Alright, Neutrinos, The Jig Is Up!

"I have difficulty to believe it, because nothing in Italy arrives ahead of time."
-Sergio Bertolucci, research director at CERN, on faster-than-light neutrinos

You know the story. Last year, the OPERA experiment at CERN announced, to the shock and surprise of practically everyone, that they had observed what appeared to be neutrinos moving faster than the speed of light.

How did the experiment conclude this? Let's refresh your memory.

Image credit: OPERA collaboration; T. Adam et al.

A beam of high-energy protons, moving very close to the speed of light (but not quite there thanks to Einstein's relativity) is smashed into a target, creating a whole bunch of debris. Some of that debris consists of neutrinos (and unstable particles that will decay into neutrinos), which are incredibly light -- millions of times lighter than a single electron -- but not quite massless.

Because neutrinos hardly interact at all, we can fire them through the Earth pretty much at will. While all the other particles will be blocked by the particles in the ground, the neutrinos continue to travel as if in free-fall, affected only by the gravity of the objects around them.

Image credit: OPERA / INFN / CERN.

From CERN, these neutrinos travel through around 732 kilometers of Earth, until they arrive at the OPERA detector, buried beneath the Italian mountain of Gran Sasso. The OPERA detector is huge, and that makes it good enough to detect about one out of every 1016 (that's ten quadrillion) neutrinos that pass through it.

Image credit: OPERA / INFN / CERN.

Over the course of more than a year, OPERA detected somewhere around 16,000 of these neutrinos, measuring a number of their properties, including their arrival times. What they found, when they took a look at their data, was absolutely shocking. Based on how energetic these neutrinos were and how far they had traveled, they were able to calculate exactly how long it should have taken for these neutrinos to travel the distance between where they were created at CERN to when they arrived in the OPERA detector.

And the result should have been a time corresponding to a speed indistinguishable from the speed of light in a vacuum.

Image credit: retrieved from Amazon S3.

At least, that's what it should have been in theory, if physics behaves as we expect it to. What they found, instead, is that the neutrinos arrived about 60 nanoseconds early, which is incredibly fishy. This doesn't appear to happen for either significantly lower-energy or higher-energy neutrinos, as other experiments (and Matt Strassler) showed.

But when an experiment claims to have been done well and gives you a surprising result, you have to investigate exactly what's going on here. Now, we thought we understood neutrinos, and if we did, they shouldn't be arriving early. Certainly nowhere near this early. We immediately wondered if we were fooling ourselves with the results, and while some errors have been ruled out, there are still many questions remaining. The big one, of course is why did these neutrinos arrive earlier than we expected?

The OPERA collaboration could have made an experimental error that they haven't accounted for. (Some plausible explanations are as mundane as faulty wiring in the experiment.) This is sort of the default position that many people -- including myself -- take: that there's some error in the experiment somewhere. But this could also be an indicator of some potentially revolutionary new physics. If we want to know what's going on, you know how science works: we test it again, in different ways!

Image credit: T2K experiment, retrieved from Lancaster University.

And that's exactly what's going on at two different locations, unconnected to the OPERA experiment. In Japan, they're creating neutrinos at similarly high energies to the OPERA experiment, and sending them from Tokai to Kamioka, over a distance of 295 kilometers.

We're also, in the United States, sending a beam of neutrinos underground from Fermilab to Soudan Mine in Minnesota. The distance from Fermilab to Soudan Mine? An uncanny -- wait for it -- 732 kilometers.

Image credit: Univ. of Minnesota / NASA / Google / TerraMetrics / Europa Technologies.

At the terminal point in both experiments, giant neutrino detectors await. Now, what they see will teach us a tremendous amount -- assuming that everyone is a competent experimentalist -- about what's going on with these neutrinos. Let's run through some of the most likely possibilities of what these experiments may see, and what that will point to!

Image credit: Renee L. of

Option 1: MINOS neutrinos arrive on time, T2K neutrinos arrive on time.

This is perhaps the most boring option, and also perhaps the most expected. If neutrinos really don't move faster-than-light, and the OPERA collaboration achieved their results because of a unique fault in their experiment, the other collaborations won't see it. (This will also be what we see if the recent faulty cable theory turns out to be true.)

