Blinding us with Science

(Cartoon by me. See why I write, and refrain from drawing?)

So, the Large Hadron Collider, a device buried far beneath Switzerland and designed to recreate an environment as last seen in the instant following the Big Bang, is scheduled to come online on September 10, 2008 at 3:00 a.m. Eastern Time. A little more than a week from now. Gladly, scientists across the world are trying to block the experiment through European courts due to safety concerns, namely the threat that the device will create a black hole that would expand and destroy the entire planet.

I may be stubborn, and I know I’m ill-informed, but I don’t like this thing.

I fail to see, for instance, the practical benefits of recreating the universe in the moments following its creation, and I lack any confidence whatsoever in the scientists who have designed the machine, as not even they know what it can or will do.

As far as I understand it, one of the goals of the device is to bridge the intellectual gap between theories about the interrelationships between small objects and those between large ones — apparently, the theories which Albert Einstein developed with regard to making rules for particle physics don’t seem to add up when the rules are applied to much larger objects. In order to answer these questions, so puzzling and frustrating to those much smarter than I, scientists plan to recreate the condition of the universe a millisecond after the Big Bang.

This involves the use of ten dimensions, far beyond the three spatial dimensions known to humankind. It involves the creation of miniature black holes and the search for the elusive Higgs’ Boson, a massive particle only predicted to exist and named after the guy–Higgs, I guess–who did not discover the particle, but rather was the first to float the idea that the particle might possibly exist.

Here’s the thing: While I’d rather Iran, for instance, never be permitted to possess working nuclear weapons, I have little problem with them conducting research regarding such weapons systems. The way I look at it, should one of their scientists have a crappy weekend and mess something up, the disastrous consequences will be somewhat localized. I am comforted that the consequences of any short-sightedness or stupidity will be relatively small. I do have a problem, though, with the possible instantaneous GLOBAL consequences of any short-sightedness or stupidity on the part of CERN and its network of brilliant scientists.

Here are people–mere humans–who, while much, much more intelligent than I, admittedly are only postulating–GUESSING, that is– with regard to much of the role, capabilities and potential of the Large Hadron Collider. Here are people who admitted that the chances of it causing a “global catastrophe” are slim. Here are people who, according to one nuclear physicist and Nobel Peace Prize winner quoted in the New York Times, are more “concerned with public relations impact of what they, or others, say and write, than in making sure that the facts are presented with complete scientific objectivity.”

Here’s more from that April 2008 Times piece:

One problem is that society has never agreed on a standard of what is safe in these surreal realms when the odds of disaster might be tiny but the stakes are cosmically high. In such situations, probability estimates are often no more than “informed betting odds,” said Martin Rees, a Cambridge University cosmologist, the astronomer royal and the author of “Our Final Hour.” Adrian Kent, also of Cambridge, said in a paper in 2003 reviewing scientists’ failure to calculate adequately and characterize accurately risks to the public, that even the most basic question, “ ‘How improbable does a catastrophe have to be to justify proceeding with an experiment?’ seems never to have been seriously examined.”

That’s scary as hell, isn’t it? Isn’t it?

Independent studies, it seems, have placed the chance of a Collider-produced strangelet instantaneously turning the planet into a “dead, dense lump” at perhaps 50 million to one, less than one-half the odds of buying a single, winning Powerball ticket.

If the only thing at stake were, say, the immediate vaporization of the scientists and the facility, I’d give them a hearty “go for it.” However, because the entire planet may or may not be in jeopardy, I’d really like for everyone to be 100 percent certain of the device’s safety, and the odds of a global catastrophe to be absolutely zero.

Think about it — what other experiment, anywhere on Earth and in any field of study, has even a remote possibility of destroying the entire planet?

Some people have dismissed protests of CERN and its Large Hadron Collider as a function of the religious. For me, this has nothing to do with religion. I am a spiritual man, but this is more to do with ego, with negligence, and with potentially dangerous scientific enthusiasm and a “well, they say they’re experts” dismissive attitude gone unchecked in a case when the stakes are far too high.

Scientists are putting the entire planet and its six billion lives at risk so they can search for things which are only thought to exist. At what point does the rest of the world put aside the leave-it-to-the-experts apathy and stand up against unchecked fanaticism in the name of scientific progress? At what point do we leave some questions unanswered? At what point do we question people who are willing to bet everything to confirm a theory about a theory about something which may or may not provide any benefit of consequence?

While it is true that we would not have the Internet had it not been for the efforts of the people at CERN, and while it is true that this machine may very well produce benefits to all of the world’s problems, at this point in time, not even those who laid the groundwork for the Large Hadron Collider know for sure what it will do. What we do know, though, is that there is some risk to the entire planet. I am not anti-progress, but I certainly believe in erring on the side of humanity as we know it when it comes to the cost-benefit tradeoff.

There is so much concern right now as to how carbon emissions or styrofoam cups or oil drilling will slowly harm the Earth over the next 50 or 100 or 1000 years — where’s the same concern for the potentially catastrophic actions of overzealous scientists guided by enthusiasm and conjecture?

At some point, even the brightest minds in the world need to step back, look at those around them, walk outside and interact with the men, women and children of Earth, and decide that some things are better left alone.



