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Scientist Who Oversaw OPERA's Faster-Than-Light Neutrino Study Resigns 186

Posted by Soulskill
from the don't-shoot-the-messenger dept.
New submitter Big Hairy Ian writes with this news from the BBC: "The head of an experiment that appeared to show subatomic particles traveling faster than the speed of light has resigned from his post. Prof Antonio Ereditato oversaw results that appeared to challenge Einstein's theory that nothing could travel faster than the speed of light. Reports said some members of his group, called OPERA, had wanted him to resign. Earlier in March, a repeat experiment found that the particles, known as neutrinos, did not exceed light speed."
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Scientist Who Oversaw OPERA's Faster-Than-Light Neutrino Study Resigns

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  • by i kan reed (749298) on Friday March 30, 2012 @12:02PM (#39524393) Homepage Journal

    Part of scientific endeavor is getting it wrong, and testing again to make sure. It seems like the mistakes that happened were minor, technical, and easy to miss. It would be a very different manner if the problems had been from operational carelessness or intentional fabrication, but I can't actually see any wrongdoing here.

    • by calmond (1284812) on Friday March 30, 2012 @12:04PM (#39524433)
      I fully agree. In fact, when this first happened, I remember the team saying they were sure they had missed something and wanted help figuring out what they had missed. Seemed to me that they were using the scientific method exactly as it should be used. All I can figure is that there were politics or other internal pressures.
      • by jythie (914043) on Friday March 30, 2012 @12:10PM (#39524499)
        That is my guess. Scientifically they behaved fine, but the PR in the mainstream press might have been a bit uncomfortable.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by zlives (2009072)

          didn't the PR generate TREMENDOUS interest in the on goings...

        • by perpenso (1613749) on Friday March 30, 2012 @12:42PM (#39525007)

          That is my guess. Scientifically they behaved fine, but the PR in the mainstream press might have been a bit uncomfortable.

          The members of the mainstream press who blew things out of proportion and dumbed down the story so much and failed to emphasize that the real scientists were saying "we must have made a mistake" should resign.

          The real scientist who sees something odd and shows it to colleagues to help him/her figure out what went wrong should not be punished when it turns out to be due to some basic mistake. Something like "I have odd data but I can't figure out what I did wrong" was the start of many scientific discoveries.

          Creating an environment where scientists are reluctant to share odd results and get help finding mistakes will impede the progress of science.

          However creating an environment where sensationalist journalists, or scientifically illiterate journalists who write articles regarding advanced scientific topics, are reluctant to publish their writing might be a good thing. Of course I might have made a mistake in my logic and I hope my slashdot colleagues can help me see my error. :-)

          • by chichilalescu (1647065) on Friday March 30, 2012 @01:22PM (#39525559) Homepage Journal

            you did make a mistake... for some reason, you assume that society will choose to help the progress of science rather than continue to be "entertained" with sensationalistic journalism.

          • by girlintraining (1395911) on Friday March 30, 2012 @01:56PM (#39526115)

            Creating an environment where scientists are reluctant to share odd results and get help finding mistakes will impede the progress of science.

            That may have been precisely the point. People doing perfectly good science are being hung out to dry in the court of public opinion. Why? You'll note in this country a sudden rise in the number of science articles which are (almost) immediately proven wrong. The press then makes a big deal about this. Funding for science has been sharply curtailed and all manner of anti-science has gained mainstream attention and appeal: The anti-vaxxers, the creationists, homeopathic remedies, alternative medicine, indigo kids, people against fluorinated water... the list goes on. The media has been giving "equal time" to these rubbish movements, and being very uncritical of even the most outlandish claims, while being exceptionally critical of proper science. All the while our rates of high school graduation are dropping, conservatives are telling us that turning to church-based learning is the answer, and technology-based companies are increasingly moving labor and capital overseas to get out from under the onerous requirements of our patent and copyright system.

            The ultimate goal of all these seemingly disparate legal and social changes appears to be to deprive the american public of its most valuable asset: It's own minds. You don't need to know science, math, technology, etc., to work in a factory, or a call center, or a service job. We're creating a vast gap between the few who are rich enough to afford an education -- who have enough resources to know the literal truth of things, and the rest, who are fed non-sense ideas that make their behavior easy to predict and control. We may very well be reverting to a world where the commoners think the world is flat and only the few scientists who, at the behest of their land barons are called upon to do limited inquiry and research for their own personal gain, will know any better.

