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Follow Up On Solar Neutrinos and Radioactive Decay 183

Posted by timothy
from the blaming-xenu-for-their-misperception dept.
An anonymous reader writes "A few days ago, Slashdot carried a story that was making the rounds: a team of physicists claimed to have detected a strange variation in radioactive decay rates, which they attributed to the mysterious influence of solar neutrinos. The findings attracted immediate attention because they seemed to upend two tenets of physics: that radioactive decay is constant, and that neutrinos very, very rarely interact with matter (trillions of the particles are zinging through your body right now). So Discover Magazine's news blog 80beats followed up on the initial burst of news and interviewed several physicists who work on neutrinos. They are decidedly skeptical."
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Follow Up On Solar Neutrinos and Radioactive Decay

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  • by BurningTyger (626316) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @02:18PM (#33383710)

    Wait till the religious fanatics hear this. I have already heard claim from them years ago that radioactive decay is not constant, and that's why carbon dating can not be trusted. The fossils are not a few million years old. The Earth is only a few thousand years old.

    I bet these religious fanatics will now site this article as their proof!

    • by Antisyzygy (1495469) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @02:21PM (#33383750)
      The problem is that religious fanatics already got a hold of it and accept the results as fact without considering any further review.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        The problem is that religious fanatics already got a hold of it and accept the results as fact without considering any further review.

        Sort of like how the internet science fanboys believed in string theory, dark matter, dark energy etc... without any proof?

        • by Antisyzygy (1495469) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @03:02PM (#33384246)
          One, its quite a bit different than that. Creationists will blow this "evidence" out of proportion before it has time to be reviewed by experts in the field. Then, when its proven false they either will omit that part or will claim something ridiculous and illogical like "If scientists can't even make their mind up about one little thing then they all must be wrong!". Two, I don't believe dark matter or dark energy exists. Im not sure about string theory simply because I don't know enough about it. I know at one time people thought it was silly because it didn't have observable evidence but I am not sure of the current state of the theory.
          • I should say "if" its proven false.
          • by Orange Crush (934731) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @03:44PM (#33384806)
            And that's a key difference between science and faith. To steal a little from Steven, scientists shouldn't "believe the same thing on Wednesday that they believed on Monday, regardless of what happened on Tuesday." That's not how science works.
            If a researcher discovers something surprising, the next steps are confirming their results and measurements were accurate and are repeatable. Then experiments can be devised to test why this might be so.
            Nobody should do much believing in science. String Theory, Dark Matter and Dark Energy aren't things to be believed. They're just potential and incomplete explanations for what might be going on. The next step is trying to devise experiments to detect these things and/or test the implications.
            • ^Steven Colbert, that is.
            • by ShakaUVM (157947) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @05:55PM (#33386716) Homepage Journal

              >>That's not how science works.

              There's three scenarios:
              1) Scientific consensus agreeing with your belief
              2) Scientific consensus holding no opinion on your belief
              3) Scientific consensus disagreeing with your belief.

              Scientifically-minded people are just as prone to choosing to believe things without evidence, which is perfectly acceptable. (People misunderstanding philosophy of science aside.) If you look at Hawking vs. the black hole information paradox, or Hoyle vs. the Big Bang, or any number of other examples, you'll see people stake claims all the time before the facts are in. It's okay.

              The key difference is between a scientifically-minded person and a non-scientifically minded person is when the scientific facts disagree with one's belief. A scientifically-minded person will set that belief aside (perhaps with a caveat that the scientific consensus might later be overturned). A non-scientifically minded person will not.

              Note that I am using the term scientifically-minded, not scientists, as if a physicist who is currently working in macroeconomics will somehow lose his scientific mindset.

              • by JohnFluxx (413620)

                I think you use the word "believe" differently.

                When a religious person believes something, it's a dogma - i.e. an unquestionable tenant of their faith.

                When a scientist "believes" something, then they will say that they are just guessing that it's true, but would change their mind with no information.

                I don't think you should use the word "believe" to mean the same in both cases.

                • by ShakaUVM (157947)

                  >>When a religious person believes something, it's a dogma - i.e. an unquestionable tenant of their faith.
                  >>I don't think you should use the word "believe" to mean the same in both cases.

                  No, not really. The meaning is identical. A belief is something you're currently using as your sort of operating set of ideas: this is how the world is. In any case, they can be overturned by facts. The point I was trying to make is that a scientifically-minded person will allow facts to sway his beliefs, but an

              • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

                by VShael (62735)

                Except that, for all it's vaunted ideals, science history in the real world is replete with examples where the establishment CONTINUED to ignore contrary evidence until a new generation of scientists emerged with a less dogmatic viewpoint.

