Saturday, April 05, 2008

Follow-Up To The LHC Lawsuit

I was reading Bob Park's entry (April 4, 2008) of this LHC lawsuit yesterday, and it brought back memories of the almost-identical issue being faced when RHIC was about to start up. It was such a brouhaha that even Comedy Central covered it! :)

It is worthwhile to note of the in-depth study that was done at that time to dispel the myth that RHIC would create not only black holes in its collisions, but a catastrophic one. And unlike the joker who filed that lawsuit, this scenario was brought up not by an ignorant individual, but rather by a few physicists themselves. So certainly it warranted a careful consideration.

However, there were two different issues involved here. The first was the careful study of the claims made within the scenario, i.e. can there be a catastrophic creation of blackholes that could spell disaster. This was easily dispelled because of the existence of the moon (you'll have to read the full report). The second one was more difficult to explain to the general public. In many instances in physics, we see different phenomena that share the same mathematical description or formulation. The similarities of the mathematics from some aspect of condensed matter physics and elementary particle physics is one example. This is again what happened in a RHIC blackhole scenario. The problem here is that once that comparison got out, it caught fire among the media and the general public, who weren't able to know the significance of such a comparison. All they see is the "headlines" of blackholes being created, and that's that.

Again, this is where, if one doesn't have the necessary knowledge to decipher the information, one can be easily mislead by news reports. Sometime, it is the fault of scientists themselves for sensationalizing the issue (example: quantum teleportation, and anything Michio Kaku has written in his latest pop-science book). The public does not have the understanding and the formalism in mind when they read these things, unlike physicists. All they can do is associate what they read with what they know, and what they know come mostly from the media, TV, movies, etc. So it should not be a surprise that they can't tell the different between the "quantum teleportation" as a demonstration of quantum entanglement, and the teleportation they saw in Star Trek. When you use the same word, you should expect the pedestrian meaning of it to dominate, where it is accurate or not.


Addendum: Looks like the Editorial in the NY Times has it right.

More than once over the years we have felt as if we were transported to another universe listening to lawyers and judges wield the complexities and arcana of their trade. It would be fun to watch them struggle with theoretical physics. But if the courts have any sense, they will drop this suit into the nearest black hole.

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