OPERA in Question

[UPDATE: Some extensive comments added below.]

[UPDATE: Journalists and Bloggers: PLEASE NOTE: OPERA is not a CERN experiment.  The CERN laboratory does not deserve the bad press it is getting (though they certainly unwisely put themselves in a position to receive it.)]

Many of you are probably already aware of various rumors running around By now you are all aware of yesterday’s initial report that the OPERA experiment — famous for announcing that neutrinos traveling from CERN to the Gran Sasso Laboratory in Italy arrived 60 nanoseconds (billionths of a second) earlier than expected, thus suggesting that neutrinos can travel slightly faster than the speed of light — had found a problem with a cable connector that exactly explains the 60 nanosecond timing shift.

But the immediate source of this rumor was a science journalist, and the article was based on an anonymous source who is not described as being in the OPERA experiment. And the details quoted in the article didn’t add up, in my view. Given the number of wrong reports and rumors that I have read over the past months about this experiment, my reaction was to wait.

I didn’t have to wait long. Presumably Perhaps to avoid misinformation from hitting the headlines, it appears that OPERA has released a statement  that indicates that the article from earlier today yesterday is not true. [Update: To be clearer, I probably should have written, ``true in its details.'']  But this statement itself contains big news. Unfortunately I myself have still not obtained an original version of their statement, so I can’t independently verify what I’ve read.

If the quotations I have read of their statement are correct, The statement clearly calls the experiment’s result into question.  However, in contrast to the original news article, it does not state that an issue causing a 60 nanosecond shift has been unambiguously identified. On the contrary, what it states is that two issues, not one, affecting the result in opposite directions (i.e., one making the neutrinos seem to have arrived earlier, and one making them seem to have arrived later), have cropped up.  And it would appear that at least one, and perhaps both, aren’t fully understood yet.  This suggests that, for the moment, the experimental situation is less clear than before, not more so.  Rather than the cause of the effect having been identified, the resulting murky waters would instead mean that the systematic uncertainties on the measurement would then be larger than were stated in the OPERA paper, reducing the stated statistical significance of the result (which was about 6 standard deviations.)

Unfortunately the relevant details have not yet been provided.  We haven’t been told whether these new uncertainties are on the scale of ten nanoseconds, sixty nanoseconds, or a thousand nanoseconds. And that means we can only guess, at this point, as to what the implications are — whether the significance of the result is reduced from six standard deviations to four, two, or essentially zero.  On top of that, further investigation by OPERA may reduce these uncertainties, while along the way the main result may change from what it was originally.  So we can have our suspicions, but we can’t draw clear conclusions without more information from OPERA.

[UPDATE: For clarity: Of course most physicists suspect the experiment is wrong, but from the very beginning most of us strongly suspected it was wrong --- as are (historically) most experiments with a radical result, even by very good scientists.  Even the OPERA people suspected it, but couldn't find the key mistake, nor (until now) could anyone find any mistakes.]

[SECOND UPDATE: For further clarification as to what I'm getting at, see this new post.]

The best hint we have that this is not minor news is the use of the words  “could significantly affect” in the OPERA statement.  Here is the statement, as quoted from the journal Nature, with comments, boldface and color highlights added by me:

The OPERA Collaboration, by continuing its campaign of verifications on the neutrino velocity measurement, has identified two issues that could significantly affect the reported result. The first one is linked to the oscillator used to produce the events time-stamps in between the GPS synchronizations. [UPDATE: This is the one which would have made the neutrinos appear to arrive later, and thus apparently slower.]  The second point is related to the connection of the optical fiber bringing the external GPS signal to the OPERA master clock.  [UPDATE: This is the one which would have made the neutrinos appear to arrive earlier, and is therefore the prime suspect for having caused the effect; in this regard the original news article was correct.  Notice this is an optical fiber, not a standard wire.]

These two issues can modify the neutrino time of flight in opposite directions. While continuing our investigations, in order to unambiguously quantify the effect on the observed result, the Collaboration is looking forward to performing a new measurement of the neutrino velocity as soon as a new bunched beam will be available in 2012. An extensive report on the above mentioned verifications and results will be shortly made available to the scientific committees and agencies.

