Breaking: LHC still will not destroy the Earth

By Phil Plait | June 24, 2008 12:15 pm

O noes! We’re safe!

Um. Wait a sec.

OK, here’s the deal: some people are claiming the Large Hadron Collider in Europe will destroy the Earth because it might create little black holes or quantum strangelets which will gobble us down in an orgiastic feast of quantum gormandery.

Pretty much every real scientist on the planet then said, nope, won’t happen. Prominent bloggers wrote about it. Late-night talk shows made jokes about it.

Still, people fretted and worried. So CERN went back, looked over its older safety assessment (which initially concluded that everything was cool), and published a revised safety estimate.

Surprise! We’re still safe.

Here’s the good stuff:

Having reviewed the theoretical and experimental developments since the previous safety report was published, we confirm its findings. There is no basis for any concerns about the consequences of new particles or forms of matter that could possibly be produced by the LHC.

This was an exhaustive review of all the physics and potential problems, and they have found that the LHC won’t kill us all. I hate to disappoint the doomcriers, but reality has a way of disappointing them time and again. The fact that we’re still here is pretty good evidence of that.

My thanks to Brian Cox — yes, that Brian Cox — for sending me this info. As he pointed out in his email to me:

Please pay particular attention to a key point that is often missed in these “discussions”. The argument based on cosmic ray collisions is not limited only to cosmic rays impacting on the Earth, but on every astronomical body in the observable Universe, including very dense ones such as neutron stars. It is estimated that the Universe conducts of order 10^13 complete lifetime runs of the LHC every second, with no observable consequences at all. This is on top of very sound theoretical arguments that IF micro black holes can be created, then they must also decay. This statement is based not on speculative stuff like extra dimension theories, but on pretty basic quantum mechanics.

That’s pretty much what I’ve been saying all along. Not that I expect it will even slow down the End-of-the-World crowd. Once you’ve stepped away from reality, things tend to go awry. There’s only one way to be right, but there are infinite ways to be wrong.

Comments (91)

  1. I don’t comment here very often, but I just finished reading The search for Schrödinger’s Cat ($4 used book store!) and I’m now trying to piece my brain back together. Then I come here and see this simple line.

    “This statement is based not on speculative stuff like extra dimension theories, but on pretty basic quantum mechanics.”

    You guys amaze me. BTW what books might you recommend for a novice who likes to learn? Thanks and have a good one.

  2. jb

    dam..and I wanted to be the first to be sucked into a blackhole…arggghhhh :)

  3. rook

    I think everyone agrees that it wont create a black hole to destroy the world, a far-fetched ‘theory’ at best, but rather will open a portal to Hell allowing the Cyberdemon’s minions to pour forth onto this world.

    Our only hope?

    Space marines with chainsaws. Named Duke Nukem.

  4. Kilgore, how is your maths? To appreciate quantum mechanics fully, it is worthwhile to consume it in its mathematical form and to stay away from popularizations. If there is a university near you, check out their undergraduate textbooks and see what appeals to you.

  5. Sorry, I forgot: All the “weirdness” in quantum mechanics is brought to the fore in quantum computing. If your algebra is up to speed you could try Mermin’s quantum computer science.

  6. Doc

    Rook,

    Get real. It’s going to blast a hole in the Van Allen belt and allow Satan through to destroy us all, remember?

    … or was that the Van Halen belt and Santa?

  7. bitemark

    This reminds me of (and I know it often gets mentioned in these coversations) how scientists weren’t 100% sure that the first atomic detonation wouldn’t set fire to the atmosphere.

    Granted, they were about 99.99% sure it wouldn’t –which has led me across the ‘net and back to find out if this is even possible. Anyone know? What would it take to ignite the atmosphere? I think from what I’ve found, it displaces too quickly to actually maintain anything sustainable…

  8. Thanks Pieter, actually my math isn’t that great. It does seem like Quantum Mechanics is as much of a math problem as it is a physics problem, at least in the sense that a layperson thinks of physics. Maybe I just need to work on my math skills, then again quantum mechanics probably isn’t where I’d want to start for brushing up on my math.

    That reminds me I remember hearing about Quantum computing, at the time I just accepted hearing that you have an electron and if it spins one way its a 1 and if it spins the other way its a 0, how can they measure and control the spin without…. I should just read more books.

    Oh and was the one I read a decent popularization at least? Just curious.

    Thanks again!

  9. Yoo

    Does this mean I don’t have to keep my spaceship in continuous readiness anymore?

  10. Navneeth

    Kilgore, if you read by In Seach of Schrödinger’s Cat, by John Gribbin, then you’re in safe hands. He’s one of the best popular science authors out there, IMO. He is never over the top. Do read his other books. I would recommend Stardust as (pop) introduction to stellar evolution.

  11. The LHC-Panic crowd isn’t REALLY concerned by quantum strangelets and microscoping black holes. What concerns them the most is that physicists will succeed in unravelling just a few more of the mysteries of the Universe … something the Biblical Creationism people continue to get all bent out of shape over.

  12. BJN

    “That’s pretty much what I’ve been saying all along.”

    What are your high energy physics creds?

    “There’s only one way to be right, but there are infinite ways to be wrong.”

    Unscientific statement. There are many ways to be partly, even mostly, right but fail to be right on important details. If the stakes are outlandishly high, even a small potential for triggering a risky even must be taken very seriously. You know, like putting a few bucks into watching the skies for those very rare asteroids or comets that could lay waste to our civilization. Long odds but with big consequences.