If this happens, the OPERA collaboration will be left with a lot of egg on their faces, and many jokes like Bertolucci's, at top, will ensue.

Image credit: OPERA collaboration; T. Adam et al.

Option 2: MINOS neutrinos arrive ~60 ns early, T2K neutrinos arrive ~60 ns early.

This possibility -- that everyone sees their neutrinos arrive about 60 nanoseconds early -- is also really interesting, although it could be happening for two very different reasons.

On one boring hand, everyone doing these experiments could be making the same systematic error. We've never done timing at this precision over these distances before, and there could be some sort of universal error related to the type of equipment or the setup used that affects everyone equally.

There are also some exciting, theoretical possibilities that the neutrinos travel incredibly fast initially, resulting in a very fast traversal of maybe the first 18 meters or so, followed by normal, roughly light-speed travel over the remaining distance. This idea, currently considered to be extremely fringe, would suddenly be thrust into the spotlight.

Image credit: Jennifer Ouellette.

Option 3: MINOS neutrinos arrive 60 ns early, T2K neutrinos arrive 24 ns early.

If this happens, the idea that neutrinos move at some speed faster-than-light through the Earth, or that the Earth acts as a medium with an index of refraction slightly less than 1 for neutrinos, would gain a lot of traction. In other words, neutrinos in a vacuum would move at the speed of light, but neutrinos moving through the Earth somehow move faster than light in a vacuum by some small amount; maybe 0.0025% faster.

This would be incredibly interesting from a theoretical perspective, and is quite possibly the result that many of the OPERA experimentalists are hoping for; if this came to pass, theoretical physics would certainly be very busy trying to explain why this was happening.

Image credit:

Option 4: MINOS neutrinos arrive some time other than on time or 60 ns early, T2K neutrinos arrive at some other time than on time, 24 or 60 ns early.

If this happens, we'll know that there are either experimental errors somewhere or some really bizarre theoretical things going on, but nothing that was reasonable to expect.

You can, of course, make your bets as to what you think is most likely, but there's a reason we do the experiments; don't state any definitive conclusions until the results come in! For my own part, the faulty cable theory is a pretty lame explanation that would be shocking at this point. We have to assume some base level of competence when experiments are performed, and it would be a tremendous blow to everyone involved if this turned out to be the culprit. But with the experiment at MINOS already running, we should have our first check, and hence the first information leading us towards a definitive answer in just a few months!

So if you want to know whether neutrinos are moving faster than light, whether there is there some new physics lurking in high-energy neutrinos, whether the Earth is a faster-than-light material to neutrinos, or whether this whole fiasco is just an experimental blunder, you have to stay tuned! Any guesses?

More like this

I'm glad some labs are finally doing a real independent evaluation of the results! I suspect we'll see similar results, and am rather fond of the IOR hypothesis. At velocities near C, assuming a mass of 3eV, neutrinos have a HUGE de Broglie wavelength, and I would go so far as to suggest that quantum tunneling might be involved.

I mean, we know how fast neutrinos go in a vacuum, exactly C, because of observations from astronomical events. But OPERA was the second experiment to suggest a velocity greater than C, and had a way tighter confidence interval.

Time will tell.…

According to sources familiar with the experiment, the 60 nanoseconds discrepancy appears to come from a bad connection between a fiber optic cable that connects to the GPS receiver used to correct the timing of the neutrinos' flight and an electronic card in a computer. After tightening the connection and then measuring the time it takes data to travel the length of the fiber, researchers found that the data arrive 60 nanoseconds earlier than assumed. Since this time is subtracted from the overall time of flight, it appears to explain the early arrival of the neutrinos. New data, however, will be needed to confirm this hypothesis.

Maybe there are forces that act on neutrinos that we aren't aware of yet?

Maybe the neutrinos don't know they are on earth and their speed is actually relative to some other medium/matter/energy we aren't aware of?

