The 8 February 1996 New York Times coverage of the results of the CDF paper hep-ex/9601008 is an interesting example of science journalism: By January 1997, after a closer look at their data, Fermilab now says that quarks ARE fundamental particles, as far as they can tell. Why, you ask, did the NYT science people write what they wrote?
If you go to the Fermilab News on the Fermilab WWW home page, and go to Whats New, you may see that on Wednesday 7 Feb 96 Fermilab issued what they call a "Media Advisory" entitled "CDF Results Raise Questions on Quark Structure" If you read it, you will see it is a piece of "journalism" about a then-upcoming Science article (9 Feb 96 issue) based on a Jan 96 paper at hep-ex/9601008. The "Media Advisory" says that CDF experimental results "appear to be at odds with predictions based on the current theory of the fundamental structure of matter". The "Media Advisory" does cover itself by actually mentioning two possibilities: 1 - "relatively small adjustments to the theory" ... "this interpretation would need to be reconciled with a large body of data from many other experiments" 2 - "the first hint that the fundamental constituents of matter may not be fundamental after all. ... more exciting possible interpretation ... a whole new level in the makeup of matter." The "Media Advisory" goes on to say that "the CDF experiment is similar in spirit to the historic experiments of Sir Ernest Rutherford. ..."
Now, what about the actual paper hep-ex/9601008 ? It says that "the cross section for jets with ET [greater than] 200 GeV is significantly higher than current predictions based on O(alpha_s^3) [3rd order] perturbative QCD calculations." and that "In addition, the effect of higher order QCD corrections is not known ." and that "...no calculation for compositeness [of quarks] at next-to-leading order [O(alpha_s^3)] [3rd order] is available." and that "However, until a realistic method for representing the theoretical uncertainties from higher order QCD corrections and from the PDFs [parton distribution functions] is found, ANY CLAIM ABOUT THE PRESENCE OR ABSENCE OF NEW PHYSICS IS NOT DEFENSIBLE."
The misleading nature of the New York Times headline, "The Quark May Not Be So Simple", is made clear by Fermilab's position as of January 1997, as reported by The New Scientist, 4 January 1997, p. 10: "... after a closer look at their data, they [Fermilab] now say that quarks are fundamental particles - - as far as they can tell. The Fermilab team counted the jets of debris flung out from collisions between protons and antiprotons. At the highest energies, they noticed unexpectedly large numbers of jets. One possible explanation for this is that quarks contain a family of smaller particles. However, the directions of the jets, which the researchers have now looked at in detail, do not fit in with this picture. Brenna Flaugher of Fermilab says that the original predictions for the numbers of jets were probably too low. This may have been because the quarks and gluons in each proton carry slightly different fractions of its momentum than was previously thought."
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