When the news broke, there was quite a bit of fluttering in the dovecotes of physics. On the World Tonight programme on Radio 4, the space scientist, Dr Maggie Aderine-Pollock, had an excited conversation with presenter, Ritulah Shah. Aren't you frightened, she was asked, that this undermines your whole scientific world? "If this experiment is correct," she replied, "it is slightly scary, because it means we’re stepping into the unknown, but at the same time there’s a real sense of excitement, because what will we find instead?"
RS: "So do you think the popular view of science in which, arguably, science provides all the answers is very misplaced?"
MA-P: "I think we went through the same process in the 1950s in relation to medicine - doctors knew it all." Now we know they don't. "Science is an evolving process."
Then Ritulah Shah asked this very interesting question: "If the CERN experiment can be replicated, if the data can be stood up, then would it be better for the popular view of science to be one of science delivering new questions and discoveries rather than of one of it delivering the answers?" and received this equally interesting and honest answer: "Yes, because 'answer' sounds as if we have all the answers and we've got it done and dusted; and that isn't how science works. Science works... as an evolution.... We don't have answers; we have evolving questions." Now that, to me, sounds like real science - and to be true, whatever the outcome of the neutrino debate.
And it reminds me of Socrates' wisdom, as related by Plato: "This man, on one hand, believes that he knows something, while not knowing anything. On the other hand, I - equally ignorant - do not believe that I know anything." There's a conditionality which popularisers of science seem unable to grasp, bestowing on scientists an omniscience which the best of them would not claim for themselves. Science is a voyage of discovery, not a destination.