Neeeeeeeeyyyyyooooowwwww – Neutrino

I wrote this piece tomorrow but I sent it to my blog using my new neutrino powered email server. OK, so it’s a pretty poor joke and really it’s so insular to the scientific community that I should be ridiculed for making it on a sci comm blog. Especially as my first post. I just couldn’t help myself. Shoot me. Everybody who’s not a scientist (and hears this story…and cares) is freaking out. Needlessly. Those of you who didn’t get what I was driving at should either google the word neutrino or go here for the latest BBC news coverage of the story that’s destroying the world of physics.

Neutrino king of the monsters

Well, I think the first point to focus on is this. Is the neutrino experiment to special relativity, what Godzilla is to 1950’s (fictional) Tokyo, Japan? Will the latest results smash modern physics to pieces stomping on Einstein’s dreams until there’s nothing left but shattered fragments of E=mc2 strewn across Switzerland? Well I’m not a scare monger, so I’ll cut to the chase and just say no. Special relativity has been so useful to our everyday lives that even if it’s not correct, totally correct and nothing but correct, it’ll just become the next Newtonian physics. We use that all the time. From what I can gather, people have long thought that physics is broken anyway. Nobody really believes/likes the standard model, yet we make do with what we have until we finally get a theory of everything. Again, if you’re not following what I’m saying I openly encourage the use of Wikipedia here for a quick ‘catch-me-up’. Better yet, Hawking’s The Grand Design.

I’m not going to wade in and say that there is no way anything can move faster than the speed of light (in a vacuum I might add) because…well…I’m not a physicist. (Nope, I’m a chemist, but I like physics. Just not hardcore physics. The closest I’ve come to a physics textbook, is Penrose) Also, I don’t read the papers one needs to, to be completely up to speed on these matters (pun entirely intended, yes, that’s how this blog is going to go. I’d try to get used to it if I were you). There are however, a couple of things that I’d like people to focus on.

Firstly, the people running these experiments are being wholly scientific about this – probably more so than any other scientist would be from any other field. Obviously they’re under intense scrutiny, but still, they’re behaving admirably well. The people running these experiments are openly challenging their results, publishing solid data, and allowing the conditions to be replicated by teams worldwide thus allowing other people to challenge their conditions and data too. If that’s not the very model of how to be a scientist then I don’t know what is. Secondly, even though they have the chance to be as sensationalist as a Hollywood diva, they’re remaining calm, reserved and open minded about the results. They most certainly are not saying that Einstein was wrong. The moment you assume anything in science is the moment you start ignoring the truth. That’s when you start looking exclusively for the evidence to back up your results. That’s when scientists stop being scientists and start becoming ego-maniacs. This is clearly the opposite of what these guys and girls are doing. They’re quietly trying to stop people from getting caught up in a whirlwind of hype and frenzy. Just remember, do your part too.

I guess the reason I decided to start my blog off with this story is because there’s a real lesson (for everyone, including me) as to how to be a real scientist here. This is how you become a scientist, you challenge what you see and you assume nothing. Test what results are telling you and if your not the one generating the results then swallow the facts with a pinch of skepticism. If after all this, you end up proving that a legend in your field is wrong, or even that you made an oversight, it’s not a bad thing: we’re all only human after all. The world will keep on spinning, scientists will still get strange results and we’ll all just keep taking one step closer to the truth. In the end, that’s really what science is about.

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