A panel of physicists just recommended to the federal government that the United States should spend a billion dollars studying neutrinos, a type of subatomic particle. They propose building a giant neutrino beam that will shoot neutrinos 800 miles from a Fermilab facility in Illinois to a laboratory in South Dakota. The project is called the Long Baseline Neutrino Experiment.
This project can be called a
ghost study, because neutrinos are known as ghost particles.
Neutrinos are particles which were once believed to have no mass, but
which are now believed to have the tiniest bit of mass, a mass much, much
less than the mass of an electron (the least massive particle in an
atom). About 100 trillion ghostly neutrinos pass through your body
harmlessly every second.
Do we need to spend this
billion dollars to verify that neutrinos exist? No, we already know
that they exist. Do we need to spend this money to verify how much
mass a neutrino has? No, we already know that pretty well. Do we need
to study neutrinos because they are some crucial link in our
existence? Not really. I could give you an explanation of why you
probably wouldn't be here if it weren't for neutrinos (an explanation
having to do with supernova explosions and the origin of heavy
elements); but the fact is that you could probably live out the rest
of your day just fine without any neutrinos.
So why do scientists want the
billion dollars to study neutrinos? In this news story a physicist
named Joe Lykken gives this explanation: “What CERN (the European
collider operator) did for the Higgs boson, we want to do with the
neutrino.” But that justification doesn't hold water. The CERN project verified the
existence of the Higgs boson, and there is no need to verify the
existence of neutrinos. We already know they exist.
The AP news article here
discusses the project, but fails to give any good reason for its
existence. Besides Lykken's statement, the article quotes a Cal Tech
physicist who says, “Neutrinos could give scientists clues about
the mysterious 'dark matter' of outer space and other 'weird
astrophysical phenomena.' ” But dark matter is believed to be
something entirely different from neutrinos. Asking for a billion
dollars to play with neutrinos in order to understand dark matter is
like asking for a billion dollars to study rocks so that you can
I thought that perhaps the
home page of the Long Baseline Neutrino Experiment could do a better
job of justifying the project, but I still found no coherent
justification for the project on that page. The main relevant claim
made is this: “Neutrinos may play a key role in solving the mystery
of how the universe came to consist only of matter rather than
antimatter.” Oh, really? So how come the CERN page discussing this
mystery does not even mention the neutrino? And how come this larger Stanford
PDF discussing that mystery in no way hints that it could be solved
by learning about neutrinos? The “mystery of how the universe came
to consist of matter rather than antimatter” is not a mystery
involving neutrinos, but an entirely different class of particles:
Could it be that the main
reason for the proposed neutrino project is that scientists just want
a new billion dollar toy to play with? Could it be that this project
is mainly just a big welfare program for physicists, with a minimal
chance of justifying its cost? The proposed neutrino project seems to
have “boondoggle” written all over it. I do not say this because
I am some opponent of all large scientific projects (I am, in fact, a
supporter of the James Webb Space Telescope, which is even more
expensive than the neutrino project I am discussing).
I am reminded of another
scientific project, the LIGO project which spent 375 million dollars
of taxpayer dollars looking for gravitational waves (mainly in hopes
of verifying a pet theory of cosmologists). The LIGO project came up
empty-handed, completely failing to discover what it was looking for.
In the case of this neutrino project, there doesn't even seem to be
some clear goal that is being sought.
As it will study the “ghost
particles” called neutrinos, but seems like an over-expensive giant
boondoggle, we can call the proposed neutrino project “the wrong
type of ghost study.” But that raises the question – could there
be a right
type of ghost study? Indeed, there could be. The right type of ghost
study might be one that used only 1 percent of the cost of the
proposed neutrino super-project, and used those funds (a mere 10
million dollars) to actually study...ghosts.
By ghosts I mean, of course,
the unexplained phenomenon that human beings (including some very
famous ones) have long reported seeing unexplained apparitions –
sometimes what are reported to be the figures of human beings, and
other times what are reported to be little glowing orbs or
I can think of several
Everyone who reports seeing a ghost is just a fraud, a fool, or
someone who got excited over something that had a natural explanation
(such as some object falling because of gravity).
There is some interesting physical glitch in the human brain that
causes people to see things like ghosts that aren't really there.
For some reason the human brain occasionally releases chemicals which
causes people to have hallucinations of ghosts.
Hypothesis 4: Ghosts
come from some other dimension, or some other time, due to some weird
space-time glitch or phenomenon involving space-time wormholes.
Hypothesis 5: Ghosts
are not just ordinary hallucinations, but a kind of bizarre
psychokinetic hallucination, capable of affecting electronic media,
which may explain why many people have reported photos of ghosts or
sound recordings of ghost voices.
Hypothesis 6: People
see ghosts because there is some kind of human soul that actually
survives death (a hypothesis consistent with reports of near-death
These are all interesting
possibilities, and regardless of what the truth is, if we were to spend
about 10 million dollars in an organized, objective study of ghost
sightings, we might be able to figure out which hypothesis is
correct. Such an expenditure seems justified because this is a topic
of great public interest which has a significant chance of
discovering something important for a relatively small expenditure of
funds. But you may object: oh, come on, the US government can't
spend millions of dollars studying ghosts!
But I will remind the reader
of two facts. First, the US government has already funded a 17-year
project studying UFO's (the Project Blue Book of the United States
Air Force). Second, the US military has already funded over the
course of two decades a project studying psychic phenomena such as
clairvoyance and remote viewing – the StarGate project discussed
here. As the US government has
already spent a long time studying UFO's and psychic phenomena, why
shouldn't the US government fund a very modest scientific study of
I could see why even a
skeptic might support such a study. Right now investigations of ghost
sightings seem to be done almost uniquely by television shows. There
are several very popular series that do this, such as Celebrity
Ghost Stories, Ghost Adventures, and A Haunting.
But if the US government issues an official report on its
investigation into ghosts, than perhaps a skeptic might be able to
use that as cold water he can throw on such paranormal enthusiasm.
Such a federal research
project on ghost sightings would be of great public interest, and
could be done objectively and scientifically for relatively little
cost (only 10 million dollars). We might call this the right type of
ghost study. But it will never get funded. Instead, the US
government will probably end up dropping 100 times more money (a
billion dollars) studying ghostly neutrino particles that are of no
interest to hardly anyone other than a very small group of physicists, in a
project that is very unlikely to even answer any of the top questions
We will probably spend a
billion dollars on the wrong type of ghost study.