More cracks in the theory of relativity?

When the OPERA collaboration announced their result that they had observed neutrinos traveling faster than the speed of light, it rocked the entire physics community. However, despite the high statistical certainty of the claim, any sober physicist knew that the possibility of systematic errors means that we must patiently wait for additional independent experiments. Einstein’s theory hasn’t been overthrown yet!

Or has it?

Enter the good folks at Conservapedia, a “conservative, family-friendly Wiki encyclopedia.” They have helpfully compiled a list of 39 counterexamples to relativity, and noted that “any one of them shows that the theory of relativity is incorrect.” In fact, relativity “is heavily promoted by liberals who like its encouragement of relativism and its tendency to mislead people in how they view the world.” That is already damning evidence, but you really must look at the list.

A few of them actually have some partial grounding in reality. For example,

6. Spiral galaxies confound relativity, and unseen “dark matter” has been invented to try to retrofit observations to the theory.

Most of them, however, are either factually challenged or irrelevant:

14. The action-at-a-distance by Jesus, described in John 4:46-54, Matthew 15:28, and Matthew 27:51.

18. The inability of the theory of relativity to lead to other insights, contrary to every extant verified theory of physics.

Why are these scientists at OPERA wasting tax payer’s money on their silly experiments when they can just check this list? And to Bill O’Reilly and Rush Limbaugh: please post your predictions for the LHC to the arXiv soon, before all the data gets analyzed.

Update from Aram: Ironically, conservativepedians don’t like Einstein’s relativity because of its occasional use as a rhetorical flourish in support of cultural relativism. (I agree that using it in this manner constitutes bad writing, and a terribly mixed metaphor.) But by denouncing relativity as a liberal conspiracy along with evolution and global warming, they’ve demonstrated their own form of intellectual relativism: the idea that there is no objective truth, but that we are all entitled to believe whatever facts about the world we prefer. At the risk of improving the credibility of Conservapedia, I made this point on their talk page. Let’s see how long it lasts.

7 Replies to “More cracks in the theory of relativity?”

  1. I cannot help reflecting that any worldview that numbers among its advocates Baruch Spinoza, Michael Faraday, and Bill GASARCH perhaps has points to recommend it:
    “I do not think it necessary for salvation to know Christ according to the flesh: but with regard to the Eternal Son of God, that is the Eternal Wisdom of God, which has manifested itself in all things and especially in the human mind, and above all in Christ Jesus, the case is far otherwise. For without this no one can come to a state of blessedness, inasmuch as it alone teaches, what is true or false, good or evil.”
    “I hold that God is of all things the cause immanent, as the phrase is, not transient. I say that all things are in God and move in God, thus agreeing with Paul, and, perhaps, with all the ancient philosophers, though the phraseology may be different; I will even venture to affirm that I agree with all the ancient Hebrews, in so far as one may judge from their traditions, though these are in many ways corrupted.”
    Because if it is a grievous mistake that climate-change skeptics cherry-pick the weakest expressions of science, is it not similarly a mistake that religious skeptics cherry-pick the weakest expressions of religion?

    1. Your argument for religion is part of what I dislike about religion: to support it, you invoke an argument by authority. This is, to me, one of the core components of religion: not its “weakest expression” but something absolutely essential to the idea of faith, of received wisdom, of traditional beliefs, etc.
      Religion (to me) is wrong not because it posits specific events that probably didn’t happen, or specific entities that probably don’t exist. It is wrong because it is a mode of reasoning that is inherently a mental handicap.
      Caveats: People can compartmentalize, and be e.g. good scientists while being lazy about other beliefs. Also, I think some level of respect for traditions is valuable, but this should be founded on understanding the basis for the tradition.

  2. Aram, I agree with many of the points you raise.
    And yet, if rationality inclines us toward the STEM enterprises, and humility inclines us towards religious contemplations, and humor is the brain’s way of rewarding itself for reconciling the two, then it seems both wise and fun to embrace as passionately as possible both rationality and humility.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *