back to article Sorry, time travelers, you’re still just fiction

Time to start crying in your beer, people: according to researchers at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, not only is it impossible to break the speed of light, it will always be that way. Forget time travel, forget trips to distant galaxies, and ditch the idea that there’s a more advanced civilization than …


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  1. Combat Wombat
    Black Helicopters

    Given the dodgy rep of Chinese research...

    I'll wait for it to be peer reviewed and the experiment replicated thank you very much.

    1. Velv Silver badge


      The entire article is a fake.

      It has to be if it came out of China

      1. Marky W

        Not fake

        Just written by the few survivors of the blasted wastelands of 2153 and sent back in time to stop us repeating their mistakes.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        science article

        != your wife's £3 Louis Vitton handbag

    2. SJB

      Re: Given the dodgy rep of Chinese research...

      Wow, nothing like a bit of comedy racism eh? If you'd read the article you might have noticed that the work has been published in PRL indicating that has already gone through a process of peer review in one of the most respected physics journals.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward


        So are we not allowed to discuss fake products coming out of a Far Eastern country whose name rhymes with Liner, because it's racist?

        1. schnide

          It's pretty racist to suggest..

          ..that because fake products come out of China, anything that comes out of China will be fake. Tarring everyone with the same negative brush because they belong to the same race as a minority who may share a trait. That's pretty much racism right there.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Thumb Down

            "That pretty much ISN'T racism right there"...

  's racial stereotyping. Don't confuse the two.

            Racism is when you act on, make a biased decision, or treat somebody differently based on this information (e.g based on a racial stereotype).

            Also applies to sexism vs sexual stereotyping. Loads of sexual stereotypes on TV adverts (e.g. men can't multi-task, women can't catch or throw, women love to gossip, men love cars), but not employing a man or woman because of these stereotypes ("sorry, can't employ you because you would spend too much time gossiping in the office as you are a woman") is sexism, as you have made a biased decision based on a stereotype.

            Admittedly an increase in stereotyping does lead to an increase in 'ism' (hence most people make the same mistake you did) but they are not the same thing at all.

            1. schnide

              That's not my understanding.

              My understanding is that racialism is making a distinction between people based on race, whereas racism is doing so with negative connotations.

              Either way, it doesn't really matter because the point remains that some people (not all - it is so convenient to generalise, after all) are still following the formula that because this research was Chinese, it must be of lower worth, because fake products come out of China, therefore everything that comes out of China is fake. Which is clearly wrong.

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                1. schnide

                  Er, I think they did..

                  ..with the second commentor taking it further - the latter of who I think I was replying to anyway.

                  And to answer your question.. absolutely nothing.

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                    1. schnide

                      Ohhhhh, so it's a joke..

             do you tell black jokes about fried chicken? They're just jokes, right? Got any good Bernard Manning DVDs? You don't know whether anyone was offended by negative comments against the Chinese on here, and given how widely El Reg is read, it's more than possible.

                      But often the "it's just a joke" defence is wheeled out by people who can't or don't want to confront their own ignorant views.

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                        1. schnide

                          Allow me to sum it all up for you by now

                          You're just talking out of your arse at this point mate. Feel free to keep on saying the word 'strawman' though, I think everyone was really impressed!

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          2. Ron Christian

            Um, not really

            > Tarring everyone with the same negative brush because they belong to the same race...

            That seems like a reach, when your example really tars everyone with the same negative brush because they come from the same COUNTRY, which is a different thing. Yes, most (but by no means all) people who live in China are Chinese, but that is not germane, unless the original statement was "anyone who looks like they're Chinese only create fake products", which really would be racist.

            1. schnide

              I think it's pretty safe to say..

              ..that no-one was claiming it's a group of Yorkshiremen knocking out Harry Potter compilations DVD, Louis Ditton handbags and dodgy scientific research. I'm pretty sure whatever blanket assumptions were being made it's on the basis of the producers being Chinese as well as being in China - but please correct me if I'm wrong.

        2. SJB

          Re: Racist?

          I have no issue with someone discussing fake products coming out of China.

          However I would not consider someone automatically asserting that a scientific paper is rubbish solely on the basis that the people writing it are Chinese to be a 'discussion of fake products coming out of China'. Especially when said individual clearly hasn't read either the report or the article in question. That would be more in the racial prejudice area wouldn't it.

        3. Jim in Hayward
          Thumb Down

          What rhymes with Liner?