Nature also quotes Caren Hagner, a member of OPERA at the University of Hamburg, as saying: “For the moment the collaboration decided not to make a quantitative statement, because we have to recheck and discuss the findings more thoroughly.”

In short — assuming  even the OPERA experimenters apparently do not yet understand the situation to their satisfaction.  Obviously we have to wait until they know what’s going on before we, outside the experiment, can draw correct conclusions.

[UPDATE: I think many of you must be wondering why I am so cautious here.  It's this: notice that OPERA say something odd: that they've found problems and they look forward to repeating the measurement. If OPERA had found the problem and were confident that they had done so, they would say that, and there would be little need to repeat the measurement (though it might be nice to do so.)   It would seem to me to be far more upsetting, frustrating and embarrassing to them, not less, to say (as they basically do) that they can't yet figure out how big these newly identified effects are, and imply (as they basically do) that they are not sure that they can, and instead must repeat the measurement --- a do-over.  I don't know if that implication is really there or not, but it is odd that they seem to focus on the repeat of the measurement.  So there is a bit more here than meets the eye, and I'm waiting to find out what it is before making what would otherwise be irresponsible statements.  

Note also that just because they know there is an important problem with an optical wire doesn't mean they know yet that it is the problem that caused the effect that they measured.   (You personally may suspect that it is, but there's no way for you to know it if they don't.) For all they say, and for all we know, there might be yet another issue, one that they haven't yet identified, that's the main cause of the 60 nanosecond shift.  

So don't get me wrong; I've thought this experiment was almost certainly wrong from the beginning, and so did the vast majority of my colleagues.  As I've emphasized many times on this site, most experiments with a radical result turn out to be wrong, and this one was particularly implausible.  From my point of view, the whole story since September has mainly been a question of finding the cause.  But the cause has not yet been confirmed; it may have been found, or it may not yet have been found.  

That said, almost anyone would agree the experiment result is now on life-support, because any meaningful reduction in the original statistical significance (from an optimistic 6 standard deviations) basically takes most remaining credibility out of what was a highly implausible claim to start with.]

As I wrote at the beginning of this year, the OPERA, ICARUS and BOREXINO experiments (which are all quite close to each other in Italy’s Gran Sasso Laboratory) will soon conduct a long re-run of what I called OPERA-2, the second version of the OPERA experiment that was run using short pulses of neutrinos.  This will give OPERA a chance to redo their experiment with these newly identified problems fixed, while ICARUS and BOREXINO will get a chance to try to avoid any mistakes, or at least make their own independent and unrelated set of mistakes.  But obviously if the original OPERA measurement becomes less convincing, or even completely unconvincing, the odds for a violation of Einstein’s relativity will look even worse than they did before.

So I am afraid this does not appear to be the dramatic end of the OPERA that some people have claimed today.  However, with this turn of events, few will be surprised if it proves to be the beginning of the last act.

47 responses to “OPERA in Question

  1. Pingback: Error Undoes Faster-Than-Light Neutrino Results « physics4me

  2. I can verify that your posted information is correct. Quoting Rolf Heuer’s (CERN director general) email sent to all CERN personnel from today:
    “The OPERA collaboration has informed its funding agencies and host laboratories that it has identified two possible effects that could have an influence on its neutrino timing measurement. These both require further tests with a short pulsed beam. If confirmed, one would increase the size of the measured effect, the other would diminish it. The first possible effect concerns an oscillator used to provide the time stamps for GPS synchronizations. It could have led to an overestimate of the neutrino’s time of flight. The second concerns the optical fibre connector that brings the external GPS signal to the OPERA master clock, which may not have been functioning correctly when the measurements were taken. If this is the case, it could have led to an underestimate of the time of flight of the neutrinos. The potential extent of these two effects is being studied by the OPERA collaboration. New measurements with short pulsed beams are scheduled for May.”

