No, That's Not It

A number of stories have come out about how OPERA has “confirmed” the faster-than-light finding that was reported recently. Well, not really — they used shorter pulses to address one of the concerns: that the very wide (~10,000 nanosecond) pulses might have given a misleading result when the curve-fitting took place. So they shortened the pulse width, and got the same 60-nanosecond offset. But this doesn’t address other systematics that might be responsible, so it doesn’t really count as a confirmation. Validation will only come when different setups, with different systematics, agree. (The Bad Astronomer has made a similar observation)

There are also reports about how the FTL result has been refuted: Study rejects “faster than light” particle finding

That’s not quite right, either. The model says that FTL neutrinos should lose energy, in a process analogous to Cerenkov radiation that is emitted by charged particles. But since we’re talking about new physics, theory is no proof of anything. Proof (scientific proof, that is) comes from experimental confirmation. Nature has the final say. So this model is no more a refutation of the FTL neutrinos than relativity is — they are both good reason to suspect the result and demand a very high standard of evidence, but they do not constitute a true rejection of the phenomenon.

Similarly, I could (and would) dismiss idle claims of perpetual motion based on the laws of thermodynamics, but if someone were to build an actual perpetual motion device, there would be ways to test it, and very stringent testing would be demanded. And nobody would be surprised when the device ultimately failed. But if the device somehow worked, all the fingers in the world pointing to a thermodynamics textbook wouldn’t change that. Another example (from my field of work) would be laser cooling, when experiment contradicted the prevailing theory, which is a strong parallel to what is happening with the neutrino saga.

There’s also this bit that I noticed:

The September announcement of the finding, backed up last week after new studies, caused a furor in the scientific world as it seemed to suggest Albert Einstein’s ideas on relativity, and much of modern physics, were based on a mistaken premise.

The test was not backed up, as I have already written, and I wouldn’t characterize this as a furor. I haven’t seen any protests about this (the Nobel riots notwithstanding); there don’t seem to be any moves to “occupy CERN” of which I am aware.

Here’s a similar take on the “refutation”

One thought on “No, That's Not It

  1. The universe does not tolerate contradiction. As with negative temperatures kelvin (lasers, NMR, MRI, EPR… population inversions) there is assuredly a footnote. The neutrino case may be akin to staring down the barrel of a relativistic jet in astronomy. Distortion of spacetime gives a distinct FTL Euclidean projection – except the geometry is not Euclidean and there is no FTL anything.
    “Hubble Space Telescope Observations of Superluminal Motion in the M87 Jet” Astrophys. J. 520(2) 621 (1999)

    Neutrinos have rest mass. Launch an FTL neutrino from here to there. First, as gravitation propagates no faster than lightspeed, you have just created mass out of nothing by having one neutrino’s gravitation appear sourced in two places at once by a distant observer. Second, the detector detects SOP. How does that happen? Third, if the FTL neutrino is observed as an SOP neutrino, and it passed through the lightspeed singularity, then its mass went infinite and time locally stood still. Messy. Negative temps kelvin cool to positive temps kelvin along a path that does not include zero kelvins. It is clever but not paradigm-shifting.

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