            This might be a stretch, but I've talked to way too many teenagers that can't even do basic math.. like division of whole numbers. They have no understanding of the relationships between numbers, whether an answer 'sounds right'. I know reading comprehension was low in my day, but right now I have a 15 yo kid sister who has just now reached 5th grade reading comprehension. Mom insists that it's because of a "learning disability", but there's nothing wrong with her -- the quality of her education has simply been shit. And mom's solution? An online school! Homeschooling. And she's hardly alone... where I live (Minneapolis, MN), there are almost as many kids in private or charter schools as public school. The only cities near here to maintain their graduation rate has been in relatively affluent neighborhoods that due to local law are inaccessible by anyone not a resident in those cities.

            I can see no real hope here; I think we've managed to raise a generation predisposed to an almost caste-like system based on their education.

            • by perpenso (1613749) on Friday March 30, 2012 @03:16PM (#39527567)

              ... turning to church-based learning is the answer ...

              FWIW some churches may be doing OK with respect to scientific education. The Catholic church has stated that scientific discovery is not in conflict with faith, this includes discoveries with respect to evolution. They do a bit of real cosmological science. One of their priests formulated the currently accepted origin of the universe, the big bang theory. Our western tradition of the scientific method originated with various medieval bishops. I believe various other churches have similar perspectives. Not all Christian churches are of the opinion that the universe snapped into existence, as we see it now, on a wednesday six thousand years ago. The later group just gets more TV time and create a misleading impression of Christianity.

              • by rve (4436)

                Americans don't like doing something half-assed. I'm convinced that deep inside, most don't really believe that stuff, but pretend to, in order to make a point. In for a penny, in for a pound.

            • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

              by lgw (121541)

              When everything around you makes sense as a conspiracy theory ... it really is time to cut back on the weed.

          • by Xylantiel (177496) on Friday March 30, 2012 @01:56PM (#39526125)

            You have misunderstood the relationship between scientists and the press. OPERA could have killed the sensationalism at the source, but instead they went along with it. It turns out that a lot of people in the project seem to think this is a bad idea. And they know it is not just the press' doing.

            Scientists know how to publish uncertain or most-likely-wrong results without causing a media frenzy. You don't put up a press release and hold press conferences. You publish your paper, circulate it to others, present at conferences, put it on the preprint server. And if someone from the press asks about it you say that it is mostly likely wrong and they should work on something else until the problems are worked out. This doesn't get you much press, but scientists having glitches in their experiments is not news; it happens all the time.

          • Not the press: OPERA (Score:5, Informative)

            by Roger W Moore (538166) on Friday March 30, 2012 @02:44PM (#39526995) Journal

            The members of the mainstream press who blew things out of proportion and dumbed down the story...

            Sorry but this time the press are most certainly NOT to blame. OPERA was by no means "scientifically fine" and they did not present it as "odd data" they specifically made the claim that neutrinos were travelling faster than light and asked for help to verify this. Read the paper [arxiv.org] if you don't believe me - it is there in the abstract. They specifically claim than the anomalous timing was consistent with faster-than-light neutrinos. This is NOT the paper you write if you have some data which seem crazy and you are not sure whether they are correct.

            Something like "I have odd data but I can't figure out what I did wrong" was the start of many scientific discoveries.

            Correct. However this does not mean that the moment you have some odd data you rush to publish. First you talk it over with colleagues and see if they can find fault (and OPERA did this internally which is fine). After that you could publish a paper explaining every single timing correction systematic error you have considered in full gory detail and at the end say that your final measured time of flight "appears to be" inconsistent with relativity. Better yet, for data with massive implications like this, you could invite a pannel of external reviewers to go over the data and experiment to look for mistakes with an agreement that if it is confirmed by them that they will publish their findings after the first paper laying out the full gory details.

            What you do NOT do is publish an initial short paper with most of the details left out in a rush which claims the data are due to faster-than-light neutrinos. The mistake OPERA made was not in publishing but in HOW they published.

            • by radarsat1 (786772)

              *you* read the paper.