                The most recent example I can think of is the ongoing issue between MOND (or MOG) and Dark Matter, where the existence of Dark Matter is the establishment viewpoint.

                The establishment has, for example, claimed the Chandra observations of the Bullet Cluster collisions defini

        • by Monkeedude1212 (1560403) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @03:41PM (#33384752) Journal

          Except that string theory, dark matter, dark energy, etc, are all theories in that they invite invitation to poke holes in them. Science is an open process that allows anyone to experiment with it and often encourages you to defy the belief in the theory. Most often the giant scientific leaps are when you discover certain properties that don't fit in the theory, or you simply suspend the belief in the theory to find another one that could also be true.

          Religion on the other hand, requires your belief, faith in that belief, and shuns any notion that it could be wrong.

          So yes - if you know of internet science fanboys who said that String Theory MUST be true, than its sort of the same. But there are more of internet science fanboys who say that String Theory COULD be true, and that it requires more verification to either justify or nullify it.

          • by JohnFluxx (413620)

            Quite a few people have talked about believe or not believing in dark matter and dark energy.

            But it's the same as the problem with the word "evolution". There's the fact of evolution (we see it happening) and then the theory (evolution through natural selection).

            In the same way, dark matter and dark energy are FACTS. We know that without them, theory does not match observations. So we name that different dark matter and dark energy. That's a fact and cannot be disproven (unless, I suppose, the actual ex

          • by rcamans (252182)

            Actually, String theory, dark matter, and dark energy are hypothesis, not theories. Theories are hypothesis which have come up with tests to prove or invalidate them. Then the tests are run, and scientists come to a general agreement that the hypothesis appear to be valid for some range of phenomenon. Then they are elevated to theories.
            String theorists have not been able to come up with any tests which can be performed. I believe the same situation exists for dark crap.

      • I figured as much. The claimed variance in rate of decay is so miniscule that it doesn't change anything, not that they'd be willing to acknowledge anything that disagrees with their views.

    • Luckily the detected difference is somewhere around .0001% so I don't think we'll be rewriting history even if their observation is confirmed. Such a small change really makes me wonder if they've actually done the statistical analysis on the results to make sure that they are significant. I'd bet that they will find some relatively run of the mill explanation the explain the changes; something like the detector's efficiency changing based on humidity or temperature. Although something like that would go

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by causality (777677)

        Luckily the detected difference is somewhere around .0001% so I don't think we'll be rewriting history even if their observation is confirmed. Such a small change really makes me wonder if they've actually done the statistical analysis on the results to make sure that they are significant. I'd bet that they will find some relatively run of the mill explanation the explain the changes; something like the detector's efficiency changing based on humidity or temperature. Although something like that would go a long way to explaining seasonal variations, it might be harder to explain the changes that were detected during solar storms/calms.

        Of course, it would be more interesting if this is a real effect. After all, "That's strange" is much more exciting than "We were right".

        The question is that if the difference is that small now, what guarantees do we have that it was always so small and insignificant in the past? Especially when you consider that the Sun is not the only source of neutrinos and radiation in the galaxy.

        • by zero.kalvin (1231372) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @03:12PM (#33384382)
          Depends on the energy. (A more detailed energy slicing won't be necessary) Low energy neutrinos order of few KeV, come mostly from the sun. High energy neutrinos Above the few KeV threshold mostly comes from Cosmic rays hitting the atmosphere. As for cosmic neutrinos, well good luck with that! I work in a neutrino experiment (ANTARES) , and I wish that we can detect cosmic neutrinos with abundance, it's just that there isn't enough to influence anything.
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by causality (777677)

            Depends on the energy. (A more detailed energy slicing won't be necessary) Low energy neutrinos order of few KeV, come mostly from the sun. High energy neutrinos Above the few KeV threshold mostly comes from Cosmic rays hitting the atmosphere. As for cosmic neutrinos, well good luck with that! I work in a neutrino experiment (ANTARES) , and I wish that we can detect cosmic neutrinos with abundance, it's just that there isn't enough to influence anything.

            What I meant were those caused by transient and relatively nearby events like supernovae or gamma-ray bursts -- things that haven't happened since we had detectors for neutrinos or even knew what neutrinos were. We haven't had a supernova that was visible to the naked eye in Earth's night-time sky in quite a long time, yet when an extremely energetic event like that does happen it may affect the cosmic neutrinos we receive.

            Or maybe someone knows a reason why it couldn't possibly do that. My intented po

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by chris mazuc (8017)

              We haven't had a supernova that was visible to the naked eye in Earth's night-time sky in quite a long time

              1987 [wikipedia.org] wasn't very long ago.

