Link: Falsifiable science and good science

2 minute read

Sabine Hossenfelder has become an outspoken skeptic of the idea that a new, even-bigger-than-the-LHC particle collider will achieve any breakthrough in high energy physics.

Yet many physicists are arguing strongly for a new collider, one that would attain higher energies than the current Large Hadron Collider. They point out the many theoretical models that make predictions about particles within the energy range of a new collider. In response to this argument, Hossenfelder writes: “Just because it’s falsifiable doesn’t mean it’s good science.”.

The other day I got an email from a science writer asking me to clarify a statement he had gotten from another physicist. That other physicist had explained a next larger particle collider, if built, would be able to falsify the predictions of certain dark matter models.
That is correct of course. A next larger collider would be able to falsify a huge amount of predictions. Indeed, if you count precisely, it would falsify infinitely many predictions. That’s more than even particle physicists can write papers about.
You may think that’s a truly remarkable achievement. But the question you should ask is: What reason did the physicist have to think that any of those predictions are good predictions? And when it comes to the discovery of dark matter with particle colliders, the answer currently is: There is no reason.

The current Standard Model in physics explains existing experimental data. Many physicists don’t like the Standard Model because it doesn’t seem natural—it violates their intuition that physical models should be mathematically simple, symmetrical, and “beautiful”. But the Standard Model works. While it might stop working at slightly higher energies, according to Hossenfelder there’s “no reason” to suppose that the particular energies in range of a next-generation collider will lead to new unexplained violations, any more than the LHC has.

Meanwhile, the price tag of a new collider will be extremely high. This price is a reckless gamble on predictions that nearly all physicists believe will be falsified by a collider.

The question is, what could be done instead?

I watch the high energy physics community because they are much better organized to mobilize public funding than evolutionary biologists. They are talking about building a collider that may cost 10 billion dollars. The Human Genome Project cost less than 3 billion.

The Human Genome Project cost less than 3 billion.

The operating budget of the current Large Hadron Collider is approximately 1 billion dollars per year.