pedantic or what?

      1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

        How can you prove that what you see is correct? Your optic sensors are fallible. The transmission architecture to your processing centers is fallible. The processing apparatus that post-processes the imagery is fallible.

        Worse, that processing apparatus does not even have the capacity to process the imagery in real time; it substitutes imagery from previously stored data to compensate for the extremely low resolution imagery available from the sensors anywhere excepting the very center of their scope.

        Thus the image you “see” is actually a composite of what truly exists. It is a mishmash of sensor distortions, transmission errors, filter bugs, memory retrieval errors and recompositing glitches that you choose to accept as reality. There is no scientific evidence to back up the claim that “what you can see” in fact represents reality at all.

        All things being equal, there’s a reasonable chance that “what you can see” is a closeish approximation of “what is.” But it is not now and never will be a completely accurate representation of reality.

        So if your standard for “what is real” is “what you can see,” then you have abjectly rejected science (and the fundamental principals that it is based upon) in its entirety.

        [i]You[/i] are an entirely fallible piece of equipment.

        1. mhenriday
          Coat

          Trevor, would a new pair of

          specs help here ?...

          Henri

          1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

            Re: Trevor, would a new pair of

            Adding a little bit of hardware to compensate for defects in the sensory apparatus can make the system more accurate. Unfortunately both the sensor design and the underlying system can only be corrected for so much.

  2. Neil Stansbury
    Unhappy

    The chance of being killed by a shark...

    ...is one in 300 million, yet 12 people died from shark attacks last year. It ain't over 'til the fat lady s...

    (http://sharkfacts.org)

    (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/wildlife/9067719/Shark-deaths-hit-two-decade-high-worldwide-in-2011.html)

    1. Ru
      Facepalm

      Re: The chance of being killed by a shark...

      I think one of the problems there is that the 'probability of being killed by a shark' is such a staggeringly ill-defined notion as to make the 1-in-300-million figure completely risible.

    2. Lee Dowling Silver badge

      Re: The chance of being killed by a shark...

      But you're working with a sample size of 7 billion. What you're saying is that if we repeated the experiment 7 billion times, "just" one in 300 million is insufficient to describe certainty. And you'd be right. But that isn't what this says.

      This says that, for any one person, observed on any one particular day, the odds of being killed by a shark / being the Higgs boson are 300 million to one. So it's the chances of you, in particular, personally, now, getting killed by a shark. Which is vanishingly small, even if you're swimming at the moment.

      Don't try to interpret probabilities without (at minimum) a maths degree, or some sort of probability / statistics speciality. Because one you have a maths degree, you will realise just how dangerous it is to put your toe into probability without understanding tiny, minor differences that the human mind is built to see as equivalent when they can produce WILDLY varying results.

      I refer you to the birthday problem, and the Monty Hall Problem. Even if you understand them, or have been shown them, would you really have been able to spot them on your own and get the answer right first time without any help or hints among a sea of mathematics? Chances are that you wouldn't have. And the tiniest change to circumstances makes every probabilistic calculation just as fraught with danger.

      1. Charles 9 Silver badge

        Re: The chance of being killed by a shark...

        In case anyone here isn't familiar with those two problems, let me throw up the quick-and-dirty version of them.

        Birthday Problem: In a room full of people, what are the odds of ANY TWO having the same birthday?

        Monty Hall Problem: 3 curtains: 1 prize, 2 Zonks. You pick one. Monty reveals one of the ones you didn't pick (a Zonk) and gives you a chance to switch over to the other unopened curtain. Are you better off KEEPING or SWITCHING?

        1. Stylee

          Re: The chance of being killed by a shark...

          Birthday problem: You didn't say how big the room was. We would need to know this to figure out how many people are in the room. Obviously, you would need an infinite number of people to be certain two had the same birthday. The interesting bit (to ignorant, non-degree toting people with an interest in mathematics, or even statistics - like me) is that you only need 23 people to reach a more than 50% probability that any two people have the same birthday.

