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Meet Your Microbes: uBiome Offers New Service

We are not alone. Walt Whitman didn’t know how right he was when he said, “I contain multitudes.” The microbes on and in our bodies outnumber our own cells 10:1.  Perhaps that creeps you out. Perhaps that makes you curious to know just who all these billions of creatures are that are using your body for a home and a transportation device.

For just $89 you can learn what’s in your gut, nose, mouth, skin, genitals…or sample anything!

The offer comes from uBiome, a “citizen science startup” that has scientific goals somewhere down the line, but for the moment is happy to just provide a personal service, to sequence your microbiome and tell you how you compare to others. The current utility of this offering is questionable. It’s just not ready for prime time.

You are urged to become a “citizen scientist” by contributing your microbiome information to a huge database of other contributors. You get a sample kit, swipe a sample swab across the appropriate area, and mail it back to them. You also fill out an online survey that asks questions about your health, lifestyle, demographics, social connections, and more. You can see how you compare to others, and eventually the data may be used to explore questions about the influence of the microbiome on health.

The choices

  1. For $89 you can choose to sample your mouth, nose, genitals, or gut.
  2. For $159 you can sample your mouth and gut.
  3. For $399 you can sample all 4 of these sites, plus a 5th site behind the ear.

These tests provide a snapshot at one point in time. Your microbial flora will change over time, providing a reason to repeat testing and continue to generate income for the company.

For $229 you can sample your gut bacteria 3 different times, perhaps to gauge the effect of antibiotics or the response to probiotics or changes in diet.

The process

It would be too expensive to do full sequencing. What they are doing is called 16S sequencing, measuring a ribosomal gene in bacterial DNA. They are able to filter out genetic material from humans and other organisms and classify bacteria at the genus level. 16S sequencing is an accepted method of identifying bacteria, but it is problematic. The sequences in some databases are inaccurate, there is no consensus quantitative definition of genus or species, and microheterogeneity within a species is common. False positives occur. In some cases no identification is possible; 14% of bacteria can only be identified by genus. And that can make a BIG difference. Streptococcus is a genus that includes various species, some of which are harmless skin flora, one of which causes strep throat and scarlet fever, and one of which (Strep. pneumoniae) is the target of an immunization, the pneumonia vaccine. Staphylococcus can be the harmless skin dweller Staphylococcus epidermidis or the killer methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). If I were carrying MRSA, I’d like to know about it, but telling me I have bacteria of the genus Staphylococcus would be meaningless, since we all carry some species of that genus.

16S testing can only hope to identify bacteria that carry those ribosomal genes. It can’t identify other microbes we carry, like Archaea, yeast, fungi, and protists.

IRB approval

The website says they have received Institutional Review Board approval to perform research studies. Customers who want to participate will sign a consent form. No consent form is required for the basic service of microbiome compositional analysis and interpretation for private individuals.

“Ethical shenanigans”?

Blogger Melissa Bates is worried about what she calls “ethical shenanigans.” Her concerns:

  1. Participation requires the payment of a fee
  2. There is no clear statement about what will be done with the data or samples.
  3. There is no apparent plan for how your identity will be protected.
  4. It’s not clear what conflicts the major players in the project might have.
  5. The benefits you’ll receive are grossly over-stated. They do state that it is not a diagnostic test, but they recommend discussing results with your doctor and say the information may be useful in treating difficult disease.
  6. There’s no statement as to what your risks of participation are.
  7. Children are included, but it’s not apparent how they are protected.

After responses from the company and other bloggers, Bates wrote some final thoughts:

We can now safely say based on statements left here and at Comradde Physioprof’s blog that uBiome has not received IRB approval for their project, despite having made what I believe to be grossly over-stated claims about the applicability of their data to human disease and the fact that they have already collected money from their subjects and are in possession of potentially identifying data from their future subjects.  That makes this “ethical shenanigans.” I believe that this is made more egregious by the fact that they used their university affiliations to “sell” their donors/subjects on the fact that they could complete their study as they described.

What do we know about the microbiome?

We have just begun to dip our toes into this unexplored ocean. We have learned that certain gut bacteria may be related to obesity and that Clostridium difficile infections can be successfully treated with fecal transplants. It has been speculated that bacteria might be implicated in diseases like autism, depression, multiple sclerosis, etc. A company official told The Guardian:

 We are doing exploratory science, and hope to discover correlations that will be useful in understanding health and disease, new bacteria that have not been previously studied, and other knowledge.