Do neutrinos act on other neutrinos? Maybe the experiment's neutrinos act on other neutrinos and the spike in early arrivals represents neutrinos that came from somewhere else but under the influence of the experimental neutrinos?

By Vince Whirlwind (not verified) on 22 Feb 2012 #permalink

I think the "faulty cable" idea is more likely than you give it credit for. It's the sort of thing I'm surprised doesn't happen more often. This isn't a knock on the people at OPERA. It could happen to anyone in any field. It's hard to tell sometimes if a cable is damaged when the outside appears perfectly fine. Sometimes the damage itself can be hard to detect, especially since the very act of moving it to use a tester could temporarily "fix" a cable's break point. It's changing the results by measuring it writ large. The fact that so many of these massive projects involving hundreds of cables and incredibly minute timing manage to avoid wiring issues as often as they do is nothing short of amazing to me.

So no, I wouldn't say they're idiots because ONE cable may have had a fault.

Oh, there's an update on that ars technica article. It seems Nature got a direct statement indicating that this damaged cable plus another issue has come up, but they skew the results in opposite directions, so a rerun of the test is needed to figure out which of the issues, if either, may have affected the test. At this point, they're stating the wiring IS in fact faulty, but we don't yet know if that's the explanation.…

Honestly the safest and most boring bet is that yes, one of these two issues is the cause. Dang... I honestly had my imagination running wild at the possibilities, reigning in my hopes as best I could.

By Dark Jaguar (not verified) on 22 Feb 2012 #permalink

I think the earth's mass is the culprit. Time and space right? The little suckers are not affected. Seems simplistic, but sometimes the missing car keys are in your pocket the whole time. B.B.

By Brandon Bristow (not verified) on 22 Feb 2012 #permalink

If this happens, the OPERA collaboration will be left with a lot of egg on their faces,

Why would they have egg on their faces? They thoroughly rechecked their data first and were cautious in presenting their results. Seems like they did everything they should have, and if they were mistaken, they're only human.

By Matthew Cline (not verified) on 22 Feb 2012 #permalink

What prevents CERN of re-computing the precise distance between CERN/Geneva and Gran Sasso using lasers ? I understand they would have to put reflectors on top of a couple or 3 mountains, like the Mont Blanc and the Monte Magiorasca and the Monte Giovo.

Measuring the distance(s) with a single (reflected) laser beam ought to be more precise than with the GPS system. Good old-fashioned triangulation would work too.

Vince's idea is interesting. If an OPERA neutrino and a "space neutrino" interacted in a spooky way some 18 meters apart, and exchanged direction, space neutrino would arrive at the detector with an 18 meter advance. Kiss shot at a distance.

Maybe this is at long last the feminist physics that so many folks have been searching for.

I agree with Matthew Cline @7. They certainly did their due diligence here. Unless the egg on their faces is not the serious, "dag, there goes your career," kind, but more the, "annoying jokes when you go out drinking after work," kind, which I could totally see. As stated, they're only human. ;)

I'm not a scientist, so forgive me if this sounds dumb. But is it possible that neutrinos (and photons?) go faster through materials under great pressure? I just saw an article that said some supercounductors work better under high pressure.
Could someone do an experiment like this: 1. shine a laser through a block of plexiglass, and note the speed, then 2. put the plexiglass under great pressure, and note the speed of the laser going through it. See if there's any difference in the speeds.

By Steve Maricic (not verified) on 23 Feb 2012 #permalink

A loose cable would also be a rather weak explanation.

They've discovered that at a different date the cable was loose and tightening that cable then produced a difference of somewhere around 60ns in timing.

But it could be that the cable wasn't loose. Or it was even looser (which would mean neutrinos travelling slower than light by more than expected, which is just as odd/interesting).

However the OPERA team, rather than just going "well that would explain it. let's stop looking" are checking if this is the actual right explanation.

After all, it may just be coincidence.

And, if the OPERA result is wrong because of the tools used, those incorrect tools may be used in other areas and continue to create false conclusions.

I'm still of the opinion that something went wrong rather than FTL, but there's the possibility which is exciting. We KNOW neutrinos from 1987a got here a little after the light did. We KNOW that OPERA found neutrino events detected around 60ns too early. We KNOW that at least one thing here is wrong.

