The INO story

A longer story about the India-based Neutrino Observatory that I’d been wanting to do since 2012 was finally published today (to be clear, I hit the ‘Publish’ button today) on The Wire. Apart from myself, four people worked on it: two amazing reporters, one crazy copy-editor and one illustrator. I don’t mean to diminish the role of the illustrator, especially in setting the piece’s mood quite well, but only that the reporters and the copy-editor did a stupendous job of getting the story from 0 to 1. After all, all I’d had was an idea.

The INO’s is a great story but stands unfortunately to become a depressing parable at the moment – the biggest bug yet in a spider’s web spun of bureaucracy and misinformation. As told on The Wire, the INO is India’s most badass science experiment yet but its inherent sophistication has become its strength and weakness: a strength for being able yield cutting-edge scientific, a weakness for being the ideal target of stubborn activism, unreason and, consequently and understandably, fatigue on the part of the physicists.

Here on out, it doesn’t look like the INO will get built by 2020, and it doesn’t look like it will be the same thing it started out as when it does get built. Am I disappointed by that? Of course – and bad question. I’m rooting for the experiment, yes? I’m not sure – and much better question. In the last few years, in which the project’s plans gained momentum, some unreasonable activists were able to cash in on the Department of Atomic Energy’s generally cold-blooded way of dealing with disagreement (the DAE is funding the INO). At the same time, the INO collaboration wasn’t as diligent as it ought to have been with the environmental impact assessment report (getting it compiled by a non-accredited agency). Finally, the DAE itself just stood back and watched as the scientists and activists battled it out.

Who lost? Take a guess. I hope the next Big Science experiment fares better (I’m probably not referring to LIGO because it has a far stronger global/American impetus while the INO is completely indigenously motivated).