Open Science is Hidden in the Neutrino Results

“Despite the large significance of the measurement reported here and the stability of the analysis, the potentially great impact of the result motivates the continuation of our studies in order to investigate possible still unknown systematic effects that could explain the observed anomaly. We deliberately do not attempt any theoretical or phenomenological interpretation of the results.”

-[sic] from the original Measurement of the neutrino velocity with the OPERA detector in the CNGS beam

Amidst all the turmoil of the recently released information about neutrinos being faster than the speed of light, this is perhaps the most important statement in the preprinted publication. Why? Because the authors understand the importance of the results they achieved (that neutrinos seem to travel slightly faster than the speed of light), but are openly not acknowledging that result with bold claims and historically significant statements. It is because of this simple statement that I have to be the one to make an extremely bold claim.

This is the biggest victory for open science ever!

When I originally started reading press releases criticizing the findings of this group, I wondered why there were so many knee jerk reactions to the findings. First it should be noted that a lot of the news articles mentioned the paper, but did not cite it or reference it so I couldn’t even read the paper. Eventually I found it on the arXiv (which I linked above). This is critical because the arXiv is a place on the web where physicists “publish” preprint articles for open access, and as far as I know is the only place where physicists act in an open science manner.

A lot of the criticism directed at the authors was the fact that this result gained steam because it hasn’t been officially published in any peer reviewed journal and that somehow makes the claims reported invalid. Worse it makes the results premature.

The truth is by releasing the information in this way, the CERN group has invited the entire world to interpret the data, their results, and their methods in hopes of finding a solution. This of course wouldn’t have been possible if their results weren’t prepublished. If this article was released in the typical fashion, the authors would have submitted for peer review, probably would have been published in Nature/Science, and then reviled for making claims that break the laws of physics. Someone would eventually find a flaw in the paper and then the authors would be forced into a retraction.

In this situation, many scientists are working with the data they have released or are even replicating the experiments hoping to find an answer that will either validate the claims or refute them (from what I’ve read there is a team in Japan and a team near Chicago doing this very thing). This is the way science is supposed to be and how I envisioned it would be to be a scientist.

Unfortunately, this group has received a lot of negative attention for the results they are reporting, but I think this will turn out to be a big positive for science and open science in particular. Not only has this gone from a group project to a community project, but from all the sources I’ve read, the data is really transparent and as reliable as the experiment will allow. This of course is what’s really important in science. It isn’t always about the result, but it should always be about the experimental procedure, reproducibility, and transparency.

Caveat: I’m not a particle physicist and this is not my field of expertise, so I can’t comment on the reliability of the experiment itself, which is why I’m reporting this second hand. With that said, I can truly appreciate what this means for science, and in particular the science that I know and love which is open!