Science News vs Science – Teleportation

Thanks to one of my favorite blogs of all time, my immediate reaction to news headlines and stories regarding scientific topics is extreme skepticism. So far, this extreme skepticism has not failed me.

Today, I offer one example. From TIME we have this utterly modest headline:

Scientists Just Teleported an Object Into Space for the First Time

From the article itself:

Scientists have successfully teleported an object from Earth to space for the first time, paving the way for more ambitious and futuristic breakthroughs.

An object! This is incredible! Soon, we’ll all be able to subscribe to Amazon Prime to get our objects next second! The failure rate isn’t great, though (emphasis mine):

For about a month, the scientists beamed up millions of photons from their ground station in Tibet to the low-orbiting satellite. They were successful in more than 900 cases.

You may have thought, given the headline, that these scientists were teleporting laptops and coffee up into space, but it turns out it was a whole lot of photons. Still impressive, but an important detail is left out of the article that even the Wikipedia article for quantum teleportation includes in its opening description. But first, one parting shot from TIME, just to keep you misled about the nature of what’s happening:

Scientists at that time determined quantum teleportation, which is often depicted as a futuristic tool in science-fiction films, is in fact possible.

In TV and film, what is depicted is not quantum teleportation, but a sci-fi sort of teleportation that permits objects the size of warships – not to mention human beings – from one location to another nearly instantly. This is not what quantum teleportation is, and quantum teleportation is not what is depicted in science-fiction films as a futuristic tool. From Wikipedia:

Although the name is inspired by the teleportation commonly used in fiction, there is no relationship outside the name, because quantum teleportation concerns only the transfer of information. Quantum teleportation is not a form of transport, but of communication; it provides a way of transporting a qubit from one location to another, without having to move a physical particle along with it.

Don’t trust Science News stories. Their authors are journalists, not scientists, and their goal is audience for their sponsors, not the conference of knowledge or wisdom.

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