Higgs Gossip: Observation of a γγ resonance at a mass…

Update (April 25th, 2011) at end.

So I woke up this morning to several emails about a strange “Higgs sighting” at ATLAS.  On a Woit’s blog, a commenter named Higgs? shared an abstract purporting observations of some 115 GeV resonance at CERN.  It claims to be from an “internal note” from the ATLAS Collaboration.

Higgs? says:

Internal Note
Report number ATL-COM-PHYS-2011-415
Title Observation of a γγ resonance at a mass in the vicinity of 115 GeV/c2 at ATLAS and its Higgs interpretation
Author(s) Fang, Y (-) ; Flores Castillo, L R (-) ; Wang, H (-) ; Wu, S L (University of Wisconsin-Madison)
Imprint 21 Apr 2011. – mult. p.
Subject category Detectors and Experimental Techniques
Accelerator/Facility, Experiment CERN LHC ; ATLAS
Free keywords Diphoton ; Resonance ; EWEAK ; HIGGS ; SUSY ; EXOTICS ; EGAMMA
Abstract Motivated by the result of the Higgs boson candidates at LEP with a mass of about 115~GeV/c2, the observation given in ATLAS note ATL-COM-PHYS-2010-935 (November 18, 2010) and the publication “Production of isolated Higgs particle at the Large Hadron Collider Physics” (Letters B 683 2010 354-357), we studied the γγ invariant mass distribution over the range of 80 to 150 GeV/c2. With 37.5~pb−1 data from 2010 and 26.0~pb−1 from 2011, we observe a γγ resonance around 115~GeV/c2 with a significance of 4σ. The event rate for this resonance is about thirty times larger than the expectation from Higgs to γγ in the standard model. This channel H→γγ is of great importance because the presence of new heavy particles can enhance strongly both the Higgs production cross section and the decay branching ratio. This large enhancement over the standard model rate implies that the present result is the first definitive observation of physics beyond the standard model. Exciting new physics, including new particles, may be expected to be found in the very near future.

See: http://cdsweb.cern.ch/record/1346326?

Is this a Higgs sighting? Well, the abstract says, “the event rate…is about thirty times larger than the expectation from Higgs to γγ in the standard model” making it certainly not evidence for a Standard Model Higgs.  Is it a real observation? That’s a better question at this point.  Better still, is this a real note?

I don’t work with CERN, so my login doesn’t give me permission to access internal memos (in fact, I can only read the partial title “Observation of a γγ resonance at a mass”?) although others have told me that the paper is actually there and does claim what the abstract is presenting (although perhaps not convincingly).

One of my favourite ATLAS postdocs, Mark Tibbetts, said,

The line from the management is “This is not an official result of the ATLAS experiment.”

“Not an official result”. Hmm…

Now, the authors are a little interesting because they include Sau Lau Wu. Wu is often associated with her excitement, near the end of the LEP days, when her team thought they had observed a Higgs candidate around 114GeV/c2 (it was basically ruled out later).  The energies being so similar here make this curious.

Another important thing to point out is that the CDF has also been focused on the H→γγ search and has seen no 115 GeV bump in their data [see Search for a Standard Model Higgs Boson Decaying Into Photons at CDF Using 7.0 fb-1 of Data [pdf] from April 18th, 2011].  If this sizable 115 GeV bump was being found in ATLAS data, the CDF should also have seen a hint of it, not, nothing.

At this point, I see no reason in speculating on what this [result] means.  It’s a rumour.  The analysis may be very limited.  The data may be non-existent.  And it’s not impossible that someone uploaded it to the CERN servers as a joke.  If the ATLAS Collaboration were to release it themselves, then we could be excited (and if people want to start throwing around “fourth generation”, “non-Standard Higgs”, “SUSY confirmed/ruled out”, then it might be reasonable).  Until there is an official statement from the collaboration, or even one of the co-authors, this is just gossip.  Don’t get excited.  Seriously.

For more remarks, analysis, and speculation:

Update: April 25th, 2011: “Spokeswoman quashes Higgs particle rumor” in Nature.

ATLAS’ spokeswoman Fabiola Gianotti stops short of disowning the leaked document, but tells Nature signals of the kind reported in the memo show up quite frequently in the course of data analysis and are later falsified after more detailed scrutiny. “Only official ATLAS results, i.e. results that have undergone all the necessary scientific checks by the Collaboration, should be taken seriously,” she says.

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22 Responses to Higgs Gossip: Observation of a γγ resonance at a mass…

  1. CMSVagabond says:

    This is really fascinating but I agree that it’s probably nothing (even after I read the paper). Red faces at ATLAS right now for sure. It’s easy to publish notes that you want to share, but that doesn’t make them part of the collaboration. I imagine no one was supposed to see this. Very weak data analysis. There is no signal there. No Higgs. No new physics. Glad as always to see your incredibly rational coverage of this.

