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Peter Steinberg | USLHC | USA

View Blog | Read Bio

Doomsday, in the Court

And speaking of black holes, right on cue, it’s 1999 all over again, from MSNBC’s Cosmic Log (via Slashdot…):

Some folks outside the scientific mainstream have asked darker questions as well: Could the collider create mini-black holes that last long enough and get big enough to turn into a matter-sucking maelstrom? Could exotic particles known as magnetic monopoles throw atomic nuclei out of whack? Could quarks recombine into “strangelets” that would turn the whole Earth into one big lump of exotic matter?

Former nuclear safety officer Walter Wagner has been raising such questions for years – first about an earlier-generation “big bang machine” known as the Relativistic Heavy-Ion Collider, and more recently about the LHC.

Last Friday, Wagner and another critic of the LHC’s safety measures, Luis Sancho, filed a lawsuit in Hawaii’s U.S. District Court. The suit calls on the U.S. Department of Energy, Fermilab, the National Science Foundation and CERN to ease up on their LHC preparations for several months while the collider’s safety was reassessed.

“We’re going to need a minimum of four months to review whatever they’re putting out,” Wagner told me on Monday. The suit seeks a temporary restraining order that would put the LHC on hold, pending the release and review of an updated CERN safety assessment. It also calls on the U.S. government to do a full environmental review addressing the LHC project, including the debate over the doomsday scenario.

It’s an obvious question to ask who is going to get to review the situation in the next four months. All, and literally all, of the people nominally qualified to evaluate this kind of thing still aren’t even slightly more afraid of this than they were in 1999, after studying billions and billions of collision events at RHIC. And Walter Wagner (“the founder of a botanical garden in Hawaii”, according to Robert Crease, commenting on a letter Wagner wrote to Scientific American in 1999 — the one which started the avalanche) has been through this before, to no effect. But it’s nice to learn a few new things in this piece:

  1. Someone thinks the “inner workings” of ATLAS is what I always thought was the outside. I should be nicer about this, but it’s a little funny. While a cheap shot, I admit, I consider this lapse fair game, since the phrase “inner workings” certainly was meant to have a sinister ring in this context.
  2. But speaking of (not being) funny, physicists’ attempts at being wry often misfire. Michio Kaku, whom Boyle seems to have used as a source, provides a reasonable, if blustery, dismissal of strangelets — “We see no evidence of this bizarre theory” — but then trips up: “Once in a while, we trot it out to scare the pants off people. But it’s not serious.” Unfortunately, this comes across as insulting to people who are seriously concerned about the effect of science on the environment, and does nothing to inspire their trust in us. If we keep making “jokes” like this to reporters, then we deserve to waste all of the energy that we do fending off folks like Wagner. So let’s stop intentionally scaring people, even in jest.
  3. I’ve always complained that these same folks haven’t updated the conceptual basis for their paranoia (b.t.w. there is literally no factual basis, not even a hint — we’d be shouting it to the rooftops if there was merely a hint of a hint, believe me). But CERN did make a good faith attempt to update things in 2002-3, two years into the RHIC era — and I’m embarassed to admit that I’ve never seen it (but that said, no-one has ever brought it to my attention, and it certainly doesn’t percolate up to Google’s notice — but “CERN doomsday” does yields up this gem.) Someone asked me recently to check out the “Safety Concerns” section of the Wikipedia article on the LHC, and…well, I was busy. Live and learn

Anyway, I’ll be following this closely on the physiblogosphere. Stay tuned.


Tags: ,

32 responses to “Doomsday, in the Court”

  1. Georg says:

    Am I the only one to find it amusing that the Hawaiian suit fails to even refer to CERN by its correct name? They are suing the “Center for Nuclear Energy Research (CERN)” … must be a different LHC then, as well — the “Loony Crisis Hummer (LHC)”, maybe?

  2. Sean says:

    Maybe will get a stranglet black hole and monopole all rolled into one, which will flip the planets poles upside down in an attempt to evaporate. While sending out a frequency, that creates earthquakes and attracts a rouge scholar. Who turns out to be the anti-Christ by infecting the planet with an unbeatable virus. Which then causes mankind to risk time travel to try and stop it, by starting doomsday in the past. Preventing you from getting the theory of the universe, but allowing the possibility of 2% of the earth’s population to survive. 🙂

  3. Jeff Handy says:

    I was appalled when I saw this news. Why is it that someone with some scientific training would seem like such an idiot? I can only hope that this guy didn’t have any kids. Idiocracy be damned!

