27 January 2015

• Data Analysis in High Energy Physics: A Practical Guide to Statistical Methods • Gravity: Newtonian, Post-Newtonian, Relativistic • Books received

Data Analysis in High Energy Physics: A Practical Guide to Statistical Methods
By Olaf Behnke, Kevin Kröninger, Grégory Schott and Thomas Schörner-Sadenius (eds)
Paperback: £60 €72
E-book: £48.99 €61.99
Also available at the CERN bookshop

This book is actually 11 books in one, with 16 authors, four of whom are also editors. All are high-energy physicists, including one theorist, and all are experts in their assigned areas of data analysis, so the general level of the book is excellent. In addition, the editors have done a good job putting the 11 chapters together so that they work as a single book, and they have even given it a global index. Still, each chapter has its own author(s) and its own style, and I will comment on the individual contributions that I found most interesting.

Roger Barlow (“Fundamental Concepts”) gives a good introduction to the foundations, but surprisingly he has some trouble with frequentist probability, which is the one that physicists understand best because it is the probability of quantum mechanics. Instead of taking an example from physics, where experiments are repeatable and frequentist probability is applicable, he uses life insurance and finds problems. But his example for Bayes’s theorem works fine with frequentist probabilities, even if they are not from physics.

Olaf Behnke and Lorenzo Moneta (“Parameter Estimation”) have produced a useful practical guide for their chapter. The treatment is remarkably complete and concise. I especially liked figure 2.9, which illustrates the fit of a typical histogram to a single peak, showing the value of chi-square as a function of peak position across the whole range of the abscissa, with a local minimum at every fluctuation in the data.

Luc Demortier (“Interval Estimation”) displays an impressive knowledge of both frequentist and Bayesian methodologies, and is careful to list the good and bad features of both in a level of detail that I have seen nowhere else, and did not expect to find in a “practical guide”. He succeeds in presenting a balanced view overall, even though his personal prior shows through in the first sentence, where the point estimate is intuitively defined as “in some sense the most likely value”, instead of the more tangible “in some sense the value closest to the true value”.

The most remarkable aspect of this book is found in the chapters devoted to topics that are not usually covered in books on statistics. Therefore “Classification” (by Helge Voss) is treated separately from “Hypothesis Testing” (by Grégory Schott), describing techniques that are common in data analysis but not used in traditional statistics. In “Unfolding”, Volker Blobel reminds us that statistics is really an inverse problem, although it is not usually treated as such. There are two separate chapters on “Theory Uncertainties” and other “Systematic Uncertainties”, a chapter on “Constrained Fits” and two chapters on “Applications”, some of which duplicate subjects treated elsewhere, but of course from a different point of view. In the concluding chapter, Harrison Prosper, in his inimitable style, takes the reader on “a journey to the field of astronomy”.

In summary, this ambitious project has produced a useful book where experimental physicists will find expert knowledge about a range of topics that are indispensable to their work of data analysis.

Fred James, CERN.

Gravity: Newtonian, Post-Newtonian, Relativistic
By Eric Poisson and Clifford M Will
Cambridge University Press
Hardback: £50 $85
E-book: $68
Also available at the CERN bookshop

I heard good things about this book before I got my hands on it, and turning the pages I recognized a classic. Several random reads of its 788 large, dense pages offered a deeper insight into a novel domain, far away from my daily life where I work with the microscopic and cosmological worlds. On deeper inspection, it was nearly all that I hoped for, with only a couple of areas where I was disappointed.

The forward points out clearly that the reader should not expect any mention of cosmology. Yet the topic of the book has a clear interface with the expanding universe via its connection to our solar system, the so-called vacuole Einstein–Straus solution. Another topic that comes in too short for my taste is that of Eddington’s isotropic (Cartesian) co-ordinates. They appear on pages 268–269, and resurface in a minor mention on page 704 before the authors’ parametrized post-Newtonian approach is discussed. While this is in line with the treatment in the earlier book by one of the authors (Theory and Experiment in Gravitational Physics by C M Will, CUP 1993), it seems to me that this area has grown in significance in recent years.

The book is not about special relativity, but it is a topic that must of course appear. However, it is odd that Box 4.1 on pages 191–192 on “Tests of Special Relativity” relies on publications from 1977, 1966, 1941 and 1938. I can feel the pain of colleagues – including friends in particle and nuclear physics – who have worked hard during recent decades to improve limits by many orders of magnitude. And on page 190, I see a dead point in the history of special relativity – authors, please note. Lorentz failed to write down the transformation named after him by Poincaré, who guessed the solution to the invariance of Maxwell’s equations, a guess that escaped Lorentz. However, Einstein was first to publish his own brilliant derivation.

We know that no book is perfect and complete, entirely without errors and omissions. So the question to be asked is, how useful is this book to you? To find the answer, I’d recommend reading the highly articulate preface available, for example, under “Front Matter” on the publisher’s website. I quote a few words because I could not say it better: “This book is about approximations to Einstein’s theory of general relativity, and their applications to planetary motion around the Sun, to the timing of binary pulsars, to gravitational waves emitted by binary black holes and to many real-life, astrophysical systems…this book is therefore the physics of weak gravitational fields.”

