While people are busy with their own knee-jerk reactions trying to stifle my criticizing the scientific community, the Wall Street Journal did what was predicted by that very criticism, namely turning the way that the scientific community deals with the faster than light neutrino results into an asset for global warming denial:
Robert Bryce in “Five Truths About Climate Change”:
“The science is not settled, not by a long shot. Last month, scientists at CERN, the prestigious high-energy physics lab in Switzerland, reported that neutrinos might —repeat, might— travel faster than the speed of light. If serious scientists can question Einstein’s theory of relativity, then there must be room for debate about the workings and complexities of the Earth’s atmosphere.”
Of course, science cheerleaders have their own interpretation and charge that Robert Bryce thinks
“a report on one as-yet unreproduced finding in a completely different area of science that might — repeat, might — mean one well-known theory needs modification means we should call into question everything we know about everything.”
Calling the very confirmation of an earlier finding (OPERA confirming MINOS) “unreproduced” is proving how little these 'defenders' of science understand, so is the endlessly repeated fallacy about that Einstein’s relativity needs modifications because of superluminal particles, which it does not. It is not surprising that they cannot and of course want not grasp the deeper level of Bryce’s argument, the basis on which it arose.
Bryce pointing out that “serious scientists can question Einstein’s theory of relativity” means that serious science does indeed way too often disprove what previously has been sold to us by scientists as being irrefutable ‘scientific consensus’. “Einstein’s theory of relativity” is Robert Bryce’s valid example for such a scientific consensus. Bryce is probably not even aware of how very good the choice of his example is: Scientists have sold a certain, distorted view of relativity and defended it partially as an orthodoxy that more critical scientists have only dared to touch on punishment of career suicide, similar to what happens to those criticizing global warming alarmism.
Bryce is not an expert on physics, but he gets it correct certainly in the sense of that Einstein’s relativity as it has been popularly presented (by outreach efforts aimed at people like Bryce after all!) and as it is usually misunderstood by mediocre scientists is indeed an example of science again discrediting itself by putting up dogmatic orthodoxy on very weak grounds and in the end being thus likely wrong.
Science awesome, problems only in the sciences?
Science cheerleaders mostly argue that science as a whole is beyond marvelous, which makes it remarkable that “completely different area of science” is pointed out whenever there is a problem – see quote above and also the claim that CERN statistical significance is separate from other scientists’, although significance levels make only sense if they allow comparison across disciplines, but I get back to that later in detail. If forced consensus is characteristic for the only existing science, the one scientific method, why should global warming skeptics and people concerned about vaccines not point this out? Of course they would – that is why I could tell you so. ;-)
They are in a sense quite correct, and if scientists would have refrained from selling relativity theory the way they did in the first place and secondly would have reacted more intelligently to the recent six-sigma confirmation of high energy neutrinos arriving faster than light over short distances through dense matter, then we would not be having this discussion, and in fact, Bryce would not be able to argue the way he did, the one that scientists presented to him on a silver platter.
But no – scientistic apologists everywhere dig themselves deeper and deeper in instead of plainly starting to see where this leads: Science Wars! They are not over, they are beginning! I will not be caught colluding with the most arrogant combatants, which are as of now squarely the scientists.
Mister Bryce has hit the nail on the head (unwittingly maybe): If science is unreliable and too much is sold on false arguments, how can you trust science? You should not! With sadness I see that people like Woit, who have previously shown some promise with their own criticisms of the modern ‘science industrial complex’, call it "a flagrant attempt to score apolitical point by misrepresenting science (not exactly unknown in the climate change business)." Not even wrong!
Let me go into a few specifics that came up in the discussions after I criticized many scientists’ particular way of rejecting the neutrino results.
Some sciences more equal than others?
One odd thing is the claim that while in a vaccine study, a confidence of around two sigma is perfectly fine, in certain experiments where it is convenient, even a six sigma significance is plainly not ‘significant’. Just savor the significance (pun intended) of this for science generally.