              From your link (emphasis mine):

              In conclusion, despite the large significance of the measurement reported here and the
              robustness of the analysis, the potentially great impact of the result motivates the continuation of
              our studies in order to investigate possible still unknown systematic effects that could explain the
              observed anomaly. We deliberately do not attempt any theoretical or phenomenological
              interpretation of the results.

              They specifically did not make the claim that neutrinos wer

              • They specifically did not make the claim that neutrinos were travelling faster than light.

                That is NOT what the sentence you quote says. It says that they are not attempting to make any theoretical interpretation or implication of their result that the neutrinos got there faster than light i.e. they are not going to try and figure out the implications of their result. They specifically make the FTL neutrino claim in the paper, just read the abstract, and I quote:

                An early arrival time of CNGS muon neutrinos with respect to the one computed assuming the speed of light in vacuum of (57.8 \pm 7.8 (stat.)+8.3-5.9 (sys.)) ns was measured. This anomaly corresponds to a relative difference of the muon neutrino velocity with respect to the speed of light (v-c)/c = (2.37 \pm 0.32 (stat.) (sys.)) \times10-5.

                Sorry, I suppose I should have suggested that you read the paper carefully ;-). My initial reaction when I heard the news was that it

      • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 30, 2012 @12:15PM (#39524605)

        Having been involved with a controversial bit of particle physics, I'm not surprised at this. I'd wager that Ereditato resigned because of something OTHER than his group simply getting the science wrong. I'm not involved with the result in any way, but here's my guess: 1) fascinating apparent result was found, 2) part of collaboration said: hold on there, let's make sure we get his right, others (possibly influenced by funding/political pressures) felt that they should push ahead. If Ereditato was part of the "push ahead" group and there was any whiff of politics driving his decision then I can well imagine him being forced to resign. At the end of the day, as a particle physicist it's incredibly hard and expensive for someone to duplicate your work -- to escape with your soul intact you have to be extremely self-disciplined and conscientious.

        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward
          Having also been involved in particle physics in the past, I think what happened to Ereditato is pretty obvious, and is related to the truest advice I ever got from my PhD thesis advisor: "Never say anything wrong."

          Contrary to what romantics believe, science is a rat race, and a pretty intense one at that. First off, you compete for funding. Scientists are always famously working on grant proposals and follow-ups like politicians in an election year. Heck, during my first postdoc interview, I was se
      • A few weeks ago I was moderated -1 flaimbait on Slashdot because I dared say that the scientists were irresponsible in going to press with this news. Everyone thought I was being a jerk because wow, isn't this a great demonstration of the way the scientific process is going to work and didn't we all learn about science in this fiasco.

        Guess what, yes, maybe for non-scientists this is "how the scientific method works," but internally, among scientists, we are supposed to do many levels vetting before we go pu

        • by Iamthecheese (1264298) on Friday March 30, 2012 @12:32PM (#39524833)
          I still think you were being a jerk. The group published a request for others to find out what went wrong and the media had a feeding frenzy. The scientists did nothing wrong.
          • A possibility, still it espouses a naivete not expected from a gaggle of scientists with PhDs. By that point, you'd expect they'd know the press is a bunch of irresponsible girls: this is a group of people who would hurt themselves if left alone for 5 minutes with some string. Nod your heads, you know it's true.

            So yes, +100 points to them for checking their results, -1000 points for letting the press anywhere near it. I may be from a different school of thought, and feel free to tell me so below, but I thou

            • Having a PhD in science does not make you good at the media: if anything, maybe the reverse. Working at a university I'm around a lot of highly intelligent, highly focussed people who are brilliant at their subject - and partly so because they don't give a damn about many other things. Some of them have an incredibly limited world view outside of the domain. It's almost understandable in some ways: they've got so good at their domain by spending all their time thinking about it and not spending any time kee

        • by afidel (530433) on Friday March 30, 2012 @12:33PM (#39524863)
          I disagree, science works best when all experimental results are shared. One of the biggest problems in modern science is that groups rarely publish negative results thus necessitating that other groups working on the same problem will inevitably try the same failed experiments. Publishing anomalous results and asking for others to critique your work shouldn't tarnish anyone's reputation, only falsifying data or repeatedly pressing dis-proven results should do that.
          • by theguyfromsaturn (802938) on Friday March 30, 2012 @01:25PM (#39525595)

            I totally agree. It has been my own experience, that since people only publish successful experiments, all the what ifs that came before and failed never see the light of day, condemning innumerable researchers to repeat the same dead end experiments. In those failures might also be the seed of someone else's idea. I think there shoudl be a journal dedicated to these failures. "The journal of failed experiments" or something. It would be an awesome source of info. As long as the failures are well documented.

