Fine Structure

LHC and the End of the World

The most recent round of LHC fear-mongering went out recently with the news of two people suing to delay the start date for the new collider in Geneva for safety reasons. Doesn't sound  like big headline news? It's not. Until they mention that we're at risk of DESTROYING THE EARTH if we don't heed their warnings. I wanted to do a short post about the issue because it's important that their misrepresentation of the risks involved be clearly stated. In short, two people (not sure if they even warrant the title 'scientists' at this point) claim that the Large Hadron Collider could produce micro-black holes or stragelets at it's never-before-seen higher collision energies. The issue is covered by the New York Times and shares views from both sides, albeit feeling a little weighted towards rationality.

The most notable post is Jennifer Ouellette's roundup of actual facts relating to the case (on her very nice TypePad blog). Safety studies? Already done that. Three times. Likelyhood of Earth's destruction? As far as we can tell, very very very small. And I think that really gets to the heart of what is being challenged here. A lot of very smart people have evaluated the situation and believe that there's not anywhere near a small chance of a disaster on the level that these two are talking about. Colliders are, in fact, very powerful and dangerous machinery but the danger is limited to the people and technology in proximity to the ring, as seen in the repair reports for the LHC. An infinitesimally small chance of something unexpected happening is not worth ceasing the advancement of science. It's the purpose of science to explore the unknown, especially in bleeding-edge science such as high energy physics. Unbiased evaluation of the risks are expected and, as scientists, all we can do is act on that information. Otherwise we would be going nowhere.

It's unfortunate that this issue gets as much press as it does since the two challengers here are either woefully uninformed or are just looking for a little media attention (and the NYTimes article seems to suggest the latter). To a degree, any kind of media coverage is good media coverage since it's unlikely that the public will lash out and slow the LHC buildout but one has to wonder how it will effect future policy decisions. I wouldn't be surprised if the next Congress discussing for HEP funding contains a word or two about destroying the world with micro-black holes. Fortunately, Congress' science informedness is another issue altogether.

Comments

CERNs web site states that we have not been destroyed by effects of cosmic rays and micro black holes will evaporate.

However, cosmic rays travel too fast to be captured by Earths gravity, and Hawking Radiation is disputed and contradicts Einsteins highly successful relativity theory. Collider particles smash head on like a car collision and can be captured by Earths gravity, and relativity predicts micro black holes will not decay (Hawking called Einstein doubly wrong, yet it is Einstein who is repeatedly found to have been correct in his theories). There is currently no reasonable proof of LHC safety, LSAG (LHC Safety Assessment Group) has been trying for months to prove safety without success. I hold the minority opinion that it may not be possible because it may in fact not be safe.

Cosmic Rays from the legal complaint.

any such novel particle created in nature by cosmic ray impacts would be left with a velocity at nearly the speed of light, relative to earth. At such speeds, . . . , is believed by most theorists to simply pass harmlessly through our planet with nary an impact, safely exiting on the other side. . . . Conversely, any such novel particle that might be created at the LHC would be at slow speed relative to earth, a goodly percentage would then be captured by earths gravity, and could possibly grow larger [accrete matter] with disastrous consequences of the earth turning into a large black hole.

Professor Dr. Otto E. Roessler estimates 50 months Earth accretion time from a single micro black hole captured by Earth's gravity (www.golem.de/0802/57477-4.html, translation at www.lhcconcerns.com/LHCConcerns/Forums/phpBB3/viewtopic.php?f=10&t=52)

If this thing is so safe, why arent CERN scientists allowed to express any personal fears they might have about this Collider?

Alleged in the legal action: Chief Scientific Officer, Mr. Engelen passed an internal memorandum to workers at CERN, asking them, regardless of personal opinion, to affirm in all interviews that there were no risks involved in the experiments, changing the previous assertion of minimal risk.

(Statisticians generally consider minimal risk as 1-10%).

JTankers LHCConcerns.com

April 6, 2008
7:57 AM

From JTankers

JTankers,

I still have yet to see any convincing proof of significant danger. Sure, CERN wants the paying public to think that the LHC is completely harmless, regardless of actual computed danger. Perhaps there are subtle risks of novel particles doing strange things - 'minimal risk' should be accepted as the path that science must take when necessary.

But where are the calculated risks that say this is not worth doing?

April 6, 2008
10:17 AM

From Nick

I think it's possible for a micro black hole to become trapped in Earth's gravitational field and slowly eat away at the planet. Implausible? Yes, but still possible. Do I think the LHC should be torn down, or rebuilt on the Moon? No. Personally, I don't care if the whole world is destroyed within fifty months. I strongly suspect I am not the only one of this opinion, either.

Bottom line: turn on the LHC. If it happens to be our undoing, then so be it. We are bound to be eradicated from the Universe one way or another eventually. Might as well have fun while we're at it.

August 12, 2008
6:17 AM

From Rick Forrest

"I don't care if the whole world is destroyed within fifty months" i care n im sure you would if it happened

September 11, 2008
6:04 AM

From Elliot

within 50 months.. well at least fable 2 will be out

September 17, 2008
2:06 AM

From norman

Is this where Science and Fiction meet? Not that it couldn't happen, many science fiction concepts are realities today, but generally the press reports the static and not the science. The LHC starts up again in Spring 2009 so we'll be hearing more!

November 11, 2008
4:45 AM

From Mike Log