The Higgs boson and its terrible nickname

Jul 6, 2012

As you’ve probably heard, the Higgs boson was (most likely) discovered a few days ago.

The gist of it is that with the existence of this particular particle (ha!), a number of fundamental physics theories are confirmed.

I’m not going to comment on any of the scientific aspects of the discovery as I’m not in any way qualified to do so. I have no real insight into physics beyond the high school level, but it’s apparently a very important step towards understanding the physical properties of the universe. This can only be a good thing.

What I’ve noticed from the media coverage is that some keep calling it the “God particle”, which I find somewhat troubling.

The Higgs boson is named after Peter Higgs, who in 1964 described the particle in a scientific paper. The “God particle” nickname was coined in a 1993 book on the subject. The reason for this nickname is allegedly that it is so important and yet so elusive (and fairly, with half a century from description to discovery) that it draws parallels with the important and elusive existence of a deity.

The logic behind this makes sense, in a way. And I’ll admit, “God particle” is somewhat catchier than “Higgs boson” and makes it sound quite important, which is probably why the press has used it so extensively. But the thing is, using the term “God particle” without its reasoning implies (intentionally or not) that the particle is somehow related to a godly entity, which it (until proven) most definitely is not.

Let’s not try to mix science and religion. This tends to create undesirable results.