Has the Fat Lady Sung?

The OPERA experiment has reported that they may have found the source of the timing discrepancy that produced the result that neutrinos moved apparently faster than light. It seems that there was a faulty connection that affected the timing measurements. Here’s a physics world article on the matter, along with a link to a CERN press release. (Note that there are some doubts related more directly to the GPS timing signals they used, which on their own would make for even faster neutrinos, but clearly there’s cause to really doubt their strong claim from back in the Fall and take a step back.)

You’ll recall the huge press storm about it last Fall, accompanied by all the usual hysteria about the establishment (this time, Einstein) being overturned. I blogged about it here, with the noncommittal title “No, Uh-uh, Nope, Nuh-uh”. They’ll be doing more experiments later in the year, as will a number of other groups, in order to solidify the results one way or another. It’s clear that most people have decided the whole business is over, and will turn away from it to other things. Some will be pleased, some annoyed, some confused, and so forth.

My hope is (as I discussed in the article I wrote back then) that this gets as much press coverage as the original press storm, although I won’t hold my breath for that (there’s been a fair amount, but it certainly does not seem as loud, and I’m certainly not getting all the emails from people about it that I got back then, whatever that means). The point here is that the arc of the whole story shines a nice bright light on the process of how science works, and it is good for the world to see it. A puzzling result was found by a group of scientists that was significant enough for them to encourage their colleagues worldwide to think about it, make suggestions, and discuss it. They knew it needed to be checked, and knew that the “overthrow Einstein” business was nothing more than the media version of science you see out there where progress is deemed not newsworthy unless it is cast as an earth-shattering breakthrough, preferably with added shadings of Divid and Goliath for good measure. We all carried on doing the science and (and even everyday thing)s that we know are founded on all that physics from Einstein that was supposedly overturned, and waited for the key pieces of the process of doing science to be done: Checking of the result by the OPERA people themselves to see if there were any sources of error (and it looks like the certainly have), and independent reproducing of the experiment’s results by others. Without those, especially the latter, you’ll not get anyone to believe a scientific result.

-cvj

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