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One of the most challenging aspects of business reporting is in taking complex things or processes - of which there are many - and making them understandable. Contemplating stuff like credit default swaps, collateralized debt obligations and preference equity redemption cumulative stock can be mind-bending experiences.
So imagine the smile that crossed my face while listening to the BBC World Service as programming was interrupted to cover a news conference in Geneva where scientists were breathlessly explaining the existence of the Higgs boson - the so-called "God Particle". They were speaking English - I could tell that - but the sentences were absolutely incomprehensible. It was like saying: "preference equity redemption cumulative stock"… just a nonsensical string of unconnected words.
After about 90 painfully long seconds, some BBC producer made the perilous decision to cut away from the news conference and throw it back to the staff announcer. He then shared my laughter as we both suddenly realized that bailing out of an obviously exciting but, as I said, incomprehensible event put the pressure squarely on him to make sense of what was going on.
To make the science-to-business connection: just like the subatomic particles - the boson - that Professor Higgs predicted a half-century ago, the financial world breaks down to particles that come together to make credit default swaps, collateralized debt obligations and a huge number of similar but diverse constructions. They, too, are complex entities that fill our world, even though we may not know they exist or have direct contact with them. Perhaps what is most scary is that it was the lack of understanding about how these entities interact that made the debt crisis of 2007-2008 worse than we could ever anticipate. We've been chasing ghosts ever since.
We're lucky to have educated people in smocks chasing down what the universe is made of. When it comes to smoking out what the financial world is made of, who you gonna call?