  3. Come on, Matt. To say the least, there doesn’t exist an authoritative experiment at this moment that would indicate a speed anomaly in the neutrino sector. So whether or not they know how to combine the numbers so that the anomaly becomes zero, the big claim *is* already dead at this moment. The whole excitement *did* boil down to an apparently carefully done experiment ending with a speed above *c*, and this experiment with this result isn’t already available.

    There are known flaws of a sufficient magnitude to annihilate the anomaly. We don’t know for sure whether the corrected result is right. But I personally guess it is true, too. And it’s likely that only one of the flaws – probably the cable – may be important and large enough.

    • Lubos — If I *knew* that “there are known flaws of a sufficient magnitude to annihilate the anomaly”, I would agree. And if and when I learn that the flaws are that large, I *will* agree. Unfortunately I don’t know that yet. Maybe you have additional information, but I can only go on what I know.

      • Dear Matt, it may be a question of confidence in various sources but I think that a simple way to *know* is to read the basic sources; the Science Insider article which started the “leak” says the thing very clearly:


        “According to sources familiar with the experiment, the 60 nanoseconds discrepancy appears to come from a bad connection between a fiber optic cable that connects to the GPS receiver used to correct the timing of the neutrinos’ flight and an electronic card in a computer.”

        I, for one, trust this comment by the “sources familiar with the experiment”. There may be another flaw but everything I see it indicates that the otehr flaw doesn’t substantially alter the impact of the fiber’s flaw.

        • Well, Lubos, I find this amusing coming from you :-); trusting second- or third-hand information? Personally I doubt Rolf Heuer would have put his name on a statement endorsing the need for a future re-run of this experiment if it were clear that the 60 nanoseconds discrepancy clearly came from the cable. My guess (but it is a PURE GUESS) is that the cable caused a shift that (bad connections being what they are) they can’t reproduce. So they don’t know how bad the situation is, and have no idea if the shift was 60 nanoseconds. Alternatively, or in addition, it may be that the shift from the cable is 200 to 300 nanoseconds while the shift from the oscillator is -150 to -250 nanoseconds. Either way, that would leave them unable to determine what the situation is and with a need to rerun. Again I emphasize that this is pure guesswork. But I find this line of thinking more plausible than what you’re assuming.

      • Dear Matt, I am not “blindly” or “99.99999%” believing the second-hand information in Science but I think it’s more accurate than the CERN press release (yes, I realize OPERA isn’t a CERN experiment but it’s clear that CERN has overtaken all OPERA P.R. business).

        The CERN press release seems to me as a typical committee/political/consensus text designed to obfuscate waters, erase all clear information that has leaked while avoiding too flagrant lies, diminish the impact of the mistakes that some of those folks did, and inflate the importance of their future work as well.

        It’s simply mostly politics, not science, and I therefore think that the Science Insider report is the most accurate description of the situation we have at this moment. And incidentally, I have absolutely no problem to imagine Rolf Heuer’s signature under meaningless activities, or under orders to suppress important activities (in the last year, we’ve seen an incredible example of the latter).

        I am surprised that you are surprised by this attitude of mine. I am sure that people who know me would be able to guess that this is how I would think in this situation.

        • What you say is true: you and I are very different in this regard. My assumption is that people act to protect their reputations in the long run, and your assumption is that people act to protect their reputations in the short run. If it turns out later that this is all politics and obfuscation, then the scientific reputations of the people involved will be heavily damaged.

          Meanwhile, I’ve learned that the article that you still believe in IS wrong. So you should not base your opinion on it.

      • Thanks for informing that the article is wrong. But again, this may be a matter of impressions generated by the information obtained and with all my apologies, the Science Insider story seems more convincing to me than your simple statement that it is wrong. I know it’s not entirely wrong and your comment “it is wrong” is very vague.

        I partly agree with you that people protect their long-term reputation. But various fast press releases, made necessary by some inconvenient recent events such as leaks, are not being written by people, by individuals. They are being written by committees, mobs whose anonymous individual members won’t bear any responsibility for their proclamations. That’s why the writers of such things usually don’t have to protect their long-term reputation.