    I’m soooooo impressed that folks who work for the $5-$10 billion dollar LHC project are telling use not to worry our little heads. No vested interests there!

  13. BUT: If the LHC did succeed in creating something that quickly sucked up the Earth … well, I can think of worse ways to go!

  14. Ed_CO

    I just finished reading Odyssey by Jack McDevitt (Spoiler Alert, I’m about to give up the whole plot!), and in it, they have “The Origins Project”, which is an extreme large scale collider, on the order of thousands of kilometers long, in an empty part of deep intersteller space. The collider has a chance of tearing a rift in time and space, gradually (well, at the speed of light) destroying the entire universe. A bunch of aliens come by, and since they know it will destroy the universe, they destroy the collider. The scientists on the project, of course, deny that any such thing is remotely possible, but after the destruction, they gradually speak up, saying that they were afraid of losing funding, afraid to be called chicken littles, etc. Anyways, the book was written recently, so I’m sure the author had the LHC in mind when he wrote it.

  15. GodlessHeathen

    “yes, that Brian Cox”

    Name-dropper :P

  16. You have to admit, even if a black hole did devour the earth, that would be a pretty cool way to go. ;)

  17. Ian Menzies

    I’m soooooo impressed that folks who work for the $5-$10 billion dollar LHC project are telling use not to worry our little heads. No vested interests there!

    Don’t forget that the people who have a vested interest in the LHC also have a vested interest in not catastrophically destroying their home planet.

  18. Cool,
    Sorry for sorta hijacking this thread it seemed like one that was going to be mostly joking around anyway. Those LHC folks can’t take anything seriously, other than having Duke Nukem on site site, just in case, you can’t take cyberdeamon minions lightly you know.

    I appreciate any book recommendations, again my math is weak but I like pretty much every branch of science, even biology. (shhh don’t tell phil I even read PZ’s site too) Just one of those folks who like to learn, I’m sure you guys understand.

  19. Jim Shaver

    Maybe this is why SETI is having such a hard time of it. Maybe every technologically advanced civilization in the galaxy reaches the point at which they turn on their supercollider, then *poof*. ;)

  20. quasidog

    @BJN …. “I’m soooooo impressed that folks who work for the $5-$10 billion dollar LHC project are telling use not to worry our little heads. No vested interests there!”

    You know you have a point. Many scientists have a a lot of cash riding on this thing, so it is in their collective interest to point out that it is safe. Sure, everyone is human, and money talks. Whenever large amounts of money are involved It always sets off my skeptic alarm. How can you believe anyone that has so much cash and also, their scientific career on the line. It’s a good point, and not all scientists have little halos around their heads. Some scientists are pricks. ;p

    But that aside, even I myself, who is not a scientist, and having thought about this project and the subsequent experiments comparatively to other particles that slam into the Earth on a daily basis at similar if not faster speeds, with more energy at times, well, If that isn’t destroying the planet, why would this ? I know its not exactly the same, and there are different factors involved, but its pretty close. It just feels like it will be safe, to a layman like myself.

    Having said that … Bring on the proton smashing already !! What is it …. 2 months to go ?

  21. Re Bitemark: What would it take to ignite the atmosphere?

    Around 20% of the atmospheres volume as hydrogen might do it! A Gazzillion tonnes of vapourised gasoline maybe.

    If you mean via a nuclear pathway, then I don’t know.

  22. BMcP

    I personally cannot wait until they start the LHC up and finally use it for experimentation, because I seriously cannot wait to see what is discovered from these upcoming experimentations.

    I only wish they build something like that in the Midwest or at least America, so I could visit it. ;_;

  23. BJN: Here’s a better question: what are your high energy physics credentials? I have a number — a large number — of scientists backing me up. You just accuse me of being unscientific.

    So when you can present real, substantial data and reasoning on why the LHC is dangerous, then feel free to post it here.

  24. Elect government officials that support science and get them working on the SSC again, that was going to be in the midwest someplace.

    Doesn’t there need to be a whole lot of mass, like many times the sun, in order to create a black hole?

  25. Stephen

    @BMcP: Funny you should mention the Midwest. The (for now) most powerful particle accelerator is the Tevatron at Fermilab, in Illinois. See http://www.fnal.gov/ for address and information on visiting hours and tours.

  26. Doc

    Re: BJN’s comment

    Don’t you love this kind of reasoning?

    If you’re one of the experts and are in favor of it, then you’re too involved and have a vested interest.

    If you’re not one of the experts and are in favor of it, then you’re not well enough versed in the subject to have a valid opinion.

  27. Rick in TX

    Pffft! I’m not the least bit worried about the LHC. We all know the end isn’t coming until 2012.

  28. I read a diamond-hard sci-fi novel called Einstein’s Bridge, by John Cramer, a number of years ago. In it, a high-energy physics installation akin to the old Superconducting Supercollider produces a little wormhole of sorts, through which a malevolent race called The Hive invades Earth. The invasion sequence is pretty hair-raising. Great book.

  29. davidlpf

    The SSC was suppose to be built in Texas.

  30. Yoo

    I remember reading a similar story by John Cramer. I think it was a different book, though. The first half was great, but the cancellation of the SSC seemed to have drained the spirit out of him. He wrote in the cancellation (the accelerator was the SSC in this story), and all the characters became flat in the second half.