  4. Scotty says:

    Please don’t eat us …please don’t eat us with your BIG (err, little, little-big, potentially big starting little?!?) …BLACK …HOLE Really, I think the law suite is ridiculous. But hey man, if you guys actually do make one, could you name it “Biggie-Smalls?”

  5. […] I find this lawsuit by Luis Sancho, Walter L. Wagner interesting. I haven’t read the complaint and I have […]

  6. Steve says:

    Maybe the are suing these guys but they spell it “Centre” and it looks like its also anglified French from the acronym.

  7. JTankers says:

    Replacement Text:

    CERN’s web site states that we have not been destroyed by effects of cosmic rays and micro black holes will evaporate.

    However, cosmic rays travel too fast to be captured by Earths gravity, and Hawking Radiation is disputed (http://arxiv.org/abs/gr-qc/0304042) and contradicts Einstein’s highly successful relativity theory.
    Collider particles smash head on like a car collision and can be captured by Earth’s gravity, and relativity predicts micro black holes will not decay (Hawking called Einstein doubly wrong, yet it is Einstein who is repeatedly found to have been correct in his theories). There is currently no reasonable proof of LHC safety, LSAG (LHC Safety Assessment Group) has been trying for months to prove safety without success. I hold the minority opinion that it may not be possible because it may in fact not be safe.

    If micro black holes are created, we may soon be trying to calculate the growth rate, and in my personal speculation, it might not be too implausible to believe that calculation could need to account for the same quantum effects that Hawking predicts but as an accelerator not as a decay factor.

    NewScientist March 22-28 “Stakes get higher in antimatter puzzle”: “We can say with greater than 99.7 per cent probability that CP violation is there” says Sivestrini [of Italy’s National Institute of Nuclear Physics INFN] (link corrected from article: http://arxiv.org/abs/0803.0659)

    Cosmic Rays from the legal complaint.

    …any such novel particle created in nature by cosmic ray impacts would be left with a velocity at nearly the speed of light, relative to earth. At such speeds, …, is believed by most theorists to simply pass harmlessly through our planet with nary an impact, safely exiting on the other side. … Conversely, any such novel particle that might be created at the LHC would be at slow speed relative to earth, a goodly percentage would then be captured by earth’s gravity, and could possibly grow larger [accrete matter] with disastrous consequences of the earth turning into a large black hole.

    Sincerely, JTankers LHCConcerns.com

  8. Sean says:

    I Think there will be nothing but evaporation, the statement “no one has ever seen a Black Hole” is simply not true! Stranglets have already existed on this planet and all black holes contain an hidden monopole. Observed monopoles always have a 50% chance of producing ether a real supernova or an imaginary supernova, thats why they are hidden behind horizons. Black Holes shift position very quickly and if its not caused by a gravitational collapse then it will not be observed. If anything CERN will blow its self up due to a magnetic field flip, caused by a higgs carrying mass away.

  9. Mark says:

    What’s amazing to me is that when I raised these very concerns in response to blog postings here a couple of months back, I was dismissed as a crank and as a “troll.”

    Well, I guess even a “troll” has his day. While I know neither Mr. Wagner nor Mr. Sancho, they are raising some of the exact issues I raised before, and once again, I expect my response to be squelched. That’s all well and good, but if they’re right, and I’m right, those of you contemplating this experiment, without full consideration of the risks, are pathologically criminalistic. This is an absurd waste of taxpayer dollars, but more, the potential risks here are such that you people must be stopped if there is ANY chance of the worst case scenarios coming to pass.

    It’s time for an end to your haughty and elitist sense of certitude. You can’t afford it, and neither can the rest of humanity.


  10. JTankers says:

    Professor Dr. Otto E. Roessler estimates 50 months Earth accretion time from a single micro black hole captured by Earth’s gravity (www.golem.de/0802/57477-4.html, translation at http://www.lhcconcerns.com/LHCConcerns/Forums/phpBB3/viewtopic.php?f=10&t=52)

  11. Shaun says:

    Personally, I love my life, and I love living. I really don’t care if my curiosity kills me in the end. It is curiousity that drives us, as people, to do sometimes extraordinary things, to go on beyond what we see and do to a new place that may or may not be infront of our eyes. If this experiment goes wrong, if it jeopardizes our existence in some way or another, then so be it. We can never know if we never try. And fear of the unknown is cowardous no matter what the situation is. I know there are many theories out there. I know some people feel very strongly towards believing that the LHC will be hazardous to mankind. But going beyond all we know in the attempts to discover what is completely or almost impossible to understand sounds much worth it, no matter what the outcome is. If all life is sucked into a black hole, if we become pulled apart by extra dimensions or are affected in any way possible that is negative to our survival, then so be it… You only live once, and sometimes you have to risk all that you have for quenching the exausting thirst for the meaning of it all. You just cannot fear where your curiosity leads you. Dream a dream, and live it. Don’t be afraid people. Embrace.