  2. ATLASperson says:

    CMSVagabond, one thing you say is certainly not true: “I imagine no one was supposed to see this.” At least 3000 people (ballpark) were definitely meant to.

    Whether one or more of the authors of that note is behind the posting of the abstract outside the collaboration is a different story. I’m not making any accusations, but I would not be surprised. Could just as well have been an enemy….SLW has plenty of those.

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  4. Comments from another ATLAS person says:


    Q. How often do sensational com notes like this one get circulated internally?

    I don’t want to say “never”; the thing is, we have not been taking data that long…and how can you have a note making truly sensational claims with Monte Carlo simulation? I will say that I have seen some worthless COM notes, documenting studies that are not well done and are clearly not going anywhere. Sometimes a student is going to graduate, or a person is going to need to search for jobs, and they need to just document their work, put an internal number on it, and it looks like they accomplished something. Funding agencies also seem to like it when you can show that you have produced many of these notes. I’m not saying that’s the motivation with this incident. But I have seen several throw-away COM notes that fit that bill.

    Q. How likely is it that the authors of this note have done something silly in the analysis?

    Here’s the thing: most of the time when an important analysis–let’s use a less controversial example, like the measurement of the Z cross section–is documented by a COM note, it is not a situation like this one. These analyses are very complicated and have many pieces. There is an entire working group, of usually around 30 people, behind the note. Each aspect of the analysis is carefully studied. In the case of the Z cross section, there were probably 2-3 people working on the electron identification criteria for that analysis. They presented their results to the working group, and those were discussed. After several iterations of this the group agreed on the criteria that seems to work the best. We went through this for other parts of the analysis…QCD background determination, electron efficiency measurements, etc. When the group has a complete analysis, it is written as a COM note. This is to document and communicate the work that has been done so far. The collaboration offers comments etc., which is helpful but does not count as review. An internal review board is assigned to the note, and only after this board signs off, and all comments from the collaboration have been addressed, can the document be made public.

    In this path, the original, un-approved COM note, although not an “official” result, was stringently validated due to the work of many people in the working group and is probably not far off from the final approved version. The authors of the note behind the leaked abstract did not take this path, so while it is not guaranteed that their results or their approach are wrong, but a mistake somewhere is also much more likely.

    As far as wanting to avoid looking silly in front of one’s colleagues…Even when you are considering people who are professionals, wanting very badly for something to be true, really BELIEVING that something is true, can cloud one’s judgement. Also consider: what does Sau Lan Wu have to lose? She has a position with tenure at a nice university. She has a proven track record of success and will continue to be able to get funding for the immediate future. If she makes sensational claims to the collaboration, people will roll their eyes, scrutinize the work, but if it’s wrong it doesn’t really cost her anything in the end. As for the graduate student and post-docs, I don’t know if they have much of a choice whether to be listed as authors or not. I guess they could refuse, but that’s tricky since they certainly are the ones who did the work.

    Q. Is the Atlas heirarchy are going to try to discover the source of the leak?

    I am sure that almost everyone in ATLAS has read this document. Seeing who clicked on the link would not be a viable way of finding the leak. I’ve heard (completely unfounded) rumors that email tracing may be done, but my understanding is that the leak happened via a comment on a blog (this one?). In this case, I guess that the only way to find out would be if the blog owner could be persuaded to give the information. Even in that case, if I were going to leak it that way (and I didn’t), I would use a fake email address. So probably we’re not going to find out who did it.

  5. More on CERN Docu Process says:

    Here is a link explaining the categories of ATLAS documentation that can be found on the CERN document server (CDS): https://twiki.cern.ch/twiki/bin/viewauth/Atlas/CdsCategories

    “ATLAS Communications (ATLAS-COM-*): ATLAS communications – no approval or vetting by ATLAS; also used as “discussion category” for documents to be approved (Proceedings, Slides, INT and PUB notes)”

    “This cannot be considered an official result of the ATLAS experiment. It has not been reviewed by even a single internal reviewer. COM notes are, as noted by others, used to communicate information to the whole collaboration. The subject of such notes is information all collaboration members have access to already, but usually written in such a way that it is well-explained for members that don’t necessarily participate in a given analysis. It’s a 3000 person collaboration; without something like COM notes, it would be difficult to follow everything that goes on. You certainly can’t go to all the meetings.”

  6. Jocko says:

    I don’t think the 30x magnitude would be used if this were a ruse… especially since it correlates to the earlier 30x result that was put to rest.

    This is probably a legitimate internal memo. And either it is a valid result or the same error that caused the last 30x false finding is also causing this one.

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