            • since people only publish successful experiments

              Successful implies there's a predefined "right" answer that you were expecting to get.

              If that's the case it's not an experiment, it's a demonstration.

              Put it another way: if you already know what the result is, why bother doing it at all? Just fuck off to the pub instead.

            • by c++0xFF (1758032) on Friday March 30, 2012 @02:27PM (#39526709)

              The benefit goes beyond knowing what experiments don't work. Look at the FTL neutrino experiment for an example: now we know at least a few pitfalls of using GPS as an extremely accurate time source, and that is knowledge that is worth preserving for future generations.

              The interesting knowledge isn't the fact that an experiment failed, but why it failed.

            • by DCFusor (1763438)
              I've run a few websites, some for sci/tech (see sig). I always put in a section for "it almost worked" as if one can put one's ego aside, it's usually the most entertaining stuff. "It seemed like a good idea at the time" borders on "Hey y'all, watch this!" for entertainment. The problem is - no one wants to submit stuff in that category, even though its not only entertaining, but would save others from what seems like a good idea - until you know better. That ego thing...
        • by Kneo24 (688412)

          You were probably down modded for not knowing the full story. Or perhaps you had a pretentious tone. In any case you can always appeal it if you feel there was abuse.

          In regards to your other points, this information was leaked. What did you expect them to do once a can of worms is opened?

        • This is ridiculous. Science is already under attack, most recently with the whole Climategate non-scandal. Think strategically. How would the public REALLY react if the scientists sat on results and it was revealed by a leak that they may have had an unexpected result? To the public, especially the American public, that would be a strong example that scientists withhold information, and worse, covering up results that don't agree with Established Doctrine. Sorry to have to break this to you, but this is h
        • by Guignol (159087)
          Errr...
          ?
          This is hmm Slashdot
          You will be modded down if you post a valid elegant short proof of Fermat's last theorem but that post unfortunately ends with "Posted from my iPhone"
          You will make part of it back (not for the Karma though I believe) if you make some allusions about the conclusive proof of feasability of mounting lasers on sharks heads, proof, which does not fit in a too short slashdot post, unfortunately

          Now, you compalin about some previous modding down on this same Slashdot about explaini
        • by geekoid (135745)

          " we are supposed to do many levels vetting "
          Which they did.

          " before we go public like this with a result"
          they didn't go public. They went to the scientific community, and THAT got into the news.

          "you sit down a few years and think about it before going public with it"
          they ran 15000 tests.

          The did not 'go public' in the go directly to the media sense. They where reaching out to the scientific community, and the media got wind.
          Once the media got wind, the media started asking question. I heard the interviews,

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by cpu6502 (1960974)

        >>>All I can figure is that there were politics or other internal pressures.

        ALL science is like this.
        That's why it's good to question the results, rather than just accept them.

    • I think you meant to say "it would be a very different matter". You should probably resign.

      • by i kan reed (749298) on Friday March 30, 2012 @12:12PM (#39524541) Homepage Journal

        I did. I will tender my Slashdot resignation immediately. The editors should get to it in 5-10 years.

        • by ackthpt (218170)

          I did. I will tender my Slashdot resignation immediately. The editors should get to it in 5-10 years.

          If you are looking for particles which travel faster than light, you should be researching Kingons. When Elizabeth's father, Geoge VI died in Norfolk, despite being in a treehouse in Kenya, she became queen faster than even light could travel.

          • Only because it didn't collide with a republicon, which would obliterate it and create a revolution.

          • by idontgno (624372)

            Geoge VI died in Norfolk, despite being in a treehouse in Kenya,

            Screw superluminal neutrinos. We've uncovered evidence that at least for a brief moment, the entirety of Norfolk County [wikipedia.org] was contained in a tree house in Kenya on or about mid-August 1947.

