Cleaning Up an Error

Mitch Hobish Growth, Innovation, Leadership

Back in September 2011 there was a report from the OPERA experiment at the Large Hadron Collider that neutrinos could travel faster than the currently universally accepted limit of the speed of light. I described my own reactions to this report here.

As noted then (and to cite Carl Sagan’s popularization of the phrase and concept), “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”. In the best traditions of modern science, teams got right to work to explore the astonishing conclusions; recently, the reasons for the observations have come to—ah—light. They appear to be twofold.

The first is that a component of the measurement chain—a clock oscillator—was ticking too fast. This kind of thing is clearly within the realm of better experimental control, and (say I) could have been and should have been addressed well before the stunning announcement was made.

The second is definitely embarrassing: A fiber-optic cable was found to be poorly seated. This is inexcusable.

A direct result of this situation is that the study’s coordinator has resigned. And the remaining scientists got right back to work in their exploration of several root causes of what we call reality.

Questions: How to you handle the situation when a claim you have made is found to be erroneous? How do you ensure that claims are verified and verifiable?