          Diner? Shiner? Climber? Deviner? You nut. Your rant on non-whites failed. Big time!

      2. DavCrav Silver badge

        Not comedy racism

        "Wow, nothing like a bit of comedy racism eh?"

        It's not comedy racism. It's a well-known fact in science circles that the best and brightest in China (and not just China, but many countries all over the world) run away to more interesting universities very early, leaving the still quite talented people left behind largely cut off from the main thrust of scientific research. They generally end up producing uninteresting research because of this, not because of any inherent weakness of Chinese genes.

        Acknowledging that one country has not very good research is not racism, and using that word to describe verifiable conclusions cheapens it to the point where real, actual, important, racism is ignored or similarly tarnished. See also: wolf, boy who cried.

        1. SJB

          Re: Not comedy racism

          You're missing the point, this has nothing to do with the general quality of papers coming out of China.

          This was a specific incident about a specific paper. Someone made a comment about an individual paper, that was peer reviewed by knowledgeable and hopefully independent scientists in the field, then accepted by the editor of PRL for publication (indeed was one of the Highlight articles in that particular issue). That comment was solely to rubbish the paper based on nothing more than the ethnicity of the authors, no other reason was suggested for why the paper might be no good. So how exactly is that not racism?

          1. DavCrav Silver badge

            Again with the ethnicity

            "That comment was solely to rubbish the paper based on nothing more than the ethnicity of the authors, no other reason was suggested for why the paper might be no good."

            No, not ethnicity, location. If the university involved was the University of South-West Shropshire, or for a real one, Bishop Grosseteste University College Lincoln, then I would say the same thing. That university has a history of producing rubbish, this is from that university, therefore it is *likely* to be rubbish.

            Oh, and peer review, yes, well, I am a reviewer for peer review and I don't know what I'm talking about, so that kind of cancels that point.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          World research

          Actually 20% of the articles published by US labs are either completely withdrawn or amended after publication for "inconsistency" reasons (read: suspected fraud), or proven completely wrong within one year. That places the US firmly in first place when it comes to "dodginess" in research. What do you expect when 80% of the labs workforce is in short-term contracts (1 to 3 years) and under enormous pressure to publish?

          Chinese research actually has a good reputation these days (in terms of integrity, if not for ethics). Hong Kong, origin of this paper, is seen as an emerging world-leading research center.

        3. Eddy Ito Silver badge


          "It's a well-known fact in science circles that the best and brightest in China (and not just China, but many countries all over the world) run away to more interesting universities very early..."

          It's a fact that many of them return after their education to help raise the standards back "home" and find highly productive and profitable jobs. This is especially true given the current economic climate as costs tend to be lower and opportunities more available. In the case of China, many of the best and brightest are state sponsored with the intent of getting a world class education and bringing it back to keep the economic growth going through research, business and education.

          That said, you may be right and it may not be racism but it certainly is ignorance. After all, it's a well-known fact that many people can't look past their own pride colored glasses.

    3. Combat Wombat

      Wow... what a lot responses...

      Problem El Reg ?

      I would have said the same thing if it had come out of some other less than trustworthy institution....

      It has been peer reviewed... but has it been replicated?

      As long as you choose friendly peers, anything can be "peer reviewed" successfully.

      Am I wrong in wanting science tested over and over ?

      That is what science is about.

  2. Radelix

    Killjoy indeed

    “By showing that single photons cannot travel faster than the speed of light, our results bring to a closure the debate on the true speed of information carried by a single photon,”

    Not with that attitude

    1. MarkieMark1
      Paris Hilton


      From the sounds of it, all they really proved is that they can't _measure_ at a speed faster than c, an effect potentially moving faster than c; although I'd need to read the original

  3. jake Silver badge

    Fiction? Hardly.

    We're all traveling thru' time, one hour at a time.

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Not really

      According to General Relativity, we are all long noodles stretched out in the time direction and nothing ever happens.

      1. breakfast


        And that is why I never trust senior military officers to explain anything.

      2. Stoneshop Silver badge


        All hail the Flying Spaghetti Monster

  4. Steen Hive

    My relativity being sorely lacking...

    I always took from Albert that an arbitrary "something" travelling "faster than c" as far as an observer is concerned wasn't impossible, but rather meaningless. And if the observer itself is travelling at c - relative to an arbitrary "something" - travelling across the universe would mean the time taken would tend to zero - ie distance would become the meaningless factor - in the sense that the concept of "relative to an arbitrary something" would be nonsensical.

