Saturday, March 29, 2008

Lawsuit: Huge Atom Smasher Could Destroy World

This news has been making the rounds around various blogs and news wires. A couple of wackos have decided to file a lawsuit against the US Dept. of Energy (DOE) and CERN to stop them from building the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN.

I debated on whether I want to dignify this stupidity by reporting it on here. But then again, it is going to be reported anyway. This news report has some brief description of the background of the yoohoos that filed the lawsuit.

Not included among the documents is Wagner's own indictment last month on identity-theft charges tied to an ongoing legal battle over a botanical garden on the Big Island of Hawaii, but you can read about that here.

Most physicists say Wagner's worries are unfounded. Micro black holes would evaporate nearly instantly instead of combining to form larger ones, they say, and the "strangelet" particles he frets would freeze the world would in fact fall apart quickly.

Wagner's own background is a bit fuzzy. He claims to have minored in physics at U.C. Berkeley, gone to law school, taught elementary-school science and worked in nuclear medicine at health facilities — but he doesn't appear to have an advanced degree in science.

Sancho's qualifications are even murkier, but the lawsuit identifies him as a Spanish citizen residing in the U.S., even if his presence makes the entire case a bit, um, quixotic.

And before someone accuse me of simply trying to attack the credibility of the wackos rather than address the "physics", let me point one very glaring and important observation here. There are already extremely energetic particles colliding with other particles in our universe. For example, the recent Auger Observatory results studied the origin of the these cosmic particles, that have energies in the 100's of TeV, something that CERN cannot even come close to. These particles have been around for million (even billions) of years, and have made gazillions of collisions. If such high energy collisions can create blackholes, we would have been swallowed and destroy by them already by now. Hello? Is this not obvious?

It looks like the crackpots are now getting a bit more daring. But now, rather than just being an internet nuisance, they are now being a pain-in-the-rear-end with their frivolous lawsuits. So anyone who thinks that these crackpots are just a "harmless" bunch of losers, think again. They're still losers, but they're definitely not always harmless.



Keith said...

I read this earlier this morning from MSNBC ( ). My favorite part was the PSYCHOLOGY professor raising concerns about it. Now thats a qualified opinion, ha!

Kent Leung said...

It appears that dumbing down of the science to reach a wider audience has backfired. Even John Ellis conceded, in a seminar that I went to, that these "mini-black holes" aren't really black holes at all. I believe it was an attempt to get the public excited about the LHC, or should I call it "The God Machine" as some newspapers do. Don't get me wrong, I am all for research reaching a wider audience, but dumbing it down too far is not an ideal compromise.

Anonymous said...

Gentlemen, all you seem to be able to do is calling any doubter with not very endearing names and laugh at their qualifications or lack of.

Perhaps you are only school-children and therefore not much more can be expected, however if you are not please let me entertain you with a logical conclusion.
No qualification required other than the ability to think.

I am surprised to see many physicists dismissing the possiblities of black holes and strangelet created by the LHC as laughable. Their colleagues at CERN certainly do not think this is a laughable matter and that's why they spent a considerable amount of time and money to investigate the degree of probability of this happening.

Of course the official CERN report concluded that there is "no basis for any conceivable threat" of either eventuality.


Would I be wrong in saying that the study did not fully exclude the possibility of such a disaster?

Would I be wrong in stating that they came to this conclusion on the basis of our current understanding of the law of physics and associated theories?

According to Stephen Hawking in A Brief History of Time, "any physical theory is always provisional, in the sense that it is only a hypothesis; you can never prove it. No matter how many times the results of experiments agree with some theory, you can never be sure that the next time the result will not contradict the theory. On the other hand, you can disprove a theory by finding even a single observation which disagrees with the predictions of the theory".

Lets hope that in May when the LHC is switched on we don't disprove a few of the theories used by the CERN and by yourself to conclude that the LHC poses "no concievable threat".

Good luck to us all.

ZapperZ said...

