Ranting on Science News: Higgs boson in the News
July 4th was a day of major news explosion about the “discovery” the Higgs boson. I am quite disappointed in how some newspapers overreacted and even got some details about the discovery wrong. So here I am again, ranting about how the supposedly “professional” journalists contribute to a world with less learning and more ignorance.
First I would like to show you a satisfactory example of this news story by BBC, with the headline, “Higgs boson-like particle discovery claimed at LHC”.
Aside from the cheesy emotions included in the form of the scientists’ interviews, this article is “okay” because it didn’t portray this news event as a celebration. In addition, it was concise and straight-to-the-point, with no false and/or extra details. Paul Rincon, the journalist who wrote this article, was very careful with his wording– instead of straight up confirming the discovery, he only discusses this event as the discovery of a “Higgs boson-like particle” or “new particle consistent with the Higgs boson”, even when the Atlas team’s (second independent research team at LHC) results show a confidence level of five sigma, which for those of you who are new to science, is the golden standard for discoveries in physics. BBC also shows the ability to inform the audience about the significance of the discovery. Not only do they mention the details from the results, they also incorporate predictions of how this discovery will impact our world. Though Rincon does include some more of the cheesy quotations, he also uses some clear facts: “A more exotic version of the Higgs could be a bridge to understanding the 96% of the Universe that remains obscure.” he writes, which is a quite general but true statement.
One thing unique of this article is the fact that the journalist does not include definitions, descriptions, nor explanations of the Higgs boson, LHC, and other scientific information that is the sole basis of this article. Therefore, we can infer that the target audience is somebody who is not a stranger to this scientific information. This is quite a generalization but the people reading this article could be scholars and other highly educated individuals.
The second article, “Discovery of long-sought particle”, by Japan Times is an example of a slightly less satisfactory article. Although it may seem as if this is an educational science article informing the world about the Higgs boson discovery, there are some issues with this article.
This article is heavily built on the explanations of the science involved in the discovery but ironically, there is an embarrassing mistake in the sixth paragraph that clearly shows the writer is not a scientist. He or she states that after the Big Bang, “Higgs bosons filled the space and clung to other weightless particles moving at the speed of light.” However, this is completely false. What gives mass to matter is the Higgs field not its boson. To those of you new to this topic, the Higgs boson is merely an excitation of the Higgs field but is also the only observable particle that supports the theory in which the Higgs field gives mass to matter.
A second problem of this article is, because it deals with explaining the discovery and the (false) science more than the description of the celebrations accompanying the discovery, no interviews are included. Although, personally, I enjoy the lack of unnecessary emotions, this also hinders and limits scientists’ opinions and voices, which are crucial for these articles.
Japan Times is the only article in which the cooperation of Japanese scientists to the discovery is clearly mentioned multiple times. For a foreigner reading this article, they might not care about Japanese people involved in the research, while for Japanese average citizens, the inclusion of these few Japanese names could make a large difference in the impression of not only event itself but also the news article. For example, the article states that “Japanese-born American physicist Yoichiro Nambu” developed the theory of “spontaneous broken symmetry in subatomic physics”, which Peter Higgs based his hypotheses of the Higgs boson on. This is an interesting fact to know, but was it necessary in this article?
By seeing how this article is written; the way it explains the process and science involved in the discovery and the way the Japanese scientists are mentioned, we can predict that this article was written towards Japanese who do not know much about this topic but still care about how their own country contributed in this event.
Lastly, I will show you one of the most informal scientific articles I have ever read in a while. The New York Post is a newspaper that writes a lot of articles on celebrity news and sports, but only some on world issues and other events that actually “matter” to us.
They reports this news with a headline, “Eureka! Physicists find new particle ‘consistent’ with elusive ‘God particle’”, which is already contrasting to the two other articles. It is clear that the journalist wants to display this news as a “celebratory event”, rather than an “un-confirmed scientific discovery”, by starting out the article with a gleeful word, “Eureka!”, and by describing the Higgs-boson as the “elusive ‘God particle’”. Also, the language within the article is not very scientific at times such as when the LHC at Cern is referred to as the “world’s biggest atom smasher”, where in reality, subatomic particles such as protons are collided in the aim of uncovering the mysteries of our universe.
In contrast to BBC, New York Post explains and defines some scientific terminology and concepts like Higgs boson, LHC, etc. If these details and the use of language is taken into consideration, the target audience is probably somebody who hasn’t heard of the word science in a while.
In mass media, target audience is a major guideline for journalists write their articles. Whether it requires register or style, journalists for different newspapers will write differently for their readers to capture their attention. I chose to write a blog post of a semi-angered scientist who analyzes and talks about the pros and cons of science news articles because it was the perfect method to convey my discoveries about the differences in target audience. Other options were writing complaint letters to the editors, rants from an angry journalist’s point of view, but since my articles were not biased and had no stereotypes in them, it was quite difficult to do this. Instead, I looked for ways where scientists could share and complain about the issues in science articles and ended up writing up a blog post from a scientist’s/expert’s point of view.
The audience of this blog post is not quite limited. It ranges from average citizens interested and read science articles, to journalists who write them. The angry scientist, who I am writing as, is both trying to show people who read the articles how there can be issues in what they read, as well as educate journalists how to write proper science articles.
By doing this assignment I was able show my predictions of target audiences for different articles from around the world. In the blog post, I included a section at the end of each article’s profile inferring their target audience and summarizing the techniques they used. For Japan Times’s article, for example, I ended the section with “… we can predict that this article was written towards Japanese who do not know much about this topic but still care about how their own country contributed in this event”.
Rincon, Paul. “BBC News – Higgs boson-like particle discovery claimed at LHC.”BBC – Homepage. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Sept. 2012. <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-18702455>.
“Eureka! Physicists find new particle ‘consistent’ with elusive Higgs boson, popularly known as the ‘God particle’ – NYPOST.com.” New York News. N.p., 4 July 2012. Web. 20 Sept. 2012. <http://www.nypost.com/p/news/international/eureka_physicists_find_new_particle_xhPObm8NAWwdjAJoGuBsBM>
“Discovery of long-sought particle | The Japan Times Online.” The Japan Times Online. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Sept. 2012. <http://www.japantimes.co.jp/text/ed20120712a1.html>