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Saturday, March 24, 2012

FTL Neutrino Debate Continues

As Giudice’s quote suggests, experimental and theoretical physicists have a long-standing tendency to be combative toward one another. Often it’s all in good fun or friendly rivalry. But the researchers on hand last night brought up another important point: This dialog shapes what experiments are conducted and thus the direction of physics.

Cline, who helped replicate the OPERA results in a separate experiment known as ICARUS, measured neutrinos traveling very close to—but not exceeding—the speed of light. Based on his research and the technical faults found in the OPERA experiment, he questions if it’s even necessary to continue testing for faster-than-light neutrinos, saying it might be more productive for physicists to chart a different path.

"OPERA is going against the standard tradition and has found an error in their terminal," Cline says. To him, that technical error justifies the decision to halt any further studies on neutrino velocity. "These experiments can take a decade, so you don’t go after some wild crazy idea, and 20 years later you regret you did it," he said.

But Patrizii disagrees. "We’re allowed to be wrong," she said. "Physicists, they can be wrong. Physics is not. Eventually we will see what is true." To Glashow, an experiment that turns up a surprise—even if it turns out to be untrue—is a good thing that can push physics further. "We need surprises, we depend on results that contradict our own theories. We want to be contradicted."
Sort of a "the science is settled, so don't bother us" argument, which is, of course, anathema to good science.

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