    The cancellation of the SSC was tragic in more ways than one.

  31. RL

    Sounds like a Doctor Who episode. Maybe they’ll pick up the plot.

    If I remember correctly, one of old shows (Tom Baker?) did something similar but it was a large drill to the center of the Earth. Not a supercollider. They didn’t listen to the Doctor and the whole world ended…I think…or maybe it was a parallel Earth…

  32. Stephen Touset

    @Kilgore Trout:

    The only requirement for a black hole is an appropriate density of matter. If you have enough matter in a small enough space, you have a black hole.

  33. davidlpf

    Actually in Doctor Who the Timelords technology is powered by a blackhole that is on their planet Gallifrey. Maybe if a blackhole is made at LHC we can start travelling in time.

    (and geek of the century award goes to…)

  34. Irishman

    Kilgore Trout said:
    > Elect government officials that support science and get them working on the SSC again, that was going to be in the midwest someplace.

    I don’t think Texas counts as “the midwest”. YMMV.

    > Doesn’t there need to be a whole lot of mass, like many times the sun, in order to create a black hole?

    That is conventionally what it takes in order to form a black hole, because that is what it takes to form the density required. But what makes it a black hole is the mass concentration itself, and there are suggested ways that level of mass concentration could be formed in miniscule scales. Thus the microblackholes being mentioned here.

  35. rob

    i am not worried about black holes that suck the earth up when the LHC goes online. that is ridiculous.

    what i am really worried about is schrodinger’s cat being created. by my reckonin’, the beam could very well convert lots of protons into a cat that is neither alive or dead. you know what they call that?

    a zombie cat!

    the fine LHC scientists could unwittingly create a shamblin’ meowin’ litterbox usin’ human brain eatin’ death machine!

    our only hope would be to somehow trap the cat in a box with a vial of poison and slug of uranium and hope against hope that it’s wavefunction will collapse.

  36. davidlpf

    I for one welcome our zoombie cat overlords.

  37. Craig

    Layperson what-if question…
    Let’s pretend that the LHC creates a black hole of significant mass to rip the earth to shreds and we get sucked into it.

    What kind of time scale would this be from creation of the black hole to armageddon? Would we even know it happened? Could we just be watching Euro2008 one second and the next second every atom that used to be us is now roaring over the event horizon into the vortex?

  38. Miranda

    Kilgore Trout:

    I read Schrödinger’s Cat as well, and if you want another really good book, try his followup, Schrödinger’s Kittens. It’s the same, readable style, but it will REALLY blow your mind!! In my opinion, it’s a much better presentation of the bizarre nature of quantum mechanics (although my opinion is also very novice and probably not worth much).

    Another excellent book is Simon Singh’s The Code Book, which includes a very interesting and readable chapter on quantum encryption and computing. (In fact, I’ve read all of his books and loved them!)

    Those are my suggestions as good starting points, and might suit you better than going back to school for a PhD in math. :)

  39. Miranda

    I have the same question as Craig…!!

  40. GodlessHeathen

    Y’know, a black hole destroying the earth would suck.

    Odd how so many scientists (and I mean scientists who study the fields involved with the experiments at the LHC) from OUTSIDE the team there say it’s all quite safe, but the big refutation if the claim of safety is so often “vested interest”. Unless they mean all high-energy and particle physicists have a death wish…

    Which would be cool to me, as a behaviorist. Don’t know if two months study would let me come to any conclusions on how so many distinct personalities managed to not only have the same self-destructive tendency but also agreed on method of expiry. But I’d try! =^_^=

  41. chief

    If we could only convince the doom sayers that the side effects of the projected production of black holes would be capturing them and giving the world a clean energy alternative. Or that they would erradicate the free radicals in the atmosphere and reverse the green house effect. That would shut them up.

  42. Anthony

    “Layperson what-if question…
    Let’s pretend that the LHC creates a black hole of significant mass to rip the earth to shreds and we get sucked into it.

    What kind of time scale would this be from creation of the black hole to armageddon?”

    Well, based on conventional gravity theories the minimum size for a black hole is about 10^19 GeV (one planck mass), so we have to assume variant gravity theories to make LHC black holes even possible. Even if we can create a black hole, it will be smaller than an atomic nucleus by a substantial margin.

    A straight path through the earth will result in passing through somewhere around twenty nucleons per meter. It is quite possible that our black hole can actually pass right through a nucleus without effect, but if we assume that it eats every nucleon it hits and is moving at 7.7 km/sec (any faster and it winds up escaping the planet), it’s absorbing about 1.5e5 nucleons per second or about 5e12 nucleons per year, so in about a hundred billion years it will collect a kilogram of mass (and will still be smaller than an atomic nucleus by many orders of magnitude).

  43. chief

    Phil.

    What if a black hole were placed in a solar system. How likely would it want to stay within the confins of a local body or be affected by the larger masses and gravities and orbit differently. does it have to go through the center of the planet each time it oscilates.>?

  44. You will let us know if it does destroy the earth? I’d hate to miss something like that.

  45. There is a very good “You Prefer Your Collider” video on YouTube: youtube.com/watch?v=A1L2xODZSI4

    Have you read CERNs SPC Committee’s LSAG Safety Report disclaimer?

    indico.cern.ch/getFile.py/access?contribId=20&resId=0&materialId=0&confId=35065
    “this argument relies on properties of cosmic rays and neutrinos that, while highly plausible, do require confirmation, as can be expected in the coming years.”

