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Sophie Ritson (Sydney): “Probing Novelty at the LHC: Heuristic appraisal of disruptive experimentation”
3 February 2020, 2:00 pm – 3:30 pm
Abstract: In this talk, ‘novelty’ is explored through a recent historical episode from high-energy experimental physics to offer an understanding of novelty as disruption. I call this the ‘750 GeV episode’, an episode where two Large Hadron Collider (LHC) experiments, CMS and ATLAS, each independently observed indications of a new resonance at approximately 750 GeV. With further data collection, the initial excess was determined to be a statistical fluctuation. The approach taken, in the analysis of interviews conducted with physicists who were involved in the ‘750 GeV episode’, is to identify novelty as a valued difference. Following this conceptually driven approach, I disambiguate between several notions of novelty through the identification of varied differences. This disambiguation is achieved through exploring differences expressed in comparison to varied expressions of the standard model, and through exploring varied ‘types’ of difference (properties and entities) to introduce disruptive exploratory experimentation, a complementary understanding ‘exploratory experimentation’ (Elliott, 2007; Steinle, 1997, 2002). I show that the kinds of novelty framed as most valuable are those that violate expectations and are difficult to incorporate into the existing structures of knowledge. In such instances, disruption to the existing ontology or ways of knowing is valued. This positive appraisal of disruption, and contradiction over confirmation, is considered in the recent context of high-energy physics, where several physicists have claimed that there is a lack of promising directions for the future, or even that the field is in a ‘crisis’. I show that the role of disruption explains the differences between the differing notions of novelty. Furthermore, I show that the positive appraisal of disruption is based on forward looking assessments of future fertility, or heuristic appraisal (Nickles, 1989, 2006). Within the context of concerns of a lack of available promising future directions, disruption becomes a generator of alternative futures.
Sophie Ritson is a post-doctoral researcher in the FWF project “Producing novelty and securing credibility: LHC experiments in STS-perspective“ within the research unit The Epistemology of the Large Hadron Collider at the University of Klagenfurt.