What counts as “new” physics?

I can’t lie to you – I really rather enjoyed the phrase “Bog Standard Model“. Punning aside, though, to label the latest Higgs boson results from Kyoto as “boring” is a little harsh. Perhaps the LHC has been a victim of its own media success, but if you’ve heard Frank Close or John Ellis talk about the Higgs field as a kind of “relativistic aether”, you’d know that it’s anything but “boring” when you stop and really try to think about it. Now that we know this thing exists, we really can try to think about what it might mean for our universe.

However, the article (and some of the speakers in Kyoto) also came under fire from Jon Butterworth for bemoaning the lack of “new physics” from the LHC. Every test the 8TeV proton-proton collisions have thrown at the Standard Model – our best understanding of how matter and forces work at the fundamental level – has been passed with flying colours, including this recent result from LHCb. But as Jon rightly points out, it would be criminal to say that no “new physics” was being done – the Standard Model is being tested in new regimes and we are discovering more and more about how well it seems to do the job. So are people being unfair when they that there’s no “new physics” from the LHC yet?

I like the way @LinkaNeo put it in a tweet yesterday: “The idea isn’t new [...], but the discovery and the proof are,” and to be fair to those reporting on the LHC pre-2009 (i.e. before we had any data), there were plenty of ideas relating to physics beyond the Standard Model that were happily labelled as “new” – extra dimensions, supersymmetry, Kaluza-Klein resonances – that we haven’t seen evidence for yet, and probably wouldn’t until the LHC energy upgrade in 2015. So how to report on the distinction? Well, at the risk of getting a little bit Blairy, let’s refer to physics beyond the Standard Model as “New Physics“, and the amazing work coming out of the LHC that’s confirming the success of the Standard Model as “new physics“. And let’s remember that it’s all important.

I know, I know – the Higgs boson shouldn’t have any spin. But for now, it looks like Things Can Only Get Better (Measured).

UPDATE – Saturday 17th November 2012, 9:19am: There’s a nice example of the “New Physics Fallacy” in this Nature News article, via the @LHCproton. “For if physicists don’t find anything that conflicts with existing theories, how will we deepen our understanding?“. Did you really mean that, Michael Moyer? Really?