Tobi Lehman's blog

Math has no god particle

There is an interesting article from FiveThirtyEight about the Atlas of Lie Groups and Representations, and more generally about why mathematicians are reluctant to talk to the press.

They explore the difference between physicists and mathematicians with respect to the press. This point came up:

The asymmetry in storytelling between math and the other sciences may also be because the research has different start-up costs. You need billions of dollars to build an enormous tunnel to house a particle accelerator to discover evidence of the God particle, also known as the Higgs boson. A good story may secure you coverage, enthusiasm and, if you’re lucky, lots of cash. To map Lie groups, Vogan said, you just need a teaching load light enough to put in extra work on the weekends: “We can do these things with small amounts of money.”

Which made me think of the economics of different disciplines, when there is no need to get funding, there is a corresponding lack of incentive to learn how to explain what you are doing in a compelling way.

This suggests that it’s not that math has “no god particle”, just that “god particle” is an effective bit of marketing that physicists used because it helps justify the billions of dollars it takes to build a particle accelerator.