Neutrino Realities

Experiments GeekMom Technology
xkcd's take on the Neutrino Discovery this week

When I first heard the headlines late last week that “Einstein Has Been Proven Wrong”, I was in utter disbelief. The reports stated that CERN scientists had found that neutrinos travelled faster than the speed of light and thus disproved that E=mc^2, since, according to Einstein, any object moving at or beyond the speed of light would have to have infinite mass.

In order to understand the claims a bit further my husband, and fellow GeekDad Brian McLaughlin, and I looked through the actual research documents to sort out the facts from the sensationalization in the media.

Read Brian’s article on GeekDad here, it’s a great lesson on neutrinos and the experiment that was conducted.

The level to which most media outlets sensationalized this discovery was immediately clear. The scientists were asking the larger scientific community to examine their data to determine if there was any systematic error in their data that had been overlooked. The faster than light neutrinos were a very unexpected result of their research and they are making no definitive conclusions on their findings at this point.

The lesson to be learned here is if something that you read in the media sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Challenge yourself to go read the actual scientific documents. This particular study was very easy to read and was written in a way that those outside the physics community could understand.

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2 thoughts on “Neutrino Realities

  1. My husband and I were discussing this too, and were talking about the same thing (media sensationalism). Cheers to you and Brian for reminding the world to learn from primary documents and evidence whenever possible.

  2. Einstein was wrong before. Einstein didnt accept the principal of undertainty, and was proven wrong. However even in that opposition, he provided a valuable service to science. In his attempt to disprove uncertainty (God does not play dice with the Universe — Einstein), he developed a large number of challenges which those who supported the theory of uncertainty (among them including Heisenberg, Pauli, and Bohr — who said, “Einstein should stop telling God what to do”) had to refute. They did find answers for all of Einstein’s challenges, further supporting the undertainty principle. But even if the neutrino expierment proces to be correct, which in my opinion is a long way off, it is as unfair to say that Enstein was wrong about Special Relativity as it is to say that Newton was wrong about classical physics. It is just that different assumptions need to be added for a comprehensive understanding. And, yes, that type of limitation is legitimate in science. The computers that took the Saturn V to the Moon use the assumption that the Earth was flat and that the Earth was the center of the universe – both of which the scientists and engineers knew not to be true. Why? Because a flat-plate model gave accurate results for first stage guidance (treating the Earth as flat), while using the Aries Mean of 1950 coordinate system (which has the Earth’s center as the system’s origin — making the Earth the center of the universe) permitted accurate navigation while simplifying the calculations needed. Similarly, we use Newtonian mechanics for most Earthside applications, even though Newton was superceded by Einstein. And no doubt, if Einstein is superceded, we will still use special relativity when it makes sense to do so.

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