            Amazing. We need to get this published IMMEDIATELY.

    • He may have had his mind set on being in every future textbook. It's hard to go back to your job that reminds you of lost dreams like that. It's probably more shame and disappointment than guilt. :(

    • by Leafheart (1120885) on Friday March 30, 2012 @12:16PM (#39524609)

      (stupid mouse with "back" button, lost the damn post, let's restart)

      From the second link, emphasis mine

      Two days ago a workshop was held at the Gran Sasso laboratories, where the various experiments reported their findings and discussed them. I have no report from the workshop, but it is clear that the superluminal signal of Opera is as dead as it can be. Following the workshop, the Opera collaboration is reported to have voted on removing Ereditato from the leadership position. The motion did not pass, but the voting showed that the collaboration was split, and this must eventually have led Ereditato to step down today.

      It seems to me that someone inside took the opportunity to grab power into the structure of OPERA. Shady politics as usual. You are right that erro'ing is part of the scientific process, but on the political, and "journalistic" spheres it is a sign of weakness. So, it seems, that a group who was antagonist to him decided to take the opportunity and strike him down. Even if the vote hasn't passed, the no confidence was already set in motion, and his presence became a burden on the team. Hooray for crook scientists\politicians.

      Unfortunately, unless we have someone on the inside of the workshop coming forward, explaining what exactly transpired, it will be kept as speculation. What is a shame.

      • One reason I didn't continue my career as an Astrophysicist (besides not being nearly smart enough to compete with the real physicists) was that I realized how politicized Physics - and by extension, any Science - actually was. I figured that if I had to put up with political bullshit, I might as well get paid for it.

        It's useful to keep in mind that scientists are human, despite their grand aspirations. There are good people, bad people, people with delusions of grandeur, just like in any other field.

        • Although I graduated in computer science, I had a 1 year internship in the Optics Department on my university. I worked with some of the most successful projects we had. Every lab on my corridor was a multi million project, spanning tons of patents and great research. And yet, the researchers would talk with each other, would cross research or trying to use each other's contact in the industry to generate more research money. It was such an ego clash pushing everyone back that it was quite sad =(

    • by Gazzonyx (982402)

      Part of scientific endeavor is getting it wrong, and testing again to make sure. It seems like the mistakes that happened were minor, technical, and easy to miss. It would be a very different manner if the problems had been from operational carelessness or intentional fabrication, but I can't actually see any wrongdoing here.

      Usually when you see something like this, it's a case of someone who has been on the chopping block for a while. This was probably just the mishap that others were waiting for to call for his resignation. I've seen it a few times.

    • by bcrowell (177657)

      I can't actually see any wrongdoing here.

      If I'm understanding the article correctly, he hasn't been fired. He still has a job and a paycheck. He is simply no longer the spokesperson for the collaboration. That makes a lot of sense. Apparently roughly half the people in the collaboration don't have confidence in him to speak for them.

    • by pavon (30274) on Friday March 30, 2012 @12:35PM (#39524891)

      The original paper had over a hundred co-authors listed, and I have only heard of 5 people in the entire project that asked to not have their name listed. If the director should resign over this, then why shouldn't the 100+ other people who were confident enough to put their name on the paper?

      This is stupid. They did nothing wrong, there is no reason for anyone to resign.

    • by Torodung (31985)

      Exactly. I hope to Science he resigned for other sensible reasons and wasn't forced into it because of his demanding that the data from the experiment which did not seem to match accepted theory be acknowledged and retested for. If that is what solely caused his resignation, I fear for the future of scientific inquiry. In fact, if that is the case, I'm pretty sure we don't have scientists at CERN but instead have politicians, and the only goal of a politician in such matters is to hide dissent and error. Sc

    • by Anonymous Coward

      My understanding is that the recent experiment showed Neutrinos traveling at the exact same speed as light. That may not be faster, but wouldn't that still require an infinite amount of energy according to current models and therefore not be possible?

      Perhaps what we believe to be the maximum constant really is the speed of light, but there is an unknown force of quality of the universe that can change and effect that constant. E=MC2 is the formula for perfect conditions that we know don't really exist in na

      • by Chris Burke (6130)

        My understanding is that the recent experiment showed Neutrinos traveling at the exact same speed as light. That may not be faster, but wouldn't that still require an infinite amount of energy according to current models and therefore not be possible?

