Hadron collisions and Jon Stewart

By Phil Plait | April 9, 2008 2:00 pm

The Large Hadron Collider, looming so largely in my mind since I’m heading there next week, was the topic of a recent interview on The Daily Show. Jon Stewart talked to Simon LeVay, who has written a book called When Science Goes Wrong. It’s a funny interview (duh), but Jon does get one thing wrong: he says LHC will make anti-matter that will gobble the Earth, when he really meant a quark nugget or strangelet might be made which will gobble the Earth. Geez, what a basic error, especially for a comedian! Stewart needs to be schooled in current 10-dimensional string and particle physics theory. What an ignoramus!

Funny– LeVay mentions he had a stomach flu, but there is no such thing (it’s unrelated to influenza). Irony!

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Debunking, Humor, Science, Skepticism

Comments (30)

  1. Deepsix

    “The Large Hadron Collider, looming so largely in my mind…”

    I seriously read that as “Hardon”. Almost makes sense in that context. I’ll crawl back into my cave now.

  2. mocular

    Stewart needs to be schooled in current 10-dimensional string and particle physics theory.

    Noooooooo!

    He’s a funny and insightful guy, learning string theory would only cause him to be grumpy and confused for the rest of his life! Please, for the sake of comedy lovers everywhere, don’t introduce him to string theory!!!

  3. Uncle Lar

    I try to cut Stewart some slack when he has guests on who talk about science. I love the Stewart, but he often comes across as sort of anti-science. I think he’s mainly just not bothered to learn much about it. He seems the sort who feels too much taxpayer money is spent or the “what good is this anyway” type. But he’s always funny.

  4. MandyDax

    Well, BA, the next time you get the both-ends “flu,” I’m sure it will come as a great comfort to you that your entire GI tract exploding in dual and opposing jets (much like those found near the poles of black holes and dying stars) has nothing to do with the influenza virus. e_e

  5. KC

    BA:

    While I’m thinking about it, if you have any contacts with the LHC, please tell them that some of us would feel much better if they promised *not* to say “Hey y’all, watch this!” when they run the experiments. :-)

  6. Michael

    KC:

    Or the Yuppie version: “I KNOW what I’m doing!”

  7. MandyDax, I have been through it several times, and knowing the cause personally doesn’t help. But my point still stands.

  8. Does anyone know anything about LeVay? I got the impression that he didn’t know what he was talking about. I believe he is a doctor? He talked about the possibility of the LHC producing an earth-eating black hole with more credulity than any literate scientist should.

  9. MandyDax

    I know, I was just taking the micky, “Colberting” you, as it were. Continuing with it, “Hey, BA, could you explain exactly what planetary nebulae have to do with planets?” Teehee.

  10. Deepsix says: “‘The Large Hadron Collider, looming so largely in my mind…’ I seriously read that as “Hardon”. Almost makes sense in that context. ”

    That’s OK. I read it as “Headon.” Not as titillating, but just as silly (and it also makes sense for a collider).

    – Jack

  11. Alan

    For Jolly Blogger: from LeVay’s home page (http://members.aol.com/slevay/), “I’m a writer and lecturer with a background in neuroscience.” There don’t appear to be any references to any physics-like education in his CV. I suspect one can get to the PhD level in neuroscience without encountering much of the physics that would give one a clue about particle accelerators and black holes.

  12. PerryG

    I didn’t see the interview, but I’ve had many dealings with folks who are experts in one field and therefore think they know everything about any other. In grad school, we used to get bound, published books about “great new ideas” from people who would introduce themselves with statements that I might paraphrase (but not by much) as, “I’m a retired brain surgeon, and I’ve thought a lot about astrophysics. I think I’ve come up with an explanation for all the things you don’t know or have gotten wrong.” My friends and I always wanted to reply with a letter beginning with, “I’m an astrophysicist, but I’ve thought a lot about brain surgery and I think I’d be pretty good at it. Here’s what I think you are doing wrong…”

  13. Caleb

    Connan and Jim Carey seemed to be able to get their physics terminology right. Jon Stewart dropped the ball.

    http://www.videosift.com/video/Conan-and-Jim-Carrey-Talk-Quantum-Physics

  14. Peter

    Jon Stewart gets bonus points for the Man-Bat reference.

  15. JB of Brisbane

    To parphrase T.S. Elliot:

    “This is the way the world ends,
    This is the way the world ends,
    This is the way the world ends,
    Not with a bang, but a ‘Hey, what does this button do?'”

  16. MandyDax

    C’mon, Perry, this isn’t rocket surgery.

  17. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    He’s a funny and insightful guy, learning string theory would only cause him to be grumpy and confused for the rest of his life!

