This week, CERN, home of the LHC, held a press conference, which caused a great big stir, announced in advance, that they are “pretty sure but not certain” that they found evidence of the Higgs boson.

I understand that this was announcing some possible findings, and that it was basically presenting progress in order to bargain for more funding.  And I understand that worldwide mainstream media attention may assist that goal.  But I still think it was ridiculous to make such a big pronouncement over basically nothing at all.

Why? A few reasons.

This was probably the latest big evening-news-making scientific press release since the “alien” arsenic life form last year (alien as in unusual or different, not extraterrestrial).  Which also turned out to be a whole-lotta nuthin’, a premature announcement over findings that were exciting to scientists, a step in the right direction possibly a harbinger to something more definitive in the future, but nevertheless nothing definitive.  I was so excited by headlines that day, that an alien life form had been discovered, (“NASA Unveils Arsenic Life Form“, etc.) that I gasped, squealed, and excitedly shared it with all my co-workers.  Later in the day upon discovering these headlines, many from reputable sources that had been misguided (or incorrectly rephrased their headlines for space constraints) were false, I had to retract my workplace excitement, and clarify that the findings were still very controversial. (Like with the Martian life.)

And don’t get me wrong, I love CERN and the LHC and the search for the Higgs.  Upon recently talking about it excitedly, I was schooled by a physicist who believes it’s a waste of immense amounts of funding that could be going toward other more worthy projects that are more “sure bets.”  I could understand his point of view but ultimately was not swayed.  I’ve loved the LHC ever since I heard that turning it on could possibly create tiny black holes that could swallow up the Earth (come on, that is sci-fi gold!).  Such rumors can ignite people’s interest in what is otherwise indigestible science for the lay person.

However in the case of the Higgs, the arsenic life, and the Martian meteorite, when full-on press conferences are called and NASA, an extremely trusted institution in the world’s psyche, is involved, it adds much more credence. And to get people hyped up over what is ultimately nothing, leaves them highly disappointed.  This sort of premature hype is akin to the media announcing election results before they are definitive, or reporting on breaking news before they have the full story with all the facts.  It is misleading the public.  Disappoint them too many times, and you have the boy who cried wolf — people won’t believe forthcoming announcements are going to amount to much.  They may lose interest.  This in a time of what I consider to be already a decline in science in the United States (more on that in my next blog post).  And I believe this ultimately does science a disservice.

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