Faster Than Light Neutrinos: The Epilogue

When we posted Maybe Neutrinos Aren’t Faster Than Light a month ago, we thought that was the end of the story. But now there’s a little bit more to tell.

The BBC caries this story: Neutrino ‘faster than light’ scientist resigns. Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us:

The head of an experiment that appeared to show subatomic particles travelling faster than the speed of light has resigned from his post.

Prof Antonio Ereditato oversaw results that appeared to challenge Einstein’s theory that nothing could travel faster than the speed of light.

When the news first broke back in September, and we posted Neutrinos Move Faster Than Light?, most of us were skeptical; but there were a few who thought Einstein was toast. You remember Discoveroid David Klinghoffer’s post. He was gloating that if relativity is collapsing, then evolution could collapse too. See Another One Bites the Dust?

After that, as we reported here, Ellis Washington, the leading creationist intellectual at WorldNetDaily, said:

Nothing in science is absolutely certain. Even today scientists are proving one of Einstein’s bedrock theories to be false – that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light.

We also wrote about a rambling, incoherent reaction from another creationist outfit: Answers in Genesis & the Speed of Light. But let’s get back to the BBC article. They say:

Speaking at the time [of the original announcement], Professor Ereditato added “words of caution” because of the “potentially great impact on physics” of the result.

“We tried to find all possible explanations for this,” he said. “We wanted to find a mistake – trivial mistakes, more complicated mistakes, or nasty effects – and we didn’t.

“When you don’t find anything, then you say ‘well, now I’m forced to go out and ask the community to scrutinise this’.”

That was certainly the proper thing to do. Let’s read on:

Earlier this month, a test run by a different group at the same Italian laboratory recorded neutrinos travelling at precisely light speed.

The creationist websites didn’t report that. Here’s the end of the article:

So far, Professor Ereditato has not commented on his decision to step down from his post.

So that’s the story. Einstein’s theory is intact. And unfortunately for the creationists, there won’t be any domino effect that results in Darwin’s theory being the next to fall.

Copyright © 2012. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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11 responses to “Faster Than Light Neutrinos: The Epilogue

  1. Orwin O'Dowd

    No, this is not the end of the saga: a definitive test on the dedicated equipment at OPERA is expected in May. There are also several other results equally at issue: MINOS comes to mind.

    Meanwhile, the speed of light varies with the medium, and divergent speeds, both subluminal and superluminal, are regularly observed with solitons. These are shock-waves which fall outside the ambit of Einstein’s Special Relativity. So the speed is also not the whole story: the Zitterbeweung reported on the second OPERA run with short packets suggests massive Dirac neutrinos rather than massless Weyl neutrinos. We can still thank Antonio for the emulsion-tracking device itself, and that very interesting result.

    I remain concerned that we seem to have a culture of fundamentalism in “particle” physics which simply doesn’t touch. Sides with what is happening in condensed matter physics, where the new physics of supoerconduction is routine. We seem to be haunted by a new corpuscular dogmatism, which does notr bode well for the nuclear industry.

  2. @Orwin: Which one of your “focus areas” would a potential faster-than-light particle fall under?

  3. I’d see this as a “Science wins either way.” If they do confirm that neutrinos are still only travelling at the speed of light, then all of those creationists who charted science’s downfall will have some explaining to do (though we will be hard pressed to get them to admit that). If by some very remote chance we find out that neutrinos are superluminal, then we can use it to show how science can change with new evidence, followed by pointing out that creationism / ID has never and will never change regardless of the evidence.

  4. Gary says: “If by some very remote chance we find out that neutrinos are superluminal, then we can use it to show how science can change with new evidence …”

    There’s more to it than that. In science, the evidence is all that matters, so we won’t see the sprouting of an FTL neutrino sect that runs around demanding the “strengths and weaknesses” of relativity be taught in science classes.

  5. Gary, I’m trying to figure out if Orwin is a relativity troll. At the moment it looks like he is, but I’d like to be certain.

  6. @SC: I don’t know what a “relativity troll” is, but his comment was so… interesting?… that I did a quick Google on “Orwin O’Dowd” and came across this. (NOTE: Anyone who uses the term “corpuscular dogmatism” in a simple article asking “Do neutrinos go faster than light?” is sending up massive red flags in my mind.) I believe both (the comment above and the link) are written by the same person. I figured my question would confirm this.

  7. It appears that Ereditato did the proper thing when he released the results and asked for others to test them. Why is he stepping down?

    Clearly if the experiment worked correctly the first time, other labs would not have had to spend resources recreating the experiment. Perhaps he feels responsible for wasting those resources. But his response to the situation set a good example, and it’s a shame to see him lose his position over this.

  8. retiredsciguy

    SC: “…I’m trying to figure out if Orwin is a relativity troll. At the moment it looks like he is, but I’d like to be certain.”

    Judging from the incoherence of his last paragraph above, odds are your hunch is correct.

  9. retiredsciguy

    Ed: “…it’s a shame to see him [Ereditato] lose his position over this.”

    Agreed. Seems there must be more to the story. Perhaps more info will be forthcoming.

  10. Yeah, I agree too, Ereditato doesn’t seem to have done much wrong. There was an article a few weeks back about it possibly be due to a loose wire connection to the GPS timing device. If true, I guess one could say that he should’ve done timing calibration tests of all his physical equipment before publication. But IMO these are incredbily complex experiments, and I can’t see this as a firing offense.

    Moreover, if the true reason for the timing offset is discovered, this only changes the interpretation of the results, not the validity of the data. We are still left with a very comprehensive measurement of neutrino speeds….its just a measurement that confirms theory rather than refuting it.

  11. Tomato Addict

    Apparently there was a majority voting “no confidence”. It did not reach the 2/3rds needed to oust Ereditato outright, but he then stepped down voluntarily.

    http://www.nature.com/news/embattled-neutrino-project-leaders-step-down-1.10371