The virtue of human accomplishment

Many news sources around the world cast yesterday?s breakthrough by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) not as a triumph of experimental physics but one of applied theology. ?God particle found? was one title that was reproduced over and over again in a journalistic style that gains in piety what it loses in originality.

Back in 2000, when scientists announced that they had begun decoding the human gene, US President Bill Clinton and British Prime Minister Tony Blair both hailed it as a discovery of ?God?s manual,? while almost any report on the Big Bang theory is accompanied by music with a religious feel.

Sure, the realm of metaphysics may provide much catchier titles than that of physics, but there is something very wrong about using theological terms to describe human discovery as it creates the risk of overshadowing the true accomplishments of human toil that are right here before our very eyes.

There is so much we can learn from all scientific achievements. From the breakthrough at CERN, for example, we can learn a lot about the merit of teamwork. Yesterday?s announcement of evidence of the elementary particle that gives mass to the universe was a triumph of collective effort and not just of the very likable and modest Peter Higgs.

Some 3,000 physicists, mostly mechanical engineers and lab technicians, worked together to conduct the biggest experiment in the history of science at the Geneva-based institution. Sir Isaac Newton had said that he could see further than others because he stood on the shoulders of giants. He was referring to the pioneering Copernicus and Galileo. Today, these giants are the thousands of unsung heroes who dedicated their minds and their hands to the CERN project.

Yesterday?s discovery was also a major triumph for Europe. In 1993, the Americans decided to shut down and bury their atom-smasher because they thought it was money down the drain. The result was that the US became a laggard in fundamental research from which many great discoveries have been and will be made. Let?s not forget that the Internet came about thanks to CERN, as a byproduct of its main area of research. What CERN does is public research that is driven not by profit, but by one of man?s original virtues: curiosity.