        Neutrinos have such small mass (assuming all 3 types have mass) that their velocity is expected to be virtually indistinguishable from c.

        The current upper bound on neutrino mass is 0.28 eV combined for all three. For comparison an electron has a mass of ~510 keV -- over 10^6 times greater.

        So, with the error bars on that measurement, there's no way we can say they were traveling exactly at the speed of light. For that matter, the upper bound of the error bars includes velocities greater than c so we can't

    • We live in a litigious world. Where Science is RIGHT ALL THE TIME!!! And if anyone is wrong, they have to quite. Because people never ever learn from their mistakes and it is better to fire after a mistake was made and hire and retrain a new person, then to actually find new processes to stop the same mistake.

      I think others have came up with the idea, but they made a mistake in implementation and promptly got fired.
    • His reaction after the failure was most unprofessional and ridiculous.

    • Yeah, well they say that, and that's what I was taught as a physics undergrad but when I did my thesis proposal for my Computing PH.D. I was asked what I would do if a particular part of it didn't work. My reply, that I would then report negative results for that part, was not received well. I was pressured to leave it out and 3 years later someone else published a paper on the exact same thing showing the exact same results that I had predicted to the committee.

      In my experience the academy is nothing like
    • An Italian article [wwww.ansa.it] (Google translation [google.com]) has slightly more detail. (Note that 'Ereditato' is mistranslated as 'Inherited'; I've replaced it below.)

      To put an end I received today the resignation of spokesman for Opera, the physicist Antonio Ereditato. "There is no desire on my part of the controversy, I hope this concludes a phase," Ereditato told ANSA.

      Some collaboration members have requested a motion for the resignation of Ereditato and in spite of the motion not passed, has created a rift inside. In light of this situation, Ereditato considered it appropriate to resign because the partnership was no longer manageable. "It 's been a very painful affair within the collaboration," said the director of the National Laboratories of Gran Sasso, Lucia Votano. "The motion presented by the researchers reflects the difference in judgment on the world in which the affair was conducted," he said. "It is now clear that there was error, it is understood that the measure was having problems and things are back," he added Votano. For now it's time to turn the page.

      The Vice President of INFN, Antonio Masiero, Opera hopes that the collaboration will "unite us and new leadership in pursuing its primary objective specifically to observe the emergence of new types of neutrinos from the mu-type neutrinos from Cern" , ie the study of the phenomenon called neutrino oscillation.

      Not much detail, unfortunately. Part of the group wanted him gone (for reasons unknown) and he wanted to end the controversy, so he stepped down.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    First Post!

  • by Kneo24 (688412) on Friday March 30, 2012 @12:03PM (#39524413) Homepage
    All OPERA did was saying, "Hey, we saw a result that made no sense. This is what we did. Can anyone verify that we did something wrong?" And so his peers want him ousted for doing science as it is intended?
  • Wrong decision (Score:5, Insightful)

    by hackertourist (2202674) <hackertourist@xmRASPsnet.nl minus berry> on Friday March 30, 2012 @12:05PM (#39524441)

    They had an unusual result, ended up having to publish something after a leak, then found the error and published that as well. This is science as it should be done. Asking for this man's resignation is idiotic.

    • Re:Wrong decision (Score:4, Insightful)

      by photonic (584757) on Friday March 30, 2012 @12:41PM (#39525003)
      No-one says that this is not science as usual, this is the typical type of error which you make every now, which on occasion wastes a few weeks of your time. As for the real reason of his resignations I can only speculate. My guess it has to do with the decision to publish the unexpected result so early, only to retract it two months later. It makes them look a bit like amateurs. Couldn't they have kept it internally for another 2 months while double-checking everything? But it must have been hard to have foreseen the public hype that resulted. Do note, finally, that the guy just gave up his position as spokesman of the Opera experiment, it is not like he was forced to resign his professorship or so.
      • by pavon (30274)

        They only published their results after people outside of the group found out about it and started talking about it. At that point publishing was the best thing to do. Unless Ereditato was the one who leaked the information outside of the group, then I don't see any reason to fault him.

