The most accurate theory in history, in any field

The Standard Model is a collection of physical theories that describe the most elementary particles in nature as well as the laws that act upon them. The model was developed in the latter half of the twentieth century, and has recently been the subject of great praise thanks to the most expensive experiment in the history of science, which purportedly resulted in the discovery of a Higgs boson, also known as a Higgs particle. The existence of this particle was predicted over fifty years ago and is fundamental to the veracity of the Standard Model.

Despite the majestic aura surrounding this particle, and the fact that one hundred countries had invested billions in experiments that pertain to it, the Standard Model is almost entirely inaccessible to physicists from other scientific disciplines because the Standard Model uses a language and terminology that completely differentiate it from other fields of physics. The language used by the model is highly elaborate, and, because this book rarely employs that language, the criteria by which it can be examined are mainly whether the model accurately predicts experimental data, and what scientists actually say about their own model.

Some Standard Model theories have fared well, such as those that predicted the three generations of particles, but not all Standard Model theories are cut from the same cloth. Some parts of the Standard Model are indeed self-sufficient and require no reference to other model theories. However, a central part of the model known as quantum chromodynamics (QCD), which describes the structure of protons and neutrons, has consistently failed time and time again.

The theory that describes the structure of protons and neutrons and the force that exists within them, QCD, was developed over forty years ago, and many surprising facts have since come to light concerning what truly transpires inside these particles. Nevertheless, I assume that most particle scientists active today, with the exception of a small group of dissidents,[1] accept the Standard Model as true. For this reason, I should open with an “apology” before I begin my assault on such a universally accepted physical theory. I will now proceed by briefly examining whether the Standard Model of particle physics, with an emphasis on QCD, meets the basic criteria of a well-founded, indisputable physical theory.

Technological Advancements
The discoveries of modern physics have had a tremendous effect on technological progress. The theory of electrodynamics developed in the nineteenth century, and quantum theory, mostly developed in the first half of the twentieth century, now form the basis of almost every device we use on a daily basis. One may confidently assert that the very existence of these technologies provides a near-absolute validation of the physical theories that underlie them.

It should be noted that currently not a single technology has been developed based on the insights of QCD. I do not consider this to be a weakness of QCD, as it remains entirely unclear whether such knowledge can ever be used for developing new technologies, but it is important to remember that QCD is not supported by any “evidence” in the form of technologies that would have been otherwise impossible to develop.

Five Decimal Places
One of the most appealing arguments in favor of quantum theory and special relativity is the breathtaking precision achieved by their application. Modern particle accelerators are used to collide particle beams with staggering precision. The analysis of collision results is only possible thanks to the perfect correspondence between the mathematical equations of special relativity and the laws of nature as we observe them. In an astonishing feat of empirical evidence, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) succeeded in providing 1015 confirmations of equations taken from special relativity.

The Dirac equation was derived in 1928 and forms a part of quantum theory. The equation predicts real observations with a precision of up to five decimal places. Computational methods developed by quantum field theory have succeeded in achieving even greater precision under certain conditions. This astounding agreement between theoretical predictions and empirical data further supports the veracity of this equation and the computational tools that we employ.

This laudable state of affairs, however, does not apply to QCD. QCD scientists argue that the equations are exceedingly complex, and therefore cannot be applied in low-energy settings.

We have a simple, definite theory [QCD] that is supposed to explain all the properties of protons and neutrons, yet we can’t calculate anything with it, because the mathematics is too hard for us. [2]

This is a legitimate argument, but we should bear in mind that QCD has no “empirical confirmation” that can convince us of its validity.

Different Schools
When dealing with a well-founded physical theory, it is likely to produce the same answers for the same basic questions. The Standard Model, however, offers no conventional answers to even the most fundamental questions. What causes attraction between protons and neutrons? This attraction keeps protons and neutrons together inside the nuclei. That’s a pretty basic question, right?

It appears that opinions vary even on such a fundamental question as this. Distinguished physicists have differing opinions on the matter. Frank Wilczek, a 2004 Nobel Prize laureate, had written an article in support of the approach that explains the attraction by the interactions of pions and rho mesons [3] that exert the force in question and transfer it from protons to neutrons. Other scientists deem this force to be a “residual force” associated with the quarks that comprise protons and neutrons and believe it is unrelated to pions. In one online forum[4] you may find an abundance of contradictory answers given to a naïve student who had been confounded by this basic question.

