Scientists, or Kooks?

CERN, home of the Large Hadron Collider, asks ‘where is Sarah Connor when we need her?’


Okay, so if you’ve been lurking around here for a while, you know that I don’t think too highly about the Large Hadron Collider, the enormous supercollider built by the geniuses at CERN which only has a small chance of creating a black hole which could destroy the entire world.

At first, we were assured that there was little or no risk of danger in re-creating the environment of the universe only instants after the Big Bang. I didn’t like that, and in early September of last year, I wrote the following:

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.”

I especially didn’t like what I read from other scientists quoted in that Times piece, specifically the parts about the odds of disaster being tiny but the stakes being cosmically high, or about how probability estimates are often little more than “informed betting odds,” or how even the most basic question–”how improbable does a catastrophe have to be to justify proceeding with the experiment?”–seemed “never to have been seriously examined.”

Even knowing that I was yammering on about stuff obviously far above and beyond my pay grade, I nonetheless continued with the following:

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?

Well, a few months after the device was started and subsequently shut down prematurely because of an unforeseen problem (I love unforeseen things, especially when the scientists assure safety based on what they’re able to foresee), a story broke in January that a trio of scientists had recalculated and reassessed the mathematical aspects of the device’s proposed creation of a miniature black hole, and decided that they weren’t so gosh-darned certain that Large Hadron Collider would not, in fact, cause a cataclysmic reaction which would destroy the Earth.

Even though people like me–mere imbeciles when it comes to all things science–can recognize that, gee whiz, perhaps venturing into the unknown and recreating the aftermath of the Big Bang in an underground facility in Europe might not be a good idea, and even though actual scientists later determined the very same thing, the scientists at CERN remained defiant, arguing that the device would create no threat, that any black hole created by the giant supercollider would simply evaporate almost instantaneously.

And we should trust them, because they’re smart scientists and not at all kooks, right?

WRONG.

According to a report last week in the Telegraph of London, more theoretical physicists (what the heck are theoretical physicists, anyway?) are suggesting that the pitfalls and speed bumps which have faced the project are all a result of one cause — Mother Nature going back in time to sabotage what they purport to be needed scientific progress.

In a theory reminiscent of the time travelling film Back to the Future, the theoretical physicists Holger Nielsen, from Denmark, and Masao Ninomiya, from Japan, have concluded that its discoveries could be so “abhorrent to nature” that they are coming back to stop their own creation.

That’s right, the Large Hadron Collider is little teenage John Connor, and Mother Nature and the possibly non-existent Higgs Boson have taken the form of Marty McFly, and have traveled back in time to ensure that the project never gets off the ground.

These people are bat-guano crazy. And yet we trust them when they say: “Trust us, we won’t destroy the world.” Seriously?

If, time-after-time, efforts which at the very least could result in consequences “abhorrent to nature” and at worst could have a remote possibly of destroying all of mankind simply cannot get off the ground, I firmly believe that the darned thing isn’t working for a reason. If it’s not Mother Nature in her Calvin Kleins, dancing to the music of Chuck Berry, then it’s some sort of omniscient presence giving us one more chance to come to our senses and err on the side of existence.

According to the Telegraph piece, the device is set to be switched on again soon. Here’s to hoping that Ms. Nature or Mr. Boson finds the keys to the DeLorean and nips this thing in the bud once again.

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Comments

  1. Anonymous says:

    Jeff,

    I sure hope you're not on the religious right, because if you are the idea of re-creating the Big Bang (a fairy tale theory to the religious right) shouldn't concern you.

    Although if you are on the non-religious right such as myself I see your concern, though I don't think the LHC is going to destroy the earth…

  2. Gail B says:

    Oh, dear Lord, if it's not the Communists, it's the scientists! Can't You DO something about them?

  3. Gail B says:

    What's the point? (Obama won the Peace Prize!) If it doesn't work, things will probably remain the same. If it does work, we'll all be sucked into the black hole and be called racists.

    I mean, this is like giving a child a can of gasoline and a book of matches to play with. As is being stated more and more lately, "Whiskey Tango Foxtrot!"

    Anybody have an idea of what that carbon footprint would be?

  4. Anonymous says:

    This is the ultimate test to prove that there is no God, and no amount of risk or reason will dissuade them. If there is no God, then they, being the world's premier scientists, collectively become God. It has always been about ego, not science. Kapish?