  1. Anonymous says:

    Some scientists thought the Trinity A-bomb test would ignite the atmosphere and kill all life on the planet. Or did it and we’re living in the Matrix?

    There’s a better chance of the earth being destroyed by a comet or by a Gamma ray burst.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Granted, I’m not a physicist nor an astrophysicist. I’m just a lowly electrical engineer. I don’t have any idea what will be discovered by this experiment if anything, but I am pretty sure that no black hole will be created. In my mind and a lot of others a lot smarter than me, Black Holes are a mathematical construct that don’t exist in the real world. They can only be proved mathematically and anything can be “proved mathematically”. Plus, neither these guys nor anyone else have any idea what conditions were like right after the Big Bang or even if there were a big bang. Not to say that they won’t vaporize themselves, but I don’t believe they pose any threat to the planet. If they don’t get the results they expect, and I don’t think they will, they’ll come up with an even more bizarre theory to explain why.

  3. James Jr says:

    Scientists are working to delay the project for reasonable safety confirmation, but courts and politicians have not as of yet intervened to compel CERN to comply.

    I reviewed the published LHC safety reports, rebuttals and comment papers by CERN, physicists asked to comment by CERN, and Dr. Rössler (visiting professor of physics), Dr. Plaga (physics PHD), Nuclear Safety Officer Walter L. Wagner (attorney and former cosmic ray researcher) and others.

    My conclusion is that neither side knows with reasonable certainty what will happen, the safety opposition admits this, CERN does not. Destruction of Earth has not been excluded to the satisfaction of credible experts.

    The proper course of action is a safety conference as Dr. Rössler calls for and safety mitigation procedures as Dr. Plaga calls for including proceeding slowly, not the sprint that CERN announced it will attempt.

    When credible experts warn there may be significant potential for planetary destruction, the proper course of action is not to try to discredit the opposition personally and claim your own theories are virtually infallible.

    Reckless and foolish.

    I think the article “CERN’s Dr. Ellis tells only half of the story” speaks volumes:

  4. Ian Thorpe says:

    The problem with recreating conditions that existed a billionth of a second after the Big Bang is that we do not really know what conditions were like after the Big Bang.

    And if we agree there actually was a Big Bang then we can’t pinpoint to within a billion years when it happened. (I’m an infinite Universe many myself, galaxies expand, collide, contract, merge etc. but time is a human concept and so really cannot be said to exist outside our solar system)

    The ultimate arrogance of these scientists is to assume the whole infinite universe conforms to a system of measuring time that was created only a few thousand years ago on a small planet orbiting an insignificant star in a remote corner of the galaxy.

    But having said that I suppose I have proved one thing at least. If the scientists do create a black hole that swallows the universe, it does not really matter very much. :-)

  5. GinZoe says:

    I think that bioterrorism and chemical warfare could take out the planet with superbugs…. however this would not happen instantaneously (hopefully).

  6. Anonymous says:

    It is kind of like the story about the ham and egg breakfast – which is committed – the pig or the chicken?

    Now what a dumb story idea, to compare this science with.

    But, it really is one and the same.

    We are worrying about THIS SCIENCE and all the while BIG PHARMA has been using its science to kill us off, for years and years now. Breathe the air in the chemical skies courtesy of stockholder’s necessities for retirement portfolios.

    Ok, so now who is committed? The PIG or the CHICKEN?

    The PIG/s happen to be all the EXPERIMENTS of SCIENCE.

    Uh, oh — what happened to the CREATIONISM that was supposed to save the PIG from dying?

    Ah, that’s what commitment is all about and the AMERICAN DUMBOS still believe their ears are large enough to actually allow them to FLY.

    Experimental science = the human experiment and the CHICKENS for this experiment ARE THOSE WHOSE CHA CHING IN GLOBAL MONEY TRADES, while the pigs just keep on getting slaughtered.

    Americans just love to be dumb animals led to whatever slaughter is happening now in the BRAND Global War on TERRRRRR,

    for just one small example.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Why do we need this? Why would these so called scientists be given billions of dollars to do any experiment with such high potential stakes as the destruction of the planet? What will it benefit the human race? Millions of people are dying every day from poverty and wars while millions more from treatable disease desperately need the money! Seems like these people have upside down priorities.

  8. curt maynard says:

    You’re a pussy

  9. Anonymous says:

    To answer anon from 1:38pm — it often seems like there is no point to basic scientific research. Why do we need to know a bunch of details about something that has no impact on the human condition? Surely we’d be a lot better off taking away all of those research dollars and putting them into applied research. Applied research is the kind of research that cures diseases and creates new technologies.

    If we were to do that, the world would be better off…for about 25 years. Then things would get worse, rapidly. The point of basic research is that applied research wouldn’t come up with anything if it didn’t have a foundation to stand on. We would guarantee a dead stop in technology’s tracks in a few decades if we did away with basic research. It’s just hard to take that standpoint, because basic research takes so long to pay off. Moreover, its contributions are often unknown or taken for granted.

    Sometimes science funding requires a little faith.

    Now, none of what I said bears on Jeff’s concern about the safety of the particle collider. I unfortunately haven’t read about it enough to have an opinion on it. An engineer I know said it was no risk, but that was just one guy.

  10. ken anthony says:

    Perhaps the LHC will answer the Fermi Paradox?

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