Saturday, March 29, 2008

Doomsday Created at CERN

I've read a few articles on this, but after I saw it became the number one blogged about story for a time today according to, I decided to join the bandwagon.

Two men in Hawaii are going to court to stop CERN from turning on. They maintain physicits there will do something like create a black hole that will grow as it eats up the whole earth or something just as bad or worse.

I guess their claims are drawing enough attention that CERN is actually investigating the issues. They are trying to make sure all their claims are highly unlikely. For instance, they are making sure that any black holes created will evaporate fast enough that they would do no harm. But, then again, what if they don't evaporate? We don't know for sure Hawking is right about that. (Though if we detect it he might be scooting in his chair to Stockholm.)

This has happened before. Before the first nuclear weapon was detonated there was fear that it might start a chain reaction that would destroy humanity. They checked that it was unlikely, and lucky for us, they were right.

I think Dr. Arkani-Hamed, a string theorist, put it best: (Alluding to how improbable these doomsday senarios are):

Dr. Arkani-Hamed said concerning worries about the death of the Earth or universe, “Neither has any merit.” He pointed out that because of the dice-throwing nature of quantum physics, there was some probability of almost anything happening. There is some minuscule probability, he said, “the Large Hadron Collider might make dragons that might eat us up.”

What, dragons! Oh man! We better make sure the court considers that posibility too.


  1. There was a talk given by Isaac Asimov and the premise of the talk was "People are stupid" (that's a direct quote). He talked about the first story he ever published which was about a man that built a rocket in his backyard, but there were many people that protested him doing it (protested the man in the story, not Isaac Asimov). Asimov told how he came up with the idea when he had to "read" a book for a job he had in collage about resistance to technological advance. As he put it:

    "Well, when I read all of these references I discovered, to my amazement, that all through history there had been resistance...and bitter, exaggerated, last-stitch every significant technological change that had taken place on earth. Usually the resistance came from those groups who stood to lose influence, status, a result of the change. Although they never advanced this as their reason for resisting it. It was always the good of humanity that rested upon their hearts.

    For instance, when the stagecoaches came into England, the canal owners objected. Not that they would lose money, although they would, but they feared for humanity. Because as the stagecoaches tore along at fifteen miles an hour, the air whipping past the nostrils of the people on board, would by Bernoulli's Principle, suck all the air out of the lungs."

    "There was a whole organization of people on earth who were sore as anything at the people who were trying to get out into space. They thought people should stay on earth and mind their own business."

    "It never occurred to anybody that there might actually be resistance to the whole notion; people might think it was a rotten idea and a waste of money."

    I first heard about this story from Dr. Spencer (he was also making the point that people are stupid). But it makes a good point that we typically don't think about as scientists; people are stupid and when we have a theory they will ignore us but when we actually try to build something to test our theory they will try to stop us.

  2. There is more to his talk and you can probably find it online by googleing "people are stupid" Isaac Asimov

  3. I'll tell you a funny story one of the experimental particle physicists told us here.

    He said at Fermilab they wanted to shoot a beam of neutrinos several miles away and build a detector to see how they oscillated.

    Somebody from the public found out and said it would pose a health hazard to have "renegade" neutrinos flying through peoples homes constantly.

    Physicists reminded them that there are billions of neutrinos that pass through them every day from the sun which that pose no threat as they don't really interact with you. So adding a fraction more wouldn't be a problem either.

    Physicists compromised by saying that they would build a concrete wall between the emitter and their homes.

    The people agreed. The funny thing is a concrete wall is worthless in stopping neutrinos. It was the ultimate placebo.


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