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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.