Whenever I watch Charles Krauthammer expressing his conservatism on Fox News, or read his right-wing newspaper columns, almost always I strongly disagree with him.
Seeing that his most recent column was about a possible discovery of faster-than-light neutrinos, which I blogged about here, I thought that maybe Charles and I would find some agreement on the common ground of science.
But no, I got as irritated with his "Gone in 60 nanoseconds" as with his overtly political pieces. Because what Krauthammer wants to say goodbye to is trust in modern science.
Scientists at CERN, the European high-energy physics consortium, have announced the discovery of a particle that can travel faster than light.
...The implications of such a discovery are so mind-boggling, however, that these same scientists immediately requested that other labs around the world try to replicate the experiment. Something must have been wrong — some faulty measurement, some overlooked contaminant — to account for a result that, if we know anything about the universe, is impossible.
And that’s the problem. It has to be impossible because, if not, if that did happen on this Orient Express hurtling between Switzerland and Italy, then everything we know about the universe is wrong.
...But if quantum mechanics was a challenge to human sensibilities, this pesky Swiss-Italian neutrino is their undoing. It means that Einstein’s relativity — a theory of uncommon beauty upon which all of physics has been built for 100 years — is wrong. Not just inaccurate. Not just flawed. But deeply, fundamentally, indescribably wrong.
That's ridiculously, well, wrong.
Relativity theory didn't disprove Newton's laws of motion. Those laws are as true as ever in most everyday circumstances. Einstein simply showed that relativity theory more accurately reflects how reality behaves in other circumstances.
Likewise, relativity theory hasn't been proven wrong even if the faster-than-light neutrino observation is confirmed to be true (which so far, it hasn't been). As noted in my previous blog post, a leading explanation for the superluminal neutrinos is the existence of another spatial dimension.
This is from a New Scientist story:
In 2006, Pakvasa, Päs and Weiler came up with a model that allows certain particles to break the cosmic speed limit while leaving special relativity intact. "One can, if not rescue Einstein, at least leave him valid," Weiler says.
The trick is to send neutrinos on a shortcut through a fourth, thus-far-unobserved dimension of space, reducing the distance they have to travel. Then the neutrinos wouldn't have to outstrip light to reach their destination in the observed time.
Special and general relativity have been strongly confirmed by many tests. So it's absurd for Krauthammer to say that relativity "is wrong. Not just inaccurate. Not just flawed. But deeply, fundamentally, indescribably wrong."
Again, what's wrong is Krauthammer's claim, not relativity theory. Pretty clearly, Krauthammer's conservative political agenda is driving his anti-science attitude. Climate Progress blogger Joe Romm shows us what's going on in an instructive post.
Krauthammer and other right-wingers seek to undermine climatologists who present powerful evidence that human-caused global warming is happening, and to kiss up to religious fundamentalists who comprise a large share of the Republican base by challenging the scientific method which, gasp!, finds that evolution is a much explanation for life on Earth than creationism is.
Here's Joe Romm:
As a physicist, my favorite denier talking point is the implication that “scientists are flip floppers, constantly changing their theories.” That was what Bryce was suggesting by “If serious scientists can question Einstein’s theory of relativity.” It’s what Krauthammer meant by “If Newton’s laws of motion could, after 200 years of unfailing experimental and experiential confirmation, be overthrown.” We scientists just can’t make up our minds, and thus we can’t be trust[ed]. That’s why they keep pushing the myth that all the climate scientists in the 1970s were predicting global cooling.
Back to Newton’s supposedly overthrown laws. As NASA writes: “The motion of an aircraft through the air can be explained and described by physical principals discovered over 300 years ago by Sir Isaac Newton.”
But Professor Krauthammer says 200 years of experiments and observations were “overthrown.” What gives? Why aren’t all our planes falling out of the sky?
Newton’s laws are “excellent approximations at the scales and speeds of everyday life” that, along with his law of gravitation and calculus techniques, “provided for the first time a unified quantitative explanation for a wide range of physical phenomena.”
They fail in very special cases — speeds close to the speed of light (where you need Einstein’s special theory of relativity), near large gravitational fields (where you need Einstein’s general theory of relativity) or at very, very small scales (where you need quantum mechanics). Interestingly, many of the laws of those three theories are written in the same form as Newton’s and they revert to Newton’s equations for everyday life (see below).
BRYCE AND KRAUTHAMMER ARE NO EINSTEINs
If Einstein’s special theory of relativity did not revert to Newton’s laws for everyday situations, and thus validate 200 years of observations and experiments, nobody would have paid even one minute of attention to it.
Well, that's what anti-science conservatives wish they could do, because to them relativity theory is a club liberals use to bash those who don't embrace a relativistic view of the world. (Of course, factually relativity theory has nothing to do with relativism, but facts don't mean much to conservatives these days).
The theory of relativity is a mathematical system that allows no exceptions. It is heavily promoted by liberals who like its encouragement of relativism and its tendency to mislead people in how they view the world.
Thus Charles Krauthammer, per usual, was toeing the conservative party line in his science's sky is falling column. He wants people to believe that if a neutrino can travel faster than light, a fact unaccounted for by Einstein's theory of relativity, then global warming and evolution must be wrong also.
Not true. Not at all. Reality is one thing; conservative fantasies are a whole other thing.