Oh the pain, the pain

By Phil Plait | July 11, 2008 10:00 am

Panel from The Pain web comicFirst off, dagnappit, let me say this for the bazillionth time: The Large Hadron Collider will not make black holes, strangelets, or any other Earth-munching apparitions.

We cool on that? Yes? Good.

Now, BABloggee and my old friend Al Janulaw pointed me to The Pain web comic, which has a pretty funny panel on the LHC (one of the panels is on the left there). The author/artist, Tim Kreider, also wrote a good essay at that link about science, why it’s cool, and why it’s not cool that it’s distorted by political and religious factions.

He has earned himself a place in my RSS feed reader. This one is pretty funny too. Some NSFW language there, if you care.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Antiscience, Humor, Politics, Religion, Science

Comments (37)

  1. Yoo

    The placard about the mingling of bosons and fermions is funny, since nature itself actually abhors any two fermions getting too cozy with each other. 😀

  2. Well, it might make black holes, if Newton’s constant is large enough at those energies, as in scenarios with large extra dimensions. But those black holes would evaporate almost instantaneously via Hawking radiation. At least, if you believe the “laws of physics,” which I have found to be a good strategy.

  3. Brian Gefrich

    I ran into this Washington Times article this morning:


    The highlights –
    “…if everything goes wrong we’ll be reduced to atoms, quarks and strangelets floating out there among the stars. Except that there won’t be any stars. They’ll be reduced to the ashes of infinity, too.

    The odds against anything that bad actually happening are estimated by one eminent physicist as “only” 1 in 50 million”


    “Only mad scientists actually fully understand what the Large Hadron Collider is all about”

    but my favorite, by far –

    “A team of scientists at the European Organization for Nuclear Research, which the French insist on calling CERN…”

  4. Olaf Davis

    This one’s pretty good too.

    Sean: but surely the “laws of physics” are what got us into this mess in the first place! Can’t argue with that, can you?

  5. Calli Arcale

    I *hope* it makes black holes, because that would be ever so cool! Of course, they’ll be incredibly tiny and absolutely no threat whatsoever to the Earth, and would probably pass straight through the Earth without hitting any actual matter, but it would AWESOME to say that we as a species had created black holes!

  6. KC


    The panel had a number of cartoons, my favorite being the nod to H.P. Lovecraft. Yet you picked the one that mocked Christians. What’s more, I can’t find a Fundamentalist Christian protest, or any Christian protest, of the LHC. Now, on the chance I’d missed something I did a search on Fundamentalist Christians and the LHC, but the only thing I can find are slurs in blogs.

  7. Sili

    Bah! I want my dragons, dammit!

  8. bjn

    Hey Phil, the whole mini black hole dismissal rests entirely on Hawking radiation. I know it’s a generally accepted theory, but has it been observed? I’m reading “A Brief History of Time” and note that since Hawking wrote the book that dark energy has taken center stage for the “missing matter” while Hawking was suggesting primordial black holes as a potential source of missing matter. Hawking’s theories have evolved and they rightly should, but I’d take more comfort in the LHC’s confidence in black hole evaporation if there was observational proof of black hole evaporation.

    Sorry, your say-so doesn’t count for much. Has Hawking commented on the LHC’s analysis?

  9. TSFrost

    I loved the panels in that second link. I want the map of pools of dark matter on a tshirt!

  10. madge

    Slightly off topic. I posted elsewhere about BBC4 showing a documentary about LHC called The Big Bang Machine with Dr Brian (RAWR) Cox here in UK as part of their Big Bang Night. I asked Gia when it will be shown and her best guess is late August early September to coincide with the start of the big power up. I will keep an eye on the schedules and post here when I have a firm date. I blame Sky at Night magazine (an otherwise brilliant publication)for publishing the wrong details 😛

  11. Brian Gefrich

    bjn, the dismissal rests on a whole lot more than that.

    The Hawking Radiation part is like seven steps down the chain of reasons why it most likely won’t happen. The big one is that the level of energy needed to create mini black holes aren’t there in the first place.

    If you follow the link Phil included to an earlier blog post:
    you’ll see Brian Cox laying out the energy argument pretty decisively.

  12. rob

    i can’t believe people are still using the inconsiderate and racially nebulous term “black hole”.

    a better term would be “chromatically challenged hole.” that sounds science-y and rolls right off the tongue.

    now we just have to get a petition started to have Soundgarden change the name of their song to “chromatically challenged hole sun.”

  13. OtherRob

    You’re right, Phil, his commentary after the cartoon has some really good points. My favorite line as how defunding the superconducting supercollider in Texas “was a symbolic turning of the tide in this country, receding from our high water mark of scientific preeminence. Now the Europeans are hosting the project instead, while we’re still debating the monkey trial.”