And when we find out what, we'll have learned something.

Like Dozer says in the Matrix. If it is, it's going to be very exciting.

(PS re 13: you'd be better off thinking that the refractive index (how much light slows down when going through the medium) is reduced closer to 1.0r under pressure. It would be possible, but I expect it would have been spotted by now. But it's definitely a proper hypothesis.)

I am an extreem skeptic. However, there will come a day when we have to build a sub-quantum sub-relativity model of the physics from which these formalisms precipitate. Obviously, we already have seen the evidence for, and within our quantum and relativistic model's blindly made room for, sub-space physics, for a causal layer that is agnostic to distance (or spacial dimensionality). Obviously, the quantum world flirts with this sub-space substrate. Obviously, if we are ever to understand the causal parameters giving shape to relativistic physics (the speed of light asymptote, the Plank unit asymptote), or quantum formalisms (absolute zero asymptote), we are going to have to begin to look beneath the spacetime floor.

I am a little bit annoyed by the suggestion that a new experimental measurement would or could displace any previous measurement confirmed theory. A measurement is ALWAYS accurate. It may or may not be measuring what the experiment designers meant to measure, but it is always accurate. But even should we actually confirm faster-than-light neutrino speeds, it won't upend previous measurements or previous theory. It will merely provide a more stable base from which previous models can be parameterized.

Unfortunately, the scope of the experiment does not lend itself to using an real control. It's not practical to dig a tunnel that long and pump out the air so you can send light photons on the same trip under the same gravitational,etc conditions and measure their velocity using the same equipment and techniques used to measure the speed of the neutrinos.

At this time, you pretty much have to use the well known value of c and assume that the speed of photons under the same experimental and measurement conditions would have been precisely the established value of c.

By assuming the control, they couldn't really rule out a unknown measurement/timing error or potential effects to space time that would have also affected the measurement of the speed of light.

It has always seemed to me since I first heard of the FTL neutrino story, that the degree to which the neutrinos were faster than c was small enough that a ghost could be hiding in the results somewhere. I would actually find it more plausible if they had measured neutrinos that were 10% faster than c that somehow didn't go backwards in time.

Occam's razor tells me that as unbelievable as the cable idea is, faster than light neutrinos are currently more implausible.

Of course, Occam's razor is a guideline, not a rule.

It may turn out not to be a cable problem, but I still lean towards that idea that there's some sort of ghost in the experimental data and neutrinos travel at subluminous velocities.

If it's the cable, they won't have been the first experimenters to report data that's wrong from faulty equipment. Or the last. That's exactly why you need to reproduce the experiment elsewhere.

No supreme shame.

By MobiusKlein (not verified) on 23 Feb 2012 #permalink

Latest update to the story:

Thursday morning Cern issued an unusually short statement to clarify the situation:

âThe Opera collaboration has informed its funding agencies and host laboratories that it has identified two possible effects that could have an influence on its neutrino timing measurement. These both require further tests with a short pulsed beam. If confirmed, one would increase the size of the measured effect, the other would diminish it. The first possible effect concerns an oscillator used to provide the time stamps for GPS synchronizations. It could have led to an overestimate of the neutrinoâs time of flight. The second concerns the optical fibre connector that brings the external GPS signal to the Opera master clock, which may not have been functioning correctly when the measurements were taken. If this is the case, it could have led to an underestimate of the time of flight of the neutrinos. The potential extent of these two effects is being studied by the Opera collaboration. New measurements with short pulsed beams are scheduled for May.â

It's almost like a thriller movie :D
But it does seem that Opera is confirming that they found 2 technical issues with equipment which somehow [strange] noone noticed or checked before.

By Sinisa Lazarek (not verified) on 23 Feb 2012 #permalink

@16 Randall Lee Reetz: "A measurement is ALWAYS accurate. It may or may not be measuring what the experiment designers meant to measure, but it is always accurate."

Sorry, but just the opposite is true: measurements are *never* accurate.