        Well, there also exist individuals who don’t care about their long-term reputation. They don’t have their own strong moral compass and they figure out – sometimes correctly – that people just forget things and the long-term impact that should occur won’t occur. I think it would be silly to believe that everyone who is being identified as a scientist is a perfect holy spirit thinking about the Good from the viewpoint of the eternity, i.e. someone like me. ;-)

  4. Pingback: Y si al final solo era un cable « MiGUi

  5. Well, he point here is not so much who was right and who was wrong, but that the correct answers and results will be arrived at. Having been somewhat skeptical from the beginning, one has to give credit to teams at Gran Sasso and CERN for their meticulous work.

  6. Thanks Matt, for as always, keeping a cool head and not giving in to hysteria one way or the other. We should be better then treating rumors spread by journalists as scientific statements.

  7. The right press release should have read: due to technical errors, ignore all previous results. And we must start from square one, hopefully with the equipment doing what it supposed to be doing.

    Those scientists are an embarrassment, which I think they already know.

    • Even excellent scientists (and excellent people in general) do embarrassing things sometimes. One should be a little more generous, especially before the full story has come out.

    • Dear Zaybu, this experiment is still very complicated and many things could have been wrong – and not all the things could have gotten the required level of attention. So one of the weakest links in the chain was ultimately found to be in error. Maybe two links. Would you be able to do all these things flawlessly and reliably? Let me admit that I don’t believe so.

      The fact that there is a hundred of folks in the collaboration doesn’t really help or make it too much error-proof. Not only in science, the best collaboration is a collaboration in a team but two members are already too many. ;-)

      • We also don’t know if the two issues identified are more subtle than it sounds right now. There is probably a specific reason (maybe a good one, maybe not) why they slipped through their net.

        But it doesn’t change the fact that anyone who bet the experiment was right should be prepared to take a loss.

  8. No matter how sure OPERA were of having found the main error, wouldn’t they have to repeat the experiment to make sure that the errors were actually affecting the original experiment and didn’t just crop up later?

  9. I am a theoretical particle physicist. Sometimes, young students performing subtle calculations come to me saying that they have found an exception to QCD factorization theorems. We never made an arxiv publication of these results simply because after careful and painstaking checking they turn out to have suffered from well hidden mistakes in the first calculation. One could be wasting a lot of other people’s time by announcing these premature results. I understand that an experiment like OPERA is a much more serious business, but all of us in the particle physics community would have been much better off today had they not given all these interviews and press conferences.

    • Babis — I’m sympathetic to your point of view. But I think you underestimate the power of the blogs today. The story was broken by a blog three days before the announcement, spreading what turned out to be mostly correct rumors about the result; and after the announcement blogs provided all sorts of information and misinformation for the science media to pass on to the main media. None of this was under OPERA’s control. I do not know how the OPERA people could have avoided the interviews; had they not given them, they would have looked bad, and would have had no chance to correct misinformation that was flying around. Similarly, I think the press conferences were intended to gain control of the information flow.

      The problem is that you can say to a reporter “no, we do not claim that neutrinos travel faster than light, only that we have a timing anomaly consistent with fast neutrinos. And we are not sure we have not made a mistake; that is why we are inviting our colleagues to help us look for mistakes”, and the reporter will write: “while the result is not yet certain,…” and go back to writing about time-travel.

      I do think the OPERA people didn’t work hard enough to downplay things, but I also think they were perhaps naive in not recognizing that the world has changed while they’ve been busy doing their best science.

  10. One thing people outside the field may not realize is that in even in a relatively simple particle physics experiment, the data acquisition system can easily use hundreds or thousands of cables (electrical and fiber optic), of many different lengths running from many different locations to many other different locations. A bad cable, or a bad connector, or a mislocated cable can be the cause of endless grief; sometimes it causes an obvious problem that clearly points back to the cable or connection in question, but sometimes it can just cause subtle timing effects that are monstrously difficult to diagnose. Even if a bad cable or connection is found it’s not always clear what effect it might have had on previously collected data, and it may not be possible to correct the data to account for it (other than by blowing up the systematic error to the point where any result is more or less meaningless.) I see no CYA conspiracy here, just scientists doing their job carefully after finding the sort of problems you try hard to avoid in the first place but which happen to the best of us at times.