          Monty Hall: Best to change (providing Monty knew what was behind the curtains), I believe.

          1. Lee Dowling Silver badge

            Re: The chance of being killed by a shark...

            The problem with the Monty Hall problem is that it's SO counter-intuitive, it's almost unfair to ask it if you know the answer.

            There was an American genius who published the question and answer in her newspaper column a few years back and invoked outrage from mathematics professors and all manner of "professionals" who should have known better - literally 100's of them wrote in to complain that the answer was wrong. It was embarrassing, especially because she was RIGHT, and it's one of the classic problems in probability and has been published, proven and known about for hundreds of years. And any statistician or other probability specialist should really not only be aware of it, but be able to prove why or - at the very least - run a simple simulation to provide themselves with anecdotal evidence which will corroborate the answer before they even LOOK at an equation.

            Everyone wants to just say "It's the same chance - you still only have two doors so it's is still only 50-50 so switching or not makes no difference" and it can be quite hard or even impossible to explain to people why that's not true (the answer lies in the fact that your host has "prior" knowledge of the doors and aids you by opening a particular door that they had to KNOW which one had the booby prize behind).

            I tell you now, I would never have got it right first time even if someone had thoroughly grounded me in probability and told me it was a "tricky" answer. And that's exactly what I'm talking about. Don't mess with the affairs of probabiliticians, for they are subtle, and stand a better-than-average chance of winning.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              @Lee Dowling: Re: The chance of being killed by a shark...

              The columnist was not necessarily a genius, but she was a savant. ; )

              The story is here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monty_Hall_problem: (rest of this post is an excerpt from the Wikipedia article. Also see good explanation of the Birthday Problem here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Birthday_problem )

              "The problem was originally posed in a letter by Steve Selvin to the American Statistician in 1975 (Selvin 1975a) (Selvin 1975b). A well-known statement of the problem was published in Marilyn vos Savant's "Ask Marilyn" column in Parade magazine in 1990 (vos Savant 1990):

              Suppose you're on a game show, and you're given the choice of three doors: Behind one door is a car; behind the others, goats. You pick a door, say No. 1 [but the door is not opened], and the host, who knows what's behind the doors, opens another door, say No. 3, which has a goat. He then says to you, "Do you want to pick door No. 2?" Is it to your advantage to switch your choice?

              Vos Savant's response was that the contestant should always switch to the other door. If the car is initially equally likely to be behind each door, a player who picks Door 1 and doesn't switch has a 1 in 3 chance of winning the car while a player who picks Door 1 and does switch has a 2 in 3 chance. The host has removed an incorrect option from the unchosen doors, so contestants who switch double their chances of winning the car.

              Many readers refused to believe that switching is beneficial. After the Monty Hall problem appeared in Parade, approximately 10,000 readers, including nearly 1,000 with PhDs, wrote to the magazine claiming that vos Savant was wrong (Tierney 1991). Even when given explanations, simulations, and formal mathematical proofs, many people still do not accept that switching is the best strategy."

            2. tony2heads

              Monty hall problem

              The problem is too often posed without explicitly mentioning that the host has prior knowledge; that is the crux of the answer. The more priors we have the more the probability changes; we should consider that in then Higgs case.

        2. Lee Dowling Silver badge

          Re: The chance of being killed by a shark...

          Actually, the Birthday problem is more like (and the wording of the question makes a VAST difference to the answer here!):

          How many people would you need in a room to ensure that there was a 50% chance of two of them sharing a birthday?

          The answer is surprising, even when you know it.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Birthday

            "How many people would you need in a room to ensure that there was a 50% chance of two of them sharing a birthday?"

            Does the result change if it's a leap year?

      2. Neil Stansbury
        FAIL

        Re: The chance of being killed by a shark...

        Interestingly, there is a much much bigger danger...