    But I haven't had my morning coffee yet.

    1. Def Silver badge

      Re: My relativity being sorely lacking...

      Warning: Armchair physics ahead:

      An observer travelling at c will still spend whatever local time he or she takes to cross the universe - you can't magically ignore time just because you're going fast. The point old Albie was trying to make about that was that however much personal time passes for you, the time that passes in the rest of the universe will be a function of both the distance you travel and the time you personally take to travel it (ignoring any tedious acceleration and deceleration). Which will be significantly greater than your local time.

      1. Steen Hive

        Local time

        "Local time" - at velocity c?

        Exactly how much "local time" has a photon which has travelled from UDFj-39546284 experienced?

        Is that photon even an isotropic observer?

  5. Anonymous Coward

    Well, obviously...

    Photons slow down when they're lonely. Put a bunch of them all together and then, BAM!!, I'm sure they'd speed up. You know, they'd like, slingshot around each other and do cool stuff that's way FTL.

  6. Anonymous Coward

    newsflash capt. obvious

    So what they've really proved is that light cannot exceed the speed of light ...

    1. adnim Silver badge


      one lights a candle in a FTL spaceship.

      1. Thomas 4


        I thought it was possible for light to surpass the speed of light if a black hole was involved. Could be wrong of course - xkcd hasn't done a comic strip on it and thus my knowledge of physics is limited.

        1. Ru

          Re: Ummmm

          Things can teleport over very short distances (atomic scale) in a phenomenon known as quantum tunneling. It is the idea behind Hawking radiation that black holes presumably emit, for example. Nothing we've ever found travels faster than the speed of light over macro-scale distances though.

          This paper says that information cannot travel faster than the speed of light when propagated by light, which whilst nice to know doesn't rule out tachyons or time travel. Hell, it doesn't even rule out exotic bits of space time like wormholes or alcubierre metrics; their issues come from other bits of physics.

          So no, this doesn't have much to tell us about time travel.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            sans titre

            Re: hawking radiation:

            Not quite, Particles are constantly being created and annihilated in free space, to conserve energy and momentum (along with the other conservables, spin, strangeness, etc) they have equal and opposite E and P. Normally, these are short lived (almost instantaneous), but if one gets destroyed by something it is annihilated by the other, say a black hole eating it, the other one will remain (and is this case of a black hole, will appear to be emitted from the black hole)

            1. stucs201

              re: virtual particle pairs

              There is another way to look at these than a particle/anti-particle pair appearing and then anhilating. An anti-particle on a feyman diagram looks the same as a normal particle travelling backwards in time. So another model is a single particle oscilatting backwards and forwards in time. I.E. Time travel, but heavily restricted by the energy-time version of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle and therefore useless for getting next week's lottery results.

              Of course if this model is correct then it rather messes up the Hawking radiation theory, since I'm not sure how half of the pair falls into a black hole if its really a single particle. Just need the LHC to generate some quantum black holes so we can establish which is happening experimentally (by getting hawking radiation or not).

          2. Stoneshop Silver badge


            "Nothing we've ever found travels faster than the speed of light over macro-scale distances though."

            Has there ever been serious research into the speed of bad news?

            1. Richard 102


              Based on anecdotal evidence, I'd say irrelevant news travels faster.

          3. TRT Silver badge

            Hey, Doc!

            What's an Albuquerque metric?

      2. Richard 102


        Forgive my armchair physics, but if it's a FTL ship, shouldn't that be "darks a candle"? Because if you are upstream from the candle, the light will never get to you.

    2. Anonymous Coward


      what I was thinking when I read the article. I am an armchair physicist though ;)

    3. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

      c is not the speed of light, it is the cosmic maximum speed.

      But it so happens that light travels at speed c - most of the time.

      c would still exist and would still be the cosmic speed limit if there wasn't any light.

      One apparent, but only apparent exception - the nature of the expansion of the universe is that distant space and distant objects are getting farther away from us although they are not moving farther away from us. So a distant object might appear to be moving away from us at more than the speed of light, but that is because space between here and there is stretching. It is indeed getting farther away, but it is not moving. And if it's receding at > c then you can't get there. We can see its past but never its present. And people there will say the same of us. If there are people there, which we can never know, see above.

    4. Nigel 11

      Read the article

      No - they've proved that the information carried by a single photon cannot move faster than the speed of light. Or they claim that they have done that.

      You may think it must be true by definition, but it isn't.


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