The Human Microbiome Project at the NIH, characterized as a feasibility study, is attempting to establish a database by more systematic, conventional scientific methods.

Problems with this kind of research

  • It’s unsystematic.
  • Only those who have the money and interest will be tested; this will not be a random sample of the population and could skew results in unforeseen ways.
  • One-time sampling is not representative of the individual’s life history; it could easily miss microbes present earlier in time that triggered a given disease, or it could identify microbes that were only present transiently and were insignificant.
  • It’s the mother of all fishing expeditions. They are bound to find correlations galore just because of the mass of data, but correlation is not causation. Further studies will be required to tease out meaningful data from the noise and look for evidence of causation.
  • It is inevitable that false conclusions will be drawn prematurely.
  • It will raise a lot of new questions, which is a good thing; but it can’t provide any answers.

Problems with individual testing

We don’t know what constitutes a desirable microbiome. Efforts to increase the population of one microbe might benefit you in one way while harming you in another. We don’t begin to understand all the permutations and the ways in which bacteria influence each other. It’s an incredibly complex ecosystem, a web where tweaking on one part might drastically warp other parts. You can test your microbiome before and after starting a diet, and you may see some changes; but how will you interpret what the changes mean? You won’t know whether the changes were due to your diet or to some other factor.

Comparison with genome testing

Personal genome testing is being offered to the general population by numerous companies. It doesn’t sequence the entire genome, but only SNPs (single nucleotide polymorphisms). The company 23andMe advertises that on average, one person in five develops diabetes by age 79, and that variations in your DNA that they test for might raise your risk to one in three. That’s not particularly helpful. Diabetes is multifactorial. Genes are not destiny. Having the associated genes doesn’t mean those genes will be expressed, and it doesn’t tell us how other genes or environmental factors might affect gene expression. Even if you are only at average risk, you ought to already be making appropriate lifestyle choices like exercise and weight control; you shouldn’t need whatever additional motivation the knowledge of a slightly higher risk might provide.  They test for a rare mutation that is associated with a nearly 60% lifetime risk of Parkinson’s disease, but if you have that mutation there is nothing you can do to reduce your risk, and there is a 40% chance you won’t get the disease anyway. BRCA1 is a highly significant mutation, with a risk of breast cancer as high as 87%, and we have an effective way to reduce that risk. That was the reason Angelina Jolie decided to have both breasts removed. If she had relied on direct-to-consumer genomic testing, they wouldn’t have detected that risk: because of patent protection, there is only one company that can test for BRCA1.

Direct-to-consumer genomic testing promises much but delivers little. It isn’t good for much. uBiome is good for even less.

Conclusion

As a scientific endeavor, uBiome is questionable. As a personal medical test, it is essentially meaningless at our current state of knowledge. Just because we can test something doesn’t mean we should, and it doesn’t mean we will be able to understand the test results, much less do anything about them to improve our health. Biome testing is simply TMI (too much information).

Posted in: Diagnostic tests & procedures, Medical Ethics

Leave a Comment (33) ↓

33 thoughts on “Meet Your Microbes: uBiome Offers New Service

  1. BillyJoe says:

    Sorry, this is a side comment…

    I really find it hard to believe that 10 out of 11 of our cells are actually microbes. These microbes are on our skin and in our gut, right? Or are they also inside our bodies? Even then, it’s hard to believe. Has the ratio actually been verified?

    1. windriven says:

      This from Wikipedia:

      “It is estimated that 500 to 1000 species of bacteria live in the human gut[5][6] Bacterial cells are much smaller than human cells, and there are at least ten times as many bacteria as human cells in the body (approximately 10^14 versus 10^13).[7][8]”

      Still seems like a sketchy ratio to me too.

      [7] Savage, D. C. (1977). “Microbial Ecology of the Gastrointestinal Tract”. Annual Review of Microbiology 31: 107–33. doi:10.1146/annurev.mi.31.100177.000543. PMID 334036.
      [8]Berg, R. (1996). “The indigenous gastrointestinal microflora”. Trends in Microbiology 4 (11): 430–5. doi:10.1016/0966-842X(96)10057-3. PMID 8950812.

    2. Derec01 says:

      The numbers are generally correct. Remember that cells come in wildly varying sizes. There are probably far more cockroaches or ants on the planet than humans, but we tend to barely notice given the size disparity and lack of competition.