    So could Dr. Rosser’s calculations still be correct?
    “…after 50 months the earth to a centimeter would have shrunk.”

    Much more at LHCFacts.org…

  46. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    the Universe conducts of order 10^13 complete lifetime runs of the LHC every second

    It has already run ~ 10^30 LHC lifetime runs, without us having certified so! The gall of that universe. And it have a vested interest in keeping on doing so.

    So we may increase the likelihood for an eventual problem (much) less than a factor 10^-30. How serious is that?

    I assume one must make a risk comparison, as commenters have suggested. Okay, I see several other risks that overpowers this easily, asteroids and AGW among the top contenders. Let us work on those – oops, then we can use some more science…

  47. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    “this argument relies on properties of cosmic rays and neutrinos that, while highly plausible, do require confirmation, as can be expected in the coming years.”

    Okay, I know this will be a quote mine. Yawn.

    … , oh yes, the coffee isn’t ready yet, let me use the time for quick check:

    However, the LSAG report now provides, on the basis of the GM paper, a much stronger safety proof, relying only on solid experimental facts and firmly established theory, which should remove any residual concern.

    Right!

    So what was the quote mined from?

    Section 4 of the LSAG report addresses potential dangers associated with the production
    of microscopic black holes at the LHC. For the cases that were already considered in
    previous reports, it confirms their conclusions that there is absolutely no danger. In
    addition, Section 4 reviews the highly hypothetical production of neutral stable black
    holes, and the possibility that these black holes could be trapped inside the Earth. While
    such a possibility is dismissed by most of the experts, it is conceivable, and it could have
    potentially dangerous consequences if these highly hypothetical, neutral, stable
    microscopic black holes could accrete matter on Earth on time scales shorter than the
    natural lifetime of the solar system. For this to occur, a number of increasingly unlikely
    conditions should be satisfied: 1) the fundamental scale of gravity should be within the
    LHC energy range, possible only if extra spatial dimensions with very peculiar
    properties do exist; 2) Hawking radiation, and more general arguments for the decay of
    any black holes produced at the LHC, should fail; 3) the Schwinger mechanism, by which
    a charged black hole becomes electrically neutral via particle-antiparticle creation near
    the horizon, should still work, even though it is based on physical principles very close to
    those underlying Hawking radiation.

    The GM paper admits from the start the possibility that compelling but not
    experimentally tested mechanisms, such as Hawking radiation, could be suppressed or
    absent. It chooses instead a conservative or “worst-case” scenario at every instance where
    an experimental or theoretical uncertainty is encountered. It then uses observational data
    on cosmic rays and on astronomical objects such as the Sun or compact stars to exclude
    any danger at the LHC.

    In particular, at the LHC energy, any danger for the Earth on time scales lower than or
    comparable to the natural lifetime of the solar system can be ruled out on the basis of its
    contradiction with the observation of white dwarf stars of known mass, age and other
    properties. This conclusion, while entirely valid for the LHC, would need further work to
    be extended to conceivable future colliders of much higher energies. A powerful
    argument applicable also to higher energies is formulated making reference to observed
    neutron stars, but this argument relies on properties of cosmic rays and neutrinos that,
    while highly plausible, do require confirmation, as can be expected in the coming years.

    On the basis of all these findings, we can conclude that there is no danger of whatever
    kind from the hypothetical production of black holes at the LHC.

    So it was discussing the possibilities for a hypothetical scenario, the very scenario that LHC anti-scientists claims is most important, and finding it ruled out.

    But that LHC will give better data for the next generation of colliders. Well, duh!

  48. Stardust by Neil Gaiman is another good introduction to stellar evolution. Stars are beautiful girls…

    BTW, LHC countdown here. 12 days till doomsday activation.

  49. Salaam =Shalom = Peace

    Dr Brian Cox was quoted saying :

    “It is estimated that the Universe conducts of order 10^13 complete lifetime runs of the LHC every second, with no observable consequences at all.”

    Ok – if so then why do we need the LHC at all?

    Why not simply observe & use what the cosmos provides?

  50. Salaam =Shalom = Peace,

    For the same reason we have controlled laboratory experiments for anything.

  51. GodlessHeathen

    Salaam =Shalom = Peace:

    Well, the universe is really bad about telling us its schedule, and so it’s extraordinarily difficult to set up a set of collectors to gather information on the resulting particles.

    It’s just easier to make the particle collisions happen where the collectors are.

    Lots easier.

  52. Richard H.

    @Anthony

    This is why I wish I was more fluent in Math. To be able to figure this out simply by seeking the appropriate formulae and plugging in the numbers. (Well, maybe not so simple, but you get my drift.)

    This is the part that the blogging fearmongers miss: how much mass must a singularity sustain to even eat the earth? Ask the question, obtain the answer, then realize, “Hey, we wouldn’t have to wait for such an event until way after the sun goes all planetary nova on us.”

    But then, they’re not even asking the right questions, but rather giving out some wrong answers.

  53. bassmanpete

    There’s only one way to be right, but there are infinite ways to be wrong.

    If you’re talking physics/astronomy then I’m not qualified to comment, but in other areas of life there can be several ‘right’ answers to a problem. Also there can be different methods of arriving at the right answer. I can recall a couple of times at school (more than 50 years ago) being marked down on a test because my calculation method wasn’t the approved one. Just one of the ways the education system teaches us to conform.

