Saturday, 9 June 2012

Einstein was right, so what?

I don’t know about you, but I am really disappointed with the “news” that neutrino, after all, does not exceed the speed of light. According to CERN Press Release, the surprising results of the OPERA experiment were due to what many researchers now say suspected all along: faulty wiring or something.

The mass media, which got (understandably) overexcited since last Autumn, had to make less-than-exciting coverage this time and explain us that slower-than-light neutrinos are actually good news. Alok Jha wrote in The Guardian:

Travelling faster than the speed of light goes against Albert Einstein’s theory of special relativity. If it were possible, it would open up the troubling possibility of being able to send information back in time, blurring the line between past and present and wreaking havoc with the fundamental principle of cause and effect.
Or dear.

So Einstein was right, or, rather, special relativity was not proved wrong on this occasion. As it was not proved wrong when the antineutrinos from Supernova 1987A, some 160,000 light years away, arrived to Earth about three hours earlier than photons. The conclusion was that they actually were not faster than light, it was light that was slower than light. Great stuff. Based on observation of, in total, 24 neutrinos. Of course, there is only a slim chance of repeating an experiment on such scale.

Back to the OPERA. What kind of distance is 730 km anyway? We are talking the speed of light here. We’d better do collaboration with somebody at least from the other side of the galaxy. Forget the GPS then.

Please don’t get me wrong: I have no problem with newer experiments showing that the original experiment was flawed. That happens all the time in science. But the collective sigh of relief from the mainstream physics community, that saddens me. (As if everybody’s scientific career depends on that thin unblurred line between past and present.) Ditto the resignation of Antonio Ereditato and Dario Autiero. What, exactly, was their crime? Presenting their results?

Although the existence of an extremely light neutral particle emitted during beta decay was postulated first by Wolfgang Pauli, it was Enrico Fermi who coined this lovely term, neutrino. In 1934, Fermi wrote his classic paper on beta decay and submitted it to Nature. The manuscript was rejected because “it contained speculations which were too remote from reality”. Good thing Zeitschrift für Physik published it. As for Einstein, I doubt that the author of 300+ non-peer-reviewed papers would even be taken seriously by the scientific community today.