As an example, long ago at university, I performed a pertinent experiment in order to measure the speed of light (a laser, a rotating mirror, etc., you know). I got three measurements, all being inaccurate, the average being correct for the first four decimal digits (amazingly), *and* the measurements indeed measured what the experiment designer meant to measure, that is to say the speed of light.

By Duncan Ivry (not verified) on 23 Feb 2012 #permalink

Karl #17, There is the capacity to do similar experiments with light, maybe not under rock, but under the ocean. I presume that people have measured light transit time in the various fiber optic cables that have been laid under the ocean. My understanding is that a new cable is being laid just to shorten the time required for flash-trades.

Fiber optic cables usually have an index of refraction greater than 1.0, so they do have a slower than c propagation time, but my understanding is that there are vacuum core fiber optic cables that do have a propagation velocity closer to c.

"Sorry, but just the opposite is true: measurements are *never* accurate."

He may be talking about precise, rather than accurate. They mean something different in science (and metrology), but are similar enough in actual english, rather than the specialism called "scientific english".

A measurement of 1.0536+/-0.00013 m is that measurement. It isn't a measurement of 1.5m.

likewise the OPERA experiment showed a 60ns precede (+/- a number less than 60ns). That was the precise answer. And to English, the accurate one. It didn't read a 180ns lag, neither did it read a 20ns lead.

The explanation of it was taken to be "it went faster than light", but "the cable was loose" has been shown it can show the same precise measurement. Verification on both is still needed.

Your dismissal of Randall's point was narrow minded and judgemental. Unless you only speak Scientific English, you were the one in the wrong.

"which somehow [strange] noone noticed or checked before"

This is why "Gosh, that's strange" is so necessary and welcome. There was no apparent need to check.

And people noticed now because FTL neutrinos are unexpected. So whilst getting the idea out there for the "many eyes" effect to find a problem with the data or analysis, they checked.

This is why they only noticed and checked now, not before.

Because there was no need to do so.

I think what SL meant by 'before' was 'before publishing-announcing the /incredibly and nearly immpossibly odd/ results, not before this particular experiment was run. The very fact that they got FTL results means they need to check everything as thoroughly as they can. Surely they checked things after getting the results, but after announcing the finding and there being some backlash in the sci community, they apparently went back to checking things and /now/ they did a /really thorough check/ and found not just one but two problems! I think SLs statement is that they should've done a check that thorough /originally/.

Anyway this whole episode probably just shows that the error bars and uncertainy on experiments like this are simply too large. We're talking a 60 billionth-of-a-second difference, with that much wiring and equipment it might be too small of an effect to consistently detect.

"I think what SL meant by 'before' was 'before publishing-announcing the /incredibly and nearly immpossibly odd/ results, not before this particular experiment was run."

Even if so, then I see no problem.

A bug report is seen by many people in open source software for those with the interest and capability to do something about it.

The actual developers have many demands on their time and therefore why hide all the bug reports to "save face" when finding the correct answer is FAR FAR more important than "face".

I also do not believe that to be the case, since the quote was:

noone noticed or checked before

No one. Not none of them thought to check before. No one.

"Anyway this whole episode probably just shows that the error bars and uncertainy on experiments like this are simply too large."


If you really mean that in a "validation of experimental science" manner, you're talking complete rot.


What WASN'T certain enough were the controls on the variables.

Go read Feynman's "Surely you're joking Mr Feynman" on the section about his experiments on the behaviours of rats in a maze. He didn't discover anything other than things other experiments hadn't controlled that needed control.

This DID NOT mean that the error bars (uncertainty) were too big to make the claims.

And it doesn't mean that now, either.

Schenck understood correctly. I said strange because if you get something as FTL some of the first things on the list would be clocks and synchs.

Wow, I understand your point of view. But I can't compare software development with this. Especially open source ones. It would be like comparing home-made carting with formula 1.

But something else I don't understand. If it's true that they now found 2 mechanical issues with GPS and oscilator for the clock. I remember that at the first announcing of the results, they said that the clocks and gps's were calibrated, checked and re-checked by 2 different institutes, and were absolutely checked ok. So who's fooling who now? That's what is fishy to me with this. How can you miss a 60ns discrepency in calibration twice by two different teams???