              SN 1987A was a supernova in the outskirts of the Tarantula Nebula in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a nearby dwarf galaxy. It occurred approximately 51.4 kiloparsecs from Earth,[1] close enough that it was visible to the naked eye. It could be seen from the Southern Hemisphere. It was the closest observed supernova since SN 1604, which occurred in the Milky Way itself. The light from the supernova reached Earth on February 23, 1987. As the first supernova discovered in 1987, it was

              • by causality (777677)

                We haven't had a supernova that was visible to the naked eye in Earth's night-time sky in quite a long time

                1987 [wikipedia.org] wasn't very long ago.

                SN 1987A was a supernova in the outskirts of the Tarantula Nebula in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a nearby dwarf galaxy. It occurred approximately 51.4 kiloparsecs from Earth,[1] close enough that it was visible to the naked eye. It could be seen from the Southern Hemisphere. It was the closest observed supernova since SN 1604, which occurred in the Milky Way itself. The light from the supernova reached Earth on February 23, 1987. As the first supernova discovered in 1987, it was labeled "1987A". Its brightness peaked in May with an apparent magnitude of about 3 and slowly declined in the following months. It was the first opportunity for modern astronomers to see a supernova up close.

                [...]

                Approximately three hours before the visible light from SN 1987A reached the Earth, a burst of neutrinos was observed at three separate neutrino observatories. This is due to the neutrino emission (which occurs simultaneously with core collapse) preceding the emission of visible light (which occurs only after the shock wave reaches the stellar surface). At 7:35am Universal time, Kamiokande II detected 11 antineutrinos, IMB 8 antineutrinos and Baksan 5 antineutrinos, in a burst lasting less than 13 seconds.

                I really didn't know there was one that recent. The event I had in mind when I wrote the previous post was the 1604 supernova you mentioned. Thank you for setting me straight on that, and for answering the question of whether such events could significantly increase neutrino flux on Earth.

          • by rcamans (252182)

            Actually, you mean that you are not detecting enough influence to believe that there are a lot of cosmic neutrinos. Whole different can of worms.
            You have expectations of what cosmic neutrinos will cause that you can detect. Beliefs, hypothesis, theories. Not certainties.
            Since you do not have the methods to produce quantities of cosmic energy level neutrinos, you are stuck with a very small number of recorded events per month. 31 events of the same sort is a statistically usable number of events. You ain't

      • Luckily the detected difference is somewhere around .0001% so I don't think we'll be rewriting history even if their observation is confirmed.

        You don't personally know any anti-science religious folks, do you? The post you're responding to hits the bullseye. The scientific review and conclusions drawn from the data will proceed over the next several months/years. But the meme that "they did a study and found that radioactive decay was affected by many different factors, therefore carbon dating can be tossed out and therefore the book of Genesis as written in my English translation must be accepted verbatim" will circulate via blog and email and

      • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 26, 2010 @03:10PM (#33384348)

        Luckily the detected difference is somewhere around .0001% so I don't think we'll be rewriting history even if their observation is confirmed.

        So the the Earth is "around" 4,500,000,000 years old and the difference is "around" .0001%? 0.00013% of 4,500,000,000 years is 6000 years! That can't be a coincidence! Earth is 6000 years old!

      • by ceoyoyo (59147)

        Uh yeah, I'm pretty sure they did the statistical analysis. Besides being absolutely required to get a paper published, it's likely the only way you'd ever see anything in the first place. The data isn't going to be a nice straight line that all of a sudden takes a dip, obvious to anyone who looks at the graph.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anomalyx (1731404)
      Actually the constancy of radioactive decay isn't the problem (at least for the relative few "religious fanatics" that have bothered to learn much science. I must admit, most don't have a clue what they're talking about), it's the assumption that absolutely nothing else has influenced the Carbon-14 levels, and that Carbon-14 levels have always been the same (which they actually haven't, but it could theoretically be extrapolated backwards to find the levels at any given date) that creates the problem. Eit
      • by abigor (540274)

        What's an "evolutionist"? Isn't that kook terminology for "biologist"?

      • by lgw (121541)

        Carbon dating isn't used for anything very old, though. There's a lot of guesswork you'll see involved with carbon dating, but not with the radioactive decay part of the deal. Often the atrifact you want to date is found next to something that carbon dating can be used for, so you have to make some assumption about whether they are related. For one site, that's guesswork. Once you have many sites with related artifacts, that's science - there are certainly times when individual sites were dated poorly (

      • by JohnFluxx (413620)

        Why are people modding this up? This quote is 30 years old. And carbon dating has almost nothing to do with evolution. For anything longer than 100,000 year or so, you use radioactive dating.