Strong, well-founded theories do not require the support of writers who lavish praise on them. The Standard Model, however, is backed by a vast legion of authors who regularly commend its success with breathtaking abandon.

When I sat at my computer and googled the phrase:

“Standard Model” most accurate

I was presented with 876,000 hits. Thank God the computer only showed English search results! A significant portion of these websites praise the model’s many successes. They also included books, such as The Standard Model, the unsung triumph of modern physics [5] (an amusingly self contradicting title). Some websites even depict the Standard Model as “the most accurate and all-encompassing theory in the history of physics,” and the list goes on.[6]

Let’s take a closer look at just how accurate these descriptions are. Let’s examine Wikipedia’s Standard Model article, which describes the accuracy of its predictions (the screenshot below was captured in February 2013):

Figure 1. SM predictions as presented by Wikipedia

The table compares measured (left) and predicted (right) W and Z mass values according to the Standard Model. Even without understanding the role played by these particles, we can still witness a very strong correspondence between predicted and actual values. Actual results deviate from predictions by less than one-thousandth! Given that this field of particle physics deals with very high energies, such accurate results are nothing short of fantastic.
There’s just one tiny problem: none of that is true. Before 1983, the year when the W and Z particles were discovered, two predictions of their masses were published: [7]

Table 1. Predictions published before the discovery of the W and Z particles
Particle Prediction 1 Prediction 2
W 2.8 ± 84 2.6 ± 79.5
Z 2.3 ± 94.6 2.1 ± 90

The predictions were wrong by a few percent. That’s quite good, so why push it? By the way, the W and Z particles belong to a section of the Standard Model known as “Electroweak theory.” We will refrain from discussing it here, as the validity of this theory neither supports nor refutes QCD theory.

Many proponents tell us that the Standard Model is perfect and devoid of any inconsistencies. Following are a few typical examples (you may find thousands of similar statements online):

“The Standard Model describes everything we know about the smallest building blocks of nature yet observed. It’s the most accurate theory ever developed, in any field.” [8]

“[T]he Standard Model has remained fully consistent with all measurements made at the highest-energy particle accelerators to the date of this writing.” [9]

“The Standard Model can explain every piece of experimental data concerning subatomic particles up to about 1 trillion electron volts in energy… This is about the limit of the atom smashers currently on line. Consequently, it is no exaggeration to state that the Standard Model is the most successful theory in the history of science.” [10]

“Standard Model of Particle Physics is beyond any shadow of doubt one of the biggest accomplishment of Theoretical and Experimental Physics. It is also the most accurate theory ever devised by human beings.” [11]

Let’s take a quick look at two of the many experiments that refute these bombastic assertions. I’ve chosen these experiments in particular because they can be visually presented with ease. Notice the five predictions made by QCD, a central part of the Standard Model, that are presented in figure 2. Now look at the actual measurements made in 1983, which are shown in figure 3. [12] According to QCD, the graph should be ascending. In reality, however, the graph is descending. This experiment was known as the EMC effect.

Figure 2. QCD Predictions

Figure 3. Actual Measurements

The results of this experiment, like many others, have not been explained to this day. [13]

The second problematic finding has to do with the alleged discovery of the Higgs boson. The Higgs is a particle whose unique qualities are crucial in explaining the Standard Model. As distinguished CERN physicist John Ellis succinctly put it, “If you see nothing [don’t find the Higgs in LHC], in some sense then, we theorists have been talking rubbish for the last 35 years.” [14]

The CERN LHC experiments did find a new particle. Unstable particles are characterized by the width of their energy. Figure 4 shows what the graph describing the particle’s energy width should look like if it were indeed a Higgs boson. [15] In figure 5, however, the actual results are shown. [16] The bell curve generated by the experiment is one thousand (!) times wider than the one predicted by the Higgs boson theory. The difference between projected and actual results is not merely quantitative. The actual results graph shows that the width of the new particle is similar to that of other already known particles that belong to the same mass region, and that it is not special or unique as the Higgs boson ought to be.

Figure 4. Energy width of the Higgs boson, as predicted by the Standard Model.

Figure 5. The lower chart depicts actual measurements at the CERN Atlas facility. The curve is 1,000 times wider than predicted.

It is almost universally agreed that if the particle found in the experiment is not the Higgs boson, then the Higgs boson simply does not exist. There are two options, then: one is that the Higgs boson is indeed a myth and that “we theorists have been talking rubbish for the last 35 years,” and the other is that “the most accurate and all-encompassing theory in the history of physics” has made a “tiny” mistake and is off the mark by a factor of one thousand.