  54. Sorry I was away from my computer all evening (Gasp!) and fell off this thread.

    I want to thank everyone who gave me reading suggestions and who explained the micro blackholes.

    Of course it leads me to another question though. If a micro black hole is created by crushing relatively few particles into an incredible density it would still only have the mass of those particles and wouldn’t have enough gravity to do any sort of significant damage right? Or is this simply an unknown because physics gets very weird inside of a black hole and because of the obvious problems of trying to study them directly we just don’t really know? Maybe we’ll find out in August.

  55. I should have read all the posts first, my new question was already answered.

  56. !AstralProjectile

    Who cares?

    “This is a type 13 planet in its final stages! Soon somebody will create the Higgs boson which will crush this planet down to the size of a pea!”
    -Stanley Tweedle

    Come on! Am I the one who here will admit to being a LEXX fan?

  57. Joker

    No. I’ll admit LEXX is good too.

    Sayeth the BA :

    “There’s only one way to be right, but there are infinite ways to be wrong.”

    Bzzt.
    Sorry that statement is totally wrong. There are a huge number of ways to be right -

    You can be factually right, ethically right & metaphorically right, right? ;-)

    Politically you can be on the Right – and thus generally wrong or on the Left and thus usually right! ;-)

    Even mathematically, you can have many right answers! Remember :
    1 + 1 does indeed equal 2 but it also equals 11 (write down 1 & write another 1 right) and 1 (Eg. add one mouse to one cat – &^ soon you’ve got one cat and no mouse) and zero (add one particle anti-matter toone particle matter KABOOM!) ;-)

    Although sometimes you have to see things from 90 degres as in a right angle. (Oh … or wait is that 45 degrees, am I right?) ;-)

  58. Joker

    Oh I forgot to add :

    … you can also legally be right and thus ethically wrong or ethically right and legally wrong plus politically right and scientifically wrong and scientifically right and politically wrong! (Or any combination therof.)

    You can be left and its right if you’re a southpaw boxer or cricketer (like baseball only infinitely better for you Americanos! )

    You can be literally right and yet stylistically wrong, right with your facts but get the gist of things wrong or get the gistof things right but the facts a bit wrong, you can be right on the money or nearl enough right can be right in the fight and still be quite wrong and right in the sopirit and mannerof song … and right … and right … and ARRgghhh!!! [Explosion of skull.] ;-)

  59. Salaam = Shalom = Peace

    # bitemark on 24 Jun 2008 at 1:06 pm :

    “This reminds me of (and I know it often gets mentioned in these coversations) how scientists weren’t 100% sure that the first atomic detonation wouldn’t set fire to the atmosphere.

    Granted, they were about 99.99% sure it wouldn’t –which has led me across the ‘net and back to find out if this is even possible. Anyone know? What would it take to ignite the atmosphere? I think from what I’ve found, it displaces too quickly to actually maintain anything sustainable…”

    I think that was about the risk of igniting a runaway nuclear reaction taht didn’t stop until it destroyed everything – but it still a very good example of the arrogance of these particle physicists and their unwillingness to consider the rights, opinions and even the lives of the rest of humanity. At least the Manhatten project people had the good excuseof needing to stop the Nazis and Imperialist Japanese regime in WW II. The LHC crowd has no such justification.

    I think this whole LHC thing reeks of hubris, recklessness and a “we’ll play with our costly new toys and full speed ahead, darn you all” attitude.

    Why exactly do we need this?

    What good will it do real people? (As opposed to a tiny scientific elite.)

    What are the ethics of potentially destroying everyone’s lives and this whole planet – the only world with life we know of – just to try and answer some esoteric questions in particle physics that are beyond the understanding and use of 99.999 % of us normal everyday humans? (You know the sort that are so often mocked here for actually believing in things like God ..?)

    Frankly, I don’t believe this or any other “reassuring” patronising “Don’t worry folks – we’re scientists and as such can be trusted to know & run everything” type report is worth the paper its written on.

    Were any opponents of the LHC given an opportunity to review its safety measures?

    Was anyone who even doubted its ethics, wisedom and value given any real input?

    Was there anybody who was NOT a smug, self-satisfied, LHC-paid scientific believer on that review panel?

    Thought not … :-(

    I urge you folks out there to consider the record of scientists who said nuclear fission was so great – the great hope of endless bountiful energy backinthe 1950′s .. then came Chernobyl and Three-Mile island and nuclear waste.

    To remember how DDT pesticide was scientifically promoted as the boon for everything – the cure for all ills -and then we were awoken by reading Rachel Carson’s ‘Silent Spring’ and elsewhere and opened our eyes about the damage DDT caused our ecosystems and environment…

    Remember thalidomide, how great Concorde was going to be, how safe and good this and that and the other were all going be be – and turned out anything but after the scientists got it wrong.

    The stakes are too high to let self-interested, reckless, amoral particle physicists always get their way at theexpenseof our planet. Sorry they just are.

    Observe these things fine! Active Galactic Nuclei and the cores of quasars and observational astronomy is awesome and mind-blowing and I just love it! But trust experimental particle phyicists to meddle in the fundamental units of spacetime NOT really knowing what they’re doing?

    (& don’t tell me they do – if they did they wouldn’t need to conduct the experiment!)

