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Higgs ain’t god, please stop

Speaking of taking ten steps backward for every step forward in improving the public understanding of science, here’s a name for you: Michio Kaku. Is he trying to become the Dr Oz of physics or something?

Comments

  1. jjgdenisrobert says

    @Dunc: I second that. The man has become a farce. Too bad, he used to be a real physicist, now he’s just a step above the guy with the weird hair on “Ancient Aliens”.

  2. astro says

    Kaku is the reason i refuse to let my children watch “How the Universe Works.” Well, him and the tediously dramatic music.

  3. Rob Grigjanis says

    The Higgs boson is often called “the God particle” because it’s said to be what caused the “Big Bang” that created our universe many years ago.

    That is rather cringeworthy. There has been discussion of the possibility that the Higgs field (not the Higgs boson) might have been responsible for inflation, but I don’t know the current state of the hypothesis, and that is very different from “causing the Big Bang”.

    As for “God particle”

  4. ljbriar says

    As soon as my father became interested in his books, I immediately knew he was not a scientist I ever had to bother following.

  5. glodson says

    Michio Kaku used to do alright with stuff he knew. Somewhere along the line, he went off the rails. Big time. He’s found the land of Oz, where saying something catchy and quotable is better than saying something true.

    How he got from the Higgs to the inflationary model of the Big Bang…. well, that’s beyond me.

  6. Dexeron says

    Has anyone ever compiled a list of which scientists/tv shows are “good” and which aren’t? Without posts like this, I’d have no idea there was anything incorrect with things Kaku says, and I love watching all of the sciencey shows (especially with my kids, who eat that stuff up.) But apart from really obvious examples (I’ve seen “Through the Wormhole” veer off into some serious woo territory) is there anyway for a layperson to know that the “science” and scientists they’re watching on TV are valid?

  7. glodson says

    @ Dunc

    From the article you linked about the interview with Chopra:

    DC: Is our conversation affecting something in another galaxy right now?

    MK: In principle. What we’re talking about right is affecting another galaxy far, far beyond the Milky Way Galaxy. Now when the Big Bang took place we think that most of the matter probably was vibrating in unison.

    And somehow, it gets fucking worse.

    Michio Kaku’s Holistic Detective Agency!

    I get this stuff is hard to understand, but fuck man, Kaku is a theoretical physicist. He should understand it, not fuck the explanation to the audience making them even more likely to misunderstand it.

  8. Dunc says

    @glodson: I honestly can’t decide whether Kaku has actually gone full-blown Emeritus, or whether he’s just decided he prefers being a celebrity to being right. Either way, it’s not pretty.

  9. glodson says

    @ Dunc

    I don’t know either. He’s gone full-blown crank.

    I bounced around the links you provided, and I found this posting by Matt Strassler.

    It seems that Professor Kaku feels it necessary, in order to engage the imagination of the public, to make spectacular distortions of the physics behind the Higgs field and the Higgs particle, even to the point of suggesting the Higgs particle triggered the Big Bang.

    That’s likely the most charitable and kind interpretation of what was said. The thing is that the truth is interesting enough. Finding a particle predicted by the Standard Model and using that to teach what the Standard Model is, and even what Field Theory means, is far more useful and engaging that some bullshit about how this goddamned particle helped in the Big Bang.

    Maybe this is all some elaborate Andy Kaufman style bit by Kaku. The statement is so bad, it falls in the category of not even wrong. Fuck, that isn’t even where the stupid nickname for it comes from. That’s not even physics, more a bit of pop-science trivia.

    For those who want to know more about the Higgs Boson. The actual science is so much better than some nonsense that, at best, is meant to engage the imagination. I think it is more likely that his statements are to get news outlets to engage Kaku more.

  10. says

    I remember quite a few years ago he did a TV show about time and showed an experiment where they drop someone from a considerable height with a digital clock positioned in front of their face that counted down some numbers.

    The hypothesis was that under extreme stress people are able to slow down time so they can perceive more than they normally would be able to.

    He reported that the experiment proved that people’s sense of time slows down in stressful situations. There’s only one problem with that, this experiment was actually run many times and the findings supported just the opposite.

    He has no respect for science.

  11. Rob Grigjanis says

    niftyatheist @14: Teresi got this wrong;

    Yet the Higgs is “the only major particle that the discoverer, or the theorist, named after himself,” he said.

    Higgs didn’t name it, and he doesn’t like using it.

  12. says

    I’m seconding Dexeron at #8:

    Has anyone ever compiled a list of which scientists/tv shows are “good” and which aren’t? Without posts like this, I’d have no idea there was anything incorrect with things Kaku says, and I love watching all of the sciencey shows (especially with my kids, who eat that stuff up.) But apart from really obvious examples (I’ve seen “Through the Wormhole” veer off into some serious woo territory) is there anyway for a layperson to know that the “science” and scientists they’re watching on TV are valid?

    I actually like “How the Universe Works” and “Through the Wormhole”, but perhaps my enjoyment of those shows, and my expectation to learn things from them, is misplaced?

  13. glodson says

    I actually like “How the Universe Works” and “Through the Wormhole”, but perhaps my enjoyment of those shows, and my expectation to learn things from them, is misplaced?

    These are good for a lay person explanation. But… well, the answers are incomplete. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to correct a person who “knew” the subject after watching one of those, or reading a popular science book.

    It is a good gateway, but it does give one a false impression. This can be because of lots of factors. Bad reporting is one.