  11. Always watching with interest.


  12. OK, granted. It doesn’t look very promising for FTL muon neutrinos based on the rumors. However, it may be premature to jump on the ‘OPERA Blew It Bandwagon’ just yet. I have found it interesting that the OPERA paper made reference to a 1979 paper in PRL on “Experimental Comparison of Neutrino, Antineutrino, and Muon Velocities” which states: “The data appear to show a rise (above light speed) with increasing neutrino energy. A best fit line is .3 + .003E (energy – which ranged from ~30 to ~200 GeV) parts per 10^4….However (based on the tolerances of that experiment) this line is not sufficiently different from a constant value to be significant.”

    I will, as Matt says, “take a loss” when other experiments show different results, or when OPERA does a rerun and finds the high energy muon neutrinos are not FTL.

  13. Matt, as one of the media people following this and related issues, I couldn’t agree more with your initial appeal to journos and bloggers about attributing blame, or glory, where either lie and not giving CERN the credit, or discredit, for FTL neutrinos. Can’t count how many times I’ve told my own distant Newsdesk to watch out for this, but they still went and pinned it all on my friends down the road here in Geneva last night.

  14. I have posted this in September:

    … “It seems that everybody is considering only two options, that these results are either right or wrong, while we may remain in current ambiguous grey area for some time, even with more experiments carried out.”

    The more I lean how the experiment was designed and conducted, the more I see a similarity with risk assessment of complex systems. The hardest thing to accept working in this field is that most of relevant questions do not have meaningful or useful answers.

    I simple question of what are the chance of getting 4 aces in one hand becomes a nightmare without an answer if the dealer is cheating. Systemic errors are just like that, STATISTICS CANNOT BE APPLIED in any meaningful fashion. Sometimes boundary conditions can define the range of errors. For example, we know we cannot get five aces in poker or meet 12 feet tall human. But boundary conditions are often too crude and there is always a temptation to put statistical spin and probability on values that are unknown. However, unknown does not means random, it simply means we do not know what is going on.

    I am with Matt that at this point we do not know “if”, “where” and “how” OPERA experiment failed. But I also believe that we may never will.

  15. Pingback: Faster-than-light neutrinos? Not so fast… « Slugger O'Toole

  16. I suggest you ignore Lubos:

    [Link removed by host]

    • Sorry, but I try to avoid being a host of links that are intended to discredit someone personally (as opposed to criticizing their scientific views.) I just don’t feel I should be doing that.

  17. Pingback: Βρέθηκε το λάθος, τα νετρίνα δεν κινούνται γρηγορότερα από το φως « physicsgg

  18. Pingback: Zwei Fehlerquellen bei OPERA entdeckt – könnten Neutrinos schneller aber auch langsamer erscheinen lassen! « Skyweek Zwei Punkt Null

  19. Marcel van Velzen

    Dear prof Strassler,

    There is one thing in the neutrino experiment that I don’t understand. Why didn’t the experimentalists just say we still have a timing problem that we have to sort out. Now assuming that this tiny timing problem is not essential in the neutrino oscillations experiments they should try to remember the problem or write it down on a piece of paper and go on with their business. If it is important in the neutrino oscillation experiments I would just correct for 60 ns, write down I had to do this and continue to try to find the reason and go on with my life. I would always say “we still have a timing problem because of course neutrino’s can’t go faster than the speed of light”. Because there is no reason why neutrino’s should go faster than light and it has already been established through a supernova explosion that they don’t. Now I also get the impression that from the electronics it can be guessed that one easily gets a 60 ns error. So it is all just calibration. The fact that the OPERA team now suggests that there are may be two errors makes the fact that they haven’t guessed from the electronics that there could easily be a 60 ns calibration error all over the place at least twice as bad. So what I want to say is that from an experimentalist point of view they did an excellent job trying to figure out the calibration error, it is only the conclusion that from this one could even suggest that neutrino’s can possibly travel faster than light that is ridicules (By the time some new neutrino experiment starts somewhere in the world I would secretly inform whether that team had an equivalent 60 ns delay. Of course not but if so then I would make (after a year of scrutiny) the discovery public) What would you have done?