By Sinisa Lazarek (not verified) on 24 Feb 2012 #permalink

"I said strange because if you get something as FTL some of the first things on the list would be clocks and synchs."

Which they did.

What they have seen is that a loose cable can give a 60ns error. They don't even know that the cable was that loose at the time. So they only know now this phenomena.

"But I can't compare software development with this."

Well, I'm sorry, but I can't help you with your problems. You'll have to heal yourself there.

"It would be like comparing home-made carting with formula 1."

No, it wouldn't.

It would be like comparing bug tracking in source code with bug tracking in experimental science.

Exactly like that, in fact.

"If it's true that they now found 2 mechanical issues with GPS and oscilator for the clock."

Why are you going to believe them about anything if you're going to believe they're lying now?

Take the bacofoil off your head, it doesn't stop microwaves anyway. It would need a grounding strap for that.

"I remember that at the first announcing of the results, they said that the clocks and gps's were calibrated, checked and re-checked by 2 different institutes, and were absolutely checked ok"

IF they said that, don't you mean?

"So who's fooling who now?"

You and you.

"How can you miss a 60ns discrepency in calibration twice by two different teams???"

By not doing so. The discrepancies aren't both 60ns for a start.

@Wow 29

I don't see why you need to be sarcastic and insulting in order to state your views. You are clearly not understanding my questions and opinions, which is fine, but at least have the decency to be civil. I am not a whack job deluding myself, thank you very much. Maybe you had a bad day, so I'll let it pass.

1. Bug tracking software and checking wire connections and machine calibrations are not the same thing. We may not agree on this but your sarcasm about me needing to heal myself just shows the type of person you are.

2. I said "if it's true" because I found that info in the news article on the web. I didn't speak with Opera nor did I see it on CERN's offical page. Excuse me for not believing everything I read online. Your ironic attitude speaks volumes about yourself.

3. It doesn't matter if the discrepancy is 60ns or 130 or 25ns. My question stands. Clocks and GPS was certified by two institutes at two different times, and they reported nothing wrong with them.

Please, if you can't be polite and civilised don't bother replying to my questions and views here. I did nothing in order to provoke such lame trolling on your part. If you can't stand that someone has a different view than your own... too bad for you.

By Sinisa Lazarek (not verified) on 24 Feb 2012 #permalink

I don't see why you're so miffed at insults when you're quite willing to insult the intelligence of scientists you've never met.

Tell you what, you stop insinuating they're idiots and I'll stop showing you you're one.


PS opening with that rather shows you have nothing substantive to say, so have to make out you're being victimised by that nasty villain Wow.

Re 3, it DOES matter if they're not both 60ns when you say they are both 60ns. If you didn't want to be so obviously wron, stop being so obviously wrong.

It ain't rocket science, kid

I'm insulting the intelligence of scientists??? Insinuating they're idiots??? OMG!! Where in the world did you get that from?! You got it all backwards. LOL! Nothing in the world could be further from truth.

You seriously need to chill.

By Sinisa Lazarek (not verified) on 24 Feb 2012 #permalink

I can't help but wonder how a "loose Cable" would speed rather than retard the readings for the particles in question?

Science is what you do when you don't know what your doing...

@Wow #23

"Your dismissal of Randall's point was narrow minded and judgemental."

Again, as many times before, you are insulting. As far as I'm concerned, I would say, I hear you, or -- just talking straight -- I have no interest at all in listening to you. So, from now on, I will ignore you, and I would prefer that you ignore me.

By Duncan Ivry (not verified) on 25 Feb 2012 #permalink

"Again, as many times before, you are insulting."

So it's insulting to point out someone's insulting post?

Then you're insulting too.

re 33: the time of the synch pulse would be delayed. Therefore when you think you've seen 180 "ticks" of 1ns each (as an example), there were 180 ticks of 2ns. Therefore your reading of "180ns" for the interval when divided by the distance between the two points gives a speed twice as fast as "reality".

Re 34: And religion is what you do when you've given up knowing what to do. And sniping is what you do when you're jealous of those who still have drive.

