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Regina Caputo | USLHC | USA

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Pessimism and the LHC

Part 3 in a <> part series 🙂

As Ken and others commented this and last week, the LHC has been getting negative press recently which has overshadowed the generally positive new run plan set for this year. With the machine not running it’s easy to let despair and doubt overtake your emotions. I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t feel at least a little depressed after reading all the negative press and seeing my fellow graduate students switching over to the Tevatron.

But there’s something important to remember regarding the pessimism and the LHC: negativity sells. Journalists aren’t there to candy-coat the situation – they’re here to keep us accountable, and it’s our responsibility as scientists to explain why repairing the machine is taking as long as it is. It’s much easier to write about things not working and falling behind schedule. Plus, CERN does have a history of being optimistic – and rightfully so. A machine like the LHC has never been built before so we don’t have a lot of experience in dealing with the potential problems that can arise. This is the inherent reason why science takes longer than expected: we’re exploring new frontiers. Did Lewis and Clark say how long it would take to reach the shore? (they fortunately didn’t have graduate students to worry about). It took over a decade and a practically unlimited budget to land a man on the moon, but with the success of the mission, we forget the failures that happened along the way. If we could build the LHC again, we could avoid the some of the problems we’ve encountered thus far, but as scientists that’s not what we do.

We must however be wary of haste. Of course, we do need accountability, but we also need understanding. External pressures and impatience cause mistakes to be made. We must realize that schedules are made and sometimes must be amended not because of some casual oversight but because of the unexpected. We’re not taking a car trip to grandma’s, we’re landing a man on the moon.

(Regina Caputo, Stony Brook)

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