    NO WAY!!!
    That’s a dumb, dumb, dumb idea folks!

    I’m glad the universe provides objects like neutron stars, quasars and black holes that generate these energies and particles – that’s great, lets observe them to understand this sort of physics – but, for pity’s sake lets NOT turn our planet into a quantum strangelet, black hole or exploding cloud of split God particles!

    Build neutrino telescopes – like the one that spotted the neutrinos from Supernova 1987 A – or suchlike to observe such natural particles, hey, I’m all in favour! 8)

    But risk our planet – however small the risk may be estimated to be by people who really can’t say for sure how big that risk is – and we cross a dangerous ethical and metaphorical line.

    I hope & pray the LHC is never used and the scientists responsible are compelled to pay back its costs to stop them ever thinking of doing something so intelligently stupid ever again.

    Sometimes we have to be wise enough and good enough to know what experiments we really should NOT run.

  60. Salaam = Shalom = Peace

    # shane on 25 Jun 2008 at 1:23 am
    Salaam =Shalom = Peace,
    “For the same reason we have controlled laboratory experiments for anything.”

    Which would be …?

    Anyhow, surely not all laboratory experiments have the same aims and conditions and so forth – and btw. hardly any laboratory experiments if indeed any others at all potentially threaten the existence of our planet!

    That’s the difference.

    # GodlessHeathen on 25 Jun 2008 at 1:26 am

    Salaam =Shalom = Peace :

    Well, the universe is really bad about telling us its schedule, and so it’s extraordinarily difficult to set up a set of collectors to gather information on the resulting particles.

    It’s just easier to make the particle collisions happen where the collectors are. Lots easier.”

    But lots cheaper! and infinitely safer! ; P

    Besides if these things are happening all the time – as Dr Cox says – then we should be finding their particles and traces all the time too …right?

    Chuck Anziulewicz on 24 Jun 2008 at 1:29 pm seconded sort of later by Foofoomagoo

    BUT: If the LHC did succeed in creating something that quickly sucked up the Earth … well, I can think of worse ways to go!

    Yes but I can think of many better ways to go too! ;-)

    I’d rather leave this mortal coil a better place than I entered it rather than have all life on Earth destroyed by the arrogance and hubris of the sort of so-smart-they’re -incredibly-dumb people who are too full of their own brillance (or something) to have the wisdom to know when something like the LHC is a really stupid thing to run!

  61. Whovian

    RLon 24 Jun 2008 at 2:45 pm #


    Sounds like a Doctor Who episode. Maybe they’ll pick up the plot.

    If I remember correctly, one of old shows (Tom Baker?) did something similar but it was a large drill to the center of the Earth. Not a supercollider. They didn’t listen to the Doctor and the whole world ended…I think…or maybe it was a parallel Earth…

    That ep would be ‘Inferno’ with Jon Pertwee the third incarnation of the Doctor before Tom Baker and after Patrick Troughton.

    It was a parallel Earth & it was destroyed despite the Doctors efforts to save it by stopping the mad scientists project. However, the Doctor & Jo Grant were able to save our Erath from the same (well parallel) thing happening here so that turned out okay .. for us. ;-)

  62. Gary Ansorge

    Salaam,,,

    It is not arrogance to assert the LHC cannot destroy the earth thru strangelets, black holes, etc, it IS knowledge of the energies that daily bombard us from cosmic rays, etc, that are a BILLION times more powerful than any we can produce.
    If THOSE cosmic rays haven’t produced such planetary destruction in the 4.5 billion years earth has been around then,,,ah, figure it out for yourself.

    GAry 7

  63. Yoo

    If I had the same attitude as Salaam, then I wouldn’t be able to go anywhere for fear of squashing a malaria-carrying mosquito, which would have infected and killed a little girl, which would have prevented the birth of an evil genius who would have grown up to develop grey goo that would have destroyed all life on Earth.

    For that matter, Salaam himself shouldn’t do or not do anything. Else he would be so arrogant as to believe that what he does would not set off a long and implausible chain of events that could end the universe. That’s the kind of implausible catastrophe that Salaam is worrying about. :rollseyes:

  64. MartinM

    Why exactly do we need this?

    Because the knowledge derived from these experiments could potentially prevent the destruction of the Earth by a passing black hole/alien invasion fleet/as yet unknown physical phenomenon.

    Is this likely? No. But you’ve apparently decided that all possible consequences should be considered, no matter how unlikely. To be fair, you’ll need to include fantastically unlikely benefits as well as fantastically unlikely risks.

  65. Naked Bunny with a Whip

    Salaam, statistically speaking, you’d be better off fretting about how you’re encouraging a humanity-killing supergerm to evolve every time you bathe.

  66. beagledad

    Same question as Craig,
    but assume a quantum strangelet instead of a black hole. At what rate could strange matter / gray goo spread from the LHC to devour the Earth? Would there be time to watch apocalyptic panic unfold, or would it be more of a “Gulp!–You’re gone” like a frog swallowing a fly? Not that I’m worried, but this provokes my morbid curiousity.

  67. Doc

    Larry Niven has written several short stories about quantum black holes, including one (“Hole Man”) in which a QBH is “accidentally” dropped onto Mars.

    I seem to recall that he was more than a bit annoyed when Stephen Hawking ruined his stories by showing quantum black holes evaporate.

