'Faster-than-Light' Researchers Quit Over Culture, Not Science

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The two leaders of the research team at CERN that published a study that showed neutrinos moving faster than the speed of light have resigned a month after an experiment contradicted their results, but they're quick to note that their departure and the research aren't related, or not closely at any rate. 

Antonio Ereditato, spokesman for the OPERA collaboration that published the study and physics coordinator Dario Autiero resigned Friday. The initial results, released in September, set off a storm of media coverage wondering whether they had disproved Einstein's theory of relativity, even as they and other scientists preached caution. And indeed, twice now researchers have called into question the methods they used to measure the neutrino's speed. Friday, the journal Nature reported that while their resignations might seem related to their increasingly weak looking results, the two scientists cite other reasons. Auterio brought up "tensions that had always existed within OPERA" that were "becoming impossible to bridge." 

One could be skeptical, but we're inclined to believe that's the case. We haven't seen a huge public backlash or anger at the scientists for publishing their research, probably because they submitted it with so many caveats. Indeed, many didn't mind media coverage saying sensationalism was better than no coverage at all. And while it's easy to attribute the departure to the one piece of news that's made its way into the media, of course any workplace is complicated and factors beyond what's made it into the press are always at play. Nature's Eugenie Samuel Reich quotes a former OPERA spokesman who describes some of those factors: "There are cultural splits between the Italians and Northern Europeans, and a lot of personality conflicts that make it hard to have a quiet scientific discussion," he says. We imagine there hasn't been much quiet discussion of any kind at OPERA since this summer, either.

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