  2. rork says:

    If information content is measured by how much it influences decision making, perhaps there is too little of it rather than too much. (I know information is being used as a synonym for data here though.)
    I’m not sure how fair some of the “Problems with this kind of research” is, like “It is inevitable that false conclusions will be drawn prematurely”, which seems true of any fishing expedition, or even of all science. Good scientists estimate the chances that a finding is false, but this statement seems to be disparaging their estimates of the false discovery rates before the method of estimation has even been given. Like you know their future statistical practices will be unethical.
    I admit they’d do better if the experimental design (and the question!) was more thought out, and I’m not suggesting anyone pay to participate.

    1. Harriet Hall says:

      Even if the scientists themselves don’t draw false conclusions, history shows us that the public will. False conclusions don’t require unethical practices, only misunderstanding of what the data actually mean. Press releases routinely result in patients prematurely jumping on treatment bandwagons.

  3. Janet Camp says:

    It’s amazing how many people seem to have more money than sense.

  4. Janet Camp says:

    Are all fb linked posts now moderated? I have to find my password to change back.

    1. windriven says:

      I believe that all or many comments are moderated. All of mine are. But then I probably deserve it. I’m using a WordPress login.

      1. BillyJoe says:

        All mine are moderated also.
        But I don’t need to log in which is why I’m posting here again (I lost the login code assigned to me a while back when the site crashed).
        But last night when I tried to respond to my own post after googling and finding the answer, it wouldn’t supply me with a “Leave a Reply” box.
        I suppose someone will fix this sooner or later.

        1. BillyJoe says:

          Seems this bit is working now.

  5. Harriett Hall wrote:

    16S testing can only hope to identify bacteria that carry those ribosomal genes. It can’t identify other microbes we carry, like Archaea, yeast, fungi, and protists.

    It is possible that I have misunderstood what Dr. Hall was trying to say, or maybe I do not understand the underlying science well enough, but since Archaea have 30S ribosomes, should they have 16S as well?

    1. Harriet Hall says:

      I put Archaea on that list because of something I read, but now I can’t find it again and I found other sources indicating that 16S testing can identify Archaea. I don’t know much about that area; perhaps another commenter who knows more can clarify. If I was wrong to put Archaea on the list, I can edit it out and specify only yeast, fungi, and protists.

    2. Ben Circello says:

      While Archaea do have a 16s subunit, the primary sequence is very divergent from bacteria. This renders the primers used for amplification of the variable regions (for phylogeny) largely useless for archaea.

  6. daedalus2u says:

    As someone who has been reading and thinking about microbiomes for a long time, and who also has a financial interest in the use of ammonia oxidizing bacteria as a topical treatment, I have my own perspective on this.

    First, the microbiome is extremely complex. It is very likely that every person’s microbiome is different, different enough to uniquely identify them out of the rest of the population (7+ billion). The microbiome changes from day-to-day. If you measured it 365 times in a year, you would get 365 different results. The microbiome is different on different parts of the body. If you measured 100 different sites, you would get 100 different results (if assays with fine enough resolution were used).

    If we could (as a thought experiment) take a “snapshot” of everyone’s microbiome (7 billion) at 100 sites, every day, for a year, that would be ~2*10^14 different microbiomes. The number of potential microbiomes dwarfs this number by (I estimate) over a hundred orders of magnitude. There are thought to be at least about 500 to 1000 different types of bacteria (this is probably a gross under estimate). The number of ways of getting 500 bacteria out of a collection of 1000 is large, on the order of (1000!)/((500!)*(500!)) = ~ 3*10^300. Of course this is a gross simplification because the numbers of each type of bacteria present can be different than one or zero. It is very likely that every human that has ever lived (~10^11) has had a different microbiome every day of that person’s life.

    It is more complicated than this, with the “identity” of particular bacteria being not well defined. Bacteria exchange DNA (a big problem when they exchange plasmids containing antibiotic resistance genes), how much DNA do bacteria have to exchange before they become something else? Looking at a single gene (16S rRNA) doesn’t tell you anything about the other genes that may or may not be present.

    Are those differences significant? They very likely are statistically significant, but what does that mean when you are measuring unique things. Are they significant from a health standpoint? Very likely some are and very likely some are not. An important class of health influences are susceptibilities to infectious diseases. In germ-free mice, the LD50 for oral challenge of Salmonella enteritidis is 3-5 organisms. For conventionally raised mice it is 5×10^6, six orders of magnitude higher.

    http://iai.asm.org/content/21/1/41.short

    These are some of the difficulties in trying to look at the microbiome as a “drug”, the way the FDA has been doing and recently backed away from. The FDA had initially ruled that fecal transplants would require IND applications. All this was going to do was make the procedure so expensive that it couldn’t be done. The FDA has backed away from that requirement.

