It’s called the Higgs boson. Get used to it.

Apparently some physicists are arguing that the Higgs boson shouldn’t be called the Higgs boson:

“I have always thought that the name was not a proper one,” said professor Carl Hagen, in an interview with BBC News.

“To single out one individual marginalizes the contribution of others involved in the work. Although I did not start this campaign to change the name, I welcome it.”

According to the BBC, key contributions to Higgs theory have been made by Francois Englert, Peter Higgs, Gerald Guralnik, Tom Kibble, Robert Brout and Carl Hagen, five of whom spoke at a press conference last summer to announce the discovery of what was thought to be the Higgs boson.

Only professor Higgs received a huge round of applause from the audience.


It’s true, I gather, that a bunch of people came up with the theoretical ideas leading to the prediction of the Higgs boson, so I suppose it is unfair that Higgs gets the particle named after him, but there’s really not much to be done about it. It’s been called the Higgs for an awfully long time, and I don’t see any way it’s going to change.

This reminds me of Stigler’s Law of Eponymy:

In its simplest and strongest form it says: “No scientific discovery is named after its original discoverer.” Stigler named the sociologist Robert K. Merton as the discoverer of “Stigler’s law”, consciously making “Stigler’s law” exemplify itself.

The Higgs boson actually isn’t a great example of Stigler’s Law, because nobody disputes that Higgs is one of the people behind the particle. A better example is Gresham’s Law in economics, which turns out to have been stated by none other than Copernicus 40 years before Gresham got to it.

There are a bunch of other examples. To cite just a couple,

Just look at Leonhard Euler and Carl Friedrich Gauss, indisputably two of the most important mathematicians of the 18th and early 19th centuries. And yet Euler’s number (better known as the constant e) was actually discovered by Jacob Bernouli, Euler’s formula was more or less demonstrated by Roger Cotes three decades before Euler, Gauss’s Theorem was discovered by Joseph Louis Lagrange and first proved by Mikhail Vasilievich Ostrogradsky, and Gaussian distribution was introduced by Abraham de Moivre 61 years before Gauss popularized it. Euler and Gauss were unarguably great mathematicians, but going by everything named after them you’d think they were the only mathematicians from 1700 to 1850.

To tell the truth, I have an ulterior motive for posting this. On several past occasions I’ve tried to remember the name of Stigler’s Law and been unable to come up with it. Now I’ll always have a place I can go look it up.

Published by

Ted Bunn

I am chair of the physics department at the University of Richmond. In addition to teaching a variety of undergraduate physics courses, I work on a variety of research projects in cosmology, the study of the origin, structure, and evolution of the Universe. University of Richmond undergraduates are involved in all aspects of this research. If you want to know more about my research, ask me!

2 thoughts on “It’s called the Higgs boson. Get used to it.”

  1. At Moriond this February everyone we all got emails to call it the BEH boson, or the Standard Model Scalar, in our talks. Everyone essentially ignored this.

  2. *At Moriond this February we all got emails to call it the BEH boson, or the Standard Model Scalar, in our talks. Everyone essentially ignored this.

Comments are closed.