A lot of the time, when you read a newspaper article about a new study in one of those fields, the study hasn’t actually yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal. It’s just been posted to arXiv, which sort of becomes a crowd-sourced peer review peer review of its own. Especially for headline-grabbing research making big, bold claims.
That’s the background you need to understand what’s going on right now with the study that claimed to find neutrinos traveling faster than the speed of light. That announcement was made in an arXiv paper. Putting those results on arXiv was as much a way of saying, “Woah, we just found something crazy, please tell us if you see something we’ve done wrong,” as it was a formal declaration of scientific discovery.
Since that paper was published in September, there have been more than 80 follow-up papers, also published on arXiv, offering criticism of the original research or proposing theoretical explanations of how that seemingly crazy finding could fit into physics as we know it. And all of this is happening before anybody has gone through the peer-review publishing process.
The original research team has been able to gather criticism, find new ideas for checking their work and respond to questions because of this unique open-publishing format. It’s not a substitute for the traditional peer-review process, but I think it allows for stronger and better-reviewed data to make it out of the traditional filters in the end. It’s like a crowd-sourced pre-filter.
Now the CERN folks will take that feedback and repeat some experiments to strengthen or reject their claims. And that work will either make it or not make it into a traditional journal. Time will tell.
I agree with the final conclusion at Boing Boing:
Science benefits when scientists have more than one way to share information with each other.
The Earth has variable gravity (as seen in the “lumpy” image above) that you and I can’t feel. But could the faster-than-light neutrino experiments have been doomed by omitting this? From Forbes:
In any good heist, synchronized watches are essential for determining timing, so that a precision plan can go off without a hitch. Similarly, the clocks in a speed measurement need to be synchronized to ensure that velocity is calculated correctly. The basic problem with OPERA’s calculations, Contaldi suggests, is that the clocks used to measure the neutrinos’ velocity weren’t properly synchronized.
In the case of the faster-than light measurements, the clocks were synchronized using GPS timestamps. But, argues Contaldi, that’s not good enough. That’s because the gravity on different places on the Earth isn’t constant. The gravity at the CERN site where the neutrinos left, for example, is actually slightly greater than the gravity at the OPERA detector site. As a consequence, time would appear to move more slowly at CERN from the vantage point of the OPERA detector. Failing to take this into account, Contaldi contends, means that “[t]he resulting measurement that the neutrino velocity differs from c is not only unsurprising but should be expected in their setup.”
Fairly misleading post. It doesn’t state the OPERA group’s disagreement with Contaldi at the end of the article.
I’m pretty sure the OPERA group accounted for time-dilation. It’s pretty obvious & I’m sure the huge number of scientists working on it over the course of three years would have thought of it too. Contaldi seems to be a little close-minded to me; why don’t we just wait and see if the results can be replicated & verified before jumping the gun. OPERA’s results were interesting, but it doesn’t mean we should immediately believe the neutrino exceeded the speed of light. However, it also doesn’t mean we should totally disregard it & not investigate further with appropriate skepticism.
OPERA : interviews of Antonio Ereditato and Dario Autiero.
Interview of OPERA’s spokesperson Antonio Ereditato of the University of Bern and Dario Autiero CNRS researcher in OPERA experiment.
The OPERA result is based on the observation of over 15000 neutrino events measured at Gran Sasso, and appears to indicate that the neutrinos travel at a velocity 20 parts per million above the speed of light, nature’s cosmic speed limit. Given the potential far-reaching consequences of such a result, independent measurements are needed before the effect can either be refuted or firmly established. This is why the OPERA collaboration has decided to open the result to broader scrutiny.