  5. Anonymous says:

    Just another case of Man trying to become God. As it says in Proverbs, "there's a way that seems right unto man, but the end thereof is destruction". When even some of the physicists involved in the project start speculating that God may be resisting their efforts, be afraid.

    It's the same innate human flaw that drives the Progressives on a political level. The goal is a government-created Utopia. Won't happen.

    Old Bob

  6. Anonymous says:

    I think there has already been a major accident. A black hole has been created and is suking all our money into it – it's called the Obama Administration!

  7. Rix says:

    As a holder of second degree in physics, I'll take the side of the science. We'll run out of fossil fuels in 50-70 years, out of uranium in another 100 and out of deuterium in another 200 – and that only if energy consumption doesn't rise, which is unlikely. And then what, back to the cave? Forget about the stars? That's the same reason why I support cloning and stem cell research, moral, philosophical and religious reservations be damned. The pace of technical progress cannot be stopped or slowed without resorting to extreme, Inquisition-like violence. It is also worth noting that the chance of creating a black hole is significantly smaller than that of the Earth being hit by a giant meteorite (and Bruce Willis failing to save us from it).

    Yet another, much darker argument is that the black hole will kill everyone instantly, without panic or suffering. Contrary, my estimate of a nuclear or a deadly biological weapon being purposely or accidentally deployed within my lifetime is very significant; can't say for you but I'd rather go instantly than after a decade of torturous degradation.

  8. Courtney says:

    If you're up for an interesting read, google "john titor" – a guy who claimed he was a time traveler from 2036 – i think he posted in 1999-2000. Anyway, he claimed cern accidentally created a black hole or something that made time travel possible. It's interesting reading, if nothing else. If you're not familiar with the story, I'm not gonna give anything else away. Someone showed me the posts back in 2002.

    lol – verif word 'pucke'

  9. Anonymous says:

    Jeff,

    Your concerns are quite reasonable. I share them. I fear that CERN is just interested in pushing back the foreskin of science.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Rix Said:
    "As a holder of second degree in physics, I'll take the side of the science. We'll run out of fossil fuels in 50-70 years, out of uranium in another 100 and out of deuterium in another 200 – and that only if energy consumption doesn't rise, which is unlikely."

    Rix, we will be absolutely, unequivocally FINE. We have more than enough "gas" coming from the windbags of this administration to power energy generation for the next 1000 years.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Why do conservatives (I am one) use so much common sense and rational intelligence when discussing politics and economics only to throw it out the window when discussing science and religion? You should be ashamed of yourself, Jeff.

    An avid reader and admirer of your writing talent and Right on opinions:

    John

  12. JEFF SCHREIBER says:

    Rix is wrong.

    We have at least 100 years of fuel from oil shale. We have at least 100 years of energy from coal. We have the capacity to build nuclear power stations. We have deposits of oil offshore, in the gulf, in Alaska.

    Plus, there's solar, wind, tidal … alternatives, yes, but at least they're in existence now, unlike some hypothetical nonsense which might or might not come along with the creation of a black hole.

  13. Anonymous says:

    I'm not exactly sure what the commentor "John" had in mind, claiming that Jeff "should be ashamed of himself", but I interpret it as referring to the common belief that science and religion are mutually exclusive. In my opinion, nothing could be further from the truth.

    The exciting thing about the times that we live in is that we are rapidly approaching the point of what I call "convergence" (basically the same thing as scientists refer to as "singularity") between the two disciplines. There can only be one "truth" and events are moving in that direction at virtually the speed of light.

    Only one "truth" will survive, and I'm betting on the spiritual perspective demonstrating its factual superiority, from the perspective of meaningful human existence, and in the process, reducing science to merely a
    tool to understand the reality of the spiritual.

    But regardless of how it turns out, we will soon know the results, and I for one, welcome achieving that point of convergence. One thing that you can be sure of; all things in the physical realm have both beginnings and endings. Infinity is what existed before the "Big Bang" and it is what will exist after the physical universive collapses back in on itself, either naturally or as the result of humankind's actions.The spiritual suffers from no such constraint.

    Old Bob

  14. CHICKEN LITTLE IS WHACK says:

    Jeff is right.

