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Seth Zenz | Imperial College London | UK

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Schedule Disappointments

As Adam noted yesterday, the date now being cited by the CERN Press Office for the restart of the LHC is early summer.  Unfortunately, there are two reasons why I’m personally not inclined to take this new estimate too seriously.

First, CERN has an increasingly long history of being over-optimistic on LHC start-up times.  At one time it was scheduled to run in 2005. Even into 2007, the official schedule said there would be a low-energy run that year; but in the end, it didn’t start running until almost a year later.  After the accident on September 19, CERN initially announced that the incident would lead to minor delays, then that it would take several months because of the winter shutdown, and now we have the revision that the repairs will push into the summer. Obviously some of these delays were due to unforeseen circumstances, for example the recent accident itself.  But even if all the schedule changes are due to equally-unforeseeable (if less dramatic) issues, the sheer number of revisions seems to suggest that CERN ought to take a step back and consider how it does contingency planning and the certainty with which it expresses its scheduling announcements.

Second, this new announcement is not accompanied by a new detailed schedule.  What would be useful for the experiments is more information about the damage and a full discussion of how the repairs will proceed, along with a range of possible start times depending on how well still-unknown factors turn out; this would let us do better contingency planning for our own maintenance work, not to mention our careers.  It’s very possible that CERN doesn’t yet have all the information about what repairs will be necessary, but then why the new announcement?  What use can it have beyond publicity, and what meaning can anyone possibly extract from it?

I should be clear here what I mean when I talk about “CERN” making announcements.  Obviously I’m not talking about the technicians, engineers, and physicists who work on the LHC; I’m sure they’re doing a great job, and of course they don’t write the press releases or talk to the media.  I’m also not referring to anyone in particular in the CERN Press Office or Management; the Press Office does a lot of good work on outreach, including putting forth an extraordinary effort for First Circulation Day, and the folks who write the press releases aren’t necessarily the ones who decide what they say.  The truth is that I simply don’t know how decisions about these announcements are made, or who makes them.  But somehow the official system for disseminating information is falling short of providing what the physicists working here need or what the public deserves.

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