    1. Yes microbial world is complex and every person likely has a unique environment inside. We can, however, identify patterns and clusters within, and recognise diagnosable problems. For example, patients with autoimmune disease present with sharply reduced microbial diversity of the bowel. Do we know which species they are lacking down to the genus and strain? No, but in a couple of years we will, thanks to the enterprising research projects like uBiome, while the “skeptics” are booing and insulting from the sidelines people who do actual research. I can only imagine what kind of foul slander would be written about Louis Pasteur on this blog if it was around a couple of centuries ago.

      Proud participant in the uBiome Project and the Human Food Project.

      1. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

        Identification isn’t the problem, determining if it’s a true identification of something novel is. Self-selection and adequate controls in projects like this is a tremendous problem, when the sample funds the “research” themselves.

        That study links to children. You have no idea whether the results apply to adults (but as a non-empirical, non-scientific practitioner, you’ll pretend they do). You don’t know if that’s correlation or causation – are the CD patients truly demonstrating lower microbe diversity, or is the lower microbe diversity the result of their condition forcing rapid evacuation of the bowels?

        Skeptics aren’t “booing and insulting”, Dr. Hall is pointing out the flaws in this “research” (which isn’t really research) and why services like this aren’t particularly helpful (and why paying for services like this wastes money). The problem is uBiome isn’t doing actual research, they’re doing pretend research. I mean Jebus, Dr. Hall included a section on this, but I guess in reading just the title you miss out on the content that would contradict the narrative you’ve already written for yourself about how smart you are and how dumb skeptics are (amusingly, the skeptics aren’t the ones wasting their money on this, but you’ve already set up a small bit of your brain dedicated to special-pleading your way into some sort of rationalization on that end).

        Pasteur was one of those responsible for building the foundation of modern biology and medicine on the basis of new research. He helped establish and enhance the social capital of science. You, and uBiome, are parasitic on that social capital for your own profit – uBiome by pretending to be science (by making a profit) and you by pretending to be a doctor (and making a profit – look at your avatar in it’s white coat!). It’s unsurprising that you embrace this project and company, given your common thread – charging for results that are at best happenstance success.

      2. Harriet Hall says:

        Yes, research to identify patterns is likely to be very helpful. But this is not the best way to go about it. We need systematic research like the study you linked to, not scattershot data from self-selected patients. How would we know if uBiome participants’ self-identification as having autoimmune diseases was accurate? Could we expect them to be a representative sample of autoimmune patients? I think not.

  7. gseattle says:

    Folks, muster up a healthy dose of skepticism if you are unfortunately exposed to this negative article about uBiome by Harriet Hall (“SkepDoc”). Complaining that there is a fee, as if you expect it to be handed out for free, really? There is no cheaper route to that information in 2013. Harriet, it’s nice to know that you see into the future, “it can’t provide any answers” you say. Putting us on? Sounds more like you’re afraid it might. I like citizen science and love the way it scares the old guard.

    1. windriven says:

      ” Complaining that there is a fee, as if you expect it to be handed out for free, really?”

      Yes, really. Subjects are usually compensated for time and travel; they don’t typically pay for the privilege. The company isn’t selling anything of value. It is collecting data of questionable quality and doing it in a decidedly unscientific way.

      “There is no cheaper route to that information in 2013.”

      For the company? No. In fact it should be nicely profitable. And the price is for data, not for information. Information suggests data with meaning. A list of microbes is just a list of microbes. “Oh look mommy, I have e coli in my rectum!!!”

      ““it can’t provide any answers” you say. Putting us on? Sounds more like you’re afraid it might.”

      Throwing a shovelful of data at a wall to see if anything ‘interesting’ sticks is not clever science it is clever marketing. And marketing is the simply the art of monetizing credulity. Contemplate.

      ” I like citizen science and love the way it scares the old guard.”
      Citizen science doesn’t scare the old guard. Consider the Amateur Achievement Awards bestowed by the Astronomical Society. Read the contributions that some real citizen scientists made. Then hang your head in shame.

      Citizen scientist does not mean ‘fool with a Gilbert(tm) chemistry set.’

    2. Its funny reading the complaints about fees from people who have NO IDEA what this work actually costs. $89 per participant is nothing, they are barely covering the production costs. This test costs $400 at genova diagnostics lab in USA and 800 euros at the EMBL lab in Germany.