"I'm insulting the intelligence of scientists???"

Yes: "which somehow [strange] noone noticed or checked before"

Thereby insinuating incompetence.

But you seem to love giving out insults but whine like a pansy when you're not treated with kid gloves.

Feb 22 Ethan tells us

Feb 23 CERN press releases
Feb 23 New York Times informs…

Feb 24 the media frenzy begins, e.g.…

Feb 27, I notice.
What exactly do I notice?
1) only Ethan told about the upcoming Tokai to Kamioka and the Fermilab to Soudan Mine experiments. Very nice science and explanation. Thanks Ethan.

2)the media focuses on celebrity (Einstein's relativity) and yuks (another loose cable joke).

3) science requires the integrity to question even best experiments and theories. No error is too humiliating not to be considered, gulp a loose cable. No pet theory is too precious, if relativity is falsified, ouch, we must rethink everything. The only stupid things in science are deception and self deception (burying the data one's head in the sand).

Great job CERN/Opera, Fermilab and T2K. I await scientists' clarification.

To clarify:

1. Unlike philosophy, where the only criteria of validation is emotional resonance, science is deals in the measurable, those attributes of the universe which are agnostic to what we think of them.

2. This means that we in science measure stuff. Experimentalists expend an inordinate fraction of their time devising measurement techniques and apparatus that are least likely to be affected by the operator's emotional will.

3. Regardless of how well or how poorly a measurement is designed or performed, the result is ALWAYS causally honest. Meaning, a measurement ALWAYS perfectly reflects the ONLY causal physical chain of events possible when that apparatus and procedure is made to interact with that set of environmental conditions.

4. No future experiment can ever or will ever invalidate the results of any prior measurement. A new experiment may do a better job isolating the causal physics being investigated. A new experiment may do a better job measuring at a higher level of precision or accuracy, it may do a better job measuring at a level of fidelity necessary to validate or invalidate theoretical predictions, it may measure the physical attributes of a system or phenomenon out to the limits or edges of that system, but no matter what, new measurements can never erase or edit previously executed measurements.

5. The best the results of a new experiment will ever do is to frame the results of previous experiments such that cause is better understood and previous measurements can be categorized as effect within a more inclusive and causal theoretical gestalt.

6. I belabor this distinction between progress in science and what is often labeled "revolution" to expose the emotions that drive and often obfuscate salience in the scientific process. There are lots and lots of science interested people and more disturbingly, there are lots of scientists who don't understand that revolution is not possible in empirically-bound science. A new theory can provide a new a more stable base from which to interpret and confirm old measurements, but it can never make those previously made measurements go away or change them in any way.

7. The motivation fueling the desire among many people (and because scientists are people too, by many scientists, or by most scientists at least some of the time) to find truly revolutionary new science is driven by a desire for transcendence â by a desire to escape the bounds of the physical limits inherent in a causally coherent universe. We don't want to die. We don't like that we can't be in more than one place at one time. We don't like how slow and how painful is self change, learning and growth. We don't like that it is so difficult to acquire and make profitable use of resources. We don't like that effort must be extended EVERY time we do ANYTHING. We don't like that there is no free lunch. We don't like that we can't change the physics from which we are built or from which the universe is built. We don't like that thinking about physics doesn't change physics. We don't like that atoms don't care and aren't effected by the words we use to describe them or our opinion of them. We don't like that nothing can be done in the present to change the past in any way.

8. It is important to keep these causal limits at the front of our thinking whenever we set out to build upon the scientific tome. It is important to understand, recognize, and work to stay conscious of the omnipresent noise that is human existential frustration such that we may get better and better at eliminating it from physical theory and the experimentation we built to validate that theory.

9. Any energy we expend trying to fit the universe to our existential desires and fears will be met with decisive failure.