  • Wasn't this experiment about something else completely and this was just something that was observed and then a request for other to help find out possibly why they got this result.
    • by gstoddart (321705)

      OMG Ponies!!! with Glitter!!!! I miss Pink :-(

      Ah, your sig reminds me ... must stay away from Slashdot on Sunday ... I don't wan to see that stupid ponies theme again or any of the other crap it brings.

  • Nice to see Einstein is still making an impact on lives 60 years later.

    • by tyrione (134248)

      Nice to see Einstein is still making an impact on lives 60 years later.

      Clearly, Einstein wasn't much for contractions. He must have subscribed to the Donald Trump school of, ``Your Fired.''

  • Why? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by inhuman_4 (1294516) on Friday March 30, 2012 @12:08PM (#39524481)

    Seems wrong to me. You shouldn't fire a scientist because they got something wrong. As long as he followed the procedure and acted in good faith I think the community should let him be. From what I can see he practiced due diligence. A quote from the guy:

    We wanted to find a mistake - trivial mistakes, more complicated mistakes, or nasty effects - and we didn't. When you don't find anything, then you say 'well, now I'm forced to go out and ask the community to scrutinize this.'

    Seems to me like he wasn't doing anything wrong, or make outrageous claims. They did an experiment and got questionable results. They tried to find the reason for the strange results and couldn't. So they asked for peer review. Peer reviewers found the mistake. Progress marches on.

    • by pz (113803)

      Indeed, that's the sort of care and action that is to be lauded, not punished.

  • This would have been an excellent opportunity to demonstrate the difference between science and religion. A falsifiable hypothesis thrown out. Instead we have someone "sacked for heresy", giving totally the wrong message.
    • by Xtifr (1323)

      He wasn't "sacked for heresy"--he wasn't sacked. He resigned. And only as head of the project. He's still a scientist. Heading a project is generally a heavily political position--you're in charge of funding and administrivia. Being the primary name associated with this project and very public mistake wasn't a scientific misstep, but it was a political one. So now he's out of politics (by his own choice), but I see no sign that he's out of science.

      In contrast, a priest who spouted heresy from the pulp

  • by geekoid (135745)

    Lets see:
    They got unexpected result.
    They tested many time and continued to get the same result
    They went public and said this is are results, but would would like other people to verify them, cause the result seem unlikely.
    People looked into the test, found some issue, but they wouldn't account for the 60 ns
    then some more test where run, the result where as expected(not FTL)

    Sounds lie proper science to me. Why was he forced to step down? Are we now saying that only scientist whose experiments are successful

    • by canajin56 (660655)

      Are we now saying that only scientist whose experiments are successful can do experiments?

      No because he still works at OPERA as a scientist. He now no longer has the extra duty of talking to the press, on account of failing in the (impossible?) task of making them report honestly and accurately on the OPERA results.

    • by radtea (464814)

      Sounds lie proper science to me. Why was he forced to step down? Are we now saying that only scientist whose experiments are successful can do experiments?

      Not at all. In any large collaboration politics comes into play, and no doubt there was much soul-searching on the part of all involved. Five people quit the collaboration rather than put their names to this paper, which is very high. It took them less than a year to find their mistake. Many people must have counseled caution and been swayed by the collaboration's leadership.

      This is not science working the way it is supposed to, but rather politics working the way it is supposed to. The head of the col

  • I'm disappointed by this.

    It's not like he intentionally lied or deceived. I followed the issue from beginning to end and it was carried out exactly the way we all expect an anomaly to be investigated, with caution and soliciting help from peers.

    If anything, I would trust this professor even more based on his handling of the situation. /scratches head, sighs.../

  • I wish politicians would step down in light of evidence. Not like the Santorum henchmen...

    • by PPH (736903)
      Unfortunately, only loose cables seem to be justification for resignations. Not screws.
    • The difference is that then the politicians lose their job, while this guy is still getting paid the same salary, holding the same professorship - and, frankly, can still travel to all the OPERA conferences. To be honest, given the publicity and the stress that come with heading the collaboration I wouldn't be entirely surprised if there wasn't some relief mixed in with the pain and irritation.