        Interpreting statements with a beautiful degree in 'n' and yet still managing to miss the ironic nature of a statement, especially when the original statement ended with the phrase:

        "It ain't over 'til the fat lady s..."

        The "s..." was there to imply that the fat lady's singing had indeed been cut short, because it was over.

        But then perhaps that is just too subtle for someone with a maths degree...

        (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irony)

    3. fuggedaboutit

      Re: The chance of being killed by a shark...

      How dare you criticize science. Don't you know it's the atheist's religion?

      1. asdf Silver badge
        WTF?

        Re: The chance of being killed by a shark...

        Us pastafarian know that science is a dangerous trap. FSM Akbar.

      2. asdf Silver badge
        FAIL

        Re: The chance of being killed by a shark...

        >How dare you criticize science. Don't you know it's the atheist's religion?

        Yes the socially acceptable thing to worship is a 2000 yo Jewish zombie.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: The chance of being killed by a shark...

          "Yes the socially acceptable thing to worship is a 2000 yo Jewish zombie."

          So if he wasn't a Jew, you wouldn't have a problem with it, right?

          Maybe you want to go back and resume your attempts to equate homosexuality and pedophilia?

          1. asdf Silver badge
            FAIL

            Re: The chance of being killed by a shark...

            no I don't add the jewish part due to racism but to accent just how ridiculous the whole thing is. Faith is for people with high EQ but a basic lack of science reasoning ability. Yes their are some but the majority of Nobel Prize winners were never dunked in a river.

    4. Inventor of the Marmite Laser Silver badge

      Re: The chance of being killed by a shark...

      Yeah, but what if the shark has a FRIKKIN' LASER?

      1. corrodedmonkee

        Re: The chance of being killed by a shark...

        The Monty Hall Problem is makes much more sense once you've properly run through it, assuming that's not your speciality... there is a 1/3 chance you'll have the box from the off, and there is a 2/3 chance it'll be in the other two boxes... treated as a set, once one confirmed incorrect answer is removed from the set, there is still a remaining 2/3 chance that it's in that set, but now with just a single box as the option.

        Course, you'd still be damn annoyed if you used your Monty Hall powers on a game show and it cost you that Yahama Jetski.

  3. Greg J Preece

    Serious question, not being sarky: why is the LHC being shut down later this year? It seems to be a bloody useful piece of kit.

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
      Holmes

      Like a DeLorean with quantum go-faster stripes

      They are shutting it down to upgrade the hardware so that collisions can go from (I think) 7 Tev/c² in the center-of-mass to 12 TeV/c² in the center-of-mass without blowing the tunnel sky-high. This is still lower than the hoped-for 14 TeV/c² but that value is no longer considered safe (for the copper interconnects, that is). It will be back up in 2 years or so. I suspect the software will have been upgraded too, new experiments and filters suggested and the existing data hadooped something fierce.

    2. Dazzz

      Upgrades, they need a go faster stripe and larger rims to hit the sweet spot

    3. Chemist

      why is the LHC being shut down later this year?

      To upgrade it.

      1. Greg J Preece

        Re: why is the LHC being shut down later this year?

        Ah, thank you chaps. I've obviously misunderstood something somewhere along the line. Glad to hear it, too.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Stylee said: "Birthday problem: You didn't say how big the room was. We would need to know this to figure out how many people are in the room. Obviously, you would need an infinite number of people to be certain two had the same birthday."

    No, you only need 367 people, and it really doesn't matter how big the room is.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Well, it's a hypothetical room but to be fair... Where you got 367 from is beyond me. You can fit 23 people in plenty of rooms.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        To Infinity and...

        How you don't know where he got 367 from is beyond me.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: To Infinity and...

          Well, to be fair it's more for effect... I can see how he got 367, but the amount of coincidence and a fundamental misunderstanding of the problem aside, I really can't see why he got 367.

          1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

            Re: To Infinity and...

            I can see how he got 367, but the amount of coincidence and a fundamental misunderstanding of the problem aside, I really can't see why he got 367.