    And once again, everybody read God Wants You To Be Rich by Paul Zane Pilzer, for a refresher on economics, what constitutes a resource, mans capability to innovate and invent, and an overview on folks like Al Gore and why they are all wrong and why they get all the attention they do.

  15. BOND, JAMES BOND says:

    At this point, who cares if they blow up the earth. It's better than the march to socialism, IMHO.

  16. Rix says:

    1) Even if "100 years worth of coal and oil shale" argument holds water, it is still a crime against future generations to burn the precious, irreplaceable chemical resources for heating and electricity production. The fact that we are forced to do it now speaks ill of the way our technical progress and social politics took.

    2) Wind and solar energy might be the future's hope but there is no technology to make its production worthwhile in this century. As things are now, it takes almost the as much electric power to manufacture a wind turbine or a sloar panel as it will produce through its life cycle. They are also unreliable and not portable. Tidal and geothermal sources are better but they are barely sufficient to cover present needs of the humankind, not to speak of distant future.

    3) Nuclear power is probably today's best alternative to fossil fuel energy production but it has a number of drawbacks. Uranium deposits are limited and costly to enrich, and all byproducts are radioactive pollutants. Nuclear reactors are hardly portable and hazardous to operate.

    4) Even if all your arguments are true, Jeff, take a look beyond one human lifespan. In five hundred years, ALL modern resources will be either gone or incredibly scarce. Yes, the human genius will eventually find a way, but it requires tools – and, as technology advances, the tools are becoming expensive and often dangerous. Despite continuous technological acceleration, no groundbreaking discoveries were made in physics in the last 20-30 years (with possible exception of high-temp superconductivity). If we ever want to reach the stars, we need a jump start – and if the jump start comes with a price tag of self annihilation chance of ten in minus-thirty power, I'll take it gladly.

  17. Anonymous says:

    I sure hope they don't decide to test this monster out on December 21, 2012!

    I do believe small risk are acceptable, for without risk no progress is made.

    I also believe scientist are like any other class of people – some of them believe and some of them don't

  18. Anonymous says:

    I'm sorry Jeff, but your post on this topic is fearmongering. You admit you have no idea what you're talking about. Your posts on this blog are generally insightful and intelligent, but this one smacks of superstition, ignorance, and dark-age thinking.
    The LHC isn't going to end the world, we'll be fine, and science will continue to find ways to improve our lives.
    Meaning no disrespect, I'd recommend that you stick to blogging about government and politics, where your words are better supported and have more value.

  19. Anonymous says:

    Based on a number of the preceeding comments, I'm afraid that we're seeing the same effects of our educational system relative to science that we're seeing in politics (i.e.the false belief in mankind's ability to create a Utopian society by government fiat).

    Science can be, and has proven to be, greatly beneficial to human existence – in fact it has been the basis of a long and successful personal career – but it adds nothing to what it means to be human. That is the spritural component of the uniqueness of humamity, and without it, life has no meaning other than the gratification of physical needs; the same as a dog.

    For those not steeped in the false certainty of science's claims, Jeff's concerns are real and valid. The "unkonwn" is simply that; the unknown. Hence, considering the possiblities, no matter how remote, is not fear mongering; it is simply the rational result of weighing the cost of doing vs the cost of not doing. In this case, I'm with Jeff.

    And BYW, the comments of "Anonymous" at 10:06 AM are shamefully arrogant and indicative of an intellect a mile wide and an inch deep.

    Old Bob

  20. Rix says:

    > Infinity is what existed before the "Big Bang" and it is what will
    > exist after the physical universive collapses back in on
    > itself, either naturally or as the result of humankind's
    > actions.The spiritual suffers from no such constraint.

    I couldn't pass such a display of – my apologies, Old Bob – scientific ignorance. According to the Big Bang Theory to which you refer, there was no such thing as "before Big Bang" because time itself was created along with the material world. BBT is a purely scientific, if not yet fully mainstream, theory; if you want the true edge between science, philosophy and religion, try googling for "multiverse".

  21. Anonymous says:

    There was no "big bang"…period! God created everything with His "words" and He will be the one to destroy the earth by fire.

    Sally

  22. Anonymous says:

    Old Bob said:

    "For those not steeped in the false certainty of science's claims, Jeff's concerns are real and valid. The "unkonwn" is simply that; the unknown. Hence, considering the possiblities, no matter how remote, is not fear mongering; it is simply the rational result of weighing the cost of doing vs the cost of not doing."

