Supposedly there’s no such thing as bad publicity, and indeed just about every large organization from business to charity spends tremendous amount of time and money trying to get noticed by the public. You’d think therefore that it would be a good thing that particle physics gets the press it does. You’d think, but then you see news stories like this, from which we can get the gist by quoting the second paragraph:
…Then it will be time to test one of the most bizarre and revolutionary theories in science. I’m not talking about extra dimensions of space-time, dark matter or even black holes that eat the Earth. No, I’m talking about the notion that the troubled collider is being sabotaged by its own future. A pair of otherwise distinguished physicists have suggested that the hypothesized Higgs boson, which physicists hope to produce with the collider, might be so abhorrent to nature that its creation would ripple backward through time and stop the collider before it could make one, like a time traveler who goes back in time to kill his grandfather.
“Otherwise distinguished.” Well, I have to admit that’s a nice touch. Because this idea ain’t distinguished. In fact if I had to bed I’d say it wasn’t even serious. Physicist humor tends to run along these lines, and if the media latched onto it as though it were serious. I’m not entirely blaming the media, however. It’s not as though the various popularizers of high-energy physics haven’t done a thorough job of making the general public think physics consists entirely of acid-trip hippie speculations about superposed cats, strings, and some of the more bizarre interpretations of entanglement. (You know who you are.)
Which is doubly irritating because not only does high-energy physics not resemble its popular TV/book persona, most physics isn’t high-energy physics in the first place. Solid state, AMO, nuclear, and the various other sub-disciplines get almost no press despite comprising the great bulk of professional physicists. Oh well, some things just have to be lived with.
So with the caveat that the idea probably isn’t serious and that even if it were the media is probably getting it wrong, let’s take a look at the idea to assess its plausibility. It rests on two data points. 1) The LHC broke down in dramatic and expensive fashion. 2) Congress canceled the SSC in the 90s, which would have been America’s next-generation particle accelerator and would have done some of the same things as the LHC.
According to the so-called Standard Model that rules almost all physics, the Higgs is responsible for imbuing other elementary particles with mass…
This malign influence from the future, they argue, could explain why the United States Superconducting Supercollider, also designed to find the Higgs, was canceled in 1993 after billions of dollars had already been spent, an event so unlikely that Dr. Nielsen calls it an “anti-miracle.”
The standard model rules almost all physics? I’ve never used it, neither has anyone else in my (AMO) research group. The standard model is currently the most fundamental low-level description of the universe that we yet have, but most physics is in no sense reliant on it any more than you are reliant on knowledge of the internals of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing when you use cash. If the whole thing turns out to need major revision (as well it might), most physics will go on without a hiccup.
But the points again are two supposedly unlikely events. In reality, neither were at all unlikely. The LHC broke because engineers tried to cut too fine a compromise between the ability to redirect excess current and the ability to detect it in the first place. It wasn’t an arcane and unlikely glitch, it was a plain-and-simple major design flaw. Large projects tend to have them, and after repair they tend to work again. The Hubble Telescope is the canonical example here.
Ditto congress and the SSC. It was never unlikely that it would get canceled. Congress wanted a sacrificial lamb (with few constituents) to maintain the pretense of fiscal responsibility to the voters. It was the SSC or the Space Station, and nobody wanted to wreck NASA’s then-current raison d’etre and all its juicy contractor pork. Bye bye SSC.
The whole thing is like assuming you are Cosmically Forbidden to finish your TPS report because your computer crashed in the middle of it. Unless the LHC is repaired and then immediately attacked by zombie ghosts, I’m pretty sure we can work under the assumption that the universe doesn’t care what our physics experiments do.