The news that some neutrinos may travel faster than the speed of light caused a sensation when it broke in September of last year.
Like many physicists who have lived through similar reports in the past, my reaction was one of skepticism, both of the claim and the highly overwrought reporting that it generated. We suspected that something was skewing the results, and there was no shortage of alternative hypotheses. I did take the opportunity, though, to write a 14-part series explaining the theory of relativity so that non-physicists would have a better idea of what was involved.
It now turns out that the results may be spurious and the reason may be even more mundane than we thought, involving a faulty optical fiber connection between the GPS signal and the experiment’s main clock. More experiments and tests will be done just to make sure that there really is nothing there.
This demonstrates the self-correcting nature of science, especially in the internet age where it is hard to keep exciting but preliminary results from causing a sensation before they have become tested and repeated and on their way to becoming part of the scientific consensus before the news reaches the general public.
We should expect to see many such false alarms in the future.