The response of the "public" to the faster than light neutrinos has been quite amusing, but also sort of sad to me. It is amazing how everyone seems to have an opinion even if they don't have the slightest understanding of what was done in the experiment. To some, Einstein's theory of relativity has now been definitively proven to be wrong, and the whole field of physics goes with it. Others seem to think a 750 km long tunnel exists between Switzerland and Italy. After all, how could you send subatomic particles from one place to another if there was no such tunnel, right? :-)

Most people with an opinion will happily ignore the position of the scientists who actually did the experiments: "This is what we did, this is the result we got. It was very unexpected. We are publishing this so someone can hopefully find out if we missed some potential source of error. Can anyone review our work and try to duplicate this test please?"

How level-headed, unlike most responses on the subject. After all, Einstein's model has been serving us well for the last century. Tons of experiments have been run to verify that the model works. Everyday technology like nuclear reactors and GPS prove that it works. Now one experiment contradicts it, and to most people, it seems that this one experiment invalidates everything that came before.

There are many other possible explanations. Some measurement error may not have been accounted for. After all, this experiment is extremely sensitive to any sort of disturbance or error. Einstein's model may need some fine-tuning, who knows. But that doesn't mean it is "wrong" and should be abolished. Science always makes incremental improvements like this, and experiments like the one in CERN are done exactly for that reason. Maybe the absolute limit is not the speed of light, but the speed of neutrinos, which could just be a fraction higher? I don't know. I'm not a physics scientist, and do not claim to be one. There are people who are way smarter than me that will figure this out. But I really do not think it is as big a deal as most people seem to want to make it. This is real science at work, doing what it does best. It does not invalidate science, but rather shows that it does what it's supposed to: increase our understanding of the universe.

This blog post was posted to Techie Brain Showers on Tuesday September 27th, 2011 at 8:10AM

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My name is Patrick Van Oosterwijck. Welcome to my spot on the web where I will hopefully regularly dump some of my brain content for the benefit of whomever may find it useful.

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