What’s “boson” in the Higgs boson Particle? WSJ-India RealTime & NYT-IndiaInk Told Us – Not Wash Post or FT

The global media featured the discovery of the Higgs boson particle extensively with photographs and lengthy articles. Virtually, every single article featured British Scientist Peter Higgs, for whom the first part of the particle is named. So now we know Higgs. But then what is “boson”? And why is “H” is always in large case but the “b” is always in lower case? Neither the Washington Post nor the Financial Times (FT) told us the origin of the term “boson”.

On July 5, the India RealTime section of the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) published the article For India, ‘God Particle’ as much Boson as Higgs. This article reported that ‘boson’ is named after Indian Scientist Satyendra Nath Bose, who was introduced to the European-American world by Albert Einstein. The term “Boson” was coined, according to Wikipedia, by another Physicist Paul Dirac for particles that are governed by Bose-Einstein statistics. Dirac himself is famed for Fermi-Dirac statistics.

A day later, India Ink section of the New York Times (NYT) published its article For the Indian Father of the ‘God Particle’, a Long Journey from Dhaka. This article traces the life and the work of Satyendra Nath Bose and his association with Albert Einstein.

So why didn’t the Washington Post and the Financial Times care to explain either the meaning of “boson” or even devote a line to the work of Bose? Is it shoddy journalism or is it an inherent bias against anything not European or American? Are the WSJ or NYT inherently more fair and less biased than Washington Post and the FT. We don’t know.

It might as simple as economics and mind share. Both WSJ and NYT have dedicated India sections while Washington Post and FT don’t. So, perhaps, WSJ & NYT have greater desire for mind share among people of Indian origin. Does that desire lead to greater focus on Indian issues? Probably.

But there is a big difference between the WSJ India RealTime article and the NYT India Ink article.

The WSJ India Real Time Article

The WSJ article spends very little time discussing either the work of Bose or the relevance of term ‘boson’. Just read the title For India, ‘God Particle’ as Much Boson as Higgs. So, according to the WSJ,  the ‘boson’ part of the ‘Higgs boson’ particle is only relevant to India?

The bulk of the WSJ article is devoted to negative comments about the press release put out by the Press Information Bureau of India. We quote:

  • “A kind of particle, known as a boson, is named for Mr. Bose. The Higgs
    particle, named for British scientist Peter Higgs, is a kind of boson.
    Mr. Higgs, who attended Wednesday’s announcement, did his pioneering
    work in the 1960s that led to the discovery.”
  • “Mr. Bose died in the 1970s and, of course, he wasn’t directly involved
    in the work that led to Wednesday’s announcement. But that didn’t stop
    the Indian government.”
  • “Underlying the bureau’s release is a sense that the West is not giving India its due, which seems a little off the point.”
  • “In recapping Mr. Bose’s scientific achievements, which occurred when
    India was part of the British Empire, the bureau hits a sour note.
    “‘Indians are incapable of achieving anything great in science. At best,
    they are experts in subjects like philosophy,’ was the view most held
    in the West during those years,” it said without attributing the quote.”

Think of a new advance in Physics that extends the scope of Einstein’s work. Does any really believe that media coverage of such an advance will ignore the name of Einstein or relegate Einstein’s role to a negligible status. We don’t think so. Every such article would drape itself in reflected glory by eulogizing the work by Einstein, in our opinion.

Just imagine that Einstein himself had discovered the category of particles called ‘boson” and assume that the category was known as “einston”. What would have been the coverage of a “Higgs einston” particle? Do you think this Wall Street Journal article would have disparaged Einstein’s role by arguing Einstein died in 1955? Would a WSJ article about such a “Higgs einston” particle only publish the photo of Higgs and not on Einstein?

The WSJ article published the photograph below of Peter Higgs. They did not publish a photograph of Bose.

        (photo of Higgs in the WSJ article – src WSJ)

Then you have the obligatory reference to the “British Empire”. The WSJ India RealTime article somehow manages to demean the “Indian”-ness of Bose by stating that his work took place when “India was part of the British Empire”. If you think this is splitting hairs, find us one reference, even one solitary credit to Nazi Germany for the work of Einstein and other great Jewish Scientists that was done while they lived in that Germany.

But come on, isn’t that being overly sensitive? After all, the Jewish Scientists did great work DESPITE what they endured in Nazi Germany while Indian Scientists did good work BECA– USE they lived under the good graces of the British Empire!

Is the above slant because the writer of the WSJ India Real Time article is a man named Tom Wright?

The NYT India Ink Article

Unlike the WSJ India Real Time article, the NYT India Ink article does not either demean the ‘boson’ part of “Higgs boson” or overly praise it. This is a studious article that traces the work and life of Satyendra Nath Bose. The article also references how Indian Scientists were treated during the British Empire;

  • “Satyendra Nath Bose, the Calcutta physicist who first mathematically described the class of particles…As was common with Indian scientists in the early 20th century, however, his work might easily have eluded international recognition. Like the mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujam, Mr. Bose was saved from obscurity by a generous and influential mentor in Europe. In Mr. Bose’s case, that mentor turned out to be one of the greatest physicists of them all: Albert Einstein.”
  • “The paper he wrote, titled “Planck’s Law and the Light-Quantum Hypothesis,” was first rejected by a referee at the London-based journal named Philosophical Magazine, which had published some of Mr. Bose’s previous papers. Undeterred, Mr. Bose sent it, in the summer of 1924, to Berlin, to the desk of Mr. Einstein, who had won his own Nobel three years earlier.”
  • “Mr. Einstein did indeed think the paper worth publication. Within a
    month, he had translated and submitted it to Zeitschrift für Physik,
    appending a note at the end of its four concise, equation-filled pages:
    “In my opinion Bose’s derivation signifies an important advance.” Mr.
    Einstein would take Mr. Bose’s work further still, applying his
    statistical techniques to “count” atoms in an ordinary gas, and to
    discover the low-energy states of particles in the supercooled gases
    known now as Bose-Einstein Condensates.”

This is a thorough article and worth reading. It includes two photographs of Bose.

(Passport photo of Bose in 1924 – src NYT)  (Bose at Dacca University in 1930s – src NYT)

By the way, the NYT article is written by a man named Samnath Subramanian while the WSJ article is written by a man named Tom Wright. Could this be the real reason why the NYT article is so different in spirit from the WSJ article? We don’t know. We wonder whether the WSJ Editors and the NYT Editors would care to answer?

We saw above how Tom Wright of WSJ brought up the British Empire. Below is the reference to the British rule from Samnath Subramaniam of NYT.

  • In 1972, in the American Journal of Physics, William Blanpied wrote
    after an interview with Mr. Bose: “Even more than forty years later, one
    still has the impression that the young Bose was terribly intimidated
    by Europeans… The nature of British rule in India…had the effect of
    making the subject people believe that they really were inferior
    .” (emphasis ours)

May be, Tom Wright of WSJ was right. The credit for Bose’s work should go the British Empire and not to Mr. Bose or to his Indian origin!

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