So, many of you have probably been following, to a greater or lesser degree, the story of the OPERA experiment. This is the one that found that neutrinos sent from the CERN lab near Geneva, Switzerland to the Gran Sasso lab in Italy (where OPERA is located) arrived earlier than they expected. Of course there were, from the beginning, two natural explanations:
- Einstein was wrong and neutrinos travel faster than light, or
- OPERA made a mistake, and their expectations were off.
The news media made a huge deal out of the first possibility, while the vast majority of professional physicists assumed, for various reasons we can discuss, that the second possibility was almost certainly correct. It is now pretty clear that possibility #2 was right; first OPERA admitted it had found two mistakes which made its previous results invalid; then its competitor down the lab, ICARUS, announced it had seen neutrinos arriving just as expected from the same CERN neutrino beam; and finally OPERA itself revealed that it had managed to characterize its errors in detail and now, re-analyzing its data, finds (preliminarily) that neutrinos do in fact arrive as expected.
Now, with this backdrop, I would like to ask YOU a question or two. And by “you”, I mean non-scientists. I would like to know how seeing this episode unfold changed (or did not change) your view of science, or physics, or particle physics. Or of science journalism. What’s your perspective on all of this? What surprised you most? What annoyed you or turned you off or excited you? Are you disappointed in or pleased with the scientific process as you saw it unfold? Are you more suspicious of or less suspicious of scientists and/or of science now that you’ve seen this happen? I think these are things that many scientists would be curious to learn.
Granted, since you’re reading this blog, you’re a member of a non-representative sample of the public. But I still think it would be useful to hear what you have to say. So, please. Comment.
[p.s. As BBC reports today, the LHC now has stable data-quality proton-proton collisions at 8 TeV of energy per collision; data taking will start at slow collision rates and ramp up over the year. Here's a post and a following article on why 8 TeV is better than last year's 7 TeV. As usual, BBC says correctly that 2012 will be a crucial year for the search for the Higgs particle, but say incorrectly that this will be the year that the Higgs is found or not found; that statement is true only of the Standard Model Higgs particle, the simplest possible form of Higgs particle. For an overview of what I mean by this, read my guest post at the Cosmic Variance blog.]