    • I think the answer is probably that it is *not* a 60 nanosecond calibration problem (despite the original report in the press.) It is probably an intermittent problem, or some other messy effect, that comes and goes (or came and went and cannot be reproduced), and that they cannot confirm is responsible for a 60 nanosecond shift. Otherwise they would, indeed, have just said: we found a 60 nanosecond shift. That would be less embarrassing than the unpleasant situation they are now in.

      • Marcel van Velzen

        Of course “calibration problem” was just a generic term for “(electrical) problem somewhere”. O and neutrino’s should be neutrinos (neutrino’s is Dutch, like neutrinos is English for neutrini :-))

  20. Matt,

    I understand. So I just won’t include the link. Anyway, here is what that page said about Lubos:

    [Edited by host for inappropriate content.]

    • Jaromir; I do not need to tell you that this was an inappropriate abuse of my website. You have seriously damaged your own reputation, by lowering yourself to the level of the criticisms that you were leveling against someone else. Please limit yourself to physics and nothing else at this site. What you do elsewhere is your own business.

      • Matt, I am very sorry for what I did, commenting in that abusive fashion. I promise it will never happen again. For what it’s worth, I do find your posts very interesting and helpful in being up-to-date with the latest particle physics news. Again, I am sorry.

  21. Having read Jaromir’s notes about Luboš Motl, I think if my memory serves well,

    [The host begs an apology of the writer of this comment for having removed this note; the entire exchange with Jaromir was inappropriate and I did not want it posted here.]

  22. Pingback: Sui neutrini ci siamo sbagliati, pare, forse, non e’ sicuro, ma insomma non ci stiamo a capi’ più nulla « il mondo visto da un pennuto

  23. I’m actually astounded that they were able to find two extremely subtle sources of error so quickly. People who criticize this should actually be applauding these scientists’ scrutiny and attention to detail. Perhaps they jumped the gun with the publicity. But it’s exciting, thinking that possibly there’s an exception to what we thought was known, seeing the first glimpses into more exotic phenomena that need more sophisticated theories. Even if it turns out to be wrong. Can’t blame them for being stoked.

  24. Pingback: About those cables again… « Self-Assembled Chaos

  25. In dense aether model the neutrinos (Falaco solitons of longitudinal waves) have a good reason for being slightly superluminal in the same way, like the photons (a Russel’s solitons of transverse waves) have a good reason to be subluminal, at least in certain, IMO quite wide range of energies. These stuffs actually follow just from certain – though very local – aspects of Einsteinian relativity, too. General relativity allows violation of special relativity in certain geometries (time holes). IMO the acceptation of most phenomena, which don’t play well with mainstream physics follow the very evolution, similar to wake wave (or dark matter around massive bodies): after brief period of medial noise they’re refused and slowly re-accepted again, actually the more slowly, the more controversial they are. The cold fusion is a typical example, but we have many other similar findings (room temperature superconductivity of J.F.Prins, antigravity of Podkletnov or gravitomagnetism of Tajmar). It means, I’m convinced, that superluminal neutrino concept is relevant – but the social pressure for their refusal is currently stronger, than their observational evidence. The existence of premature reports like this one, which advance the official channels for information spreading serves as an analogy for superluminal neutrino motion.

  26. Actually, I don’t think it was a bad thing at all to publish that result, even though they knew perfectly well it was unreasonable.

    That’s part of keeping science honest: mistakes are made. We shouldn’t only publish “successful” experiments, and the selection bias is a bad thing.

    The result was robust after a few months of re-checking. That’s enough to say “hey, we found something strange”, which is what they did say.

    I, and I think most reasonable people, interpreted this as “help, we can’t find the mistake!”. As I said at the time, there’s a 90% chance this is a simple leasurment error, a 9% chance there’s some unexpected but not revolutionary physics that is causing a measurement error, and a delicious 1% chance that something really exciting has been found.

