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Those faster-than-light neutrinos: When results don’t match theory, the equipment is bust, or the staff are incompetent, or …

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Critics haven’t yet got to “it’s just a fluke.”

However it turns out, lawyer Edward Sisson writes to say,

The Frank Close argument presented below [here] (that the distance may have been mis-measured) is a question that would have been central to the design of the experiment in the first place, long before any actual data-collection was done. Thus, it seems to me that the people designing the experiment would not even have bothered to go ahead with it, unless they were satisfied that their technique for measurement of distance was reliable. The questioning of the distance-measuring technique is now being raised because the result of the experiment does not fit the theory. Selective special scrutiny of only aberrant results, rather than every result, produces an inherently biased experiment.

This reminds me of Milliken’s “oil drop” experiment to determine the charge on the electron, which was the subject of one of the episodes of the 1980s physics TV series “The Mechanical Universe.” Each time the experiment produced a result that was in accord with the theory, it was accepted as accurate, but each time the experiment produced a divergent result, there was a lot of inquiry into possible flaws in the operation of the experimental apparatus during that particular trial. The point made in the TV series is that the scrutiny of the apparatus only occurred with divergent results, never with consistent results.

See also: Rob Sheldon’s take on the neutrinos here.

8 Replies to “Those faster-than-light neutrinos: When results don’t match theory, the equipment is bust, or the staff are incompetent, or …

  1. 1
    Granville Sewell says:

    If you’re trying to make an analogy with Darwinism, it’s not a good analogy. Special relatively is a theory that is consistent with a mountain of evidence, they are quite justified to “check the equipment” when a result is found which is in disagreement with the theory. In the case of Darwinism, you have theory that is contrary to all logic, and the results are usually in disagreement with the theory, which has survived only because its proponents don’t like the only alternative they see. It’s a very different situation.

  2. 2
    paragwinn says:

    You’re Edward Sisson link does not indicate specifically where his statements can be found.

  3. 3
    News says:

    Granville, Sisson’s point (from a letter to us) is that equipment tends to get checked when a theory is divergent but not when it is convergent, and that this in itself can introduce bias. Worth considering.

  4. 4
    englishmaninistanbul says:

    I think perhaps a more general point can be made that, even in a science as “hard” as physics, scientists are not the infallibly unbiased bunch that we are sometimes made to feel they are.

    When convincing the uninformed masses of your belief system, a claim to infallibility is invaluable. Not having the time, energy or motivation to sit down and sift through the evidence, the man on the street often looks for a shortcut, a way to feel intellectually justified in swallowing it all hook, line and sinker.

    To get a devout Catholic to question his faith, an obvious first step would be to try to show him that the Pope is not infallible. Ditto for Darwinists; a first step is to show that the “scientific consensus” is not always arrived at in ways consitent with scientific ideals.

  5. 5
    rhampton7 says:

    To get a devout Catholic to question his faith, an obvious first step would be to try to show him that the Pope is not infallible.

    Now that’s just ignorant.

  6. 6
    News says:

    englishmaninistnbul, no well-instructed Catholic believes the Pope infallible in any sense except this: When interpreting the teachings of Scripture for the Church, in good faith, the Pope will receive the guidance of the Holy Spirit. He is fallible, but the Spirit is held not to be.

    It’s actually not much for a church to believe; rather, observant Catholics wonder why any church wouldn’t believe it. The guidance of the Spirit is one of the promises of Scripture.

  7. 7
    englishmaninistanbul says:

    That sentence was a particularly hamfisted attempt at a hypothetical analogy, and I apologize if I have given offence.

    I would like to try to explain what I meant, although even in this form the analogy is ill-advised. So this is just “for the record.”

    What I meant was this: As I understand it an important part of Catholicism is the Pope’s (and the Church’s) claim to infallibility, which rightly or wrongly discourages believers from questioning official interpretation of Scripture. Maybe this is a good thing, maybe not, I didn’t mean to get into that. However, any such aura of infallibility must certainly be undesirable in science, where the influence of the Holy Spirit is out of the question.

    Perhaps I still have it wrong, and in any case I have learnt my lesson. I hope my original post will be accepted in the spirit intended.

  8. 8
    News says:

    Hey, no problem! Just wanted to be clear what the teaching is. People can accept or reject it freely.

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