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Saturday, September 24, 2011

The minister and the neutrino



Above: Ms. Mariastella Gelmini, Italian minister of Education and Scientific Research,  shown as "Our Lady of Ignorance" in a picture that appeared on the Italian daily "La Repubblica"


You may not believe it, but what follows is an official press release of the Italian Ministry of Public Education and Scientific Research. It refers to the recent statements of the CERN about the speed of Neutrinos and it is signed by the minister, Ms. Mariastella Gelmini.

I leave it without comments, except to note, for those of you who may not be familiar with Italian geography, that the tunnel mentioned in the statement and that is supposed to go from CERN (Switzerland) to the Gran Sasso Laboratory (central Italy) should be at least 750 km long, if it existed. But this is far from being the worst thing in the document from the ministry.

You may have a good laugh at this press release, but it is also something worrisome. I am afraid that such a level of idiocy pervading public institutions may not be limited to Italy, there are other examples elsewhere, perhaps worse. Something is deeply wrong, here.....


Note added after posting: from the comments received, I think that many people have missed the point of this press release. It is true that the minister made herself ridiculous by claiming the existence of a 750 km long tunnel from Switzerland to Central Italy. But from the viewpoint of a politician, that's nothing of any importance. Their job is not to be approved by scientists; their job is to obtain and keep power, and for this purpose they must appease the lobbies that keep them in power. So, Ms. Gelmini didn't care about how long tunnels are or even if tunnels exist. She cares about something completely different.

Consider the sentence: "this event .. will change the face of modern physics. Exceeding the speed of light is an epochal victory for scientific research around the world." This and the general tone of the press release is the key of the whole story. The minister is saying that the physics we know is all wrong and should be revoluzionized. Why so much enthusiasm about a revolution in physics? Is the minister planning to build a fleet of faster-than-light interstellar spaceships? No, the minister is happy that relativity, a cornerstone of modern physics, has been demonstrated to be wrong (at least in her opinion). And, if relativity is wrong, so could be climate science and many other areas of science that are bothering some powerful lobbies. You see, it is politics, it is a job, a trade and a vocation.

_________________________

(English translation from Rangle).

The Minister and the Neutrino

Statement by the Minister Mariastella Gelmini (Rome, 23 sep 2011) 
"The CERN and National Institute for Nuclear Physics discovery is a scientific event of fundamental importance."
“I extend my approval and my sincerest congratulations to the authors of a historical experiment. I am deeply grateful to all the Italian researchers who contributed to this event that will change the face of modern physics. 
Exceeding the speed of light is an epochal victory for scientific research around the world. 
Italy has contributed to the construction of the tunnel between CERN and Gran Sasso Laboratories, through which the experiment took place, with a sum now estimated at around 45 million euros. 
In addition, today Italy supports the CERN with absolute conviction, with a contribution of more than 80 million euros per year and the events we are experiencing are confirming that it is a good and far-sighted choice".
(http://www.istruzione.it/web/ministero/cs230911)

39 comments:

  1. Ha ha. Very funny, indeed.

    Of course there is something wrong with our leaders. They are ignorant, because, among things, knowledge and effort are neither valued or respected in our society anymore. This is not the first time such a move towards stupidity is taken by a civilization. The phenomenon has a name, well known some time ago abut now almost forgotten: "Decadence", we used to say. And the final destination of it is also well known.

    Regards.

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  2. Because Historically all our leaders have been intelligently gifted up until the late 20th/21st century *rolls eyes*
    Please stop spouting rubbish as stupid as the man your mocking. Its embarassing.

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  3. What's worse than dumb pollies is scientists making claims without the necessary proof to back it up. Sounds like cold fusion all over again to me.

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  4. Or Global Warming. Mix two totally different datasets get the results that could only be expected from mixing different datasets and claim its proof of something. Its only proof science is for sale.

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  5. Yah, global warming is bunk no matter what the data says. The arctic ice isn't melting either. No one is going to tell you to show self-control and stop driving your Hummer. You tell 'em Sarah!

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  6. Science is and have been for sale for a very long time.. Private funding is nothing new in the world of research.

