Neuroscientist on Comedy Central: not qualified to promote the LHC

02Apr08

On Tuesday Neuroscientist Simon LeVay was on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show promoting his book When Science Goes Wrong. A video of the interview is available online. At around 4:07 host Jon Stewart brings up the question of black holes and strangelets at the LHC. (He’s a bit off on the terminology, but no matter.)

That part of the discussion didn’t last long, but it’s not great publicity when LHC physics is compared to a man’s botched Parkinsons treatment where an injection of fetal tissue led to the growth of “a baby in his head.” Collider physics isn’t mentioned in the book (as it shouldn’t be), but Jon brings it up later in the conversation.

Let’s get this clear: science has not gone wrong at the LHC. If anything, this `environmental hazard’ debacle is an example of where media outreach of science has gone wrong. And Simon LeVay, you’re not helping!

LeVay’s glib responses fail to accurately convey the scientific basis for the `environmental safety’ of the LHC. When physicists say an environmental hazard is ‘extremely unlikely,’ what they mean is, “It won’t happen, but scientific honesty prevents me from ruling anything out.” I understand that he was under some pressure to squeeze a laugh out of the audience, but I really hoped that he —as a scientist— would have been able to express better that physicists are not risking the Earth to discover the Higgs boson.

It’s one thing when the media goes crazy when Frank Wilczek mentions strangelets, but it’s quite another thing when a neuroscientist is inadvertently fanning the flames by talking about the LHC in a `science goes wrong’ book tour. C’mon, Dr. LeVay. For someone whose research gets enough grief from the public, please be a bit more considerate to other fields of science which also work hard to present their work in an accurate light.



2 Responses to “Neuroscientist on Comedy Central: not qualified to promote the LHC”

  1. 1 robcat2075

    Don’t worry. It’s *extremely unlikely* anyone will take that interview on *Comedy Central* seriously.

    The biggest problem with the LHC is that it’s not going to quite answer all their questions and they’ll want to spend another zillion to build an even bigger one.

    And then we’ll all get sucked into a black hole.

  2. 2 NitinCR

    Why would John Stewart ask a neuroscientist questions about physics at the LHC? I think many people are getting wrong impressions and sustaining completely wrong ideas because of what some members of the media community are writing or saying.

    What does LeVay mean by “science” anyway? Why do some people use such words that can be so easily misconstrued as being the whole edifice of scientific knowledge? Baffles me… If they don’t know what to say, just shut up, and spare yourself the ridicule from other members of the scientific community. Sorry Flip, but I just had a hot curry lunch…



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