The NFL finally decided to give up its nonprofit status after facing growing criticism about its former tax-exempt status. While incorporating as a nonprofit is not quite as ridiculous as it might sound (the actual teams and other related organizations are for-profit but the league itself is only a small piece of pro football), most people will be glad that the central office for what is clearly a business is now labelling itself a business. There are still plenty of things for people to criticize the NFL, so don’t expect people to stop just because the NFL has fixed one minor problem.
The CDMS collaboration has put out a new paper presenting improved limits for their WIMP searches. CDMS is a dark matter experiment using cryogenic semiconductor detectors to search for low energy WIMP-nucleus interactions. They primarily use germanium as the detector material but also have some silicon detectors. The CDMS-II phase of CDMS, which is what this paper deals with, is located at the Soudan mine in Minnesota. They had apparently noticed that one of the events in the signal region in previous analyses looked a little odd and so decided to try to run a new (and hopefully improved) analysis to see what would happen. The result (actually the results of several alternative analyses) do show improvement (even a factor of two in some places). While people have to be careful reanalyzing old data, the CDMS group tried to do this in a way that was as unbiased as possible. At the very least, this suggests that there is plenty of room for improvement in future analyses.
Fortunately for consumers, the proposed merger of media conglomerates Comcast and Time Warner has been canceled. It seems that the FCC wasn’t going to approve the merger due to antitrust concerns. Given that both companies have terrible records for things like consumer protection, this is a win for basically everyone. The merger would have given the new company a virtual monopoly over large swathes of the US, which means that consumers could have expected higher prices for less service.
The New York Times has a recent article about the role of the Department of Energy laboratory system in the nuclear negotiations with Iran. Many of the labs, such as Los Alamos, Oak Ridge, Livermore, and Sandia were founded largely to produce nuclear weapons. While weapons research is still something that the labs do, they have turned a lot of their efforts toward civilian science and energy projects. Helping with nuclear negotiations is something that the labs are highly qualified to do and is also a way to use nuclear weapons infrastructure for the purpose of nonproliferation.
The New York Times has picked up the story about a recent paper talking about whether or not dark matter could have caused the extinction of the dinosaurs (as well as several other famous mass extinctions). I’m not sure why the piece is being printed now, since the paper was in the news a month ago.
My general position on such work is still the same: These kinds of papers are fun thought experiments working out possible real-world effects of things like dark matter and neutrinos but are highly unlikely to actually be true.
I’m not a big fan of the way the Times post is written. It seems to be trying to craft a narrative out of several papers in recent months about dark matter and extinctions (there are two different mechanisms discussed: (1) heating up the planet’s core and causing volcanism and (2) kicking objects out of the Oort belt that then hit Earth) and even about dark matter and cancer. These kinds of ideas have been discussed for decades and are actually all very different things that just happen to all involve dark matter. There’s not really any evidence that the papers are at all related.
That said, I think the main purpose of the paper is really just to give some information about dark matter to the public. While many people have heard of it, few have any real understanding of what is meant by the term “dark matter.” I think the author is using these fanciful papers to pull in readers in order to tell them a bit about some of the more grounded science being done on dark matter. Public outreach is almost always a good thing, especially in a field like physics, which often seems quite esoteric to the general public.
The official groundbreaking for the planned Mu2e experiment happened a few days ago. I was at Fermilab for unrelated reasons, so I saw the site but didn’t attend the ceremony. Mu2e is one of the experiments planned as part of the “intensity frontier” of the Department of Energy’s general plan for high energy physics experiments. Mu2e will look for muon conversion to electrons with no neutrinos. This violates lepton flavor conservation, which is part of the Standard Model but isn’t required in a more general theory. We know that this process must be very rare, but trying to measure it could help constrain theories of physics beyond the Standard Model.
The Pulitzer Prize winners for this year were announced earlier today. You can find the list of winners here. Unfortunately, there’s no prize for science journalism or science writing.