    I believe the team behind the research is urging other institutes/facilities to try to recreate the experiment in order to validate or disprove the results. The scientists are not claiming to have proved anything yet; rather they are reporting an interesting result of their experiment.

    As usual, politicians try to explore any opportunity they can. In this case, as with so many other they do so without knowing what they are talking about.

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  7. Yeah, there is no such thing as global warming. Also remember, the UN tries to invade USA and A. Hitler lives in secret moonbase. There is even a movie coming about the future invasion of lunar krauts.

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  8. Not being familiar with this politician (and generally having a low opinion of politicians in general), it seems that the trolls of the world are once again jumping on a misstatement to make themselves feel more intelligent in comparison. Likely it was what i often refer to as a brain fart. When you intend to use one noun adjective ect, and instead use another, while completely understanding the subject in question. If your going to judge a public figure do it for there actions, positive or negative, not there statements. or in this case apparent misstatement. Words tend to mislead. Actions can be misleading but are more revealing then words.

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  9. Storm over nothing, a small mistake.

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  10. "The scientists are not claiming to have proved anything yet; rather they are reporting an interesting result of their experiment. "

    Just as a note, the results they report are classified as a 6-sigma result (i.e. one chance in 500 million of random error).

    In physics, at 5-sigma, you usually pop the champagne and start writing your nobel acceptance speech, much less at 6-sigma...

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  11. Aren't most of the Italian government ex-lap dancers and such like hired by Silvio Berlusconi not so much for their intellect as their decorative value?

    Oh and @the idiots above: The scientists haven't claimed anything yet, their original release said "This looks really weird, we re-did it 15,000 times and it still looks wrong, so here's the data, can anyone help explain it?"

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  12. Someone would like to read up on the concept of x-sigma and random error I suppose...

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  13. "Just as a note, the results they report are classified as a 6-sigma result (i.e. one chance in 500 million of random error)."

    One chance in 500 million of *random* error.

    Roughly one chance in one of an actual error in this case however.

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  14. She needs to resign. For that show off of stupidity is not to be forgiven.

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  15. I don't think that Ms Gelmini has become minister of Science and Education just because of her looks. She is a politician to the core and she acts as a politician. Don't underestimate her; and don't even underestimate former lap-dancers now MPs. Some people are born politicians; it is a skill you learn, but it is not for everyone. You need to be born with the right genetic code and lap dancing girls may well have it.

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  16. And, as a further comment to one of the comments, I am absolutely, positively sure that the ministry's press release is NOT a "brain fart", intended as an inconsequential mistake. No, it is clear evidence of what the politicians in there have in mind

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  17. About the thread of comments, I think several commenters have missed the point that our minister of Science, Ms. Gelmini, wanted to make

    It is true that the minister made herself ridiculous by claiming the existence of a 750 km long tunnel from Switzerland to Central Italy and that is the point she is being mostly criticized for. But from the viewpoint of a politician, that's nothing of any importance. Their job is not to be approved by scientists; their job is to obtain and keep power, and for this purpose they must appease the lobbies that keep them in power. So, Ms. Gelmini didn't care about how long tunnels are or even if tunnels exist. She cares about something completely different.

    Consider the sentence: "this event .. will change the face of modern physics. Exceeding the speed of light is an epochal victory for scientific research around the world." This and the general tone of the press release is the key of the whole story. The minister is saying that the physics we know is all wrong and should be revoluzionized. Why so much enthusiasm about a revolution in physics? Is the minister planning to build a fleet of faster-than-light interstellar spaceships? No, the minister is happy that relativity, a cornerstone of the physics we know, has been demonstrated to be wrong (at least in her opinion). And, if relativity is wrong, so could be climate science and many other areas of science that are bothering some powerful lobbies. You see, it is politics, it is a job, a trade and a vocation.

    (I also added the above text to the post).

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  18. "scientists making claims"

    Are you talking about the subject of this article? I don't think so! The scientists only claimed that the results seem to say something extraordinary. They are looking for help explaining their results, not claiming they are correct.

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  19. Since the request for help by CERN to prove or disprove the existence of systemic errors in their findings, I have found the number of people who are upset that relativity might be wrong highly amusing. If it's wrong, it's wrong and we'll have to fix it up, simple as that. Remember Newtonian physics was considered complete right up until certain observations showed up the faults, so scientists had to think further and we came up with relativity.