      Harriet mentions the Human Microbiome Project as an example of how “systematic conventional” research should be done. HMP has a budget of $100 million from the government. Considering the budget, the results have been underwhelming so far.

      The whole piece has a “big government research good, small independent research bad” message that I came to expect from this blog.

      1. Harriet Hall says:

        @FastBuckArtist,

        You have been misreading this blog if you think its message is “big government research good, small independent research bad”
        Our message is “well-designed research good, junk science bad.”

    3. Harriet Hall says:

      I was not complaining about the fee. The fee is for a personal service, not for participating in the research. The research comes at a later stage and requires an informed consent. I was informing my readers what fees were charged, not complaining about them. You read something into my article that was not there.

  8. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

    Basic research that is handled well usually doesn’t come with a fee (it’s covered through taxes and profits). Genuine citizen science would have a hypothesis from the get-go, not merely some cotton swabs and a PCR assembly line.

  9. daedalus2u says:

    The “hypothesis” that is being tested with this research is “if we look at haphazardly collected microbiomes from self-selected individuals able and willing to pay a modest fee, we will find interesting results”.

    This hypothesis is not dissimilar to the “hypothesis” that justified funding the LAC at CERN. That “hypothesis” was “if we look at physics in this never before achieved energy range, we will find interesting results”.

    In neither case do the researchers have a good idea what they will find, if anything.

    The biggest complaint I have over the microbiome research is that they have been focusing on too narrow a range of subjects. By looking at very healthy individuals who bathe every day and are living in first world cities, they are, in effect, looking for biodiversity by looking at what is growing in the cracks of a sidewalk.

    The problem with basic research now is a lack of funding. There are no shortages of interesting and important research that needs to be done.

    1. windriven says:

      “This hypothesis is not dissimilar to the “hypothesis” that justified funding the LAC at CERN.”

      You can’t be serious. Physicists exploring the frontiers of particle physics with carefully structured experiments is rather different than:

      “a citizen science startup that helps the public sequence their microbiomes.”*

      But wait, there’s more!

      “For just $89, you can learn what’s in your gut, nose, mouth, skin, genitals — or, sample anything!”

      Quotes taken from the uBiome homepage.

    2. Worldwide spending for science is at a record high. The money is there, unfortunately most of it is distributed out by governments who are by their very nature incompetent in allocating funds.

      - NSF gave a $350,000 grant to Purdue researchers to find out if golfers perform better when they imagine a bigger hole.
      - another $700,000 was given by NSF to a theater for making a musical about climate change
      - The NIH dished out $667,000 to research the health benefits of watching television series reruns
      - NSF then gave 1.2 million dollars to study if elder americans would benefit playing World of Warcraft online and $500,000 to create a video game called “Prom Night” which recreates the event.
      - $550,000 grant was awarded to study if people who drink heavily in their thirties tend to feel more immature
      - $592,000 was awarded to find out why monkeys throw poop
      - small but outstanding, a $30,000 grant to find if gaydar actually exists. The result: Yes

      Thats just in one year in 2012

  10. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

    1) Most science funding is distributed through a peer-review process of grant applications, conducted by scholars and researchers with relevant experience. I would be surprised if you could provide examples where this isn’t the case. Generally, science suffers greatly when politics intrude (witness the NCCAM, or Lysenko’s influence on soviet biology).

    2) Becareful when you mock what you take individual grant applications out of context, becase the problem is often the person who mocks being woefully ignorant of the context, or simply too thick to realize the implications (see here and here for instance). If you can’t see the implications of the research, it might be because you are stupid or ignorant.

    For instance:
    - the golf experiment tests the effects of visualization on the human mind. This could have implications for olympic-level athletes (my least favourite option), or could improve training or performance on challenging fine-motor tasks, or could help stroke victims re-learning how to act.
    - theatre and popular culture are incredibly powerful ways of educating the general public about issues. Since the science of climate change is complicated but the reality of it is settled, such a musical might help counter the pernicious influence of the oil industry, which does great harm in creating doubt – much like the tobacco companies did regards smoking and lung cancer.
    - In elderly patients, watching re-runs from their youth may improve mood and health parameters. It may offset depression. In addition, humans inherently generate narratives, and these narratives can be useful in reframing problems. Cognitive behavioural therapy is a form of disciplined repetition, and re-watching the same uplifting or mood-enhancing program may act in a similar, but cheaper, fashion.
    - Computer-based gaming may indeed help seniors to learn new tasks, improve fine motor skills, increase neuroplasticity, or generally engage them with an environment more.
    - Alcoholism is a serious problem, without understanding the causes, effects and interactions, how can we reduce the harms of excessive drinking, drinking and driving, and related issues?
    - So that’s $550,000 to study primate behaviour, one aspect of which is indeed monkey poop flinging. If monkeys frequently throw their poop, rather clearly there is a reason. Learning that reason is a key to understanding their behaviour, even if the behaviour itself seems absurd to us. Male angler fish burrow into females and dissolve into nothing more than a set of testicles. I find this funny, but does that mean it’s not important?
    - Social signaling is an important aspect of the human species, why should we ignore social signaling between homosexuals merely because Tom Coburn is too lazy, ignorant or unimaginative to see the implications of the research?