Personally, I found in the book what I was looking for: the technical detail of the physics of large objects such as planets and stars, which can be as many times larger than the proton as they are smaller than the universe. I could not put the book down, despite its weight (1.88 kg). Some might prefer the Kindle edition, but I would hope for a shrunk-silk volume. Whichever you choose or is available, in dollars per page this book is a bargain. It is a great read that will enrich any personal library.

Johann Rafelski, University of Arizona.

Books received

Next Generation Experiments to Measure the Neutron Lifetime: Proceedings of the 2012 Workshop
By Susan J Seestrom (ed.)
World Scientific
Hardback: £63
E-book: £47


The neutron lifetime is an important fundamental quantity, as well as a parameter influencing important processes such as nucleosynthesis and the rate of energy production in the Sun, so there is great interest in improving the limits of its value to a precision level of 0.1 s. This workshop, held in November 2012, aimed to create a road map of R&D for a next-generation neutron-lifetime experiment that can be endorsed by the North American neutron community. The focus was on experiments using traps with ultracold neutrons and confinement by a combination of magnetic and/or gravitational interaction to avoid systematic uncertainties introduced by neutron interactions with material walls.

Astroparticle, Particle, Space Physics and Detectors for Physics Applications: Proceedings of the 14th ICATPP Conference
By By S Giani, C Leroy, L Price, P-G Rancoita and R Ruchti (eds)
World Scientific
Hardback: £117
E-book: £88

Giani, Leroy, Price, Rancoita, Ruchti

Exploration of the subnuclear world is done through increasingly complex experiments covering a range of energy in diverse environments, from particle accelerators and underground detectors to satellites in space. These research programmes call for new techniques, materials and instrumentation to be used in detectors, often of large scale. The reports from this conference review topics that range from cosmic-ray observations through high-energy physics experiments to advanced detector techniques.

What We Would Like LHC to Give Us
By Antonino Zichichi (ed.)
World Scientific
Hardback: £104
E-book: £78


This book is the proceedings of the International School of Subnuclear Physics, ISSP 2012, 50th Course, held in Erice on 23 June–2 July 2012. The course was devoted to celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the subnuclear-physics school, started in 1961 by Antonino Zichichi with John Bell at CERN, and formally established in 1962 by Bell, Blackett, Weisskopf, Rabi and Zichichi in Geneva (at CERN). The lectures cover the latest, most significant achievements in theoretical and experimental subnuclear physics.

The Bethe Wavefunction
By Michel Gaudin (translated by Jean-Sébastien Caux)
Cambridge University Press
Hardback: £70 $110
E-book: $88


Available in English for the first time, this translation of Michel Gaudin’s book La fonction d’onde de Bethe brings this classic work on exactly solvable models of quantum mechanics and statistical physics to a new generation of graduate students and researchers in physics. The book begins with the Heisenberg spin chain, starting from the co-ordinate Bethe ansatz and culminating in a discussion of its thermodynamic properties. Delta-interacting bosons (the Lieb–Liniger model) are then explored, and extended to exactly solvable models associated to a reflection group. After discussing the continuum limit of spin chains, the book covers six- and eight-vertex models in extensive detail, while later chapters examine advanced topics such as multi-component delta-interacting systems and Gaudin magnets.

Proceedings of the Conference in Honour of the 90th Birthday of Freeman Dyson
By K K Phua, L C Kwek, N P Chang and A H Chan (eds)
World Scientific
Hardback: £56
Paperback: £29
E-book: £22

Phua, Kwek, Chang, Chan

As a tribute to Freeman Dyson on the occasion of his 90th birthday, and to celebrate his lifelong contributions in physics, mathematics, astronomy, nuclear engineering and global warming, a conference covering a range of topics was held in Singapore in August 2013. This memorial volume brings together an interesting lecture by Professor Dyson, “Is a Graviton Detectable?”, contributions by speakers at the conference, as well as guest contributions by colleagues who celebrated Dyson’s birthday at Rutgers University and the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton.

Symmetries in Nature: The Scientific Heritage of Louis Michel
By Thibault Damour, Ivan Todorov and Boris Zhilinskii (eds)
World Scientific
Hardback: £83

Damour, Todorov, Zhilinskii

Reflecting the oeuvre of “a man of two cultures: the culture of pure mathematics and the culture of theoretical physics”, this volume is centred around the notion of symmetry and its breaking. Starting with particle physics, the content proceeds to symmetries of matter, defects and crystals. The mathematics of group extensions, non-linear group action, critical orbits and phase transitions is developed along the way. The symmetry principles and general mathematical tools provide unity in the treatment of different topics. The papers and lecture notes are preceded by a lively biography of Louis Michel, and a commentary that relates his selected works both to the physics of his time and to contemporary trends.

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