Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Infidel Particle

The Higgs boson, long predicted, seems to have been identified by experiment.  This is enormous news in the world of physics, since it validates the so-called Standard Model of the universe.  The press loves it, because of the name inadvertently given to the thing by a Leon Lederman, when editors rejected the original title proposed for his book, which would have been "The Goddamned Particle."

As an aside, we note the different situations in two neighboring nations, each with a partial claim to Higgs-related glory.

The word "boson" was coined by Paul Dirac, giving credit to the Indian physicist Satyendra Nath Bose (1894-1974), who worked with Einstein and directed the physics program at Dacca University.  The Indian press (here, here, here) has been eager to make sure that we all know this, and just a bit miffed that this Higgs fellow is getting all the press.

Mind you, a Pakistani physicist also deserves some credit, which his homeland prefers to deny him.  Abdus Salam (1926-1996) was one of the two physicists who predicted the existence of the Higgs boson, and shared his Nobel prize with Steven Weinberg, the other.  He was an important figure in Pakistani science and government until 1974, when his religious community, the Ahmadi sect, was declared to be heretical, and subjected to intense persecution.  Salam left Pakistan, and could not return safely.  Even after his body was returned for burial, the tombstone -- reading "First Muslim Nobel Laureate" -- was defaced.

Please do note the difference between life, culture and religion in the world's largest democracy, which wants to make sure that one of its heroes gets a place in the world's textbooks, and Pakistan, which has literally had one stricken from its own.

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