Litigious LHC

28Mar08


I know of people over 45 who read this blog, so I should include a link explaining the reference.
Image adapted from T. Ricker and U. Kraus.

In a courtroom drama better suited for Judge Judy than Boston Legal, a pair of cautious Hawaiians are taking on the LHC. In the case Sancho & Wagner v. DOE, CERN, NSF, W. Wagner and L. Sancho are litigating (the American way) to postpone the LHC. Their reason? There should be further investigation of the possible production of environmental threats such as: Earth-eating black holes, Earth-eating strangelets, Earth-enslaving armies of apes from parallel dimensions, or even the dreaded ManBearPig. (See more serious reports at MSNBC, Engadget.)

This isn’t the first time the LHC has been cast as a `doomsday machine.’ The Cocktail Party Physicist wrote a nice piece on it a while ago, and you can find references all over the blogosphere [1]. The whole `LHC can destroy the world’ scenario had been something of a running joke among physicists, until the press pounced on it and a few people took it too seriously.

There is always room in science for citizens to ask questions and raise their concerns, and indeed it is scientists’ responsibility to give an accessible and honest response. However, at some point `concerned citizens’ can go a bit wonky. [2]

Mr. Wagner and Mr. Sancho, however, seem to have upped the ante, setting up a legal defence fund to support their cause. They explain that American tax dollars are being put towards the `large salaries’ [3] associated with the LHC, therefore Americans should take even more money out of their pockets to support their legal case against it. See the word `therefore’? That’s what makes the argument watertight.

Come on! HEP funding has taken enough of a bugetary hit this year. Does the DOE really have to waste science funding to deal with something that really should have been settled pro bono via public outreach channels?

The British semi-satirical news site The Register [4] wrote up a rather tongue-in-cheek report titled `Botanist sues to stop CERN hurling Earth into parallel universe.’ The article goes into a bit more detail on Wagner’s background as a biology-major / physics-minor / nuclear health technician/ law student / botanist / grade school teacher. The other plaintiff in the case is only referred to as a `fellow Hawaiian.’

This does highlight that a little bit of knowledge can end up being rather counterproductive. The Register highlights Wagner’s claim to a magnetic monopole discovery and apperance on a popular American paranormal radio show, all but explicitly calling him the `c’ word.

And now here we are with a US District Court handling a case on postponing the LHC because those gosh-darn physicists are trying to pull a Dr. Strangelove on us.

Anyway, perhaps Thomas Ricker said it best when he wrote

If OJ made one thing perfectly clear, it’s that the word “reason,” at the root of “reasonable doubt” has lost all meaning in the US court system.

The overemphasis on litigation in American culture has been something I’ve always found peculiar. But perhaps of the more recent caricatures of Americans, I suppose I should be thankful that this is the one to manifest itself against particle physics. What’s next? Are Americans going to `bring democracy’ to the LHC with a preemtive strike to protect our universe’s vacuum state?

And anyway, those of us holding our breath for terascale data know full well that CERN doesn’t need any more help with LHC delays.🙂

Notes

[1] I’ve used my knowledge of theoretical physics to develop a state-of-the-art graphical representation of such a universe-ending event. Okay, so I’m obviously just having a good time with MS paint. However, the physics of metastable SUSY vacua is actually rather interesting and has very little to do with ending our universe.

[2] See, for example, those who are still up-at-arms against fluoride in drinking water.

[3] What? Who is getting a large salary? In fact, when is the last time you heard of a really wealthy scientist who didn’t write a comprehensive 3-volume text on quantum field theory?

[4] The Register is somewhere between The Onion and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and makes good reading for Americans trying to get a feel for British humour.



4 Responses to “Litigious LHC”

  1. 2 Me

    « However, at some point `concerned citizens’ can go a bit wonky. [2]»

    «[2] See, for example, those who are still up-at-arms against fluoride in drinking water.»

    Which includes several Nobel Prizes in both physiology and Chemistry.

    See for instance http://www.fluoridealert.org/carlsson-interview.html

    This is a controversial subject even nowadays.

  2. 🙂 So I’ve learned since posting…

  3. 4 andy.s

    What a stable, Non-Hawking decaying black hole would do inside the earth is kind of a fun problem; I played with it a few years ago. It acts more like a 3-d harmonic oscillator than an orbiting body.

    How rapidly it would eat up the earth is a different kettle of fish; I suspect most of the time it’s just flying through the empty space between atomic nuclei.



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