    • by ceoyoyo (59147)

      Good luck. The observed variations are way too small to suddenly make the Earth 500 years old or dinosaurs even less.

    • by kurokame (1764228)

      Radioactive decay ISN'T constant.

      It's statistical.

  • by mcgrew (92797) * on Thursday August 26, 2010 @02:19PM (#33383720) Homepage Journal

    'What we're suggesting is that something that doesn't really interact with anything is changing something that can't be changed.'"

    • by epiphani (254981)

      The fact that the scientists who are working on it are quite aware of what they're proposing is comforting.

      Obviously, given what we currently think about radioactive decay and neutrinos, skepticism is warranted and I'd be surprised if any scientist came out and said otherwise.

      This article says, in effect, "Interesting idea. Doesn't make sense with what we know though. Lets study it more and get more data." Which is exactly what I'd want to see out of the science community. In other words, this is a non-

      • by Tolkien (664315)
        But an interesting non-article nonetheless and one I'm glad I was made aware of :P
  • According to TFA (Score:4, Interesting)

    by JoshuaZ (1134087) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @02:23PM (#33383780) Homepage
    According to TFA, neutrinos shouldn't be altered much by solar flares which seems to be an almost slamdunk argument against the solar flare part of the claim. In order for this to make sense we'd need wrong not just about neutrino physics but also about basic star modeling. The point that much of the data examined comes from older labs where they have not gone and looked for possible causes in variations also seems to be a strong one. Right now, I'm pretty skeptical of these claims but it should be interesting to see what happens in the next few years.
    • According to TFA, neutrinos shouldn't be altered much by solar flares which seems to be an almost slamdunk argument against the solar flare part of the claim.

      While I am extremely sceptical as well they do provide an argument to explain this: some flares are caused by some event in the sun's core. Of course means the rate change would occur (probably substantially) before the flare since the neutrinos would arrive at almost the speed of light whereas the propagation of material/energy to cause a flare would presumably take a lot longer. Without seeing their data, I don't know if they are in agreement with that nor whether they have accounted for cosmic ray activ

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Qzukk (229616)

      The point that much of the data examined comes from older labs where they have not gone and looked for possible causes in variations also seems to be a strong one

      Yeah, from here the first step would be to set up experiments to see if the variation in decay rates really exists, followed by experiments to determine the patten in variation. From there, we can decide whether we think the sun is involved or not, and if so whether neutrinos have anything to do with it.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Abcd1234 (188840)

      According to TFA, neutrinos shouldn't be altered much by solar flares

      And according to that *very same article*, the researchers responded, pointing out that some flares are caused by core events, and so may correlate with neutrino flux changes.

      So, what, did you just stop reading half-way through?

      • by geekoid (135745)

        no. The scientist proposing neutrino's are causing this is ALSO proposing this:
        "We therefore consider it possible that events in the core may influence flares"

        It really reads like the believe they fund something and then concoct a chain of events that are counter to what we know; which is fine. It certainly is't enough to draw any conclusions from; which they seem to be doing. That is wrong.

        When something comes a long and takes what we know and changes it,. it's a wonderful thing. You do need substa

        • by Abcd1234 (188840)

          no. The scientist proposing neutrino's are causing this is ALSO proposing this

          No.

          The scientists said, and I quote:

          "Jenkins and Fischbach write that we know some flares are tied to events deep inside the sun. "

          Assuming they aren't lying, then it's already well-understood that some flares are caused by events deep in the sun. They then conclude that it may be possible that solar flares can affect neutron flux in some cases.

          So your original statement:

          "According to TFA, neutrinos shouldn't be altered much by s

    • by rcamans (252182)

      Neutrinos do not have to be influenced by solar flares, or sunspots of either type (hot or cold). Sunspots appear to be influenced by what appear to be currents which circulate below the surface of the Sun. Beyond that, not much is even guessed about what drives those currents. We are not even certain that they exist. (I believe, I believe, I believe)
      It is extremely possible that the processes which create neutrinos fluctuate, and eventually signs of those fluctuations make it to the surface (it takes neutr

  • "Starburst" by Fred Pohl, except it was a beam of kaons that influenced radioactive decay, not neutrinos. Hilarity ensued.

  • How human (Score:3, Insightful)

    by spaceman375 (780812) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @02:33PM (#33383888)
    Of course the trained experts are reluctant to change their view of how the world works. In proper amounts this skepticism is a good thing. I just hope they are open minded enough to recognize the signal in the data, if there is one. As for it being neutrino flux - that's just conjecture. It may simply be distance to the sun's core rather than a particle. What if the fission or fusion of nuclei has an impact on the stability of nearby, possibly entangled nuclei?
    • Re:How human (Score:5, Insightful)

      by MightyMartian (840721) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @02:38PM (#33383942) Journal

      If the views stated are correct, then it appears to be a healthy skepticism. In other words "Show us the money". If the data is significant and cannot be explained by being from studies done on old equipment (in other words, if current techniques and equipment are used) and the noticed effect is still there, then the data will rule out.

