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Follow Up On Solar Neutrinos and Radioactive Decay 183

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.
  • 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?
  • Sagan responds - (Score:5, Insightful)

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

    "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence."

  • 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.

  • by causality ( 777677 ) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @02:38PM (#33383950)

    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 aristotle-dude ( 626586 ) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @02:54PM (#33384142)

    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.
  • by Qzukk ( 229616 ) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @03:18PM (#33384452) Journal

    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.

  • by Abcd1234 ( 188840 ) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @03:35PM (#33384652) Homepage

    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.

  • Re:How human (Score:2, Insightful)

    by mackai ( 1849630 ) on Thursday August 26, 2010 @03:41PM (#33384738)
    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 most attention because it is the easiest to express verbally, and most of us reading the reports take it as if true, or at least likely, if there is any credibility to it in our minds. But the community overall keeps looking to see if another (better?) explanation comes to mind or if there is some test that can be examined to strengthen or weaken any such conclusion. Over time, the explanation with the most credibility to the scientific community becomes the one generally accepted.
  • 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 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

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