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back to article Top Italian OPERA boffin steps down after faster-than-light mistake

The Italian boffin who led the OPERA experiment that reported neutrinos travelling faster than the speed of light has resigned today after the results were refuted by other scientists. Italy's national institute of nuclear physics (INFN) said that physicist Antonio Ereditato had stepped down from his position with OPERA. "INFN …

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Did he have to go?

I only have media reports to go on but OPERA seemed to be saying at the begining we have this weird result, have everyone take a look at this. They didn't actually claim to have smashed any theory based soley on those results. Isn't that the way science is suppose to work?

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Re: Did he have to go?

It's probable that there is a lot of politicking going on in the background that we aren't privy to and this is just the result of someone's power play.

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Anonymous Coward

"the result of someone's power play"

a.k.a. how science isn't supposed to work

...but occasionally does : (

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Re: Did he have to go?

"You make us Italians look bad, you must go"

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Re: "the result of someone's power play"

> a.k.a. how science isn't supposed to work ...but occasionally does : (

A lot more than occasionally. Basically, he had to step down because the team suggested something blasphemous. The stakes are high, beliefs are threatened, egos are raised, jealousy hits. It doesn't matter that they asked for help. Unfortunately science is nowadays conducted almost like a kind of hierarchical religion - not too surprising given that scientists are people, and people are still people no matter where you put them.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Did he have to go?

It's very sad. But the "you know who's" don't let you do science the "correct way".

That is, those with agendas do not allow people to make honest mistakes. Because it shows what a real honest person looks like (the scientist here is being honest as far as I can see). Then we would easily spot those lying, swindling and cheating.

Oh, and guess who holds the purse strings?

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FAIL

Re: "the result of someone's power play"

"A lot more than occasionally. Basically, he had to step down because the team suggested something blasphemous"

See, with that sentence you tipped your hand and showed that you don't actually know anything about science.

Science teaches us not to jump to conclusions, and not to make up stories based on our own preconceptions. Someone schooled in science would say "We know the team reported results that were shown to be incorrect, and we know the leader of the team resigned. We do not have enough data to show that the poor results were a causal factor in the resignation. More information is necessary."

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Re: "the result of someone's power play"

> Someone schooled in science would say "... We do not have enough data to show that the poor results were a causal factor in the resignation. More information is necessary."

True, I don't have evidence as to what I am saying. That's what a scientific case needs, so scientifically we merely have two unconnected facts: the mistake and the resignation.

But I'm not giving a scientific case, I'm telling my opinion based on my own experience in science and those that I know. And I have seen+heard this sort of thing plenty of times in various forms where I knew the inner workings, hence I shared my opinion. But you're right, I wrote it a bit 'statement-of-fact'-ually, which it isn't: fair point.

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@James 51: An upvote for you

and I was one of the armchair boffins saying it was bollux before the proof came in. They did put it out in the open for scrutiny, they did find the mistake, and they did publicize what the mistake was after they found it. I was all in favor of a proper ass-chewing over the mistake, but it only rose to the level of a proper ass-chewing, not a firing/resignation offense.

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Why step down? They all acted with appropriate scientific integrity.

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WTF?

I'm with the above (2) posters

Seems a bit much for him to fall on his sword over this? Unless there's more to it than mets the eye, I think it's harsh for him to go.

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Re: I'm with the above (2) posters

Just to add a "me too".

I remember that the public unveiling of the results was something along the lines of "we know that the most probable cause must be an error somewhere, so we are publishing this results in order to get more people to help us find it".

They never made any claims of superluminic, time shifting, theory smasher neutrinos.

So why punish him?

R

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Agreed

Of course, we don't know exactly why he resigned, but it's a bit worrying if scientists feel that they have to resign simply for getting something wrong. If that's true, they may feel slightly less inclined to share results, and that doesn't help anybody.

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I have little more than another "me too" to add to this. OPERA acted entirely correctly in this matter, demonstrating science working at its very best and fully deserve their applause. A crying shame if this is the only reason.

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Just because...

Just because as a scientist you are proven wrong, it doesn't mean you weren't right! I hope that he did not resign because he was proven incorrect in his analysis. If he did, then there would not be many REAL scientists left in the world! That is the entire purpose of the scientific process - formulate, project, experiment, analyze, and go back to the beginning to do it all over in a different manner. At the least, this has shown us that all "scientific" results need to be validated by independent experiments.

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Sounds more like ...

there has been a lot of strain in the OPERA collaboration - it's a big experiment (1300 tonnes) and a large, varied team. Measuring neutrino velocity wasn't the major reason for OPERA in any case - it was intended to look at neutrino oscillations from one type to another.

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Re: Sounds more like ...

Yeah, this article seems to say the same thing:

http://blogs.nature.com/news/2012/03/leaders-of-faster-than-light-neutrino-team-resign.html

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Unhappy

Wow, this sucks. IMHO, OPERA has acted as something of a beacon of scientific integrity through out this whole situation, and I imagine the person who's stepping down was at least partly responsible for that. OPERA's behavior is especially significant considering it comes in the wake of Climate Gate and the disillusionment of the public toward the greater scientific community's integrity and objectivity.

Heck, any time I started feeling despondent over those stupid gits and their foolish behavior over the climate data, I'd dig up an OPERA article as a reminder of how REAL scientists act.

I hope he lands work as head of another major scientific study or project, and quickly!

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The Failure

The problem was that most scientists would consider that neutrinos being able to travel faster than light so unlikely that even if no source of experimental error could be found, it would still be almost certain that it was the cause.

