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

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 @01:02PM (#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 Kneo24 ( 688412 ) on Friday March 30, 2012 @01:03PM (#39524413)
    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 ) on Friday March 30, 2012 @01:05PM (#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.

  • Why? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by inhuman_4 ( 1294516 ) on Friday March 30, 2012 @01:08PM (#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 jythie ( 914043 ) on Friday March 30, 2012 @01:10PM (#39524499)
    That is my guess. Scientifically they behaved fine, but the PR in the mainstream press might have been a bit uncomfortable.
  • by zlives ( 2009072 ) on Friday March 30, 2012 @01:14PM (#39524575)

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

  • by Iamthecheese ( 1264298 ) on Friday March 30, 2012 @01:32PM (#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.
  • by afidel ( 530433 ) on Friday March 30, 2012 @01:33PM (#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 pavon ( 30274 ) on Friday March 30, 2012 @01:35PM (#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.

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

    by photonic ( 584757 ) on Friday March 30, 2012 @01:41PM (#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 perpenso ( 1613749 ) on Friday March 30, 2012 @01:42PM (#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 cpu6502 ( 1960974 ) on Friday March 30, 2012 @01:51PM (#39525161)

    >>>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.

  • by chichilalescu ( 1647065 ) on Friday March 30, 2012 @02:22PM (#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 Xylantiel ( 177496 ) on Friday March 30, 2012 @02:56PM (#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.

  • by c++0xFF ( 1758032 ) on Friday March 30, 2012 @03:27PM (#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.

"I have not the slightest confidence in 'spiritual manifestations.'" -- Robert G. Ingersoll