RES: September 2011 Archives

Does Dr Who know about this?

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Screen shot 2011-09-25 at 2.58.56 PM.pngYou've probably already heard that physicists have measured particles traveling faster than the speed of light because communication on the internet also may travel faster than the speed of light. It's really awesome! But did you notice how five of the six principles of scientific thinking show up in the report that neutrinos travel faster than light.

First, characteristic of good scientific practice, there is well-established theory, Einstein's Theory of Special Relativity, that proposes that absolutely nothing can travel faster than the speed of light. This makes the theory FALSIFIABLE. Maybe it has been supported by a century of testing but find something that goes faster than light and...goodbye, theory! I've put up an image of Albert E. himself to remind us of the brilliance and solidity of that theory.

Next, the claim that neutrinos may go faster than light is EXTRAORDINARY and the researchers need to provide extradordinary evidence. So what kind of evidence did the researchers provide? "A total of 15,000 beams of neutrinos -- tiny particles that pervade the cosmos -- were fired over a period of 3 years from CERN toward Gran Sasso 730 (500 miles) km away, where they were picked up by giant detectors." and clocked at 60-billionths of second faster than light. I assume they checked the reliability of their clock, but measurement error is the first thing that occurs to me.

Third, being confident in their findings, having "checked and rechecked for anything that could have distorted our measurements" the researchers are asking their colleagues to REPLICATE their findings. It looks like good science practice to me, and the world will be eagerly waiting for the next set of findings. Meanwhile, I am sure that physicists will be generating ALTERNATE HYPOTHESES to account for the the evidence.

For now, I'm a skeptic. The most PARSIMONIOUS answer is that the Theory of Special Relativity has not been falsified, that the finding, while real, is caused by systematic measurement error of some kind.

But, still, imagine we COULD travel in time! Where would you want to go?

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This page is an archive of entries in the RES category from September 2011.

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