Excuse me, but I didn't "just laugh" at the idea. I also gave a compelling PHYSICAL EVIDENCE on why this isn't plausible, mainly from the AUGER data! The cosmic particles coming from those Active Galactic Nuclei (AGN's) that Auger was studying are WAY, WAY more energetic than anything the LHC can even come close to. Yet, where are the blackhole disaster? How come you are IGNORING that fact?

And the fact that the CERN study clearly concluded that this is not plausible either is another point. It is just that you didn't like the result of it. TOUGH! Do your own study, assuming you can work yourself out of a paperback. And if all you can do is cite a pop-science book, my guess is, you can't.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for your reply zapperz.
Let me assure you that I am not trying to pick a fight.

Starting from the bottom of your reply, let me point out that I have quoted “Stephen Hawking” and the fact that he made this comment in a popular science book is completely irrelevant.

I very much like the conclusion of CERN’s study and I am immensely reassured by it, however the logical path that I have asked you to follow in my previous posting remains valid.

I am not a physicist, and therefore I am unable to debate with you on the validity of the evidence provided by cosmic rays collisions. I am greatly reassured by the findings of the Auger observatory however I am also aware of ongoing debates about how the high energy cosmic ray collisions cannot be compared to the LHC collisions as the environments and conditions in which the two occur are very different.
Is this a valid argument? I have no idea, but the fact that this is still debated does not fill me with joy.

ZapperZ said...

But your comment here is highly irrational! One could say almost the same thing with EVERY kind of experiment. Can the particle accelerator I work with suddenly encounter some freak particle that causes it to explode and create black holes? Sure! The probability isn't zero. However, do you also go through life always considering the possibility of things happening that is equal to the spontaneous reassembly of a broken vase back to its original shape? If you do, then I would understand your irrational fear of the LHC. If you don't, then I suggest you compare the phase space probability of the two.

Physicists will say that the probability of a broken vase spontaneously reassembling back to its original shape isn't zero, i.e. there's always a non-zero chance that that could happen. That's the nature of statistical mechanics. But you go through life using the consideration that that will never happen. THIS is the kind of scale that we're talking about here, and this is the kind of "language" that you need to understand when you read technical or scientific report. If not, you'll start some irrational fear-mongering that many people have used ignorantly.

Irrational fears based on incomplete knowledge or facts is the WORST kind of rumor propagation there is out there. You need to reexamine your role in this.


Anonymous said...

Thank you. I appreciate you taking the time to reply.

This is useful. Perhaps the problem is in the language used when communicating to the public as Kent Leung suggested in his earlier post.

If one feeds the public sensationalism, they will very likely get sensationalism in return.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

as far as I am aware, dissipation of black-holes by Hawking radiation is not a proven phenomenon yet. Is this information out of date?

By what other mechanisms could black holes dissipate?

Further, your tone ("then I suggest you compare the phase space probability of the two") implies you're uncomfortable having to justify your positions (hard to imagine how a practicing physicist can have this trait and survive).

CERN themselves conducted a safety-review - though it was not as thorough as it could have been). Are you **really** in a position to pooh-pooh others' questions about this safety? The LHC project involves around 2000 physicists. Is your reputation such that you can afford to take a tone more dismissive than Einstein or Hawking have taken in the past? Perhaps your unfamiliar with Richard Feynman's reputation for talking WITH people rather than at them; he entertained all kinds of ideas without EVER suggesting that people remove themselves from the discussion.

Your attitude here is a BLOT on the memory of truly great physicists, and I suggest you read Feynman's writings and learn that he was a warm and decent person - who never talked down to people.

You should be ashamed of yourself

ZapperZ said...

It is IRONIC that you somehow used "not proven phenomena" as your point of contention when everything you are describing can equally be claimed as "unproven phenomena" as well! So you yourself are using speculative physics without realizing it!

Again, note that I didn't just "pooh pooh" those concerns. I actually showed PROOF, simply via the existence of the moon (as was done with the RHIC safety review) that such a thing is extremely unlikely. What is wrong with asking for the comparison of the phase space for such an event to take place? Have you ever based your life on the miniscule probability of spontaneous existence of virtual particles that can create catastrophic events right in front of your nose? Do you?

It appears that it is you who "pooh poohed" these valid points.