There is something interesting about the best experiments and observations over the last few decades in basic physics: Black holes, Gravitational waves, Higgs particles, The problem Quantum … they led to the Nobel Prizes, they made headlines, they made the scientific community proud and happy, but they taught us nothing new. They confirmed what we expected. All of these events were in the university textbooks I studied at the University of Bologna almost half a century ago. Their existence was predicted by our best principles.
I do not want to downplay the importance of these findings. Rather. Surprising events have been noticed, and what is even more surprising is that they were understood even before we saw them. Being able to observe them is a celebration of the power of scientific thought to be seen so far. But an evil voice may be whispering at every step: What is the surprise? We were looking forward to it. Basic experimental physics has long been conservative in this sense. It has only confirmed and reaffirmed the bizarre predictions of the best theories of the last century.
Last week, the lab Fermilab Announced the new magnitude of Mune’s magnetic moment in the United States, One of the elementary particles, the heavier brother of the electron. This result is different from the ones mentioned above. The measured value does not agree with the value predicted by the theory. An observation that does not confirm our established principles. It seems contradictory to them. Physicists are hungry for such results. To learn something new about the basic laws of nature, we must look at phenomena that escape from established theories: quantum mechanics, the static model of particle physics, and general relativity. There are reasons to expect that these will not be the complete story. So theoretical physicists spend their time guessing what might happen beyond these theories, and experimental experts yearn to find something that is not predicted by these theories. Nature is conservative, but physicists like to think of themselves as extremists. They like to walk in the shoes of Rutherford and Wu, Einstein and Heisenberg, experimenters and theorists who have revealed new positions. This is why at every unexpected hint, physicists enthusiastically jump on their toes and believe it is here !.
I saw this enthusiasm of the innovator again and again. New forces, new particles, contradictions between data and predictions. Neutrinos are faster than light. Inconsistencies in the data of large particle physics machines. So far, every wave of excitement has turned into disappointment. Sometimes it was a paradoxical statistical value: in many random variables, one would always find something strange. Sometimes a test error: even a poorly connected plug (false alarm of neutrinos faster than light). Sometimes a theoretical error. Many years ago, we were excited because the magnetic moment of the electron was not what we expected. But this is a mistake in theoretical calculation: the two words were calculated with a different conjunction of symptoms (more or less): something that the first-year university professor would notice. The story of the super-symmetry, the speculation of the theorists, is particularly noteworthy: I do not remember a time when some colleagues did not talk about the clues that the new super-symmetric particles were almost discovered. Decades have passed and they have not yet arrived. In short, I heard a wolf cry.
Could the wolf be the result of the new muon? Maybe yes, no. On the same day that the measurement news was enthusiastically welcomed, it appeared Natural, An article in a leading scientific journal containing the results of a theoretical calculation obtained using supercomputers, indicates that previous theoretical estimates have misjudged some minor effects. Taking these into account, the theoretical value is very close to the measured value. The contradiction is of much less importance. In other words, this may be another phenomenon that physicists call the wolf. This may be a repeat of what happened to the electron: the measured value may be correct without contradicting the current theory. Who is right? I could not tell. My, I hope, no one today.
I understand the excitement of my colleagues. Some of them have spent their lives searching for wolves. If they see a tail tip, they will be happy. I share the excitement. I think scientists should be wary. Journalists are ready to translate a cane into a pu and a pu. I really believe that this time the little tail is the real real wolf. But be careful. The public may want to follow our emotions and disappointments and have fun with us, but they may get tired of rejected ads. Risk of losing credibility.
A real surprise from reading the nature book In recent decades nature has followed the basic principles discovered in the last century more precisely than we initially thought. General relativity has long been viewed with suspicion, and its predictions are very extravagant. The standard particle model was initially considered a poor patch, and violations of its predictions were expected in each run of the tests. Quantum mechanics is so strange that its predictions are considered by many to be unreliable. Really time for something new? Did the wolf come? May be. But if we cannot expect what we know about nature to be conclusive, we should not expect it to be easily mistaken.
April 14, 2021 (change April 14, 2021 | 21:50)