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Hank gets to the bottom of this "faster-than-the-speed-of-light-neutrino" kerfuffle, discusses some ancient stuff, and announces the winner of the award for worst science in a film.

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[Credit: PNAS]

Hello and welcome back to my office. This week we're going to reveal which movie gets the dubious distinction given by you, the viewers of SciShow, of being named the most scientifically egregious film of 2011. And I also want to introduce you to a little fella that I just imagine was named "Little Horny Man" which... I'll explain. Just sit tight. 



Before I get to those things, I want to boost your understanding of another scientific controversy going on this week. This time, it's Einstein's reputation on the line, as well as the reputations of some my very favorite living physicists. So I've talked a lot before about European Organization for Nuclear Research, or CERN - don't worry about where the C comes from. An ambitious and awesome organization of physicists who are probably best known for their search for the Higgs Boson Particle. 

Last week, word leaked out about flaws discovered in another CERN experiment. This one, in which scientists clocked neutrinos, those subatomic particles that don't have any electric charge and barely have mass, were traveling faster than the speed of light. In September, CERN physicists in Geneva were working on a project called the Opera Collaboration, fired off neutrinos to a detector that was 730 km away in a laboratory in Italy. And the particles appeared to arrive 60 nanoseconds earlier than a light beam would take to travel the same distance. Which was a little bit weird. 

In response to this, Sergio Bertolucci, the research director at CERN said, "I have difficulty to believe it, because nothing in Italy arrives ahead of time." Also, in addition to that concern, it would negate a great deal of what we know about the universe, meaning that maybe an infinite amount of energy had been created and also that it might be possible for a neutrino to arrive at a detector before it was emitted. All of those things, of course, should be impossible. 

So physicists, you know mostly everywhere across the world, were like, "Umm... uhh.. probably not. Let's, you know, put our heads together and figure out what's going on here." But the media found this story and they were like "OOH! NEATO! WHOOPEE! BLEGH!" And they regurgitated the story in much more headline-inspiring formats that got everybody all whipped up.

Now last week's anonymous leak to the scientific press revealed that Opera researchers had detected two different problems that might explain the findings, both having to do with the GPS devices used to synchronize the clocks at both ends of the experiment.

The first possible problem had to do with the device that's used to produce the time stamps between the GPS synchronizations, and when we're talking about sixty billionths of a second, those time stamps have to be pretty precise. The second problem is that appears that there was a bad connection in a fiber optic cable that linked the GPS receiver to Opera's master clock. 

Now no one knows who leaked this information to the press before CERN was ready, but it's a little bit of a jerk move if you ask me. Because without much in the way of context, the mainstream press pretty much treated this development like it was some kind of gaffe as if CERN had been trying to disprove Einstein's theory and it turned out that they were wrong, which is why we saw headlines like this (2:56). 

But CERN physicists aren't sitting around trying to prove Einstein wrong. Opera's mission it to detect neutrinos and study their oscillation. And the kind of neutrinos they're studying, called "tau neutrinos," were only discovered in the year 2000. And not much is known about them. And the weird speeds detected just came up as a by-product of the research. 

Second, the physicists suspected that their findings were off from the beginning because, you know, we don't expect the fabric of spacetime to unravel because we start shooting neutrinos a little bit. 

When they announced the results in September they acknowledged that the findings didn't fit the model, but the stakes were high enough that they, you know, wanted help figuring out what was going on, figuring out if what they had observed had actually happened. CERN's official statement was very clear in this regard. Opera's planning to take new measurements in May, we'll keep you posted. In the meantime, you can check out our citations in the description below to learn more. Let us know if you have any questions, we'll try our best to answer them. 

 Data Points

This week's data points are about really old things rising up, again. 

One of them is a prehistoric flower brought back to life, and the other... is the oldest wang in the New World. 

Point one, Russian scientists announced last week that they had grown the plants from thirty two thousand year old seeds dug up from the permafrost in Siberia. And were excavated from fossilized squirrel burrows in 2007. God, I don't know why I feel like that's so adorable. 

Scientists were able to bring back the plants by placing the tissues from the seeds in a growth medium, a process called micropropagation. And not only did the seeds produce plants, but the new plants turned out to be fertile, which scientists say makes them the most ancient viable multicellular organisms on Earth. 

