The Not Quite Adventures of a Professional Archaeologist and Aspiring Curmudgeon

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Cern, Neutrinos, and Good Science

So, you may have heard that scientists at CERN found Nuetrinos moving faster than the speed of light, something that should be impossible according to Einstein's Theory of Relativity.  The thing is, it's not certain that they actually observed that, and for all the time that the media spends talking up the discovery, the researchers have been much less certain.  They have stated that their work appears to show that the neutrinos can move faster than the speed of light, but they have released their data and have requested that other scientists confirm their results and try to replicate their experiments to make sure.  While they did annoucne this to the press, it was after careful internal review of their data, and the simultaneously provided their data to the research community at large rather than claiming to have made a massive discovery and hiding or falsifying the data.

This is how good science works.  Contrast this with the way that various other groups do it: creationists (both of the young-Earth and the Intelligent Design camps), global warming deniers, vaccine deniers, cold fusion enthusiasts, etc. etc.  They find a study that seems to vindicate their position, don't look too closely at the study itself or the reasons why it was put together (media attention?  money to be made?), declare that it is the "final word" on the subject (even when it clearly is not - Andrew Wakefield supporters anyone?), and then refuse to engage with critics in any meaningful way.  How many times has someone announced that their idea will replace dominant scientific thought and overthrow "the dominant paradigm"...only to fade into the background. 

By contrast, these scientists (whose work actually could overthrow - or at least greatly change - the dominant models) are requesting that others check their work and make sure that it is correct.  They are well aware that they may have made a mistake, and they want someone to find it as they have failed to do so.  They are, in short, well aware of their responsibilities, and are looking to make sure that they are not fooling themselves.

That is good science.

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