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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 calmond (1284812) on Friday March 30, 2012 @01:04PM (#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 Anonymous Coward on Friday March 30, 2012 @01:15PM (#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.

  • by Leafheart (1120885) on Friday March 30, 2012 @01:16PM (#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.

  • by cullaloe (1324935) on Friday March 30, 2012 @01:23PM (#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.
  • 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 public like this with a result. The press loves any news story that claims Einstein was wrong, and so it's easy to get caught in the publicity and make a big deal of something that should be scrutinized thoroughly before being exposed.

    This was not "the scientific method at work." The scientific method at work is that when you find something that contradicts a successful 100-year-old theory, you sit down a few years and think about it before going public with it. Otherwise it costs you your fucking reputation as a scientists, which can end your career.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 30, 2012 @01:37PM (#39524935)

    Well, of course, what else do you expect? Do you expect him to get a reward for trying to "disprove a current leading theory that is the only thing we have that explains how very little we actually know about the fabric of spacetime and how things move around in it"?

    Most scientists are egotistical twats. Period.
    If anybody steps out of line, you better believe everyone snaps at them and tries to eliminate them at a public and even personal level.
    Even if you are the one that is in charge and not the one who made the mistake, you become the scapegoat regardless. It was "your duty to make sure things were correctly connected, synced and working", after all.

    Working in the Science world is quite literally MAD with knowledge. You slip up and you get wiped out.
    It is pathetic.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 30, 2012 @02:03PM (#39525303)

    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 nature, the actually formulas for converting a specific piece of mass into energy also take into account things like velocity; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mass%E2%80%93energy_equivalence

    Is there a factor that we're missing? Something that is one value 99% of the time and only under certain conditions changes?

  • by theguyfromsaturn (802938) on Friday March 30, 2012 @02:25PM (#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.

  • by liquiddark (719647) on Friday March 30, 2012 @02:32PM (#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.
  • by girlintraining (1395911) on Friday March 30, 2012 @02:56PM (#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 Ihmhi (1206036) <i_have_mental_health_issues@yahoo.com> on Friday March 30, 2012 @03:58PM (#39527271)

    It's a fantastic thing IMO. Science is not flawless because it is done by humans, and humans are fallible. Even if it were done by machines from cradle to grave, humans still built the machines - a software bug or misconfigured and/or contaminated instruments can screw up the results.

    My guess is that someone higher up in the chain (politically) didn't like being embarrassed and needed a sacrificial lamb.

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