The Embargo Watch blog has revealed an interesting aspect of how the recent news of faster-than-light neutrinos was released, namely that information had been issued to the main-stream media news outlets before even the rumours started to spread on the blogs. Their report includes a statement by the CERN press officer James Gillies detailing how he thinks the news broke but it leaves out some important details. It is interesting to look back at what did happen because news of other discoveries may emerge in a similar way in the future, so for the record here is the timeline as I witnessed it.
12th September – A seminar was scheduled at CERN for 16th September with the title “Seminar DG”. I saw it posted on indico and I added it to the viXra event calendar. There was no indication of what it was about, but as we now know CNRS had asked CERN if they could report their results there. CERN does not operate OPERA, it just provides the neutrino beam.
13th September – According to Embargo Watch journalists were briefed about the results at about this time and asked not to publish yet.
15th September – An anonymous commenter reported on Resanaances that a 6.1 sigma effect was about to be reported by CERN but the seminar had been cancelled. I saw the comment and checked my link to the “seminar DG” to find that it had indeed disappeared. I posted a note on an earlier Seminar Watch post and twitter but was not sure if the rumour was genuine.
16th September – Anonymous posted comments on Resonaances, Not Even Wrong and Vixra to say that the report would be about faster than light neutrinos at OPERA and that the seminar had been rescheduled. I added a link to the new seminar to the Calendar.
19th September – Dorigo posted a report about the findings on Quantum Diaries Survivor. Posts quickly followed on viXra and The Reference Frame and other blogs. Dorigo then withdrew the post under pressure from his emplyer.
22nd September – Another Italian physicist gave an interview about it to an Italian paper. According to Gillies this is when CERN briefed some journalists with the intention that the news should be published the next day. Reuters and some others published immediately.
23rd September - An e-print appeared in arXiv in the morning and the news was widely reported in the media. The seminar was held later that day. The official press release was issued etc.
What do we learn from this? Firstly, a week is too long to contain a rumour about particle physics and if the rumour starts in Italy then it is far too long. If they had stuck to the original schedule the information would have emerged from the seminar as planned. Briefing the press and then delaying the seminar was not good. The original intention was to let the main stream media prepare the story before the blogs, but the result was that the news leaked onto the blogs while the press were under an agreement to stay silent, what a mess.
When Dorigo posted they should not have forced him to remove it. Other bloggers already knew what the news was and by all accounts it was being discussed widely by physicists. I for one was ready to post more at that time anyway.
The CERN press office and the DG give the strong impression that they do not like bloggers that they don’t have control over. As freelance bloggers we often get information in advance and contrary to what some people think we don’t always post it. They need to stop working against us if they want that to continue.