Thursday, February 23, 2012

How Science Works

From the Wall Street Journal today:
"A malfunctioning cable may have been responsible for the claim that some particles may be able to travel faster than light speed, a potentially embarrassing outcome for physicists who had publicized the findings with great fanfare just a few month ago."

Here's what the researcher said when the results were orginally released:

"Ereditato says that he welcomes scepticism from outsiders, but adds that the researchers have been unable to find any other explanation for their remarkable result. "Whenever you are in these conditions, then you have to go to the community," he says."

This is how science works. You find a noteworthy result, and you release it to the community. They pick it apart, confirming or denying it. This is how knowledge increases. The fact that the result turns out not to be correct is not in any way "embarrassing", as even an "incorrect" result is in fact a confirmation of Special Relativity.

What would be embarassing is if the scientists sat on the results because they were afraid of the ridicule of ill-informed reporters.

The scientist did his job.  The reporter, who works for what is one of the best newspapers in the world, did not.