04 July, 2012


Waiter, there's a boson in my soup

I have to say that I find the meeja's fascination with particle physics quite puzzling. BBC news bulletins generally and this morning's Today programme in particular have been all of a quiver at the apparently impending isolation of the Higgs boson. Remember the LHC switch-on? It was broadcast live on TV news. What's that all about?

Actually, speaking as a pig-higgerant layman, I rather hope that they don't find evidence of the Higgs and have to turn their attention in a new direction. Speaking, as I say, as someone qualified only to admire the pretty colours in the animated diagrams, there is something deeply æsthetically unsatisfying about the way the standard model keeps adding new particles to fill in the gaps in the model. When we are told that the Higgs boson is necessary to add/explain mass, I find myself thinking of ancient and mediæval astronomers bunging in another layer of epicycles to maintain the geocentric model.

I mean, if William of Ockham were alive today, he'd be spinning in his grave, innit.

Meanwhile the Guardian rises to the challenge with a splendid piece of victimism by one Amit Chaudhuri, professor of contemporary literature at UEA, who challenges "the West" for its failure to celebrate the Indian contribution. The class of particles called bosons, he reminds us rather testily, are named in honour of the Indian physicist Satyendra Nath Bose. Well, up to a point, Lord Krishna, up to a point. OK, nobody's heard of SN Bose. But then, most of us had never heard of Peter Higgs either. And the jovial Higgs is at least still alive and reasonably telegenic. Plus, the physics community has acknowledged Bose's contribution in the name of the class of particles which his contribution identified.

So what's the beef? (Can I say "beef" when addressing an Indian?)

Actually, the most telling reflection of the Guardian mindset in Amit's piece comes below the line in a comment by Mulefish

Not dwelling on the Chandresekar limit or the universally accepted intellectual superiority of the Chinese prople, I would pause to recall that the first man, woman and dog, sent into space were Russian, the Gagarin monument in Moscow being as tall and infinitely more meaningful than the Statue of Liberty in the U.S.A., this built by the French, anyhow.

[my emphasis]

The continued presence of this comment is not a moderation oversight, either. If you look at Mulefish's posting history, you will find he has form for repeatedly asserting the genetic superiority of the Chinese. Now just imagine if I were to pop up on CiF and assert that the reason so few Africans have Nobel prizes (proper ones, not celebrity ones like the peace prize) is because Africans are thick. (But good runners with a natural sense of rhythm.)

Ain't balance wonderful?

Talking of elastic standards...


I know, I know, where do you start?

shut up, you racist fuck

That's you told!

Such a compelling argument, too.

It's certainly the case that Indian ("native") scientists were generally condescended to during the colonial period and worked largely outside the cosy academic mafia dominated by Europe and North America. Nevertheless all of the four examples quoted by Amit Chaudhuri received significant international recognition and support from Western academics, and CV Raman did after all get a Nobel.

At the kindest, Chaudhuri's rant can be described as overblown. Looking very briefly at the summaries of his other CiF articles, I get the sense that he is a man with an enormous chip on his shoulder, nursing exaggerated slights and slurs that no-one else is particularly interested in. He reminds me of his Guardian colleague Daniel Waweru and of the wonderful Jai at the old Pickled Politics blog. Amit's views lurk in the borderlands between an Indocentric perspective and outright anti-Western racism.

As to Mulefish's comment about the Chinese. Myself I think that there is enough anecdotal evidence of substantive differences between human races for their possible effects to at least be taken seriously. See Steve Sailer passim for examples of the money and social capital wasted in the USA on trying to engineer equal outcomes between the various ethnic groups, heroic efforts to implement equal opportunities having failed to produce the desired result.

The Guardian seems to adhere to the standard Righteous Left position, that the possible existence of racial differences is a politically unacceptable result which must be denied irrespective of evidence. Barmy and anti-scientific but if that's how they want to play it, fair enough. In the OP I am criticizing their failure to apply that position consistently and even-handedly. Mulefish is allowed to repeatedly assert the intellectual superiority of the Chinese. He may indeed be right. But if a BTL commenter were to harp on about general intellectual superiority, whether genetic or cultural, of Europeans over Africans and South Asians in a similar way, we can safely assume he'd be banned promptly. That's hypocrisy.

I don't mind being called racist, Anon of 19:37, but I am interested in how you understand the term, if you understand it at all other than as a generic term of abuse, and in how you justify your assertion.

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