Calling a Crackpot a Crackpot

By Mark Trodden | September 8, 2008 9:35 am

As John has already described, on Wednesday, the Large Hadron Collider will circulate protons for the first time, marking a critical milestone on the road to the hopefully imminent discovery of new physics. Physicists the world around are tingling with anticipation, looking forward to the discovery of the mechanism of electroweak symmetry breaking, and wondering if this will be revealed to be due to supersymmetry, extra dimensions, new gauge interactions, or something as yet unthought-of.

None of them are worried about the end of the world.

Not that you’d know this from the attention that a few crackpots have received in media the world around. The lawsuit filed by biochemist Otto Rössler, and the restraining orders sought by Walter L. Wagner and Luis Sancho have been covered by almost every major newspaper, and while they eventually get around to the views of people who actually know what they’re talking about, the pressure of trying to appear balanced often leaves one with the impression that there is a genuine debate on this topic (for a particularly empty example of this, take a look at this Guardian snippet).

Saturday’s London Times article by Joanna Sugden does do a little better though. It isn’t perfect; for example it contains the claim that Rössler

had deduced that it would be “quite plausible” to conclude that black holes resulting from the collider experiment “will grow exponentially and eat the planet from the inside” across a devastating four-year period of decay.

which seems misleading, since “deduce” means “arrive at (a fact or a conclusion) by reasoning; draw as a logical conclusion”, and hardly seems appropriate in this case. Nevertheless, I did enjoy the final couple of paragraphs, particularly the plainly stated and clear statement that

The saner voice of science is shining through, however, …

That’s right – these crackpots are insane! It feels good to say it plainly every now and again. And as an example of this saner side of science, the Times then goes on to quote Valerie Jamieson, friend of the blog and snowmobiler extraordinaire.

as Valerie Jamieson, deputy features editor of New Scientist, explains on her blog.

“Scale the cosmic ray sums up to cover the 100 billion stars in the Milky Way and the 100 billion galaxies in the visible Universe and you find that nature has already made the equivalent of 1,031 LHCs. Or if you like, 10 trillion LHCs are running every second. And we’re still here.”

Ignoring the little issue with superscripts (1,031 isn’t a particularly impressive number, but 1031 gets your attention), it’s nice to see an article in which crackpots are called crackpots and that shows that the author reads the right kind of blog!

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Science and the Media

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About Mark Trodden

Mark Trodden holds the Fay R. and Eugene L. Langberg Endowed Chair in Physics and is co-director of the Center for Particle Cosmology at the University of Pennsylvania. He is a theoretical physicist working on particle physics and gravity— in particular on the roles they play in the evolution and structure of the universe. When asked for a short phrase to describe his research area, he says he is a particle cosmologist.


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