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The Case against Copernicus

Copernicus famously said that Earth revolves around the sun. But opposition to this revolutionary idea didn't come just from the religious authorities. Evidence favored a different cosmology

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In 2011 a team of researchers at CERN near Geneva sent a beam of neutrinos on a 730-kilometer journey to Gran Sasso National Laboratory in L'Aquila, Italy. When the researchers clocked that trip, it appeared as though the neutrinos had somehow surpassed the speed of light in a vacuum. How did the scientific community respond to this surprising result? Almost everyone, rather than abandoning the well-established teachings of Albert Einstein—who said that nothing travels faster than light—argued that the researchers' measurements had to be wrong (as, indeed, they turned out to be).

Now imagine ourselves four centuries from now, in a future in which Einstein's ideas have been supplanted; scientists have long ago experimentally confirmed that neutrinos really can travel faster than light. How would we then, looking back on physicists today, construe their reluctance to accept the evidence? Would we conclude that 21st-century physicists were just set in their ways? Unreceptive to new ideas? Maybe motivated by nonscientific considerations—a bunch of closed-minded Einsteinians toeing a line dictated by tradition and authority?

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