      It's the way science is always done. But until there's some meaningful verification, these results are inherently unreliable.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by mackai (1849630)
      Exactly as it should be. Physicists are first, observers. They see something (and like it best when there is some sort of measure that they can put to it). Then next, they are curious; what could this mean?, how could this happen?, what could cause this? Sometimes simultaneous with that, sometimes after, comes; is this real?, are there other causes for this observation or set of observations? Meanwhile, the reporting takes an avenue of speculation; sometimes one possible explanation of several gets the mos
    • by Quirkz (1206400)
      My money is that it's an increase in the number of gravitons as we're closer to the sun. This will eventually be looked back on as the first indication that those particles actually exist. You heard it here first!
    • by geekoid (135745)

      They are, and they even talk about why they are skeptical and what it takes to change that. Just like 99% of all scientists when discussing things in the field of expertise.

  • Sagan responds - (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Darth Snowshoe (1434515) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @02:37PM (#33383922)

    "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence."

    • by Shimmer (3036)

      Exactly. Nothing more needs to be said.

      • by geekoid (135745)

        Yes there is.. You will need to define what constitutes extraordinary evidence. Just saying the platitude doesn't do it.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Abcd1234 (188840)

      Absolutely! Which is why more experiments need to be done.

      I don't think the original article came across as definitive. They've noticed a potential something that's very *very* interesting. Skepticism is absolutely warranted, and more work needs to be done, but its interesting nonetheless.

    • by mosb1000 (710161)

      But isn't the claim that decay rates are constant and unaffected by anything else extraordinary in itself? Nothing else we know about works that way.

      • by mangu (126918)

        isn't the claim that decay rates are constant and unaffected by anything else extraordinary in itself?

        Not really. There are four known forces in the universe: gravitational, electromagnetic, weak nuclear, and strong nuclear.

        The forces we deal outside of nuclear physics are gravitational and electromagnetic, of which the electromagnetic is the strongest. The forces that act in radioactive decay are the weak and strong nuclear forces. The weak nuclear force is 10^40 times (that is the number one followed by f

    • by geekoid (135745)

      and extraordinary responsibility.

      Now if you excuse me, I have to take my bratty nephew to the 'library'. We'll talk later.

  • Data is data (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Mike Van Pelt (32582) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @02:40PM (#33383970)

    I don't care who might abuse the data in what way -- As Doctor Gregory Sullivan (a skeptic of these results) said in the Discover article, "Data is data. That’s the final arbiter." If nuclear decay rates are varying, I very strongly doubt neutrinos are doing it.

    I think it was Isaac Asimov who said that major scientific revolutions generally don't come with a scientist shouting "Eureka!" They generally start with a scientist looking at the data and saying "That's funny..." If other researches look at the nuclear decay rates, and also see this sort of variability... That would be really, really funny -- something Really Really Big that we are, at the moment, completely clueless about.

    I'm quite confident that the effect, if any, won't much change the dating of fossils, which is what the 4004 BC type creationists want.

    • ...major scientific revolutions generally don't come with a scientist shouting "Eureka!" They generally start with a scientist looking at the data and saying "That's funny..."

      Actually, many seem to be preceded by the often paradoxical exclamation, "Good news everyone!" [wikipedia.org]

      • Actually, that doesn't generally precede a scientific discovery. It generally precedes getting handed a near-suicidal delivery mission.
  • Paper, gold - (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Darth Snowshoe (1434515) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @02:49PM (#33384074)

    There are several papers posted on the arXiv.org by Jenkins and Fischbach, this one [arxiv.org] is my favorite. It's about measurements done on samples of a radioactive isotope of gold - the samples are shaped differently and this alters, presumably, some aspect of their interaction with neutrinos.

  • Radioactive decay is not constant, it's random. What's constant is the probability that any given radionuclide will decay in a given unit of time. We only see constants like the half life come up because statistical effects smooth out the quantum randomness.

    • Sure, but why would we observe changes in the quantum randomness based on season, solar flares, etc?

      Yes, statistical effects smooth out quantum randomness -- but they do not smooth out non-random variation (when done properly).
  • Information is what is occurring and data in the interpretation of the phenomenon. That is why you can have two observers both with "DATA" to back up their finding coming to a different conclusion. Data is not an absolute.

    • by Shotgun (30919)

      I think you have that exactly backwards. Data would be a list of numbers. It only becomes information when it is analyzed and means something, such as the company grew 23% over the past year. You are not necessarily informed when handed a list of numbers, unless you know how to interpret the them. If these scientist added me their raw data, I most likely wouldn't have a clue what they meant.

    • by geekoid (135745)

      Data is absolute, interpretation is not necessarily absolute but can gt pretty damn close to 1.

  • IceCube and Amanda (among many other experiments) have been running for many years collecting data on neutrino flux. Archeological digs have been dating many objects over the same period of time. With the sheer amount of data available, it seems like it should be straightforward (perhaps not easy) to answer this question.

    The article lists a reason for mistrusting the data as "the researches didn't take the data themselves." That's often the case in science!

    I do agree though, with great changes in physics

  • by jd (1658) <imipak&yahoo,com> on Thursday August 26, 2010 @03:06PM (#33384282) Homepage Journal

    We already know that some radioactive decay results in the release of a neutrino or anti-neutrino. The release of a neutrino is the same as the absorption of an anti-neutrino and vice versa. Ergo, it should be expected that variations in total numbers of neutrinos of the specific energy linked to that specific type of decay event would result in a change in the number of decay events recorded. I simply do not see where this impossibility claim comes from, unless they are claiming that neutrinos of the wrong type/energy are involved.

    We also already know that what appears random is often the result of never being able to have enough data and never being able to make the step sizes infinitely small in the calculations; that randomness, per-se, is actually pretty rare in nature. (Indeed, randomness would seem to violate the requirement that information cannot be created or destroyed. An event is information and physics prohibits information simply "happening".)

    It then follows that radioactive decay almost certainly cannot be a totally random event and therefore almost certainly cannot be absolutely invariate.

    (Indeed, plenty of other people claim to have altered radioactive decay rates, so the claim itself isn't that revolutionary. I'm shocked that the scientific community is so ignorant as to what it itself has been saying for decades. If publishing papers is that important, then reading them must be just as important.)

    • by Hatta (162192) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @03:23PM (#33384516) Journal

      The release of a neutrino is the same as the absorption of an anti-neutrino and vice versa. Ergo, it should be expected that variations in total numbers of neutrinos of the specific energy linked to that specific type of decay event would result in a change in the number of decay events recorded

      The chances of a neutron encountering an electron and a neutrino of exactly the proper energy at exactly the same time are vanishingly small.

      We also already know that what appears random is often the result of never being able to have enough data and never being able to make the step sizes infinitely small in the calculations; that randomness, per-se, is actually pretty rare in nature.

      Bell's theorem [wikipedia.org] tells us that quantum randomness cannot be explained by a lack of information (hidden variables).

      Indeed, randomness would seem to violate the requirement that information cannot be created or destroyed.

      Where do you get that idea? There is no law of conservation of information. We know that the entropy of the universe always increases. Therefore the information in the universe also increases.

      If you don't see the problem and highly trained theoretical physicists do, you'd be better off asking them where the problem is rather than declaring them wrong.

      • by jd (1658)

        Since it seems that highly trained physicists are divided over whether a problem exists or not, and since it is well-known that the neutrino flux is bloody hard to observe, let alone measure with any accuracy, you might want to ask those highly trained physicists what they think rather than assuming you know.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Hatta (162192)

          I think you're misapprehending the controversy here. One side says "This data shows that neutrinos affect radioactive decay, which is a problem for physics", the other says "That data doesn't show what you think it does, so there's no problem for physics". Nobody except you is saying "neutrinos affect radioactive decay, but it's not a problem for physics".

      • by jd (1658)

        No, that is not what it says. Go read it again. And don't bother coming back. I hear K5 is looking for obnoxious and offensive readers, you should fit in nicely there. (Well, let's face it, K5 hasn't got any other sorts of readers. Everyone else left.)

      • I am reminded of a particular xkcd main times while perusing a slashdot science story. http://xkcd.com/675/ [xkcd.com]

        Oh, not in response to your response, more to the GP. Though I think you meant an proton/neutron and a neutrino of the right energy meeting at exactly the same time since we're talking about radioactive decay.

        • by Hatta (162192)

          Though I think you meant an proton/neutron and a neutrino of the right energy meeting at exactly the same time since we're talking about radioactive decay.

          This result is based on the decay rate of manganese-54, which is either +/-beta decay. So it's either a neutron decaying to a proton, electron and an antineutrino, or a proton decaying to a neutron, positron and a neutrino. In reverse you'd need all 3 particles.

          • well, really the neutrino is needed just to conserve lepton number so it could be:

            • proton + anti-neutrino -> neutron + positron
            • neutron + neutrino -> election + proton

            the relationship I was getting at was more along the lines of electron capture vs positron emission than time reversing normal beta+/- decay.