  12. Yan Lagace says:

    Placing absolute faith in the technology and theory being used to accomplish this great experiment had better cause us all to have our fingers crossed. The greater the complexity of the machine…the greater the chance for malfunction. I Hope everything goes as planned at the LHC when the green light is given! Otherwise…?

  13. A. Tom says:

    “…creates earthquakes and attracts a rouge scholar. Who turns out to be…”
    Those scarlet academics :-/

  14. JTankers says:

    The prevailing view is that the risks are small, perhaps 1 in 50,000,000 as was estimated for the RHIC collider, but this is very strongly disputed and unsupportable with respect to the LHC collider.

    The lawsuit before US Federal Court estimates the risk at closer to 50% with a very high degree of uncertainty. (Credible scientists assert that those risk probability calculations are as accurate as can be currently supported. Actually risk may be closer to 0% or closer to 100% depending on what assumptions prove correct.)

    I am a former US Army Officer, and I am willing to accept a fairly high level of risk, I would not oppose 1 in 50 million odds, but I also have non-trivial physics back ground, and I have done extensive research related to LHC Safety risks, including creating the web site LHCFacts.org. And I am very concerned because I conclude that the risks may be exceedingly high, potentially a probability, and I conclude that CERN has NOT been open and honest about the risks involved. And I believe we can prove this in court.

    In short, these are the conditions necessary for safety or not:

    If the following reasonable and plausible assumptions prove to be correct, then the uncomfortable truth may be that the probability of destruction of Earth could be closer to 100%, far from the often quoted 1 in 50 million, though only mother nature currently knows for certain due to our limited understanding of the physics involved.

    A. LHC Creates black holes as CERN Predicted (1 per second)
    B. Micro Black holes do not evaporate as LSAG accepts as plausible.
    C. One or more micro black holes are captured by Earth’s gravity as LSAG accepts as plausible.
    D. Micro Black holes grow exponentially as Dr. Otto E. Rossler’s paper predicts and calculates.

    Supporting references to PHDs and Professors of Math, Physics and other Theoretical Sciences that very strongly support these arguments in favor of possible extreme risk are available at http://www.lhcfacts.org/?cat=53

  15. Walt says:

    Zealots Playing God! – ‘The World is not Enough’
    Nobel Prize hungry Physicists are racing each other and stopping at nothing to try to find the supposed ‘Higgs Boson'(aka ‘God’) Particle, among others, and are risking nothing less than the annihilation of the Earth and all Life in endless experiments to try to solve theoretical problems when urgent real problems face the planet. The European Organization for Nuclear Research(CERN) new Large Hadron Collider(LHC) is the world’s most powerful atom smasher that will soon be firing subatomic particles at each other at nearly the speed of light to create Miniature Big Bangs producing clouds of Micro Black Holes, Strangelets and other potentially cataclysmic phenomena.
    The CERN-LHC website Mainpage itself states quote: “There are many theories as to what will result from these collisions,…” This stunning admission is because they truly don’t know what’s going to happen. They are experimenting with forces they don’t understand to obtain results they can’t comprehend. If you think like most people do that ‘They must know what they’re doing.’ you could not be more wrong. Some people think the same thing about medical Dr.s but consider this by way of comparison and example from JAMA: “A recent Institute of Medicine report quoted rates estimating that medical errors kill between 44 000 and 98 000 people a year in US hospitals.” The second part of the quote reads “…but what’s for sure is that a brave new world of physics will emerge from the new accelerator,…” A molecularly changed or Black Hole consumed Lifeless World? The end of the quote reads “as knowledge in particle physics goes on to describe the workings of the Universe.” These experiments to date have so far produced infinitely more questions than answers but there isn’t a particle experimentalist physicist alive who wouldn’t gladly trade his life to glimpse the “God particle”, and sacrifice the rest of us with him.
    This quote from National Geographic exactly sums this “science” up: “That’s the essence of experimental particle physics: You smash stuff together and see what other stuff comes out.”
    For more information visit;
    Popular Mechanics – “World’s Biggest Science Project Aims to Unlock ‘God Particle'” – http://www.popularmechanics.com/science/extreme_machines/4216588.html

  16. asus-4 says:

    Lets regurgitate information we don’t really understand and asure ourselves that nothing will happen with the lhc.After all ignorance is bliss.So they say.

