The science of blaming the media

Memo: If you want to keep your job in the world of science, don’t release a report that appears to prove Einstein was wrong.

Another shoe dropped today in the ongoing saga that began last fall when scientists released research that neutrinos appear to travel faster than light. Two researchers who led the team have quit, a few weeks after acknowledging a technical problem — loose connections — caused the error, and caused us to dream of time travel, among other things.

One of them tells Nature.com that’s not why he quit, while then revealing that it had a lot to do with it:


Autiero denied that he was stepping down because of mistakes in the measurement, saying that the discovery of an unknown systematic error is an inevitable hazard for any scientist doing a precision measurement. “In science you cannot pretend to be the owner of any absolute truth,” he says. Instead, he says that he and Ereditato felt that tensions that had always existed within OPERA were becoming impossible to bridge. He acknowledges that these were exacerbated by the publication of the provocative result, with some complaining from the beginning that the findings were likely to be wrong. He also agrees that the spectacular degree of media attention has brought pressure to bear. Despite the fact that OPERA itself never claimed to overturn Einstein’s theory, keeping its claims narrowly to the report of an anomalous measurement, many newspapers depicted it that way. ‘They played with the sensationalism of the story,” he says.

No absolutes in science? What about the science of blaming the media? It works every time.

  • chris

    Bob, whom do you think is “at fault”? It sounds like OPERA did the correct think, i.e. “edspite the fact that OPERA itself never claimed to overturn Einstein’s theory, keeping its claims narrowly to the report of an anomalous measurement, many newspapers depicted it that way.”

    Sounds like it kinda was the media’s fault

  • Bob Collins

    OPERA came out and made a big deal of its findings and then said they checked and rechecked the results. THEY had the news conference. THEY issued the report and THEY invited the “gee whiz” reaction.

  • Jim Shapiro

    I’m with you on this one Bob.

    To paraphrase somebody, “Human beings are not rational, they’re rational -IZING.” (GB Shaw?)

    The fact that these researchers quit is understandable. But had they been Japanese, they probably LITERALLY have fallen on their swords.