Please consider donating to Behind the Black, by giving either a one-time contribution or a regular subscription, as outlined in the tip jar to the right or below. Your support will allow me to continue covering science and culture as I have for the past twenty years, independent and free from any outside influence.
Can neutrinos travel faster than light? After three years of gathering data, an experiment at CERN says they do, though by only a tiny amount.
[Physicist Antonio] Ereditato says that he is confident enough in the new result to make it public. The researchers claim to have measured the 730-kilometre trip between CERN and its detector to within 20 centimetres. They can measure the time of the trip to within 10 nanoseconds, and they have seen the effect in more than 16,000 events measured over the past two years. Given all this, they believe the result has a significance of six-sigma — the physicists’ way of saying it is certainly correct.
You can download and read a preprint of their paper here.
What I find intriguing about this result, other than its exciting groundbreaking possibilities, is how it illustrates sharply the contrast between normal and healthy science, and the sad and sick state of the field of climate science.
Consider again the shocking nature of the CERN results. If it should prove true, the discovery that neutrinos can travel faster than light will rock more than just the field of physics. The entire field of theoretical science built up since Einstein first wrote his special theory of relativity more than a hundred years ago will be thrown into chaos.
Yet, despite these high stakes, no one at CERN or elsewhere has tried to hide these startling results. Nor has anyone condemned these scientists for daring to challenge the “settled” theories of physics. Instead, the scientists have published their results without fear, and have made that research data available to everyone else with the hope that someone else might spot an error, or it not, confirm their result.
Moreover, the rest of the physics community has embraced this situation with a kind of thrilled eagerness. Proving Einstein and their theories wrong isn’t considered a bad thing at all. Instead, it points to new knowledge, and a deeper understanding of the universe.
Contrast this response with that of global warming scientists Phil Jones and Michael Mann when other scientists wished to check their conclusion that the climate is warming and has only begun to do so since the industrial age. When Steven McIntyre wrote Jones to try to get his original data so he could check Jones’s conclusions, Jones refused to give it to him. McIntyre then filed freedom of information forms to get it the data, only to have Jones and Mann stonewall him, even exchanging emails about how they would destroy that data before they’d release it.
In fact, they might very well have done so. Jones at least revealed eventually that his original data has been lost or no longer exists. Thus, there is no way to check his results. For all we know, he made it all up.
In comparing these two approaches to science, which fills you with confidence? I know that I no longer have much faith in the field of climate science. Or to put it more bluntly, I consider many climate scientists today to be nothing more than con men, manipulating data for the sole purpose of sucking funding from government agencies so they keep their jobs and their fancy academic offices. Sadly, much of what they do has little to do with science and the search for knowledge.
Meanwhile, back at CERN, none of us should get our hopes up that anything startling has been found about the flight of neutrinos. We are talking about tiny and very precise measurements, with enormous opportunities for error. The scientists at CERN could very easily have made a tiny mistake somewhere and not noticed it.
Moreover, there is ample other evidence that suggests that something is awry with their results. For example, when supernova 1987a exploded 160,000 light years away in the Large Magellanic Cloud back in 1987, the neutrinos from that explosion arrived mere hours before anyone had detected its light. This early arrival occurred not because the neutrinos were moving faster than light, but because they could be detected instantly by neutrino detectors in Canada and Japan, while the supernova’s light needed time to brighten to visibility. If the CERN result is true, however, the neutrinos from that explosion should have arrived years earlier, not hours.
Regardless, it is so refreshing to see that in at least one field of science, open-mindedness still rules the day. May we someday see this open-mindedness return to the field of climate research as well.