            That's because you didn't read carefully enough. He wasn't answering the Birthday Problem question (number of people required to have a birthday match with probability 0.5); he was responding to a statement about how many people were required to have a matching birthday "with certainty" (which he understood as "with probability 1.0" - and I agree that's what the person he was quoting seems to have meant).

            So the figure 367 is correct, and he got it by reading the statement he was responding to, instead of seeing what he expected to see there.

        2. Stylee

          Re: To Infinity and...

          Yes, 367 would guarantee two the same, accounting for leap years, and as long as we are ignoring year of birth - infinity was obviously a daft thing to say, innit. However, the size of the room (and people) does matter if we are talking about 'filling a room' with people.

    2. This post has been deleted by its author

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Long odds

    One in three hundred million? That's never going to happen.

    Now if you'll excuse me, I have to buy some Euromillions tickets for a shot at Friday's massive rollover.

    1. Comments are attributed to your handle

      Re: Long odds

      What's never going to happen?

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Where you got 367 from is beyond me"

    Its obvious to anyone who thinks about the problem and how to solve it. There are 366 possible birthdays. Therefore, in any group of 367 people there must be at least two with the same birthday no matter how those birthdays are distributed. Where you got the idea that you need an infinite number of people from to be certain two have the same birthday is beyond me, but you said it was "obvious".And I repeat, the size of the room is not important. Its how many people who are in the room, no matter how big it is, that matters.

    Now someone is goign to say the answer isn't 367, its only 23,.....

    1. Khaptain Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Wouldn't you only need 2 people.

      Either they have the same birthday or they don't, it's a 1 in 2 chance, therefore a 50% chance.

      1. Daniel Evans

        Oh dear...

        What's the chance of your birthday being the 5th of March?

        That's the chance that your birthday is the same as mine.

        (I hope you're trolling...)

        @AC: It'll be interesting to see how many posts in we get before that!

    2. mfritz0
      Happy

      Actually, with 367 people the odds are not all the days in a year would be someone's birthday. There would more than likely be several sets of people with the same birthday in that group. Thus leaving some days vacant.

    3. Charles 9 Silver badge

      That's because the two of you are solving two different problems. You're trying to figure out how many people would it take to make it at least even money that any two people in the room have the same birthday. It can't be two--the odds there are ~365:1 (pray one of them doesn't have February 29th).

      The person going for 367 is trying to solve the problem of "How many people would you need to be CERTAIN at least two people have the same birthday?"

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Khaptain, so by your logic, you either win the lottery or you don't so you think you have a 50% chance of winning? In fact, you can win the main prize or one of several other lesser prizes so maybe you think there are 10 possibilities, nine of which are wins, so you have a 90% chance of winning.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
      Joke

      Ah! So that's how it works!

      This week, I'll be buying two lottery tickets then. That should pretty much guarentee me a prize :-)

  8. DR
    Coat

    just like rolling a six on a dice.

    that's 50/50 as well you either do it or you don't :)

    1. Khaptain Silver badge

      Re: just like rolling a six on a dice.

      Good to see that at least one person is keeping up :-)

  9. Mr Young
    Alien

    Bring it on!

    I'm sure my broken time machine done loads of number crunching as well?

  10. Unicornpiss Silver badge
    Pint

    Depends on the kind of day you're having...

    Obviously the answer to the birthday puzzle makes sense. But as far as the Monty Hall puzzle or the likelihood of rolling a 6, if anyone is having the kind of day I had Tuesday, it's likely they'd never win. You could still roll anything but 6 in anything but an infinite number of tries. It's extremely unlikely beyond pondering, but possible. Just as there is a very, very small but finite possibility that an elementary particle will not appear within the statistical expectations, but light years away, or that the particles that make up your body could line up perfectly, allowing you to walk through a wall. It might take longer than a googol times the lifetime of the universe to occur, but it still has some possibility of happening at any time. Reality is what we make it... or what it makes us.