Some justify it with Bayesian statistics, namely that expectation (the real “significance” if you want to place a bet) depends on the prior assumptions. I fully support this as any good scientist would, but not if the prior assumption is a flawed consensus of groups that have been basically self-selected (via peer review getting rid of dissent, career and funding decisions weeding out whistle blowers and suchlike). If such is allowed, then why should others not take the consensus reached in conservative think tanks with Exxon and Shell selected experts and come to their own Bayesian updating about global warming?
Others find it unproblematic that six sigma in high energy particle (HEP) physics are not the same as those in medicine. They are even proud of that for crying out loud! Did I miss the publication of a long list showing for which type of science how many sigma are 'actually truly significant' under some sort of metaphysical truth? This is an epic fail, because the whole point of using statistical significance is that it allows to agree inter-subjectively and across disciplines without a need for further philosophy or political considerations!
Every scientist must study error/accuracy estimation as an undergraduate, because it vitally belongs to the very foundation of the scientific method. Are CERN physicists not up to this basic level so we cannot trust their error estimates, or did I miss the introduction of some novel ways? And what could such novel ways be:
If I combine a measurement gotten from the nanotechnology literature with one from HEP in order to figure out whether a certain experiment may be a good test for some property, how do I propagate the statistical errors through my calculation depending on that the two involved relative errors are fundamentally different since one is nano but the other HEP? Guys, seriously, let us stick with the old ways, shall we?
Some HEP guys tell us now that their experiment is so extremely difficult that extra-scientific standards should come in. Firstly, this is strictly an affront to all other scientists doing just as difficult experiments. Most experiments are out there on the cutting edge of just about hopefully testable (if not, somebody would have done it already). However difficult an experiment, the reliability (including all difficulties) is precisely what is taken care off by presenting all measurements with their uncertainty. Uncertain about difficult stuff? Increase the uncertainty accordingly.
You cannot on one hand tell people that a particular study yet again shows global warming with statistical significance (= rigorous) but on the other hand dismiss the whole concept of significance as highly malleable (= not rigorous).
The tale of the unconfirmed fluke
Several experiments show that, dependent on the neutrino energy and travel distance (as pointed out here) plus density of passed matter (as Tamburini points out here), neutrinos arrive earlier than expected. Look at Tamburini’s graph:
Do you see a single unconfirmed fluke result or do you see five (ok - three of those are correlated since they are all OPERA but still) with not a single one being so out of line that the error bar does not hit the dotted line? And the dotted line you see is not gotten after preparing the y axis with some outrageously crazy model that was fixed artificially by putting in four or five arbitrarily adjustable parameters.
Experts scream around about that this must be a systematic error leading to an unconfirmed rogue result because they learned their relativity theory from popular science magazines. We are talking about a six sigma confirmation resulting in a set of measurements where not a single one disagrees. Try to get that in drug studies (without pharmaceutical companies not publishing unwanted results).
I do not mean to say that thus Tamburini or my proposals are correct! What I mean to say is that if something is just some error like they always happen with our oh-so-awesomely difficult HEP stuff, you expect the five points to be perhaps all over the place, some faster than light, some slower, but certainly not all being well in line with relatively simple and natural models (like large V>c over small distances dx as the data and their uncertainty and emergent gravity all propose).
This looks like some sort of effect, not a systematic error, even if HEP error estimation is much worse than other scientists’. If this were for example energy non-conservation inside an experiment where such is absolutely unexpected, then the effect may well be not energy non-conservation but still an effect. On what grounds would you demand and insist that the measurements as such are due to systematic error? Since when are unexpected physical effects called systematic errors?
Most importantly: rejection on grounds of merely not understanding relativity leaves one interpretation that we as scientists have to avoid like the pest if we are later to talk to the public about global warming, vaccines, etc: That we are cheerleading some consensus that is not founded on proper science but on our ignorance and stupidity mixed with conformity and silencing dissent systematically via the hidden rules of our discourse.