  14. KC, You may want to read the link Phil provided in its entirety : the link with Creationist is made in the essay on the same page.
    I know, I know, reading is hard; it’s easier to moan about being persecuted in your Monty Python voice : “Help! Help! I am being oppressed!”

    And the Bad Astronomer is right: The Pain is awesome. The essay accompanying this cartoon is one of my favourite.

  15. Robert I. Marsh II

    With half of the ‘Standard Model’ missing, shrouded within a mathematical haze of pure speculation, there is absolutely no way of telling what awaits CERN! It will take these experiments to extricate the physics community from their stagnated, depressing, and quagmired current positions. This insight will send the mathematicians and physicists scrambling wildly within their ‘click’ groups, to hurriedly install these new, much needed corrections! At least one sector of the ‘Standard Model’ shall receive a tsunami of change, that shall illuminate the mental imagery of the Quantum Universe, forever! There is no doubt, that the future world desperate energy needs lie in LHC technologies; however, the production course should be traveled with extreme caution! The LHC technologies, if long-term successful, may release information involving the manipulation of matter, luminosity (plasma), and energy, that could lead to a controllable, and sustainable nuclear fushion process! An entirely conceivable ‘new’ branch of energy physics may be born, with unimaginable outgrowth potential! The LSAG ‘safety report’ covers only lower energy 2008 ‘start-up’ operation projections, and speaks nothing toward the pre-planned decade of precision energy upgrades; set to begin in 2009! This same report only covers previous public dockets of concern, and nothing pertaining to the ‘new’ emerging risk assessment meetings, that are in progress ‘Behind Closed Doors’! CERN is grappling with multiple variance-calculation paradoxes, even as Michelangelo Mangano (and others) penned the now infamous ‘quiet the public’ ‘Safe-Status’ safety report! Two such situations are known: #1). CERN Uncertainty RE: Quantum Time-Dilation Contraction-Calibration Equations, in regard to modification confirmations. This line of equations must be precise, or facility damage may result! These are used for particle beam timing/focus, to maximize the optimum collisions per/second within the perfectly timed ‘Impact Moment’, to be detector analyzed. #2). RE: ALICE heavy (Pb) ion collisions, scheduled to begin (once financed) in 2009. This project generates hyper-density plasmatic luminosity fields, that could affect a gravitational curvature, which may initiate a compression singularity vortex. With the engagement of quantum inverse (opposite and equal reaction) ‘ghost’ radiation, within super-symmetric feed-back loops inside a forced equilibrium state; the kinetic driving force could create an event-horizon expansion, thus stabilizing the expansion state with a progressive behavior! This is known as the expanded macrocosmic: Einstein-Rosen Bridge Wormhole: QUANTUM WORHOLE! Relativistic temporal (Time) shifts, and structural integrity loss are threshold warning sign-posts! To disturb quantum pathways by this method, would alter nuclear positionings, changing elemental chemical compositions! CERN LHC has entered into discussions, at this time!

  16. This is such an exciting time for discovery, wonder and imagination. It’s understandable that some would be afraid of the unknown- after all if we were to sail our ships all the way to end of the sea we would just fall off. Perhaps we need to bring some marketing minds into this debate and re-brand the whole Large Hadron Collider thingy (yes, thingy has a higher q rating) How about “Kind of Large Happy Matter Bumper” Nice ring to it! Now back to work on my SillyString Theory.

  17. KC:

    No, but there are enough whackjobs who think the LHC is a secret Masonic stargate to pierce the Van Allen Belt to allow Satan and the Nephilim to wage the final war of good and evil on Earth, probably somewhere around Megiddo. Doctor Plait’s bias (which, Doctor, I do not consider a bad thing, just a simple fact of you being human that I readily accept) is well known and quite understandable considering the Fundamentalists and the Evangelicals have been particularly anti-science in the past few decades and science is something of Doctor Plait’s bread and butter. It’s similar to me being somewhat annoyed with environmentalists painting aviation as a BIG BAD ECOKILLING BOGEYMAN when there are bigger fish for them to fry.

    That being said, the Science vs. Norse Mythology comic is a work of beauty.

  18. BMcP

    Knowing our luck, a discovered Grand Unified Theory of physics would be relegated to page 8 or a small tag line on online news sites because Britney Spears is pregnant again or Paris Hilton was caught nude at a party. that same week.

  19. Robert I. Marsh II

    Oh the pain; Pardon the spelling of QUANTUM WORMHOLE! You see, when I make a mistake, it does not threaten the entire planet, but IF the LHC makes a mistake, it could affect us all! That’s the reason, I am an Independent Theoretical Research Analyst, and not endangering everyones’ life with potential disaster!