Now, the narrow-leafed campion can already be found in Northern Russia and Japan, so it's not like they resurrected a frozen baby mammoth or something. Scientists say that this resurrection proved that permafrost is chock-full of ancient genes just waiting to be tapped and studied and maybe even revived. You can read more about the research, of course, in the links below. 

Now, to that other thing. 

Please allow me to introduce to you "Horny Little Man" (4:47) which is what anthropologists have been calling this happy looking kinda lizardy guy that they found carved into a rock in Eastern Brazil. What with his chipper expression and engorged member scientists believe that he was a fertility figure, which you don't have to be an anthropologist to figure out, in my opinion. And what's more, he may be the oldest depiction of a human ever found in the Americas. Anthropologists found him in 2009, while excavating a limestone rock shelter that's been used by different ancient peoples for thousands of years. That C-shaped head of his, along with what the experts describe as his oversized phallus, appear on other rock carvings hundreds of miles away kind of like these (5:23). But not only does our Horny Little Man look, you know, different, he's also a lot older. 

Using radiocarbon dating and a process called stimulated luminescence, scientists are dating him to at least nine thousand years old and possibly as much as twelve thousand years old. Now some rock art has been found that dated to ten thousand eight hundred years ago, but the Brazilian team argues that the methods used to get that date aren't definitive. 

Which means Ol' Horny here may indicate that people in the New World were making figurative art a lot earlier than we had previously imagined. He looks pretty proud of himself. And why shouldn't he? You can read more about him in the links below, of course. 

 Culture Medium

All right, now, I know that you've been itching to see Wheezy Waiter again in his snappy suit, but you're just going to have to settle for me because he couldn't be with us today. So I am announcing the winner of this year's awards for the worst science in film. 

As you know, when it came to who in Hollywood gave us the most ignorant treatments of the physical universe, the competition was fierce. But hey, it's Hollywood! They don't live in the physical universe, they live in the universe of Iron Man and talking animals and Pamela Anderson's breasts. But we did manage to narrow down all of Hollywood's explosions you can hear in space and misused medical terms to three major nominees. And we asked for your votes. 

To recap, here are the finalists: Rise of the Planet of the Apes, in which a baby ape gets super smart because of genetic tests done on his mother after he was conceived; Melancholia, a mood piece about a planet that somehow sneaks up on Earth when we weren't looking; and Transformers: Dark of the Moon, whose premise is based on the assumption that the moon rotates on its axis independent of Earth, which it does not, which we have known for like ever. 

Now, here are your losers. Our third place winner is Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Viewer YamiChippy voted for this movie because "America is so ignorant about evolution already that it does not need a movie reinforcing anything else." I hear you Yami. And second place goes to... Melancholia. Now many of you commented that the rogue planet in Melancholia was meant as a metaphor like maybe having to do with worlds colliding or the end of the world as Kirsten Dunst knows it. But many others said that science is science and director Lars Von Trier does not get to trash astrophysics the way Charlie Sheen trashes a hotel suite. As Samurai put it, "Nice try Trier, but your artsiness cannot distract from the painful inaccuracy of your movie." 

And so that means, of course, that this year's winner for worst science in a film goes to Transformers: Dark of the Moon. Most of you pointed out, as Wheezy did, that knowing that the same side of the moon is always facing the Earth is pretty basic stuff. Like fifth grade basic. But just to get everyone straight here, the moon does rotate. It turns once every 27 days, roughly the same amount of time that it takes to go around the Earth. So the fact is, all parts of the moon get at least a couple of days of sunlight every month except for like a couple shadowy places and a few craters at the poles. There.Is.No.Dark.Side. 

But still, you can't just land Neil Armstrong in the Sea of Tranquility and have him wait until the moon rotates so that no one on the Earth can see him. So, I'm with kelliewelliellie who said that "I personally enjoy that movie, but I couldn't get past the whole beginning was impossible impossible impossible."

The Academy that is SciShow would like to thank all of you who voted.

We always love to hear from you so if you have a news tip or an idea for another contest, please let us know. You can reach me through Facebook, on Twitter, or as always in the comments below. I will see you again in two weeks with more SciShow News.