  • by cullaloe (1324935) on Friday March 30, 2012 @12:23PM (#39524691) Homepage
    That seems a shame to me. I'm a science educator and one of the things students love science for is that it's OK to get it wrong. You're allowed to do all the planning, setting up, measurements, analysis and evaluation and get the wrong answer, provided that you're honest about what you did and leave a record such that other can repeat what you did to see if they get the same thing. The faster-than-light news story was fantastic for me to underline the strength of science for my students, not least because of the very careful things that were being said by the scientists (compared to the media hyperbole). I hope Prof. Ereditato hasn't been made to regret the very great open service he did for contemporary science.
    • by radtea (464814)

      I hope Prof. Ereditato hasn't been made to regret the very great open service he did for contemporary science.

      It wasn't a service, it was a mistake. All else being equal the collaboration would have spent another year and found the cause of the problem before they published. I'm sure plenty of people in the collaboration argued for that and were swayed by Prof Ereditato and others. Large collaborations involve a lot of politics, and leaders need to take responsibility for their mistakes--not their scientific errors, but their political ones. And the political error here was choosing to publish less than six mon

  • by MAXOMENOS (9802) <maxomai&gmail,com> on Friday March 30, 2012 @12:25PM (#39524723) Homepage
    I think we can all agree at this point that the "FTL Neutrino" claim was wrong - but scientists need the freedom to be wrong once in a while, even in a big way. Without it, they might be afraid to make the kind of leaps of insight that one needs to keep science advancing. It follows that this person shouldn't have lost their job just for being wrong. Now, if there's clear evidence that he was stealing money, that's something else.
  • I know we're all in the great big hurry to use the version of the "scientific method" we learned in the 3rd grade (supplemented by what we've gleaned since then from reading popular science articles and watching TED talks) to dissect whether this guy should or should not have quit. But has it occurred to any of you that maybe he was a bad manager who didn't realize it until he and his team were placed under a lot of stress? Or maybe he is tired of being in charge and wants to go back to his university ful
  • I don't think it's too late for us to all say, openly and without any self-recriminations, that it would have been massively, epically cool had they actually and verifiably found a FTL particle. I'll admit it - it surely would have been cool.

  • The problem becomes that new people sometimes repeat those errors without having known they had happened before. I have seen this in my field. Publishing error does not get you tenure.

    Therefore the Opera group should be lauded for publishing theirs. They tried pretty hard to eliminate error.
    • I'm torn about this, because I absolutely agree with you.

      On the other hand, regardless of how complex the instrumentation is you really shouldn't have errors caused by loose wires make it to publication (even if they are presented as possible/probable errors).

      For me, the simple fact that they put the data out there, hundreds of physicists said "it's your GPS" and they presented a second batch of results confirming the first *despite the fact that it was their GPS* is enough for there to be some hell to pay.

  • One would think that a world class smart guy would come up with a better excuse for taking Spring Break.
  • It's a shame that Einstein would disapprove of. He was fond of bucking the establishment and encouraged future scientists to challenge his work. Science should never be afraid of going against what is established, known and popularly accepted as dogma.

    I think the Opera study results were wrong. Similar reports were seen in the mine in Soudan in Minnesota and they felt that the margin of error was wide enough to that they could not substantiate their results. The opera study didn't make this same decision an

  • by liquiddark (719647) on Friday March 30, 2012 @01:32PM (#39525685)
    Neutrinos having mass AND traveling at the speed of light means there is something seriously wrong with relativity or quantum theory. There's every reason to think at this point that there is a result in the offing, and there's no point making scientists tiptoe around while they try to find the hole.
    • This result shows nothing wrong with relativity or quantum theory.

      Neutrinos have so little mass (less than 0.28 eV, compared to, for example, about 510000 eV for the electron and about 940000000 eV for the proton) that they're expected be found traveling *very* close to the speed of light. This experiment is simply not precise enough to detect the difference between the speed of the neutrinos and the speed of light.

  • Sounds like this story has gone through The Science News Cycle [phdcomics.com], and forced someone to resign.

    After all, who needs progress when you can have sensationalist media instead?
  • This is part of the suppression of faster than light particles and anything that contradicts Einstein.

    First they say it is an equipment malfunction and now they take this persons job and likely make it so he'll forever be denied jobs and funding.

    He's lucky he isn't dead.

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