Weasels in the Large Hadron Collider, and self-throwing dead cats

Scientists deployed a new political technology twice this week, to spectacular effect

On Thursday I was on BBC Radio 4’s Inside Science, discussing with Adam Rutherford some excitement around the new data from CERN’s Large Hadron Collider. Under his newly-invented ‘Cloak of Speculation’, we mused as to whether the currently statistically-marginal blip might develop into the first evidence for a new particle, perhaps some kinds of heavier version of the Higgs boson, or maybe even some kind of graviton looped over higher dimensions of spacetime. You can listen to us here.

I had thought the Cloak of Speculation would provide enough cover to maintain scientific respectability, and avoid drawing the ire of my superiors in the mysterious order that runs the LHC (and indeed everything else). But it seems I went too far, and not twelve hours later, a recently developed technology was deployed to prevent the speculation taking off.

The ‘dead cat’ manoeuvre is by now well established. Attributed to the Australian politico Lynton Crosby it is a method of moving the discussion off a topic which one would rather not have discussed. Boris ‘American ancestry’ Johnson, a serial beneficiary, sums it up thus:

There is one thing that is absolutely certain about throwing a dead cat on the dining room table – and I don’t mean that people will be outraged, alarmed, disgusted. That is true, but irrelevant. The key point, says my Australian friend, is that everyone will shout, ‘Jeez, mate, there’s a dead cat on the table!’ In other words, they will be talking about the dead cat – the thing you want them to talk about – and they will not be talking about the issue that has been causing you so much grief.

The method works extremely well and, and is claimed as a major factor in the surprise election win for the Conservatives in the UK general election of 2015.

Continued at the Guardian.

About Jon Butterworth

UCL Physics prof, works on LHC, writes (books, Guardian Science and elsewhere). Citizen of England, UK, Europe & Nowhere, apparently.
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