    Please! Any competent administrator, whether science or media, has to learn about shoe string budget theory.

    Oh, um, wait a minute…

  18. PerryG

    Mandy: lol. That’s a great line. Wish I’d thought of that! :)

  19. BlondeReb3

    Oh I love my Jon Stewart. Almost as much as Dr. BA. Why can’t the two of you get along!?

  20. Quiet Desperation

    “Stomach flu” is a generally accepted term. Even people in the health care industry use it because most folks know that it means a gastrointestinal virus. To nitpick it at this point is futile. It’s in the lexicon.

    Is Simon LeVay related to Anton LeVay, the founder and High Priest of the Church of Satan?

  21. Daffy

    “Even people in the health care industry use it because most folks know that it means a gastrointestinal virus. To nitpick it at this point is futile. It’s in the lexicon.”

    Gastrointestinal bacteria, usually.

  22. Nigel Depledge

    Mandy Dax said:
    “Well, BA, the next time you get the both-ends “flu,” I’m sure it will come as a great comfort to you that your entire GI tract exploding in dual and opposing jets (much like those found near the poles of black holes and dying stars) has nothing to do with the influenza virus”

    Well, in case you wanted to know, there are very few bugs that cause the “both-ends” variety of food poisoning. They are all bacteria (not viruses at all), mostly from the Salmonella genus. I think the commonest is S. typhimurium.

  23. Nigel Depledge

    Quiet Desperation said:
    “To nitpick it at this point is futile”

    Never! Never, I tell you! I will be nitpicking to my grave!

    :-)

  24. Nigel Depledge

    Hey, I just realised that that “stomach flu” thing is Bad Biology (the term implies it is a virus, when it is caused by bacteria). I’ll have to add it to my list.

  25. KC

    Uh . . . Nigel?

    Both the Rotovirus and the Norovirus will cause both vomiting and diarrhea. In addition you can also have mild flu-like aches.

    Note a further instance of “Bad Biology.” Some people refer to any gastrointestinal distress as the flu. Obviously it’s not, as anyone who’s had the flu will attest.

  26. @Jolly Bloger

    Yeah, I head a similar reaction watching the interview. It struck me that Levay was uneducated on the realities of the LHC, and simply parrotted the ridiculous pseudoscience that’s cropped up in the mainstream media lately. In the end, I found the whole interview pretty frustrating, particularly since Stewart is admittedly ignorant on scientific topics, and so is reliant on the interviewees to, you know, know what they’re talking about.

  27. Gary Ansorge

    The one major bit of ignorance involved in all this chatter about the LHC is that we get hit by cosmic radiation every minute that far exceeds anything that could be generated by the LHC and after 4.5 billion years, WE’RE STILL HERE!!! Check out this WIKI link for a chart on the spread of cosmic ray energies. The LHC is possibly capable of generating energies 7 or 8 orders of magnitude LESS than natural cosmic radiation and we can note, there have been no earth gobbling black holes or strangelets created.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cosmic_ray

    GAry 7

  28. Calli Arcale

    flu versus influenza….

    It’s worth pointing out that the word “flu” is actually very old, and has referred to various types of ailment (including the stomach flu) since long before the influenza virus was discovered. Indeed, since before bacteria were discovered. It’s an odd quirk of linguistics that the term “flu” has been restricted in this way; other ancient names for broad groups of diseases were either abandoned entirely (how many times have you heard of people stricken by ague?) or retained but given qualifiers. In the case of the flu, one could argue that it was both restricted and given a qualifier!

    “The flu” is really a contraction of “the influence”, which Latin-speaking doctors called “influenza”. The term was applied to a host of easily contagious diseases with some vaguely similar symptoms, the idea being that some sort of invisible influence must be passing between the patients. Which was true, as it happens. Today, we know that there are a lot of different “influences” that can sicken people — influenza, various rhinoviruses, rotavirus, norovirus, scads of different bacteria, even some parasites that might elicit a flu-like response. But only a few of them get called “flu”. For upper respiratory tract infections, the term is generally restricted to infections caused by the influenza virus (so for URI infections, the term’s scope has contracted), whereas for stomach infections, the term remains a broad, nonspecific one to describe symptoms and not an actual pathogen (so for GI infections, the term’s scope is just as broad as it always was).

    So the weird thing is, it’s not that people have gotten sloppy and started to call stomach flu the stomach flu. That’s actually the older usage. ;-) They’ve just failed to restrict the usage the way that some biologists and epidemiologists might like. In the end, language does not bend so easily to logic.

  29. Gastrointestinal bacteria, usually.

    No, it was correct the first time. Most gastroenteritis (at least here in the states) is caused by various and sundry viruses.

    Bacterial gastroenteritis is less common, but damned unpleasant.

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