    You are learning things, just don’t mistake the summary for the entirety of the subject. And Kaku is the most notorious of the woo-laden people. Even then, on many of those shows, he doesn’t have a chance to introduce the crankier ideas. Frankly, I got the impression he was a bit careless in how he said things, but I attributed that to him being enthusiastic.

    Turns out that impression was wrong.

  14. laurentweppe says

    Higgs ain’t god

    Well of course: he’s merely the oracle who discerned His Divine Boson

  15. Kazim says

    I believe Michio Kaku is the same clown who appeared ON PURPOSE in the unbearable “What the Bleep Do We Know?” He’s the guy who claims that saying polite things to water makes it look pretty.

  16. David Marjanović says

    Now when the Big Bang took place we think that most of the matter probably was vibrating in unison.

    Jesus Haploid Christ.

  17. UnknownEric is high on Mountain Dew. says

    He’s the guy who claims that saying polite things to water makes it look pretty.

    Does swearing at it make it salty?

  18. glodson says

    @ Kazim

    I’m not finding him in any credits for the movie, or the “sequel.”

  19. Rob Grigjanis says

    Couple of choice Kaku quotes;

    “Music is the voice of God traveling through ten-dimensional hyperspace.”

    “Physicists are made of atoms. A physicist is an attempt by an atom to understand itself.”

    My atoms insist I have a drink ASAP.

  20. says

    Just in case anyone hasn’t heard the story already:

    The name “God Particle” goes back to a 1993 book by Leon Lederman. It was originally supposed to be “Goddamn Particle”, as in “This particle is goddamn hard to find”, but the publisher objected. Too bad.

  21. says

    Rob #16 – yes, that was my point (how much this article and the interview got wrong!). On the radio interview, Melissa Block kept referring to it as the “god particle” even after Leon Lederman explained the error – and at the end she did it AGAIN. I cold almost hear his wince – and he did try to end the interview with yet another mild-mannered correction, but you knew he was feeling like “OMFG what is the point?”

    I was driving – and snapping at Melissa Block, Stop it, just stop it. You’re enabling this crap. And while we are at it, stop paying unearned deference to the religious angle every. effing. time, NPR! (rant over)

  22. Ichthyic says

    for those interested, I would point out that Sean Carrol (who PZ linked to), wrote an entire book on this subject, and it would be worthwhile for folks interested to peruse that thread.

    for example:

    The proton gets mass from the strong nuclear force — the gluons holding the quarks together, not from the quarks themselves. Adding up the mass of the quarks inside a proton would get you only about one percent of the proton mass.

    Admittedly, it’s a very tricky thing. One quark by itself would have so many gluons around it that it would have infinite mass. That’s one way of saying that quarks are “confined,” we don’t see them by themselves. Bringing three quarks together in the right way lowers the total mass from infinity to the actual mass we see; but that mass is still much larger than the masses of the individual quarks in an imaginary world where there weren’t any gluons at all.

    real physics is so much more elegant and complicated than you hear in the media, of course.

  23. mothra says

    I was very disapointed in the NPR coverage. All interviewees and the comentator were expressing disappointment that the particle matched predictions of the standard model. As if, due to this, no new questions were raised. Not a single person brought up the fact that, if this piece of science is confirmed, we can now move foreward to test theories which address questions that can only be asked (tested) if the standard model is correct.

  24. says

    Dr. Kaku has definitely defected to Oz land. I don’t know if it’s just me (I doubt it though) but his breathless style of delivery turns me off though he certainly seems to be the go-to guy to explain those hard to understand Physicy questions on “Good Morning America”.

    I’d rather have Neil DeGrasse Tyson or Bill Nye ‘splain things.

    Come on, they have Bill Nye on Fox News with some regularity (he sometimes “takes them to school” too) and no one’s head has exploded yet. Though there is still hope. I’ve got a short list of who I’d like to see it happen to. Schadenfreude.

  25. Rob Grigjanis says

    mothra @30:

    All interviewees and the comentator were expressing disappointment that the particle matched predictions of the standard model.

    Aw, give ‘em a break. They’ve been working with the Standard Model for 40+ years. They want to see something new, that isn’t just confirmation/measurement.

    Decent discussion of the Standard Model and related issues here.

  26. DLC says

    Kaku should know better. He should also try his answers out before saying them. Preferably in front of another physicist.

  27. Ulysses says

    He’s the guy who claims that saying polite things to water makes it look pretty.

    Being polite eliminates algae and mud?

  28. allencdexter says

    Thanks for bringing this subject up. It irks me no end to see the creaationists and funnymentalists latching onto this unfortunate teminology and running with it. They have to know they’re being dishonest, but that never stops the bastards.

  29. says

    Kazim:

    I believe Michio Kaku is the same clown who appeared ON PURPOSE in the unbearable “What the Bleep Do We Know?” He’s the guy who claims that saying polite things to water makes it look pretty.

    Ummm no that would be Masaru Emoto.

    But way to think all Japanese names sound the same! ;-)

  30. Dunc says

    @38: not that I’m aware of… The term “gone Emeritus” is widely used for senior people in a field who have gone off the deep end.

  31. Tyrant al-Kalām says

    I don’t know what’s wrong with Kaku. He did some important conceptual work in String Field theory if I remember correctly, and there’s no doubt he’s a smart guy.

    Maybe he did this very technical work for so long that he forgot how that science thingy actually works – you can make important contributions in mathematical physics without being a good *scientist* in the sense it is used here.

  32. eoleen says

    I read somewhere – maybe on this blog????? – that Dr. Lederman initially wanted to title his book “The GodDAMN Particle”, but the publisher refused…

    Having read the book, and appreciating Dr. Legerman’s sense of humor (???) I feel that this just may be correct…