  20. @Robert I. Marsh El Numero Dos

    IF the LHC makes a mistake, they’ll probably blow a whole bunch of circuit breakers or fuses and have to spend the next few months replacing them all. The IF you’re talking about is so fantastically remote it’s equivalent to saying that if I made just the right mistake in this program I’m writing for work I could permanently destroy the entire Internet. The probability is so exceedingly minute that it’s infinitely more likely that Jesus, Mohammed, and the Fanged God will come down to your local record store next Thursday from seven to nine passing out hits on the Bong of Enlightenment.

    Then again, that could be exactly what the LHC is for.

    Either that or being a stargate for Satan and his Nephilim.

  21. bjn asks “Has Hawking commented on the LHC’s analysis?”

    Yes, he said repeated one of the safety Arguments that CERN was telling the public on their public relations web site. He was apparently unaware that the argument was fundamentally flawed, but then again, some scientists also argue that Hawking Radiation theory is also fundamentally flawed.

    The argument was (paraphrase) “cosmic rays of higher power regularly strike Earth’s atmosphere and we are still here.” Dr. Hawking was apparently was unaware that any particles a high energy cosmic ray might create by striking Earth’s atmosphere would travel so fast (nearly the speed of light) that they would just pass through the planet. Some percentage of particles created by head-on particle colliders would have low enough velocity to be captured by Earth’s gravity.

    If you want to learn more, first read about efforts to block references to published peer reviewed papers challenging CERN’s safety arguments in the Wikipedia article “Safety of the Large Hadron Collider” by editors representing CERN’s interests: http://www.lhcfacts.org/?cat=124


  22. LHCfacts, eh? Tell me something here. Your concern is that the two beams will hit each other, create a black hole with zero velocity relative to the Earth, and it will eat us up.

    So two questions:

    1) How long would it take to eat us up? Have you done that calculation?

    2) You assume it has zero velocity relative to the Earth. Care to back up that assertion?

    I eagerly await your answers.

  23. themadlolscientist

    Oh maaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan, BA – did you have to give me yet another thing to clog up my feed readers? :-)

  24. KC

    Evolving Squid:

    How did you find those links? I didn’t when I used Google. My parameters were both Large Hadron Collider and LHC with Christian protest. And from the links I didn’t see notice of a protest.

  25. KC

    The Centipede:

    I find you statement that Fundamentalists and Evangelicals have been “anti-science” as a bit ironic. Remember that Sunday morning meteorite shower some years ago? Turned out a good many in our Fundamentalist Evangelical church got up to watch it. And we noted the Wednesday night lunar eclipse this year, pleased that we were able to watch it as soon as we got out of church that night.

    We haven’t had a LHC discussion because we regard it as a non-issue. We have discussed science before where it touched on theological issues. Some are brief: Our discussion of cloning ended by noting identical twins are clone. Some touch moral issues, such as embryonic stem cell research.

    Ah, well. I doubt that means much to anyone who’s mind’s already made up.

  26. KC

    By the way, I would like to mention a safety issue concerning the LHC. Please tell me there’s some sort of back-up should a magnet fail. Photons crashing into the side of the collider at those energies wouldn’t be good.

  27. Celtic_Evolution

    @ KC

    Ah, well. I doubt that means much to anyone who’s mind’s already made up.

    Respecting what you’re saying… I have to say your response to Centipede is fairly anecdotal… no? Can you really say with assurance that your particular experience is truly representitve of the Fundamentalists and Evangelicals, as a whole, to which Centipede is referring? I think his claim has a good deal of evidence behind it, and it’s hard to blame him for feeling that way based on recent history, IMHO.

  28. quasidog

    Didn’t anyone learn anything from Ghostbusters ……the LHC is going to release hell on Earth !!! Panic now !!!

    Dr. Egon Spengler: There’s something very important I forgot to tell you.
    Dr. Peter Venkman: What?
    Dr. Egon Spengler: Don’t cross the streams.
    Dr. Peter Venkman: Why?
    Dr. Egon Spengler: It would be bad.
    Dr. Peter Venkman: I’m a little fuzzy on the whole “good/bad” thing here. What do you mean, “bad”?
    Dr. Egon Spengler: Try to imagine all life as you know it stopping instantaneously and every molecule in your body exploding at the speed of light.
    Dr. Ray Stantz: Total protonic reversal!
    Dr. Peter Venkman: That’s bad. Okay. All right, important safety tip. Thanks, Egon.

    … and of course …when that happens …. omg ! …..