  17. W says:

    CERN judging their own LHC is safe is like a drunk deciding he’s all right to drive… with 6,700,000,000 passengers.
    Who cares about a Higgs Boson particle or some quark gluon soup except a handful of frustrated geeks who have run out of ideas and have to experiment with forces they don’t even understand. These freaking physicists waste money and energy time and time again building atom smasher after atom smasher and end up with more questions, not answers. Now they’ve built one so powerful they say themselves it will create mini black holes at the rate of one per second! Which would change your life more; knowing they found some particle or getting crushed and sucked into a black hole along with everyone and every thing you ever cared about?
    That sound like a good risk vs. benefit to you?!? Just because you can’t wrap your mind around it does not mean it can’t happen.
    See for yourself;
    Popular Mechanics – “World’s Biggest Science Project Aims to Unlock ‘God Particle'” – http://www.popularmechanics.com/science/extreme_machines/4216588.html

  18. Robert I. Marsh II says:

    With half of the ‘Standard Model’ missing, shrouded within the mathematical haze of pure speculation (guessing); and with the LHC built upon this unstable foundation, there is no telling what surprises lie ahead! There shall be at least one sector, of the ‘Standard Model’, changed in a sweeping tsunami, causing the mathematicians and physicists to scramble wildly to make corrections. A BRAVE NEW WORLD! It will take the LHC experiments, to lift the physics community out from their stagnated, depressing quagmired current positions! There is no doubt, that the future world desperate energy needs, can be solved by LHC; however, this production course should be traveled with extreme caution!!!

  19. Robert I. Marsh II says:

    I predict at CERN LHC ALICE Heavy Ion collisions, scheduled for 2009, the formation of an Einstein-Rosen Bridge Wormhole: QUANTUM WORMHOLE! Initiated by: quantum inverse radiation (plasmatic field energy), that affects gravitational waves, and creates a curvature within the fabric of Space/Time, and allows a compression singularity vortex to stabilize, an event-horizon expansion. The boundary magnitude event, would then come in direct induction with the Cryonic Superconductor Dipoles, and Detector Array!

  20. Ian says:

    Hey!! You guys need to give a little more respect to the fears of the less-gifted masses who, quite frankly, pay for all your fun and games.

    If you’re expecting to make mini black holes you’d better have a damn good fall-back plan. These things aren’t famous for evapourating they’re famous for eating everything in sight.

    You can’t keep building bigger and more powerful machines without sooner or later making something dangerous so why don’t you humour us and make a press statement about what exactly you plan to do if one of your little black holes refuses to go quietly?

    No I’m not clever and, yes, I am frightened.

  21. Derek says:

    @Walt: “This stunning admission is because they truly don’t know what’s going to happen.” Er….if they knew what was going to happen, they wouldn’t be experimenting, would they? That’s the whole point.

  22. Kash says:

    The true fact is that this experiment could cause a rip in the fabric of space-time. This is due to the fact that the smallest known particles are being collided at the highest energies human beings can create. The defenders of this project make comparisons to “stars having energies far greater than enything we can produce”, but fail to think of the big picture. Stars do not isolate particles. Stars have so much gravity and weight that small particles are meaningless to their being. By concentrating and colliding the smallest know particles, the very structure of space-time is at risk. These particles may be small enough and have such great energy that they could “pierce” the structure of space-time, creating the big bang all over again. How do we know that this is not how our universe was created? – intelligent beings that were foolish enough to tamper with the unknown in the most awesome fashion. – If you get to the foundation(of the structure), it’s over. Think about this and make right decision before you take a chance on playing God – literally.

  23. Kash says:

    Also, how do we know that the particles won’t fuse at such energies, instead of annihilating, creating a new particle that could be dangerous to the particles inherent to our universe. There are simply too many theoretical and potentially unseen outcomes and consequences from this project to even think for a second that it’s perfectly “safe”. The world must make a united decision to whether on not this project should be allowed, not a handful of scientists.

  24. Kash says:

    A new prediction: The collision will create a single point of enormous energy, creating mirogravity that will violently suck towards it the x number of protons within the immediate vicinity.

