Steve Connor: Claim must be confirmed before we rewrite script
Steve Connor is the Science Editor of The Independent. He has won many awards for his journalism, including five-times winner of the prestigious British science writers’ award; the David Perlman Award of the American Geophysical Union; twice commended as specialist journalist of the year in the UK Press Awards; UK health journalist of the year and a special merit award of the European School of Oncology for his investigative journalism. He has a degree in zoology from the University of Oxford and has a special interest in genetics and medical science, human evolution and origins, climate change and the environment.
Saturday 19 November 2011
Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence. So said the great American astronomer Carl Sagan, who was probably paraphrasing the sentiments of earlier scientists and philosophers going as far back as David Hume. And there is nothing quite so extraordinary as claiming that sub-atomic particles can travel faster than the speed of light.
If true, as Professor Brian Cox said, it would be the most profound discovery in physics for more than a century simply because it would shatter one of the cornerstones on which modern theoretical physics is built. Which is why these results need to be confirmed, or not, from other researchers working independently.
One other source of error, for instance, could have occurred from the use of GPS satellites as timing devices. Some experts suggest this may have resulted in slight time errors in the results, leading to anomalous faster-than-light travel.
Early next year we might get confirmation, or not as the case might be, when researchers on the Minos experiment at the Fermilab institute in the US complete their own repeat experiment. Until then, Albert Einstein can rest assured that his special theory of relativity has not been disproved, not yet anyway.
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