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Nature Affirms “No Theory Is Too Special to Question”

Casey Luskin

Giovanni Amelino-Camelia, a theoretical physicist at the University of Rome La Sapienza, has a thoughtful article in Nature titled, “No theory is too special to question.” It recounts the recent spat over the supposed discovery of neutrinos that can travel faster than light. As he notes, after further experiments, it turns out that neutrinos can’t travel faster than light. But he also observes that refuting the claim was a useful exercise for the theoretical physics community:

The situation has prompted the fundamental-physics community to discuss the proper way to handle cases in which preliminary experimental results challenge “established” laws. (In this case, one that many physicists hold dearer than most — Einstein’s special theory of relativity.)

It seems that these physicists were open to challenging one of their most precious theories, special relativity. Einstein’s theory emerged from the tests unscathed, but the very fact that they were willing to consider the possibility that special relativity was wrong, and to test it in a meaningful way, is significant. He continues:

Questioning our laws, even on the basis of preliminary experiments, is a healthy exercise. We must assume that the next fundamental physics revolution is just beyond our nose, safely outside the reach of our brains, but within the grasp of the next truly innovative experiment.

So what is the theory that many biologists “hold dearer than most”? Clearly, it’s evolution. But when was the last time you saw an article like this in Nature, that praised the willingness of biologists to challenge core tenets of evolution, like natural selection or common descent? Never. Instead, you find in Nature bold proclamations about how “scientists can treat evolution by natural selection as, in effect, an established fact.”

It seems that the open-mindedness and willingness to tolerate fundamental questioning that we see in the physics community is largely absent from the biology community.