  25. Kash says:

    Hopefully, the energy point would then evaporate(within microseconds). Thank you.

  26. CCR says:

    I don’t think the risk is small.
    The risk cannot be estimated properly because of lack of experimental data and knowledge in this area.
    The argument “it happens in the nature” is not conclusive. It never happened before.
    1. Such a concentration of colliding high-energy ions in small point of space-time does not occure in nature (Earth and moon). Who can predict issues of interference of mass collisions. For example mini-black-holes can interflow and become more stable.
    2. Most of those particles are deflected by magnetic field of the Earch and stopped in the atmosphere. But LHC is under the surface of the planet. Destruction of protons releases much more energy than nuclear fission.
    Such mass collisions may produce much more high-energy particles.
    Who can predict what may happen when all those particles attack the surrounding matter. Chain reaction is possible.

  27. Kash says:

    Does “absolute motion” mean anything to anyone? Any fissure in space-time would be a solid frame of reference in determining the absolute motion of the earth because it would be absolutely still in reference to the structure of the universe. If a mini black hole(fissure) were created, it would shoot off in whatever direction that is opposite to the motion of the earth, which could be through the air or through the earth, in either case, most likely being able to stabilize itself and grow. It is a sick fact that this type of problem is even remotely worthy of consideration.

  28. hh says:

    Ponder this,

    What if we have done this before, and we are stuck in a infinite loop. Forever to repeat our mistake.

  29. prespecifics says:

    Not quite surprisingly the arguments in the US are the same as in Europe.
    The logical circularity of the LHC experiments as well as the safety reports by CERN is correctly mentioned by the taxi-driver metaphor. All their safety arguments start from or uses the theory of standard model, thus the same scientific arguments they used to build the machine. Even the best and latest one (Giddins & Mangano) fail to examine all possible parameter constellations, as Dr.Plaga (http://arXiv.org/abs/0808.1415v1) has demonstrated.
    Those scientists at CERN are orthodox fundamentalist incapable of reflecting the assumptions of own work, the just “belief” and do propaganda, all the times repeating the same wrong arguments, incapable to recognize the totality of the threat. What would Einstein have said to those cranky folks?

  30. Mat says:

    Shawn, you scare me, you really do. Risking everything we love and know on some thing that could potentially wipe clean all civilization is stupid, risky and above all certainly carries the stench of arrogance and ignorance. Now, I like science as much as the next guy (especially the proposition of faster than light speed!), but this is goimg overboard. If there is a risk that such a catastrophe could happen, why are we taking the chance?

    P.S. I’m not a troll, it’s just that this stuff scares the daylights out of me.

    P.S.S. Shawn, have you ever played the videogame Halo, if not, look up 343 Guilty Spark on Wikipedia, you two have something in common.

  31. Kwai says:

    In response to mat I would like to say that I am also terrified of calamity’s of this scale occurring on earth.
    Even silly things like ‘The sun will expand’ drive me insane,and after hearing about this at my schooling I would like to say ‘Why?’ Why are we doing this if it even has a small chance that it could have damage?It doesnt matter about small chances to them,but if you took a chance on everything,even if it is a 1/10000% chance we would all probably be dead already.
    There are even bad and good sides to this machine.
    1.If it does work,we may start playing the old style ‘chicken game’ for measures of science.Every time we succeed at a higher risk rate we will keep going on,and on until the end.
    2.If it doesn’t succeed we wasted all this money just for pieces of knowledge,which for some reason some people value over there lives themselves.Which is ok,in some points of mind.
    3.If it goes completely wrong,which has a very low chance, we would have wrecked the entire human race,probably not so the universe,for something as little as information.
    Ask yourself right now, If you have read this.
    “Do I r e a l l y need to know this information the machine may,or not provide,can I not just leave it as that?”.
    Either way this is my last piece of information one,like the rest of this post is completely my own.
    “The human race will keep searching to find its answers,but nothing in existence that seeks for something, will ever find everything it wishes to.”.

  32. paul says:

    Mankind has made tremendous progress in the past by acquiring the unknown truths.In our quest for knowledge ,inherent risks have to be boldly faced to achieve results. Let us hopoe the powerful proton collisions in the LHC will produce a new type of matter or ray which will be of utmost benefit to mankind. If in the process the earth come to an end we will not be there to regret it. In any case everything including the universe has to come to an end. We should consider ourself lucky if the end comes in our life time .