The exciting news out of Geneva is generating a lot of buzz in the media, and it's fascinating to see how the different outlets are presenting it. The differences are subtle but revealing.
The BBC has the most straightforward approach, quoting and taking its cues from the scientists. Radical. First the headline:
LHC: Higgs boson 'may have been glimpsed
May have been. No hype. The article mentions hints of the boson, a brief explanation of the importance of the research, and excitement among the scientists
But the LHC does not yet have enough data to claim a discovery.
That's key: not enough data to claim a discovery. That's very accurate reporting.
None of the spikes seen by the experiments is at much more than the "two sigma" level of certainty.
A level of "five sigma" is required to claim a discovery, meaning there is less than a one in a million chance the data spike is down to a statistical fluke.
And there the BBC nails it. That's how the scientists determine what they consider to be proof. And they're not there yet. But they're closer than they've ever been. More work to be done.
Now check this MSNBC headline:
Long-sought 'God Particle' cornered, scientists say
God Particle. Yes, that is how the particle sometimes is described in popular media, but from a scientific perspective that's just shrill. In a supposedly professional news report let's conflate science with religion. Because this is America. The subhead is more accurate:
News is not the final answer some were hoping for, but progress is significant step
The reporting also is more accurate. Suck you in, then give you the real news.
The Christian Science Monitor also buries pretty good reporting under a hyperbolic headline:
Higgs boson 'God particle' close to capture, scientists say
Scientists are closer to capturing the elusive Higgs boson 'God particle,' the missing piece of the governing theory of the universe's tiniest building blocks.
Of course, it is not accurate to say that the particle is close to capture. It may be, but it may not be. To say that it is close to capture is to assume that its existence has been confirmed, which it hasn't. The article again quotes scientists who are much more circumspect in their pronouncements, even as they are openly excited.
The researchers have now cornered the Higgs mass in the range between 114.4 and 131 gigaelectronvolts (GeV).For comparison, a proton weighs 1 GeV. Outside that range, the scientists are more than 95 percent confident that the Higgs cannot exist.
Within that range, the ATLAS findings show some indications of a possible signal from the Higgs boson at 126 GeV, though the data are not strong enough for scientists to claim a finding with the level of confidence they require for a true discovery.
Like the BBC, the New York Times goes for the careful and accurate approach.
‘Tantalizing Hints’ but No Direct Proof in Particle Search
The Washington Post not so much:
Higgs boson: Scientists say they are homing in on ‘God particle’
Homing in again suggests proof of existence. And once again we have religion in the place of science.
ABC splits the difference:
The ‘God Particle’: ‘Tantalising Hints’ of Higgs Boson Seen by CERN Physicists
No inference of proof of existence, but once again the Very Big Concept that a deity resides at the core of matter.
While CBS keeps it simple and direct:
Higgs boson hunters get a nibble
Fox does what fox does:
Scientists Close in on 'God Particle'
Both the assumption of existence and the religious reference. One would suggest that Fox as usual is being misleading, but in this case it's probably safe to assume that the headline writer really just didn't understand.