      • by Raenex (947668)

        We know that the entropy of the universe always increases. Therefore the information in the universe also increases.

        Shouldn't that be that information decreases?

        • by Chris Burke (6130)

          Shouldn't that be that information decreases?

          Nope. The more entropy in a system, the more information is in it. Very ordered systems have very little information content. It's the same concept as why a file containing random data can't be compressed, but a file containing nothing but the word "booger" a billion times over can be compressed to barely larger than that one word. Because the former has a lot of information in it (even if it's not meaningful) and the latter does not. You'll sometimes even h

      • by rcamans (252182)

        Actually, I believe that some people have proposed something like laws of conservation of "information".
        The entropy level of the UNIVERSE constantly increases, but we can see locally that there is a lot of organization (anti-entropy). Galaxies, Suns, planets, life, etc.
        As the entropy of the universe increases, information decreases - there is more homogeneity, less differentiation.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by radtea (464814)

      I simply do not see where this impossibility claim comes from

      From the article: "'They’re looking for something with a very much larger effect than the force of neutrinos, but that doesn’t show up any other way,' he says."

      That is, your inability to see is a result of your innumeracy. You have said "X effects Y" without any reference to the quantitative, numerical size of the effect.

      The people who actually work on these things for a living have an excellent sense of the magnitudes without having to do a detailed calculation, and know that if the variation

      • by jd (1658)

        The modern age is way too primitive, filled with small-minded bigots who prefer to make snide remarks than answer a perfectly good question. I did not say the physicists were wrong, I did not state that neutrinos were the cause of the effect they observed, I merely noted that neutrinos must cause a non-zero effect (no matter how close to zero that is, it is still non-zero) and therefore the decay rate CANNOT be an absolute, universal, unalterable constant. It is neither rocket science to understand that not

  • The Up side (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Artifakt (700173) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @03:40PM (#33384726)

    Variability in half life/decay rates is unlikely, and this data is not nearly enough to prove a significant effect. Because of the massive amount of research done on radioactive decay as part of various nations bomb making projects, looking for ways to get a hyper-fast reaction with less material or get criticality at all from some borderline case substances, this data would have to be supported by a quality new major research project to be taken at all seriously. Probably, the study would have to get a similar 33 day cycle for the same isotopes as these reports, AND find the same cycle for a bunch of others, AND rule out some of the possible alternate causes by doubleblind testing.
            If that's done by some place such as MIT or one of the national labs, and the data glitch persists, then it starts counting as very significant. For just one reason, Supersymetry theories predict short lived supersymetric particles such as the Selectron and the Sneutrino. The supersymetric versions of particles have substantially more rest mass than the regular versions. Neutrinos that couple more strongly to neutron cross section of a nucleus could arguably actually be Sneutrinos. To live long enough to cross the 8 light minute gap between Earth and Sun, they would have to be moving at incredibly close to the speed of light, much more so than for regular neutrinos, which are already very close (around 99.0%). Somewhere around 99.97% of C, you get enough time dilation on Sneutrinos that they could routinely make it across the gap.
            So, solar emission models for this effect could be predicting both a way to experimentally validate Supersymetry AND the existence of a reaction deep inside the solar core that produces such incredibly energetic particles. Furthermore, you could derive the energy of the initial solar reaction by sending a space probe outward towards Mars and perhaps beyond, and having it run constant testing on a radioactive isotope sample on-board to see if/when the effect falls off. Such an experiment could be incorporated into an existing planned mission, say another Mars Observer or Cassini to Saturn style probe.
            That's why this is interesting - it may be a 10,000 to 1 longshot, but a. If it's true, it's a major step for both subatomic physics and astrophysics, and b. if it's true, it makes some predictions where we can do further experiments and refine the theories, and some of these should be in a reasonable cost range compared to alternates (such as building a particle accelerator from the Earth to the Moon to possibly get a little closer to proving/disproving Supersymetry).

    • by rcamans (252182)

      Variability of radioactivity rates is actually guaranteed under certain conditions, like under a large flux of W particles.

  • When I first saw the original article earlier this week, my immediate reaction was, "Bait & Switch. Better to sit this one out." -This seems like another small scale version of the Fake Moon Landing; innocently presented to invite curiosity, and then behead those foolish enough to stick their necks out and question conventional wisdom and authority. A great way to remind people that they will be punished for thinking without permission.

    We'll have to see how this unfolds, but I'm getting a witch-hunt

    • by geekoid (135745)

      Wow, you are really, really, just looking for things to back you pet conspiracy way of thinking, aren't you.