10. It feels good to end a diatribe with a tenth item (which is a really good example of bad thinking).

Every theory is an abstraction. An abstraction, a map, is never the territory it describes. For sure, maps are territory, but they are never the territory they describe. An abstraction is a reduction, a filtering for salience, for the causal attributes of a system. In a very real sense, all theories are like the orreries that ancient peoples built to illustrate the motion of the heavenly bodies. The only thing that makes one theory or abstraction or orrery better than another is how useful it is explaining the causal stack of influence thad drives the behavior and morphology of the system in question. Better orreries are abstractions that can predict the behavior of the full system. Newton's laws of motion do not predict motion at the full scale of energy levels. Einstein's laws do. Newton's orrery isn't wrong. It just isn't complete. The full-domain completeness of Relativity makes it a better orrery. But better never invalidates poorer. It just does a better job explaining the causal stack of influence from which behavior and structure precipitate. If we ever formalize the sub-space physics from which both Relativity and Quantum Dynamics arise, we will have built a better orrery. But its existence will not invalidate either of the earlier formalisms.

"2)the media focuses on celebrity (Einstein's relativity) and yuks (another loose cable joke)"

Calvin and Hobbes has a cartoon illustrating this.

Calvin and Hobbes reading a newspaper.

Calvin: you can tell this is an in-depth article because they have some text next to the pictures.

(or something of that ilk)

It is past time that we in science expect and demand peer review not just of results, claims, and publications, but of motivations and rhetorical leanings, of why we are doing science in the first place, what it is we hope to find, and most importantly, why we hope to find these things.

By Randall Lee Reetz (not verified) on 28 Feb 2012 #permalink

We also need a review of why people demand scientists do what they do.

It seems to me that asking their scientists to do more models of climate is the way governments pretend to care about the problem they know is happening without risking either their or their friends' fortunes by changing the status quo.

It replaces action with "tell us more". Because it's going to be some other sucker in power when the midden hits the windmill and they're in the sect that are affected by the consequences of action but unaffected by the consequences of inaction.

Sensational science stories like this "faster than light nutrinos" one, tuned to draw the freaks out of the woodwork. It is moments like these that demand the greatest vigilance towards rationality and self control. It is moments like these that best illustrate the way in which evolution has left us with a brain in which attention is very much the opposite of rational or neutral. Certain classes of ideas are far more attractive than others and the reason for this rediculously un-even interest topology has very little to do with universal salience (and, is noteriously difficult to deconstruct). Why is it so seductive or tantalizing when tests seem to produce results that contradict understanding? This question and the warning it prescribes is a question not often asked in scientific discourse. Serious experimentalist don't have time to waste on such issues as their apparatus must be built of real materials and real materials don't bend to existential whim. But when science flirts at the edge of clasical physics, even serious scientist can fall prey to the excitement of potential discovery and the confusion that arises when extra-clasical phenomena is encountered and confuses rational in-system analysis. But the real danger is the way that old brain irrationality is so easily evoked in the absence of theoretical familiarity. That is when the old brain comes charging in. That is when even the hardest willed realists feel the thrill of and flirtation with the possibility of transcendence from causality⦠maybe I can fly! Maybe I can go back 30 years into the past and ask Linda to a date? Maybe I do have limitless potential? All of which says way more about the unberible lightness of being than it does about the actual physical causality of the universe. Let's keep our wits about us. Let's remember that sub-space physics might be as whacky as whacky gets and that our knowledge of that whackyness will never change how un-wacky is the clasical world we live within. Thinking anything else would put arrogance before rationality.

By Randall Lee Reetz (not verified) on 29 Feb 2012 #permalink

"even serious scientist can fall prey to the excitement of potential discovery"

Or in other words: don't be human, you scientists!!!! HOW DARE YOU BE EXCITED ABOUT YOUR WORK!!!!

All the posts have been a fascinating read - well most of them. Let's be clear - none of us know everything - and the sub-atomic quantum gravity STL field is a lovely mystery still to be explored. It wouldn't have/surprised me that neutrinos could travel FTL beacsue I am have constantly surprised by discoveries all my life. If it proves to be experimental error - no none should feel embarrassed - thay asked for their findings to be checked out - and they have rechecked their own operation and have owned up to couple of possible shorcomings.

XLA@11: I wish to bear your children.

By Jack Parsons (not verified) on 09 Mar 2012 #permalink