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  20. That's simply a pompous statement. She just wanted to be associated with something big. It's like to say I met the Queen. Gelmini is not intelligent enough to make such intellectual jumps as you suggest.

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  21. She is not consciously thinking the way I wrote she reasoned. She sees the world in political terms, just as scientists see the world in scientific terms. So, she acts in consequence; some things come natural to politicians. The same is for scientists.

    Both categories tend to see the other as full of dumbasses (speak for five minutes with a top ranking politician and you'll understand what they think of scientist). Each category is perfectly fit to act in a specific environment. Gelmini is totally incompetent as a scientist, just as most scientists I know would be wholly incompetent as politicians.

    Don't ask a fish to fly, but, if you are a bird, don't challenge a fish to a swimming contest.

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  22. There is a tunnel between CERN and Gran Sasson. It just doesn't go all the way:
    http://public.web.cern.ch/public/en/Research/CNGS-en.html

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  23. Are you referring to the 1 km long decay tunnel? I think you can hardly call that a tunnel "between" CERN and Gran Sasson....
    And "doesn't go all the way" is rather euphemistic for a tunnel that is 1 km long out of 732 km...

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  24. Keep in mind that scientists are also capable of great follies. Eugenics was championed by biologists and integrated into the curriculum of prestigious universities such as Harvard and Yale. In its heyday, virtually its only book-length criticism of eugnics was G. K. Chesterton's Eugenics and Other Evils. It's main opponents were the "religious right."

    The same can be said for brutal command economies. So many economists and social scientists made pilgrimages to the Soviet Union, Stalin began calling them "useful idiots."

    The 1960s, as the birth control pill sent birthrates plummeting, the scientific press, particularly Science magazine, began trumpeting warnings about an alleged "population bomb." The result is now evident for all to see. Aging populations in the developed world that will soon threaten the viability of welfare states. The real alarm was that the birth rates of darker skins races weren't falling as fast of those of whites. Roe v. Wade alludes to that when it mentions the "racial overtones" of the abortion debate in the introduction.

    I'm certainly no champion of the wisdom of politicians. But for every evil championed by politicians, you can find one equally vile promoted by scientists. In the Descent of Man, no less a luminary than Charles Darwin looked forward to a day when the inferior, dark-skinned races were exterminated and the Caucasian race superseded by one still more superior.

    Backing him up was the Bertrand Russell, the great mathematician, whose "The Ethics of War" sees as the only legitimate rationale for war the extermination of inferior races by their superiors. In the end, the only real difference between those two great scientists and Hitler was that the politician was willing to put their commonly held and utterly vile beliefs into action.

    So, while you're right to sneer at foolish politicians, you might also save some of your sneers for scientists whose ideas were both foolish and vile.

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  25. There is a circular tunnel that CERN operates in. Italy contributed to funding that tunnel. What is so damn difficult to understand about this?!

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  26. In all likelihood, the politician's primary concern was with having their person associated in the media with good news. That provides a media-assisted Pavlovian conditioning of the voting populace and it's frighteningly effective, whether you have your facts straight, or not.

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  27. The ministry press release, read in the original italian text, says that "the tunnel that goes FROM CERN TO the Gran sasso Lab". And that would have to be some 750 km long. It is, of course, a trivial mistake; an indication of carelessness, not of idiocy. It is the rest of the press release that is more disturbing

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  28. Beside of the trivial mistake about the "tunnel", I think that the press release contains another ridicoluos mistake, that's even worse.

    "Exceeding the speed of light is an epochal victory for scientific research around the world."

    It seems as if the researchers (in order of debunking the "unjustified dogma" of the limit speed of light) had manually PUSHED the neutrinos, acting as sporting trainers or personal coaches, educating them them with love and perseverance...

    ...till the brilliant pupils managed to break the "wall of light".

    Have fun.

    Lisa

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  29. Correct, Lisa. I had seen your post on your blog. You are one of the few who understood the real meaning of the press release!