  68. Irishman

    JTankers said:
    > Have you read CERNs SPC Committee’s LSAG Safety Report disclaimer?

    > indico.cern.ch/getFile.py/access?contribId=20&resId=0&materialId=0&confId=35065
    “this argument relies on properties of cosmic rays and neutrinos that, while highly plausible, do require confirmation, as can be expected in the coming years.”

    It seems Torbjörn Larsson beat me to this, even citing more of the document than I was going to. But I still want to post.

    Read that disclaimer in full:

    In particular, at the LHC energy, any danger for the Earth on time scales lower than or comparable to the natural lifetime of the solar system can be ruled out on the basis of its contradiction with the observation of white dwarf stars of known mass, age and other properties. This conclusion, while entirely valid for the LHC, would need further work to be extended to conceivable future colliders of much higher energies. A powerful argument applicable also to higher energies is formulated making reference to observed neutron stars, but this argument relies on properties of cosmic rays and neutrinos that, while highly plausible, do require confirmation, as can be expected in the coming years.

    Bolding added. In other words, the current argument is founded upon contradiction with observation of white dwarf stars. The suggested argument making reference to neutron stars refers to future colliders of much higher energies.

    I checked out the linked website. Now I’m convinced this error above is not an accidental misreading, but a deliberate misrepresentation.

    I did not find a cite of Dr. Rossler’s calculation, but perhaps it was in German.

    Salaam said:
    > …but it still a very good example of the arrogance of these particle physicists and their unwillingness to consider the rights, opinions and even the lives of the rest of humanity.

    Right. That’s why they went back and did a second safety review to specifically address the concerns about new discoveries between the first safety review and now.

    > What good will it do real people? (As opposed to a tiny scientific elite.)

    Who can say what the results will be that follow on from these discoveries? Quantum theory brought us the transistor. Also, superconductors that brought us, oh, maglev trains and MRI machines. The applications remain unknown because the science that underlies the potential applications is unknown.

    > What are the ethics of potentially destroying everyone’s lives and this whole planet – the only world with life we know of – just to try and answer some esoteric questions in particle physics….

    I would be concerned if it truly were a coin-flip in uncertainty. But there is plenty of empirical validation (read “physical evidence”) that we have nothing to be concerned over, based upon observation of neutron stars and white dwarfs. I agree with rob, I’m much more concerned about Schroedinger’s zombie cat.

    > The stakes are too high to let self-interested, reckless, amoral particle physicists always get their way at theexpenseof our planet.

    Nice unfounded ad hominem.

    >> “For the same reason we have controlled laboratory experiments for anything.”

    > Which would be …?

    The key word is “controlled”. So we know what is going into the experiment and what all the factors influencing the results are. Observation of natural phenomena is interesting but can only tell us so much without replicating with controls.

    >> Well, the universe is really bad about telling us its schedule, and so it’s extraordinarily difficult to set up a set of collectors to gather information on the resulting particles.

    >>It’s just easier to make the particle collisions happen where the collectors are. Lots easier.”

    > But lots cheaper! and infinitely safer! ; P

    Uh, no. It would not be cheaper to set up duplicate sets of these detectors all over the planet and possibly embedded under the Earth’s surface in an attempt to capture one of these events just happening to occur where the detector is set. And no, it would not be any safer. These events are already occurring, so if they’re a danger then they are already a danger. But there is strong evidence by virtue of our continued existence that they are not a danger.

    > Besides if these things are happening all the time – as Dr Cox says – then we should be finding their particles and traces all the time too …right?

    No, because the decay times for the events is miniscule, which means you have to be looking at exactly the right place at exactly the right time and not blink in order to detect them. And then you don’t know what you’re detecting because you don’t know what caused the reaction in the first place – the mass involved, the velocity, exactly how much energy it started with, etc.

    > I’d rather leave this mortal coil a better place than I entered it rather than have all life on Earth destroyed by the arrogance and hubris of the sort of so-smart-they’re -incredibly-dumb people who are too full of their own brillance (or something) to have the wisdom to know when something like the LHC is a really stupid thing to run!

    And I’d rather have them doing what they’re doing then listing to a bunch of fear-mongering luddites.

  69. Salaam,

    Were any opponents of the LHC given an opportunity to review its safety measures?

    I’d suggest that anyone remotely qualified enough to review its safety aren’t concerned.

    then came Chernobyl and Three-Mile island and nuclear waste.

    You do know that death toll for both incidents can be measured in the dozens and no-one died at Three-Mile Island. Nobody. Zip. Do you know how many Chinese coal miners die every year? Thousands die from accidents every single year. Another 10000 die from respiratory illnesses every single year. You tell me which is the safer industry.

    opened our eyes about the damage DDT caused our ecosystems and environment

    Some researchers think as many as 30000000 people are dead from malaria as a direct result of the ban on DDT.

    If we’re all wrong and the world does end in 11 days you will be perfectly entitled to point and laugh and say I told you so.

  70. CharP

    Shane, thanks for the countdown link. I’ve just bookmarked it and I’m looking
    forward to reading about their first run. I fully expect to be here to do so! ;-)

    Salaam=Shalom=Peace, I understand your concern – after all, this is the only
    planet we’ve got and leaving it for another is not yet an option – but I think
    that basic science is worth some risk. I also think that science is for anyone
    who is curious about our world, not just for the elite. This very website is a
    good example of sharing science with interested laypeople. I believe that
    human curiousity is enough to justify building the LHC.