So if it was needful to publish something in order to establish priority, it should still have been presented in a very cautious way, so as not to cause embarassment by implying that any of the scientists involved ever for a moment seriously believed that any neutrinos were actually going faster than light, despite all the measures they took to eliminate known sources of possible error.

The eventual discovery of the loose connection was not the blow that destroyed the credibility of those involved. That, instead, helped to restore some of the credibility lost in the initial announcement of the apparent discovery.

Despite open-mindedness being an essential virtue in science, this incident has led to the suspicion that some of the scientists working at CERN are a little too open-minded.

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Re: The Failure

"it should still have been presented in a very cautious way,"

It was originally presented in a VERY cautious way but the media ( as usual) hyped it

OPERA is an experiment at Gran Sasso and really all CERN did was provide the neutrinos

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Headmaster

Re: The Failure

This is NOT how you do science.

Please correct your post and resubmit before the exam on Tuesday. I will be awarding extra marks to those who can show practical application or historical documentation of the subject we are considering.

Please also remember, no gum in the class room!

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Anonymous Coward

Loosing the job for getting one thing wrong?

Isn't experimental science all about getting things wrong?

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This post has been deleted by its author

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WTF?

Scientist does science properly...

and is forced to resign when the results don't match up with the media's sensationalism...

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Scientist does science properly...

You took the words right out of my mouth

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Holmes

According to Tommaso Dorigo at

http://www.science20.com/quantum_diaries_survivor/superluminal_neutrinos_opera_spokesperson_resigns-88534

"Two days ago a workshop was held at the Gran Sasso laboratories, where the various experiments reported their findings and discussed them. I have no report from the workshop, but it is clear that the superluminal signal of Opera is as dead as it can be. Following the workshop, the Opera collaboration is reported to have voted on removing Ereditato from the leadership position. The motion did not pass, but the voting showed that the collaboration was split, and this must eventually have led Ereditato to step down today."

Do not pay attention to the aopolectic Motl in the comment section.

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A useful link, thanks.

You said "Do not pay attention to the aopolectic Motl in the comment section", so of course I had to read his comments anyway. Yep he is a twat.

Some people seem think that the public is upset over this. Well I'm disappointed that it turned out to be due to error, but it was nice to have the possibility dangled before me if only for a brief time.

I really do hope this doesn't lead to suppression of anything interesting just in case it's wrong.

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Bummer

Nice to see lots of positive comments and vote ups. I too feel sorry for the bloke, by and large science is all about failure.

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Quantum mechanics disproves Einstein's special theory of relativity.

Quantum mechanics disproves Einstein's special theory of relativity -- every electrical engineer should have learned that in second year.

If Einstein's special theory of relativity had not been disproved, if had not been found inadequate, there would be no need for the Super Large Hadron Collider.

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Holmes

Re: Quantum mechanics disproves Einstein's special theory of relativity.

"Quantum mechanics disproves Einstein's special theory of relativity"

No it doesn't. By no means. Indeed, the point of Quantum Field Theory is to fuse them into a coherent whole. Which has by an large been outrageously successful.

Start reading up on QFT ASAP, please.

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Re: Quantum mechanics disproves Einstein's special theory of relativity.

@Destroy...

Agree heartily with your comment

http://scienceworld.wolfram.com/physics/QuantumElectrodynamics.html

"Quantum electrodynamics is a generalization of quantum mechanics to include special relativity. Its governing equations are ....."

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Happy

'Politics' rules OK

Try chairing any international collaboration where the reps are mainly men. There'll be sharp disputes on process, elections, personalities, even when to take coffee breaks. Nothing to do with the science, but events with public exposure do highlight any splits. The upside here is that lots of people have had relativity dramitised by the press, and got a bit educated - yay, I even bought a book myself to answer the questions better.

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Anonymous Coward

Academics

High-ranking academics are high-ranking academics because they have known how to become high-ranking academics. Brown-nosing, sleeping with the right professors, posing in the media, stealing and maybe even plagiarising. In my experience honest researchers - when they have understood the system - prefer to leave academia and do useful work instead.

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Forced to resign

If he hadn't agreed to resign, maybe he'd now be swimming with the fissions.

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Joke

On the brigt side

I agree that it's not good but at least the Italians for once again made the Neutrinos run on time.

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FAIL

Why? Pretty obvious why

The problem was a loose cable. That's pretty pathetic given the amount of time wasted on this. If it had turned out to be some strange and unforeseen interaction with the detectors or due to an unknown density spike in the crust under the site or something then, fair enough. But in fact:

a) It was a shitty piece of equipment, and

b) It was a shitty piece of equipment *he* said at the outset had been checked, and in fact triple checked.

So, for making the whole lab look like amateurs and wasting a lot of busy people's valuable time and clogging up equipment with pointless follow up experiments for nothing: yes he had every reason to go.

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Ironically

If they had simply announced the first results on April 1, this guy could still have a job.

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Anonymous Coward

It's about confidence and funding

At some point the team will be subject to funding decisions. They probably thought a new leader would help their prospects - and knowing a little of how funding committees work, I'd say they might be right.

Letting a simple mistake fool you isn't necessarily bad for science, and the team acted responsibly in allowing the scientific process to run its course. However, if you're paying for a very expensive experiment, you want to be sure the team is competent and that a simple mistake isn't going to make them miss the very thing they're looking for. This sort of mistake undermines that confidence, as it would in any enterprise.

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Black Helicopters

This is how science works..

"perfect scientific integrity in opening their measurement to broad scrutiny, and inviting independent measurements," he said. "This is how science works."

--- unless it's about Global Warming ofcourse....

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Trollface

This is why I use IE.

Browser makers should stick to what they know best.

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