I don’t think that Peter Higgs has a fan club – yet. An interview with him in New Scientist this week reveals why he should have one. He is the theoretical physicist who has predicted the existence of a particle now known as the ‘Higgs boson’ which explains the origin of mass and which the CERN project in Switzerland, turned on this week, is going to investigate.
I very much like Professor Higgs for these reasons. 1) He is modest. He heard from a colleague that the name ‘Higgs’ had been attached to almost everything to do with the theories of mass generation (“I think I was first to draw attention to the particle associated with it…..I go around pointing out that nothing else in this kind of theory was mine or mine alone”). 2) He considers other people: he was concerned about the vogue for calling the Higgs particle the ‘God particle’ (“it might offend people who are religious”). But most importantly (3) he is very wary of the overselling of theories when they are still at the experimental stage and that overenthusisatic researchers can do real damage to the public at large (“He urges scientists not to repeat the mistakes of the past by overselling [the CERN experiments] as a machine destined to find the definite answers to the remaining mysteries of the universe.”)
On number 3, I suspect that there are medical researchers and press officers who could learn rather a lot.