“Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence”

I was asked a few minutes ago about the following claim by a team of scientists at CERN.

CERN reported that a neutrino beam fired from a particle accelerator near Geneva to a lab 454 miles (730 kilometers) away in Italy traveled 60 nanoseconds faster than the speed of light. Scientists calculated the margin of error at just 10 nanoseconds. (A nanosecond is one-billionth of a second.) –AP

As we know, nothing travels faster than the speed of light. So I immediately responded by quoting Carl Sagan, “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”

I then said that I am obviously highly skeptical of the claim.  I said that there really isn’t much more for me to say until we have other scientists repeat this experiment.  I also said that Science Blogs should have at least one post on this very shortly.  In fact, by the time my phone call ended and I refreshed the page, this was posted by Ethan Siegel:

This Extraordinary Claim Requires Extraordinary Evidence!

Yes, the title is essentially word-for-word what I said.  He also agrees to be highly skeptical and finishes with this.

Now, something fishy and possibly very interesting is going on, and there will certainly be scientists weighing in with new analysis in the coming weeks. But in all the excitement of this group declaring that they observe neutrinos moving faster than the speed of light, don’t forget what we’ve already observed to much greater precision! And be skeptical of this result, and of the interpretation that neutrinos are moving faster than light, until we know more.

His article is worth the read and it is fairly short.

Now, there are science writers who will likely run with this story. It is necessary to note that they are often writers, not scientists and sensationalism does play a role in their reporting. That is not to say that all science writers are bad, there are many very good ones. But remember the rule of thumb, an extraordinary claim requires an extraordinary amount of evidence.  I am highly skeptical.  We will have to wait for more evidence.

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