    “Gozer the Traveller – he will come in one of the pre-chosen forms. During the rectification of the Vuldronaii, the Traveller came as a large and moving Torb! Then, during the third reconciliation of the last of the Meketrex supplicants, they chose a new form for him – that of a giant Sloar! Many Shubs and Zuuls knew what it was to be roasted in the depths of a Sloar that day, I can tell you!”

    Extremist Masons are idiots.

  29. themadlolscientist

    Gozer the Traveller – he will come in one of the pre-chosen forms.

    Not while I’m Zuul the Gatekeeper!

    Am I the only one here who thinks JTankers might be C. Dvd Prsns by another name?


  30. I’m hoping for the “return of the Elder Gods”

  31. KC


    How can you be sure statements that we are anti-science isn’t based on bias and stereotype? If what I related is anecdotal information, then so is the testimony of every person who takes a witness stand. What you want to ask, I think, is whether what I witnessed is a accurate sampling. There’s a strong possibility that some many sky gazers in one church is a statistical blip. However, I note that the other issues I mentioned have been discussed by pastors, whether or not it’s come up in church hierarchy or conferences or conventions. About the only denomination that would fall into the Fundamentalist / Evangelical category that I don’t have info on is Church of God. Which is odd since I have contacts in the denomination and they are more uniform on doctrine than, say, Baptists. And you can add Mennonites to this list: I have no contacts in the Mennonite church.

    What you will find is churches taking stand on moral issues of, say, embryonic stem cell research (please note there’s no opposition to adult stem cell research – since news reports usually refer to embryonic stem cell research as just stem cell research, some people aren’t aware of that). Some may call that “anti-science, ” yet I’m reminded that some said that about religious opposition to eugenics in the very early 20th Century.

    You will also find scattered opposition to the space program on the theory that the funds could be better spent on social programs at home. Yet I notice the same argument rearing it’s head among those in non-Fundamentalist / Evangelical churches, or who don’t attend church much at all. Off-hand I can’t think of a denomination that’s officially opposed the space program, and I know for a fact that churches prayed for the Apollo 13 crew and the families of the Columbia and Challenger crews.

    The only other issue I could think of is some denomination might come out in support of Young Earth Creationism, but offhand I don’t know of any. I found a run-down of what various denominations officially believe here:


    Be aware that I noticed an error on their listing of Southern Baptist Churches. The late Adrian Rogers, former SBC president, was a YEC, and that may have skewed their assumptions. Since they have an error in their SBC listing, they may have errors in others as well.

  32. madge

    My understanding is that the biggest danger with the LHC is that it could do damage TO ITSELF not the planet. Hence the long gradual power up.

  33. Celtic_Evolution

    @ KC

    How can you be sure statements that we are anti-science isn’t based on bias and stereotype? If what I related is anecdotal information, then so is the testimony of every person who takes a witness stand.

    OK… fair point… but if I have a large sample size of a multitude of similar data over a long period of time, evidence begins to pile up in favor of a specific tendency… no? That’s quite a bit different from the single anecdotal data of an individual person, and that was the point I was trying to make. The position that fundamentalists and evangelicals are, have shown, in general, an anti-science leaning, is not based on the single anecdotal data of one person or another… it’s the preponderance of data that all these pieces of evidence build up to that make a pretty strong case for supporting the claim.

  34. defectiverobot

    Brian Gefrich,

    Davros isn’t in charge of CERN by any chance, is he?

  35. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    the Traveller came as a large and moving Torb!

    Call me the Traveler then.

    @ JTankers:

    Dr. Hawking was apparently was unaware that any particles a high energy cosmic ray might create by striking Earth’s atmosphere would travel so fast (nearly the speed of light) that they would just pass through the planet.

    Impossible. And we detect them, directly refuting your phantasm version of physics.

  36. Hee, I hit a nerve. Normally I’d apologize, but if someone is seriously dedicated to taking offense where none was intended…

    From all of my anecdotal evidence it happens to be Fundamentalists, Evangelicals, and anyone else who would profess the literal inerrancy of their scriptures that deny the very possibility of the existence of, oh, evolution and oppose any scientific venture that threatens their world-view. That they haven’t quite gotten to astronomy yet is generally because they’ve not figured out that distance = time in a relativistic universe (light years, anyone?) and those that do generally then go for a Last Thursdayism argument which makes Jehova end up being a bit more like Loki.

    Ah well.

    Note that I was very careful not to include all of Christianity in my call-out, as that truly would have been patently unfair, instead concentrating on the fundamentalist sects which, no original research required, have appeared to have been those most vehemently opposed to the promulgation of science qua science–as has been said many times, evolution and cosmology are just as much ‘facts’ right now as universal gravitation. If you (KC) classify as an exception to that estimation of the Evangelical and Fundamentalist schools of thought, I do apologize, but in terms of the greater number of those schools of thought the shoe most certainly fits.


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