By the way, there are scientists who believe that the tremendous discrepancies found in actual data stem from the limitations inherent to particle accelerators, [17] but now is not the time to discuss the issue. We will make do with the fact that these arguments were retroactively invented only after experimental results were finally obtained.

The Agreement between Predicted and Experimental Data
A valid scientific theory should accommodate every experiment that falls within its domain of validity. In principle, a single reproducible experiment that contradicts the theory will suffice in refuting it. Indeed, the stable and valid theories such as special relativity and quantum theory have succeeded time and again in predicting empirical results.

However, there are dozens (!) of experimental data that seemingly contradict QCD. This book addresses around thirty unexplained phenomena, of which more than twenty appear to contradict the Standard Model. These findings have been consistently reproduced time and time again. They are known to the scientific community because they have been published in scientific journals. By the way, there are other data that do not fit the theory, as even QCD proponents have already admitted. I omit them in this book for the sake of brevity and provide references for those who are interested.

How is it possible that in our time, such a basic theory that purports to describe the internal structure of such prevalent particles as protons and neutrons, is in fact completely false? A proton cannot be split open to reveal its inner contents. It is akin to a sealed metal box, and all we can do—even when using the largest particle accelerators to make these boxes collide at vast speeds—is try and predict the pieces that scatter as a result of the collision. The boxes themselves generally return to their original state immediately, and we can examine only the properties of those pieces. If our predictions are correct, we may have a valid theory on our hands. If our predictions are false, we must have made a mistake. Alternatively, it’s possible that one of our assumptions is fundamentally wrong.

It therefore follows that it should be rather easy for the scientific community to hold onto an unfounded theory that describes the structure of protons and neutrons. All it needs is the ability to ignore empirical data that contradict the theory, or say that a future experiment may explain them, and go on as though nothing happened. The intention of this book is to allow you to decide for yourself whether particle scientists do, in fact, possess that ability.

The Shock and Awe of Scientists
Testing the validity of QCD requires expensive, protracted experiments that employ gigantic particle accelerators. The majority of these experiments can only be pursued by a few of today’s particle accelerators due to the tremendous amount of resources they consume. Consequently, there are long intervals of time separating each experiment, and a decade or even a generation may go by before the next one commences.

Whenever new experimental data contradict QCD, physicists express their candid astonishment. The results are documented but are curiously absent from textbooks. Therefore, when a new generation of physicists encounters new discrepant results, once again genuine astonishment is expressed.

Following is a collection of reactions by scientists to experiments whose results are inconsistent with QCD. The following only address the results that remain unexplained to this day.

“‘[It is a] thorn in the side of QCD,’ Sheldon Glashow following an experiment on polarized proton beams conducted in 1979.” [18]

“The results are in complete disagreement with the calculations… We are not aware of any published detailed prediction presently available which can explain the behaviour of these data.” [19] (From a scientific article published in 1983 following the discovery of the EMC effect.)

“In 1988, however, physicists were shocked to find experimental evidence suggesting that very little—perhaps none—of the proton’s spin comes from the spin of the quarks.” [20] (From an article that describes the “proton spin crisis.”)

“We have this elegant theory of quantum chromodynamics, which is supposed to describe the binding of the fundamental constituents of all matter, but we don’t know how to make it work. We can’t even do something as basic as building protons out of quarks.” [21] (Robert Jaffe, in a dispirited declaration following a 1989 experiment that failed to detect strange-quark-matter predicted by QCD.)

“This is not an experiment telling us about esoteric things that happened in the first microsecond of the Bing Bang or in some remote part of the universe,” says Francis E. Close of the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. “This is the stuff we’re made of, and it’s showing that maybe we don’t understand it as well as we thought.” [22]

“If the results are not a statistical fluke, new physics has been observed. One possibility is that our understanding of what’s inside the proton is somehow wrong.” [23]
When I wrote to him fifteen years after the experiment, Frank Sciulli wrote back saying that he believes there actually was a statistical fluke in his experiment. However, other experiments carried out in the first decade of the twenty-first century using the Tevatron particle accelerator in Illinois have confirmed the existence of an analog finding.