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  30. You know what's even more depressing? the fact that after being mocked by the whole Italian Internet, she didn't correct her statement, but instead put blame on the readers and the citizens by stating that
    http://www.istruzione.it/web/ministero/cs240911
    Rome, 24th September 2011

    Miur [Ministry for Education, University and Research], ludicrous polemic

    The Ministry's press office states that, obviously the tunnel mentioned in yesterday's statement can't be intended in any way as a tunnel physically connecting Geneve and Gran Sasso. This is easy to understand and this polemic is totally preposterous. The tunnel mentioned is indeed the one in which protons travel and from whose collisions the neutrinos that cross Earth and reach Gran Sasso are originated. Italy contributed with about 45 milion euros to the building of this tunnel and the associated facilities. This polemic is without any basis and is totally ludicrous.

    Oh, yes... it's a shame that the previous statement clearly contained the words "tunnel *between* CERN and the laboratory at Gran Sasso" :D

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  31. "The 1960s, as the birth control pill sent birthrates plummeting, the scientific press, particularly Science magazine, began trumpeting warnings about an alleged "population bomb." The result is now evident for all to see. "

    i thought you were going to describe the dire situation of 7 billion humans alive AT ONCE, when the earth can only support one billion. sans fossil fuels. oops.

    but it seems you are only concerned about your pension. nice priorities.

    and btw, may i remind you that welfare state, like everything else the exponentially inflating human population does, is only a symptom of cheap fossil fuels. a not inconsiderable 80,000,000 ! extra humans are added every year to the 'human meat balloon'. more than enough to keep a ponzi welfare state going, if that was the only criteria for the exinstance of such a extravagant edifice of entropy

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  32. "Italy has contributed to the construction of the tunnel between CERN and Gran Sasso Laboratories..." looks to me to be a bad translation, where the intent was to say that Italy, through Gran Sasso Labs, contibuted to the building of the CERN tunnel itself, not a tunnel between the two locations. Could very well be just a screwed up translation (assuming Italy did help in building CERN)

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  33. @Jimmy: no, it's not.
    She actually said "tunnel *between* CERN and Gran Sasso Lab" ("tunnel *tra* il CERN ed i Laboratori del Gran Sasso" you can find this sentence in the picture in the original post... I'm Italian and I tell you this is not a bad translation, it's the only possible translation)

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  34. The health minister of Spain wears a PowerBalance bracelet.
    I will repeat it five times in case you need some help getting this inside your head:
    The health minister of Spain wears a PowerBalance.
    The health minister of Spain wears a PowerBalance.
    The health minister of Spain wears a PowerBalance.
    The health minister of Spain wears a PowerBalance.

    Indeed.

    http://blogs.elcorreo.com/magonia/2010/10/20/fotos-leire-pajin-nueva-ministra-sanidad-con-la/

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  35. Every day in Italy, a neutrin wakes up.
    He knows he has to run more of the light in the tunnel, or he will die.

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  36. I do not want to comment on the statement of the Ministry apart from the fact that, of course there would be something big to win for science if relativity were proven wrong (in at least some domains): as a matter of fact, that is the only way how science proceeds to higher grounds: by refutation of previously held ideas - and indeed anyone holding different ideas should stop talking and start reading some good book on the philosophy of science and spend some time on thinking about falsifiability vs verifiability of scientific ideas.

    PS: my personal guess is that the "discovery" is none - i.e. some systematic errors must have been overlooked.

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  37. You great minds are going to eat your words.Man thinks he knows everything. What a joke. God is giving you a great discovery. Please us it for good not evil This LUDACRIS SPEED is going to blow your mind!!
    GOD RULES NOT MAN!!

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  38. Well... apparently BBC seems to believe Gelmini! :D
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-17139635

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  39. "The minister is saying that the physics we know is all wrong and should be revoluzionized. Why so much enthusiasm about a revolution in physics? Is the minister planning to build a fleet of faster-than-light interstellar spaceships? No, the minister is happy that relativity, a cornerstone of modern physics, has been demonstrated to be wrong (at least in her opinion)."

    Yes. Good old Critical Theory. Frankfort School destruction.

    R. Hartman

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Who

Ugo Bardi is a member of the Club of Rome and the author of "Extracted: how the quest for mineral resources is plundering the Planet" (Chelsea Green 2014)