What could be more earth-shattering in the physics world than discovering that the foundation of physics is wrong? How should scientists react to a study that turns Einstein’s theories upside down? The discovery of neutrinos traveling faster than the speed of light became that moment of 2011. Before there was even a chance for the results to be tested and verified by peers, news reports had already plastered articles with definitive statements that Einstein was wrong.
There are different responses to be had for something this big. It is possible that all the studies would point to the same conclusion; Einstein was indeed wrong. In that case, if that is what the data says, scientists would begin considering what this means for the future of physics. Others could point to other considerations that remain outside of our current ability to verify. For example, what if string theory has something to say about this? What if neutrinos simply found a short cut through one of those extra dimensions? That could delay the final word on the subject.
The fact is, study after study has verified or improved upon Einstein over the decades, leaving his work standing. Technology is dependent upon it. It seems improbable, but it is always possible.
There are a couple things I take from this discussion. First, we never know when an experiment can force us to rethink the model of the universe we’ve long accepted. As most scientists will tell you, being wrong can be just as thrilling as being right, in either case, you have progress. New information about the world should always be welcomed.
Also, running off with the results of a study, particularly in popular media, without having the proper process of verification and review, or even all the information, is what has led to many bad science. It is the hype behind the so-called, and over-hyped, Climategate.
In this video below, the latter is what is addressed. Theoretical physicists, Michio Kaku, gives us some really good reasons to think that the end of the story on Einstein isn’t written and that there are still good reasons for considering everything possible and reasonable when a new idea is presented. Go with the evidence, yes, but make sure you’ve considered all the possibilities.