“The results have drastic consequences for the way we understand what the proton is made of,” says Charles Perdrisat regarding a 2001 discovery that indicates that the positive charge of protons tends to concentrate in its outer region. [24]

“That’s very disturbing. The finding suggests that scientists may have erred in calculations using fundamental theory to predict quark behavior within neutrons.” (Xiangdong Ji’s remarks on a finding that indicates that quarks have a significant orbital angular momentum.) [25]

It’s interesting to see how Frank Wilczek, one of the pioneers of QCD, addresses the incongruence of QCD and known phenomena:
“Ironically, from the perspective of QCD, the foundations of nuclear physics appear distinctly unsound.” [26]

In this article, Frank Wilczek explains that this theory is incompatible with some of the fundamental properties of atomic nuclei, and that he hopes a breakthrough will be achieved later that will resolve the issue.

Surprisingly, Wilczek fails to convey any astonishment at QCD’s disagreement with reality.

[1] “Despite its widespread use, today’s Standard Model of physics raises conceptual questions of naturalness, is not free of inconsistencies with observations, and includes unproven conjectures.”
[2] Richard Phillips Feynman, QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter, Princeton University Press, 1985, p. 138.
[3] I apologize if readers feel bombarded with new terminology. The issue will be explained later in this book.
[4] Nuclear force as residual color force.
[5] Robert Oerter, The Standard Model, the unsung triumph of modern physics, Pi Press, 2005.
[7] C.H. Llewellyn Smith and J.F. Wheater, Physics Letters 105B, 275 (1981).
[9] Victor J. Stenger, The Comprehensible Cosmos, 2006. p. 92
[10] Michio Kaku, Hyperspace, Oxford University Press, 1995. p. 121
[11] The Standard Model of Particle Physics, by Shahbaz Ahmed Alvi, Department of Physics, University Of Karachi
[12] J.J. Aubert et al., Physics Letters 123B, 275 (1983)
[13] “So while the experimental signature is clear, the interpretation of this effect is, at present, ambiguous.” Arrington et al., New Measurements of the EMC Effect in Few-Body Nuclei, J. Phys. Conference Series 69, 012024 (2007)
[14] The New York Times, May 15, 2007
[15] Handbook of LHC Higgs cross sections, 17-2-2011, p. 143, 145
[17] “The total decay width for a light Higgs boson with a mass in the observed range is not expected to be directly observable at the LHC. For the case of the Standard Model the prediction for the total width is about 4 MeV, which is several orders of magnitude smaller than the experimental mass resolution.”
[18] “Glashow once called this experiment ‘the thorn in the side of QCD.’ In his summary talk at this meeting, Stan Brodsky called this result ‘one of the unsolved mysteries of Hadronic Physics.’” Alan D. Krisch, Hard collisions of spinning protons: Past, present and future, The European Physical Journal A 31, 417–423 (2007)
[19] J.J. Aubert et al., Phys. Lett. 123B, 275 (1983)
[20] Ivars Peterson, Science News, September 6, 1997
[21] Robert L. Jaffe, Science News 1989
[22] Ivars Peterson, Proton puzzle puts physicists in a whirl, Science News, April 8, 1989
[23] Frank Sciulli, Columbia University News, 1997
[24] Peter Weiss, New probe reveals unfamiliar inner proton, Science News, May 5, 2001. Another citation from this article: Theorist Ulf G. Meissner of the National Research Center in Jülich, Germany, admits to being stumped by the new results and wonders if they will hold up. He says he knows of no model of the proton that would lead to such bizarre distributions of the electric field. Says Meissner, “For me, it’s a real puzzle.”
[25] Peter Weiss, Topsy Turvy: In neutrons and protons, quarks take wrong turns, Science News, vol 165, 2004
[26] Frank Wilczek, Hard-core revelations, Nature, 445 156 (2007)


2 thoughts on “The most accurate theory in history, in any field

  1. Hi Ofer,

    Congratulations for publishing your book!

    The vast majority of people define a scientific truth as a truth that enable one to make living on it as a scientist. Thus, the chance that people will abandon QCD is tiny—in spite of the shocking facts exposed in your book.

    My view is that the root of the difficulties that particle physics encounters is Rutherford’s interpretation of the gold foil experiment. This method of interpretation which interprets probabilities for different quantum interactions to spatial positions inside the atom—is misleading! In my understanding, there is no physical significant to distances inside atoms and inside sub atomic particles. This approach leads to the Simple Model of particle physics, which is introduced in Part IV of


    Oded Bar-On

    • Thank you. I agree that we need to look back and find where the mistake are. The main point in the book is that QCD, a major part of the standard model, is completely inconsistent even by the current scientific paradigm.

      I agree that it is possible that we need to look for earlier mistakes. I hope that the sociological environment in particle physics will enable such searches in the future.

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