  11. Poeteye
    IT Angle

    The God Particle (haiku by James Ph. Kotsbar)

    It’s the right "footprint."

    With 5-sigma certainty,

    there it was; we’re sure.

  12. Garry 2
    Paris Hilton

    Collapsing reality

    I'm willing to be wrong, but my understanding of the (uncle?) Monty problem is that he opens all the bad doors.

    Therefore, to exaggerate for effect, you buy one lottery ticket and just before you see the winning numbers, but after Monty has seen them, he gives you the choice of keeping your ticket or a ticket he hands you - one of them is the winning ticket.

    I think under those conditions you can see it makes a LOT of sense to switch.

    However, if the conditions were different and you were presented with two tickets and told that one was the winning ticket, then, yes the odds of picking the right ticket is 50-50 (50% dice comment above?)

    Well, that's my understanding of the frame of the question - I don't know if Monty always opened a bad door or if he would open all of the bad doors in an exaggerated example.

    1. Toastan Buttar
      Stop

      Re: Collapsing reality

      Of course Monty had to open a 'bad door' (with a goat behind it). If he opened the door with the prize behind it, the game would be over and you'd have no option to switch.

    2. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Collapsing reality

      It works like this. In your initial blind choice, your odds are 2:1 against you (two zonks, one prize). No matter which curtain you pick, Monty opens one of the bad ones (you are statistically certain to miss one bad curtain). Here's the rub. If you stick with your original pick, you're sticking with your 2:1 odds of missing, whereas by switching, you essentially ABANDON your original choice and make a NEW choice: this time one that's even money and better odds. Just for grins (I was in college in the time), I had my TI-92 run through a simulation of whole bunch of the scenarios just to see. The simulations bear out the research: keeping is 2:1 odds, switching is even money. You are better off switching.

  13. Sam Therapy
    Happy

    So what are the chances...

    Of being killed by a shark that has the same birthday as you when there's a goat behind the door?

  14. JosephU

    "explain how we and everything around us ... exists"?

    The second last sentence says:

    "And as physicist Paris Sphicas told The Register last month, just deciding that this is a Higgs boson isn't the end of the search: scientists are eager to learn how it fits into our universe and whether theories of supersymmetry or extra dimensions are necessary to explain how we and everything around us simply exists."

    Q. "explain how we and everything around us ... exists"?

    A. i.) Genesis 1:1 (NIV1984Bible)

    "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. ..."

    ii.) Psalm 33:6 (NIV1984Bible)

    "By the word of the LORD the heavens were

  15. Chelle12
    Pirate

    Proof a NEW Aether

    125 years after the 'Michelson–Morley experiment' there is finally proof that there IS an Aether, although not 'luminiferous'.

    This NEW Aether field that gives mass to particles (Higgs-mechanism), could also be what's generating the *effects* of Dark Matter, and Dark Energy which is considered to be a fluid that permeates throughout all of space with a positive energy density and a negative, outward-pushing pressure. Arrr, now it's time to unify it all!

    Einstein already spoke of a 'resurrected' Aether shortly after presenting GR:

    “Thus, once again ,,empty” space appears as endowed with physical properties, i.e., no longer as physically empty, as seemed to be the case according to Special Relativity. One can thus say that the Aether is resurrected in the General theory of Relativity, though in a more sublimated form.”

    A. Einstein, Grundgedanken und Methoden der Relativitatstheorie in ihrer Entwicklung dargestellt, (Morgan Manuscript) Einstein Archives 2070.

  16. djnapkin

    One Christmas I posed this question to my pals: what is the chance of picking yourself (or someone picking themselves) in a Secret Santa draw? Our jape was that we would then plant a fancy prize e.g. an Xbox instead of the usual gift.

    One friend worked it out that night, on the train home. She was, and is, very bright. Gorgeous too. It's something like 1 over e.

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