I saw that headline last week, and others similar since. Of course, not every news agency uses the same headline, but, whether it was the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, New York Times, the BBC, or whatever/where ever, this story was very newsworthy. Researchers at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) announced about their discovery of particles moving faster than the established universal speed limit known as the speed of light.
The headline above and some of the reports really burns my butt because they are a prime example of feeding the misconception to the public that science is unreliable. Then again, it also confirms that many in the public do not understand how science works.
1 – Scientific findings are for that moment in time – thus both true and temporary until something better comes along. Yes, it is possible that everything in a school’s science book could be wrong 200 years from now, but I would not bet on it.
2 – The scientific community has a wonderful method of verification. The initial finding is subject to the scrutiny, thus verification, by others in the scientific community. I can recall past headlines about cold fusion and life on Mars that turned out to be not so true because science must verify the claims within the boundaries of science and with scientific methodologies.
3 – When finding something new – or potentially new – good scientists realize the process, thus hedge their explanations with words as could, may, might, appears, or others. These words help confirm both the subject-to-change nature of science and the importance of verification process.
Regardless what one may have read or heard, I provide text from CERN’s easy-to-understand press release to support my points, especially paragraphs 2 through 4.
Perhaps this paragraph from CERN says it best.
Despite the large significance of the measurement reported here and the stability of the analysis, the potential great impact of the results motivates the continuation of our studies in order to investigate possible still unknown systematic effects that could explain the observed anomaly. We deliberately do not attempt any theoretical or phenomenological interpretation of the results.