    Rather than assume the government is incompetent at allocating funds, I prefer to think you lack the understanding or initiative to investigate the actual implications of the research. Wouldn’t be the first time.

  11. Composer99 says:

    Whinging about government funding of what the complainant argues are frivolous or useless projects tends, in my estimation, to run into two key problems:

    First, the complainant almost never gets around to showing that non-government funding of research is consistently and reliably superior. This is implied, but I have yet to see it substantiated.

    Second, our modern society is as technologically gifted as it is largely due to government and university (mixed government/private) research into the basic sciences from which the technologies developed. Military research during the World Wars and the Cold War, university research leading to our understanding of quantum physics, relativity, genetics, the space program.

    If anything, the private sector is riding on the coattails of the success of government/university science research.

  12. daedalus2u says:

    Windriven, I am serious. What “hypothesis” did the physicists who proposed and recommended the funding and building of the LHC use to justify the research?

    Did the physicists proposing the LHC know what they were going to find in those energy regimes? No, they did not, and they still don’t know, which is why they are still looking. They knew they didn’t know what they would find, so their “hypothesis” was that there would be interesting physics found in that energy regime. If they find “something”, that will be interesting, if they find “nothing”, that will be interesting too. So their “hypothesis” is very likely to be confirmed. So far essentially everything that has been found fits The Standard Model very well. The criteria physicists tend to use is 5 sigma. There has never been a clinical trial that uses a 5 sigma criteria.

    http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/2012/07/17/five-sigmawhats-that/

    In a clinical trial it would be unethical to use such a high criteria because people in the placebo leg would be needlessly harmed while the data builds up to 5 sigma levels. Five sigma would take over a million subjects.

    People working on the microbiome know that they don’t know what they will find when they take and analyze samples. If you don’t know what you are going to find, you have to start somewhere and start looking.

    Columbus had the “hypothesis” that he would find a short cut to India. His hypothesis turned out to be falsified, he didn’t find a shortcut to India, he found North America.

    The problem with “hypothesis” driven research is that sometimes the most knowledgeable researchers know they don’t know enough to have a hypothesis about what they will find. If Columbus had been a better astronomer and cartographer, he might have appreciated that the distance from the Canary Islands to Japan was longer (19,600 km) rather than the distance he planned for (3,700 km). Sometimes those will less knowledge ridicule the hypotheses that the more knowledgeable are trying to figure out (see FBO above).

    1. windriven says:

      deadalus, they did not know precisely what they were going to find – but they knew that they would shine light on the standard model – or begin to dismantle it. These are men and women who have studied particle physics for decades and who have a well thought out plan to advance the state of the art. I don’t think that you really believe this to be the substantial equivalent of a group of self-styled citizen scientists selling rubes on the idea that a crystal ball shoved up their noses is a really cool idea.

      1. BillyJoe says:

        Yes, what an extraordinary dismissal of the LHC.

        Physicists have a best guess as to what going on in quantum physics. They design and build the LHC which should tell them whether or not this is true. If they find the Higgs boson, bingo! Hypothesis confirmed, stop looking and spend your mental energy on something else. If not, the hypothesis is wrong and they have more work to do on this problem. Without the confimation or negation courtesy of LHC, they won’t know where to go next.

        So, yes, they win either way. But how is that a criticism? How is a win win a loss?

  13. Harriet has definitely convinced me that I don’t need to go out and spend $400 for this (perhaps) useless information. I know for sure however that I have curious friends with funds who probably wouldn’t mind forking over the cash for extra insights about their innards. While it may not be systemic and all that helpful now, I do believe that innovations and businesses like this can help propel the field in the right direction. Always got to start somewhere.

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