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TMCNet:  Physicist Higgs: today I'd be unemployable

[December 06, 2013]

Physicist Higgs: today I'd be unemployable

(Guardian (UK) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Peter Higgs, the British physicist who gave his name to the Higgs boson, believes no university would employ him in today's academic system because he would not be considered "productive" enough.


The emeritus professor at Edinburgh University, who says he has never sent an email, browsed the internet or even made a mobile phone call, published fewer than 10 papers after his groundbreaking work, which identified the mechanism by which subatomic material acquires mass, was published in 1964.

He doubts a similar breakthrough could be achieved in today's academic culture, because of the expectations on academics to collaborate and keep churning out papers. Speaking to the Guardian en route to Stockholm to receive the 2013 Nobel prize for science, Higgs, 84, said he would almost certainly have been sacked had he not been nominated for the Nobel in 1980.

Edinburgh University's authorities then took the view, he later learned, that he "might get a Nobel prize - and if he doesn't we can always get rid of him".

Higgs said he became "an embarrassment to the department when they did research assessment exercises". A message would go around the department saying: "Please give a list of your recent publications." Higgs said: "I would send back a statement: 'None.' " "After I retired it was quite a long time before I went back to my department. It wasn't my way of doing things any more. Today I wouldn't get an academic job. I don't think I would be regarded as productive enough." Higgs revealed that his career had also been jeopardised by his disagreements in the 1960s and 70s with the then principal, Michael Swann. Higgs objected to Swann's handling of student protests and to the university's shareholdings in South African companies during apartheid.

He regrets that the particle he identified in 1964 became known as the "God particle".

He said: "Some people get confused between the science and the theology. They claim that what happened at Cern proves the existence of God." He also revealed that he turned down a knighthood in 1999. "I'm rather cynical about the way the honours system is used, frankly. A whole lot of the honours system is used for political purposes by the government in power." Interview, page 49 ? Peter Higgs: 'Today I wouldn't get an academic job. It's as simple as that. I don't think I would be regarded as productive enough' (c) 2013 Guardian Newspapers Limited.

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