"It profits me but little that a vigilant authority always protects the tranquillity of my pleasures and constantly averts all dangers from my path, without my care or concern, if this same authority is the absolute master of my liberty and my life."

--Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

Monday, September 26, 2011

Science is Never "Settled"

Scientists at CERN in Switzerland have recently announced results of an experiment in which they believe they measured a neutrino going faster than the speed of light.   Not much faster -- one sixty-billionth of a second faster -- but still.   This has the capacity of turn physics on its head, since the speed of light in physics since Einstein has been an absolute (in that way, it's not different than the uniformity of space and time in the Newtonian world-view that Einstein himself overturned).   Michio Kaku makes the essential point in the WSJ today:  

Reputations may rise and fall. But in the end, this is a victory for science. No theory is carved in stone. Science is merciless when it comes to testing all theories over and over, at any time, in any place. Unlike religion or politics, science is ultimately decided by experiments, done repeatedly in every form. There are no sacred cows. In science, 100 authorities count for nothing. Experiment counts for everything.

The same laboratory, CERN, of course, announced this summer that they had conducted experiments showing that cosmic rays had a much greater effect on climate change than man.   (I know:  imagine that you need scientists to tell you that the sun makes the earth warm!)   But the scientists then were ridiculed for daring to contradict the religion of global warming.   Better that they had listened to Kaku:  science is merciless; science is experimental; science is falsifiable; science is never, ever "settled."

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