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August 21, 2012

Speeding Neutrinos, Cold Fusion ... and Cancer Triggers?

Earlier this year I submitted a little essay to The New York Times for consideration by their Op-Ed editor. When The Times didn't accept it I sent it to the Science Editor of The Guardian who also declined. Although the matter of hyper-fast neutrinos was subsequently resolved (the neutrinos were disqualified) my point remains valid: the discovery of cellular oncogenes ought to have shocked the evolutionary biology community, compelling at least a few of them to take a hard look at their theory. 

The following is that essay. It's been slightly edited, mainly to include relevant links. 

The world’s physicists' community has been rocked by the report from Italy that researchers have clocked neutrinos traveling faster than the speed of light. Many physicists have expressed skepticism, but the researchers have rechecked their measurements and claim they are accurate. Time will tell if those findings are ultimately accepted. We intrigued bystanders can only wait for the ultimate outcome: either those observations were somehow flawed or basic physics theory needs tweaking, if not a major revision.

The speedy neutrinos remind me of another alleged finding that shocked physicists: the 1989 report that two American scientists (Martin Fleichmann and Stanley Pons) had produced nuclear fusion at room temperature.

As reported in The New York Times, announcement of that claim was followed by a "frenzy" of activity in "hundreds of laboratories." At Yale, graduate students labored night and day in an underground bunker placing five tons of lead bricks around sensitive detectors and tiny plastic bottles, in order to shield their experiment from stray radiation. Researchers at the University of Washington and at MIT also worked frantically to confirm the Fleichmann-Pons finding. One MIT theorist pulled an all-nighter, trying to develop a mathematical explanation for the discovery.