Thursday, August 30, 2012

Higgs Boson Revisted

Last week, I posted a blog, called “Higgs Boson: A Failure to Communicate,” in which I quoted

Yale University materials scientist and “science evangelist” Ainissa Ramirez, who called the discovery of the Higgs boson “the biggest scientific discovery of the 21st Century” and added, “The rest of society is trying to figure out why this is a big whoop.”

Ramirez and I both felt that public relations could have enabled CERN to promote better understanding of the Higgs and what it means. I had no idea how controversial that position would be. You can read all the comments here. I appreciate the fact that my readers took the time to share their observations with me, even providing links to useful resources for lay people like myself.

Fizisist, for example, wrote that he “certainly appreciates your point: we as scientists can do better. However, your characterization of our attempt to reach out to the public is significantly lacking in the facts. Truth is, we already did that years ago.” He backed up that assertion with a number of interesting links, including The Hunt for Higgs and The Higgs Boson Explained.

Another reader, JeffK, added these two videos on the Higgs: part 1 and part 2.

These are interesting and helpful links, but the fact remains that really smart people continue to plead their ignorance when it comes to the Higgs.

Robert Wright, a senior editor at The Atlantic and the author, most recently, of The Evolution of God, a New York Times bestseller and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, wrote an article last month on “What This Higgs Boson Thing Really Means”. His answer? “I personally continue to have no idea what the Higgs boson is.”

In truth, science and technology can be made comprehensible to the average adult. Indeed, they must be. After all, a primary driver of the future economy and job creation in the 21st century will be innovation, largely as a result of advances in science and engineering. While only 4% of the nation’s work force is composed of scientists and engineers, this group disproportionately creates jobs for the other 96%, according to Physics Today.

One commenter wrote: “I don't think a PR firm can do the job of good science teachers.”

I couldn’t agree more. Those of us in PR know our limitations. We also know how much we can contribute to society. We cannot substitute for teachers, but we can generate excitement, understanding and respect for the discoveries (and the people who drive them) that will shape our nation’s future.

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