      Lets look, shall we:
      First off, there is you violent innocence approach to the subject. That tells people right there you are looking for thing to fit your predisposed beliefs
      Secondly, The people being Skeptical list why there are being skeptical and what needs to be done to remove their skepticism on this matter.
      Thirdly, Science only progress by finding out new things and challenging existing ideas an

      • I started to address the points in your post, but your grammar is garbled up in a way which is abnormal for you, so I thought you might be in a weird head-space and that you might be regretting having hit the "Submit" button.

        Would you like a do-over or should I just jump in and eviscerate your post, donkey-speak and all?

        -FL

    • by Chris Burke (6130)

      A great way to remind people that they will be punished for thinking without permission.

      Yeah, or further analysis will show the effect is real, they'll discover amazing new physics, win a Nobel Prize and get their names in every future physics text.

      Sure there may be some resistance to and skepticism of the idea (and this "hm I'm skeptical" isn't even close to the resistance some ideas that successfully changed science forever faced), but that's only natural when the hypothesis seems to contradict existing e

  • by michaelwv (1371157) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @04:14PM (#33385280)
    Upholds the one tenet of press releases about science: The extreme bias toward "revolutionary" things means an extreme bias toward reporting about the things least likely to be true.
  • These guys claim to have observed systematic variation in decay rates. They then theorized that the variation is connected with solar neutrinos. Invalidating the theory (it seems implausible to me) in no way invalidates the observations.

  • by bcrowell (177657) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @07:11PM (#33387528) Homepage

    This idea that decay rates depend on environmental factors is well known as a fertile field for crackpots. Here's a FAQ I wrote about it.

    FAQ: Do rates of nuclear decay depend on environmental factors?

    There is one environmental effect that has been scientifically well established for a long time. In the process of electron capture, a proton in the nucleus combines with an inner-shell electron to produce a neutron and a neutrino. This effect does depend on the electronic environment, and in particular, the process cannot happen if the atom is completely ionized.

    Other claims of environmental effects on decay rates are crank science, often quoted by creationists in their attempts to discredit evolutionary and geological time scales.

    He et al. (He 2007) claim to have detected a change in rates of beta decay of as much as 11% when samples are rotated in a centrifuge, and say that the effect varies asymmetrically with clockwise and counterclockwise rotation. He believes that there is a mysterious energy field that has both biological and nuclear effects, and that it relates to circadian rhythms. The nuclear effects were not observed when the experimental conditions were reproduced by Ding et al.

    Jenkins and Fischbach claim to have observed effects on alpha decay rates correlated with an influence from the sun. They proposed that their results could be tested more dramatically by looking for changes in the rate of alpha decay in radioisotope thermoelectric generators aboard space probes. Such an effect turned out not to exist (Cooper 2009). Undeterred by their theory's failure to pass their own proposed test, they have gone on to publish even kookier ideas, such as a neutrino-mediated effect from solar flares, even though solar flares are a surface phenomenon, whereas neutrinos come from the sun's core. Their latest claims, in 2010, are based on experiments done decades ago by other people, so that Jenkins and Fischbach have no first-hand way of investigating possible sources of systematic error.

    Cardone et al. claim to have observed variations in the rate of alpha decay of thorium induced by 20 kHz ultrasound, and claim that this alpha decay occurs without the emission of gamma rays. Ericsson et al. have pointed out multiple severe problems with Cardone's experiments.

    He YuJian et al., Science China 50 (2007) 170.
    YouQian Ding et al., Science China 52 (2009) 690.
    Jenkins and Fischbach (2008), http://arxiv.org/abs/0808.3283v1 [arxiv.org]
    Jenkins and Fischbach (2009), http://arxiv.org/abs/0808.3156 [arxiv.org]
    Jenkins and Fischbach (2010), http://arxiv.org/abs/1007.3318 [arxiv.org]
    Cooper (2009), http://arxiv.org/abs/0809.4248 [arxiv.org]
    F. Cardone, R. Mignani, A. Petrucci, Phys. Lett. A 373 (2009) 1956
    Ericsson et al., Comment on "Piezonuclear decay of thorium," Phys. Lett. A 373 (2009) 1956, http://arxiv4.library.cornell.edu/abs/0907.0623 [cornell.edu]
    Ericsson et al., http://arxiv.org/abs/0909.2141 [arxiv.org]

  • (Disclaimer: I don't expect to see significant breakthroughs any time soon in the quest to identify a discrete "simple" mechanism at Planck scale or similar, but that hasn't stopped Wolfram and unconnected others treating the possibility seriously. The extremely limited experimental simulations possible on foreseeable computers don't show signs of ruling out the possibility, so the thoughts below are confined to such a model and treat field theories et al as emergent.)

    If there is a hypothetical microstructu

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