The "Neutrino speed of light thing" mentioned in this comic was an actual story from the day before the comic was posted. An experiment at CERN caused a stream of neutrinos to be passed from CERN in Switzerland to a receiving station at the INFN laboratories of Gran Sasso in Italy (LNGS). The initial findings from the experiment were that the neutrinos arrived at the detector in less time than a beam of light would have taken. The neutrinos had apparently exceeded the speed of light.
Albert Einstein famously posited that the speed of light in a vacuum is both constant and absolutely the fastest possible speed for any object in the universe. Nothing can accelerate to any faster speed. Therefore, a report that neutrinos have been found travelling faster than light challenges a fundamental law of physics and turns all of physics, or at least special relativity on its head.
Prior experience has shown Cueball that in such cases, arguing with people and preaching caution is futile and will lead to "pointless arguments about Galileo". Galileo Galilei was famously convicted of heresy for his defending the heliocentric system, and is often used as an example of revolutionary ideas being suppressed by the powerful. Believers in the new findings would thus accuse Cueball and the scientific community of being as stubborn and oppressive as the Inquisition in Galileo's time, and even compare them to the Thought Police from George Orwell's 1984, another popular archetype of oppressive measures.
Cueball realizes that it is more satisfying and profitable to place bets with them instead. His reasoning is that almost invariably, these supposedly world-changing discoveries end up falling apart after further investigation, and that if it doesn't, then the discovery itself will satisfy his scientific curiosity enough to outweigh his monetary loss. This is similar to Stephen Hawking's scientific wagers, where Hawking set bets such that, if he was wrong, he would be paid, and if he was right, he'd have to pay and wouldn't mind because he'd just have been proven right.
The title text is a reference to a graph published similar to, if not the same as, the one found here. The continental drift can be seen, as well as the clearly marked jump showing the earthquake in question.
Postscript: Cueball (that is, Randall) was correct. The experiment was found to be flawed. Neutrinos are not faster than light, the data was probably wrong due to a faulty connection on an optical fiber.
- [Megan and Cueball are talking.]
- Megan: Did you see the neutrino speed of light thing?
- Cueball: Yup! Good news; I need the cash.
- Megan: Huh? Cash?
- [Text above half-sized panel.]
- Yeah. When there's a news story about a study overturning all of physics, I used to urge caution, remind people that experts aren't all stupid, and end up in pointless arguments about Galileo.
- [Half-height panel.]
- [Cueball sitting on chair, looking down at laptop in his lap. Books and things are on a desk in front of him.]
- Cueball: No, this isn't about whether relativity exists. If it didn't, your GPS wouldn't work.
- Cueball: What do you mean, "science thought police"? Have you seen our budget? We couldn't begin to afford our own thought police.
- [Megan and Cueball talking again.]
- Megan: That sounds miserable and unfulfilling.
- Cueball: Yup. So I gave up, and now I just find excited believers and bet them $200 each that the new result won't pan out.
- [Same as last panel.]
- Megan: That's mean.
- Cueball: It provides a good income, and if I'm ever wrong, I'll be too excited about the new physics to notice the loss.
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