    Kilgore Trout, the book you read is a good popular book. I’d also recommend
    The Unconscious Quantum by Victor Stenger (another popular book).

  71. Victor Stenger is brilliant. His latest book is God: The Failed Hypothesis : how Science Shows that God Does Not Exist

    Oops. Sorry. Can of worms just went sproing.

  72. ollo

    Bad Astronomer: So you have a large croud of scientists to back you up?

    Are these the same ones that thought all matter cosisted of:
    - ‘good’ and ‘bad’
    - fire, water, earth, air and worms or something like that?
    - atoms?
    - Electrons and Protons in a shell?
    - Electrons, Neutrons and Protons in several shells, some of them spinning?
    - Electrons, Neutrons and Protons in orbitals?
    - quarks, strings and other invisible crap?

    …if you’re being honest, scientists don’t know how the universe works, they just assume it and bring up some theory to find out later they were wrong. That makes them f*cking dangerous…

    I’m 99.99% sure that mankind’s doom will be initialized with some scientist saying “Don’t worry, it’s secure!” (no matter if the final cause will be a doomsday machine, robots or nanomachines killing us all, genetic mutations, or a black hole eating earth from inside out…)

  73. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    Are these the same ones that thought all matter cosisted of:

    Exactly! This is the strength of science, it can improve our understanding. [Though to be precise, much of what you refer to is from times before the scientific method started to work. I'm not sure even the old naturalists were responsible for those ideas.]

  74. I R Scientist

    Will the next person who says something along the lines of “All scientists are dangerous” kindly go & live in a cave somewhere? You’ll happily sit at your computer (computer: invented by an artist who used metal as his medium which happened to be quite handy at performing other tasks, it wasn’t just good to look at) & access the web (web: from the notion of a spider’s web, the world wide web uses cups attached to strings that let people talk to lots of other people & other stuff) to spout your paranoid bullsh*t but for a second try & imagine life today without anything developed by the scientific method, even if it was only discovered by chance (even then probably as the result of applying the scientific method in another application).
    Just stop it OK? The people who read these threads don’t respect you in any way when you talk like that. Science is not evil or dangerous – it’s people who act on faith or paranoia that are dangerous! *may have slipped on one of shane’s worms*
    *sigh*
    *gets back to working on project that will hopefully help train future doctors before too long, despite counting self as a particle physicist*

    PS would some PLEASE look into this zombie cat idea? As a ‘cat person’ I feel I would be drawn to them & so would be among the first to fall victim to their brain munching :S

  75. I R Scientist

    Oh, & if we’re gonna namedrop, I’ve actually been taught by Brian Cox :P he’s not the best lecturer tbh, his voice is so soft & soothing I fell asleep in both the lectures he was acting as a stand-in for!

  76. David

    They say that mini black holes evaporate due to Hawking Evaporation in far too short a time to put the Earth at risk. Yet i have read that once a black hole has evaporated in such a manner, it becomes a naked singularity having now lost its event horizon. Naked singularities would destroy all the known laws of physics. What is the risk of this scenerio unfolding? Could we end up “forming” a naked singularity through the mini black hoels evaporating from the LHC experiement?????

  77. It’s kind of a disappointment in so many ways. Scientists give Christian terrorists all the weapons they need to destroy all mammal life on Earth and yet they can’t use their kitty collider to compact the Earth in one go?

    Man, these scientists are FAIL. They’re not trying hard enough.

  78. You know, there could very well be any number of hypergravitational points orbiting about a common center of gravity within the center of the Earth, and conceivably there could be any number of monopoles also accumulating mass in the Earth.

    For that matter the Earth could be acquiring new micro black homes through cosmic bombardment provided holes and/or monopoles that were created in the first three minutes of the expansion phase of the Big Bang were still around some 10 or 20 billion years later.

    I have to agree with the other comment about the doom-sayers being generally anti-science, motivated by occult superstitions as being the most vocal in opposition to super kitty colliders — and everything else that’s not mentioned in the classical Christanic mythologies.

  79. wmi

    Here are some wacky scenarios:
    1) LHC will be used as a weapon or create a weapon for the Antichrist.
    2) Assuming the equilateral distance relationship between Geneva and Moscow, Moscow and Jerusalem, and Jerusalem and Geneva, this might be a possible weapon range.
    3) If you place a circle on the world map with the center being Geneva then USA, Greenland, South America, Australia, many parts of East Asia, and parts of Russia will disappear during LHC tests just like the show “Lost” as they move the island. The countries left such as European areas and Muslim dominated areas, and Russia will fight for the remaining lands. The focus will be in Israel.
    4) LHC testing will cause disruptions or speed up the polarity changing of the earth.

  80. HORNY RACH

    i dont know what to think. to be honest i am really worried but i do want to kow what will be descovered. but if there are worries that there will be destruction they shouldn’t go on with it.

  81. Gordon Freeman

    I don’t know what all the fuss is about. We all know exactly what is going to happen.

    The particle collision will result in a resonance cascade scenario and open up a dimensional portal to Xen. Vortigaunts will then kill the scientists for their hubris, and then the government will send in marines to “handle” the situation.

    Valve already told us all this.

  82. There’s even a site that tells you whether it’s destroyed us all yet:

    http://hasthelhcdestroyedtheearthyet.com/

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