So Was Einstein Wrong?

The world was abuzz yesterday with the news that “Einstein was Wrong!” … because some scientists at CERN shot neutrinos from Switzerland to Italy, and they apparently got there ever-so-slightly faster than light.

Einstein Bunny 2If it’s true, such a thing would be a violation of Einstein’s special theory of relativity, and a pretty major kick in the pants for physics.

Skeptics were understandably quick to jump on the result and say … let’s just wait a minute here.

Both Phil Plait and Pamela Gayhad some interesting points to make.

My question is this: how did the CERN scientists measure the distance of 730-odd kilometres between the neutrino source and the detector accurately? The accuracy there is a major factor in this result. Presumably they used GPS satellites. And GPS satellites are adjusted on the basis of time dilation according to special relativity. So … um … if it is true then the satellites are probably out and it’s possibly not true? Curious.

Anyway, the interesting thing here has been the reaction of the scientists involved.

There’s been no mention of Galilean persecution from the scientific establishment.

The scientists who discovered the phenomenon (or anomaly … call it what you will) are not swanning around saying they’ve discovered a new class of physics. They’re not the ones proclaiming Einstein was wrong (they can leave that to the tabloids) and that some sort of conspiracy has kept this information under wraps until this point.

No, they’re displaying admirable levels of openness and skepticism. They’re showing the world how science actually works.

They’re saying to their colleagues: “Hey, check this out. Weird result. Could be significant. Could be nothing.”

Most importantly, they’re saying, “Have we done something wrong?”

Overturning established scientific knowledge, especially knowledge like this which has stood the test of time (pun intended) for over 100 years, is a really, really big deal. It needs to be dealt with very carefully.

Maybe all the homeopaths and alternative energy practitioners out there could take out a leaf out of their book.

If you want to be taken seriously in science, you need to do science properly. And that must include every possible attempt to show that your own results are wrong.


One Response to So Was Einstein Wrong?

  1. terrykelly3 says:

    Great post, Matt. Caution can be exciting. Other interesting possibilities may arise.

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