Dec 8, 2008
A mechanism for mass
James Gillies’ article “A mechanism for mass”, which appeared in CERN Courier (October 2008 p83), presented a summary of the development of what has come to be known as the Higgs mechanism. Regrettably, this article tends to marginalize our work (GHK), which for the last 40 years or so (along with the work of Englert and Brout (EB) and of Higgs (H)) has generally been acknowledged as one of the three main contributors to this pillar of the Standard Model. We find the passing mention of GHK in the odd phrase that “in lectures at Imperial College London students are told about the Kibble–Higgs mechanism, in a reference to a later paper published by Gerald Guralnik, Carl Hagen and Tom Kibble” rather insulting. The phrase “Higgs–Kibble mechanism” seems to have originated with Salam and it survives to this day, causing no little embarrassment to one of us (TK). It was probably not so much a reference to GHK as to TK’s 1967 paper in Physical Review, which he considers to be only a relatively minor addendum to this subfield.
It is, of course, true that the work by the three of us (GHK) was published after that of EB and H. But it made distinct original and essential contributions, particularly with regard to the critical issue of current conservation and the precise way in which the mechanism avoids the Goldstone theorem, as can be confirmed by a careful reading of the three papers. Our work was complete when we learned of the two earlier papers. We added references to them without changing the content of our paper in any substantive way.
It is noteworthy that all three contributions were cited together in Physical Review Letters’ recent summary (http://prl.aps.org/50years/milestones) of outstanding papers. (All three appeared in Volume 13, at roughly equal intervals.) Actually, one has to look no farther than the pages of (CERN Courier January/February 2008 p17) to find Nobelist Weinberg’s summary talk “From BCS to LHC” to confirm that the three papers are equally esteemed. A study of citation indices is also quite instructive. For 40 years after the 1964 appearance of these three papers there was no discernible pattern of preference among them, with the vast majority of researchers in the field mentioning all three.
We strongly object to any downgrading of our contribution.
About the author
Gerald Guralnik, Carl Richard Hagen and Tom Kibble.