    Real and valid concerns are concerns backed up with knowledge and with understanding of the situation at hand. As Jeff admits, he has neither. His criticism of the LHC is based on blind fear of something knew and hearing someone else say what they think the LHC might do.
    This is not an informed opinion; as a said before, it is anti-science fear-mongering, and quite inconsistent with Jeff's usually excellent writing.

    "And BYW, the comments of "Anonymous" at 10:06 AM are shamefully arrogant and indicative of an intellect a mile wide and an inch deep."

    Coming from someone who has said the things you have said, that comment, while still injurious, does not concern me overly much. Anyone who presumes to judge the intellectual capacity of another from fewer than a dozen sentences on a blog comments page is more judgmental and less civil than I would demand of a scientist OR a spiritualist, much less someone trying to claim both.

    New Bob

  23. Anonymous says:

    To "New Bob" (and yeah, I get your play on words).

    Sorry about the judgemental thing, but my comment was based on your judgmentaism of Jeff's perspective. The first and foremost sign of a shallow intellect is distain for someone else's sincerely held perspective. There's no way to explain that type of commentary other than arrogance.

    I do not distain your perspective on the subject of science but I DO take offense at your failure to recognize that those, such as Jeff, who have a different perspective, usually have valid reasons for taking such a position and deserve respect, not supercillious rudeness.

    As for Rix's comment, yes, I know all about the "beginning of time" and the elements that define "time", but "something out of nothing" – nah. As my Dad used to say to me, "Any excuse will do". In this case, what most persons of such a persuasion are trying their best to do is to rule out any possibility that there is such a concept as an eternal God.

    That's your choice, and I respect it and fully understand the basis of it, but don't try to disparage my belief that there is an eternal God with speculations or theories clothed in the robes of fact.

    But in all seriousness, I want to apologize for getting personal with "New Bob" because in so doing, I became what I was offended by.

    And to "Sally", I only use the term "Big Bang" to acknowlege the fact that there was a beginning, just as there will be an end. I agree with you that the most reasonable explanation is that it was an act of God, but if "science" wants to refer to it as "The Big Bang", I'll accept that simply as a means of identifying an event.

    Old Bob

  24. EVERYTHING GOES TO CRAP says:

    Doesn't it take more 'faith' to accept evolution than creation? and they mock us for our faith?

    I'm confused. I'm still waiting to see evidence of the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics not holding. Being the lawn care guy for my dads 19 acres and my fiancees 14 acres I know for a FACT, ANYTHING left to itself entrophies.

  25. Rix says:

    Old Bob:

    I want not to make any point or start a scientific, theological or philosophical debate but rather to inform. The Big Bag Theory has a curious loophole: it allows for a possibility that a Supreme Being exists in a "space" with higher number of dimensions than that of our Universe (i.e., 3), rendering our concept of "time" inapplicable.

    To ease comprehension of that not-so-mundane concept, let me bring a trivial but very effective example. Imagine a two-dimensional "universe" on your own desk. Even if sentient and highly intelligent life were to develop there, you – a corporeal but higher-dimensional being! – would be completely undetectable for them. What they could detect, however, is your manifestations in their world – for example, if you were to carve your desk with a knife, two-dimensional denizens of your desk would see it as a mysterious rift appearing out of nowhere. In essense, you would be their God.

    This example, naturally, does not prove that God exists but shows that theology and cutting-edge science can perfectly coexist. See, I am a weird kind of atheist. :)

  26. Lisa says:

    We don't need to fear…

    God has given man a general framework (sometimes more explicit than others) for what is going to happen in the future to our earth.

    He makes it quite clear that HE alone will be the one to destroy HIS creation…so no need to worry!

    He is in control, whether you believe in Him or not!

    Humans can only do what HE allows…and according to Scripture, there is more to occur before this destruction happens.

    Lisa in TX

  27. Anonymous says:

    Thanks, Rix, for your illustration. I share your opinion that science and religion can co-exist. I look forward to the day when the appearance of conflict ceases to exist.

    Old Bob

  28. Anonymous says:

    John Titor is watching…… oooooo ahhhhhh…oooooooooo

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