    Yes, it was widely misinterpreted, but I think that’s valuable education.

    • Well, I’m not sure about your 90-9-1 divider (I would have put 99-0.999-0.001 ) but other than that, my main concern is that they should have run OPERA-2 (the short-pulse version) before making any claims. [Many experimental groups in the past that have found exciting anomalies have talked about the anomaly, though less publicly, while they also prepared and carried out a cross-check experiment.] After OPERA-2 the result was clearly convincing enough to talk about seriously. One could see directly that the measurement of the average shift was about 60 nanoseconds and precise to 10 nanoseconds or so. So I generally agree that the real problem here is the media coverage, including the average uninformed blogger, and not so much OPERA’s handling of the situation, which I think was largely out of their control. Just watching how things have been covered (mis-covered) in the last few days firms up my opinion.

      • Marcel van Velzen

        Hello Prof. Strassler,


        On the CERN site:
        “The potential impact on science is too large to draw immediate conclusions or attempt physics interpretations. My first reaction is that the neutrino is still surprising us with its mysteries.” said Ereditato.

        Now you and I and Ereditato are smart enough to understand that the statement “that the neutrino is still surprising us with its mysteries” is only true if it is true that it has been established by OPERA that neutrinos go faster than light!

        • What’s the corresponding link?

          I can only agree that this statement (which I missed), if taken at face value and out of context, is profoundly irreponsible. But we must be cautious when looking at an incomplete quotation. What we don’t know is whether Ereditato said all the right words before he said these (i.e., something to the effect of “this is potentially exciting but one has to remember that until our result is confirmed by others it is most likely due to a problem with our experiment that we’ve been unable to find.”) We must also keep in mind he’s not a native English speaker; it is not always so easy to use the subjunctive clause correctly if you learned English as a second language.

          In fact, here is a quote from a different source: Same speaker, different news article: Neutrinos Travel Faster Than Light, According to One Experiment, by Adrian Cho on 22 September 2011 — http://news.sciencemag.org/sciencenow/2011/09/neutrinos-travel-faster-than-lig.html

          However, even Ereditato says it’s way too early to declare relativity wrong. “I would never say that,” he says. Rather, OPERA researchers are simply presenting a curious result that they cannot explain and asking the community to scrutinize it. “We are forced to say something,” he says. “We could not sweep it under the carpet because that would be dishonest.” The results will be presented at a seminar tomorrow at CERN.

          So it is not so cut and dried.

          That said, you could make a very good argument that he should never have allowed himself to make any statement even vaguely similar to the one that you quoted.

  27. Marcel van Velzen

    True Ereditato could easily have been misquoted or meant it differently but it should not have been published like that on the CERN website.

    • Well, I think you’re cherry picking a bit here. Earlier in the article you quoted, he says:

      “This result comes as a complete surprise,” said OPERA spokesperson, Antonio Ereditato of the University of Bern. “After many months of studies and cross checks we have not found any instrumental effect that could explain the result of the measurement. While OPERA researchers will continue their studies, we are also looking forward to independent measurements to fully assess the nature of this observation.”

      which is rather benign. More problematic is what Auterio says:

      “We have established synchronization between CERN and Gran Sasso that gives us nanosecond accuracy, and we’ve measured the distance between the two sites to 20 centimetres,” said Dario Autiero, the CNRS researcher who will give this afternoon’s seminar. “Although our measurements have low systematic uncertainty and high statistical accuracy, and we place great confidence in our results, we’re looking forward to comparing them with those from other experiments.”

      which suggests a certain arrogance. But again, during the seminar there was less of that.

      And what Bertolucci (not a member of OPERA) says is perfectly reasonable, except that CERN really should have distanced itself further, in my view.

      “When an experiment finds an apparently unbelievable result and can find no artefact of the measurement to account for it, it’s normal procedure to invite broader scrutiny, and this is exactly what the OPERA collaboration is doing, it’s good scientific practice,” said CERN Research Director Sergio Bertolucci. “If this measurement is confirmed, it might change our view of physics, but we need to be sure that there are no other, more mundane, explanations. That will require independent measurements.”

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