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Calling Bullshit

We. Are. Not. Going. To. Die. On. Wednesday.

The maximum energy the particles generated by the LHC (7TeV) get up to is many orders of magnitude below the maximum energy of cosmic rays that hit the Earth's upper atmosphere from space every fricking day. None of them have created black holes and gobbled up the planet, or turned us all into strange matter. Nor have they done ditto to any cosmic bodies we can see, such as planets or stars. Therefore the world isn't going end when they switch on the LHC on Wednesday. QED.

Joking is all very well, but please, can we not be spreading the FUD and scaring people needlessly? The current climate of superstitious dread with respect to the sciences is bad enough as it is ...




Want to see something really depressing? Check out the comments on the CNN story about this.


I weep for my nation.


Correction: we are not all going to die on Wednesday. Some of us might die on Wednesday for entirely unrelated reasons.

Even more pedantic correction: we will also not die in the period of months to years following Wednesday as a micro black hole eats the Earth away under our feet.

Even more pedantic correction: at least, if we are, the black hole in question will not have originated in the LHC ring.


Nix, you are Not Helping vis-a-vis the FUD. Keep the message simple, because the simpletons are worried. OK?


Every sensible person knows the world is going to end on December 21st, 2012.


So now I got nothing to look forward to. Thanks for harshing my mellow.


You fools! Don't you see all those cosmic ray impacts are just God tempting us into poking our noses into "things Man was not meant to know". He can do such things with impunity, but if mankind does it God will strike us all down, just like he struck down Adam and Eve when they got to nosey. You have only one hope - send me all your money so I can establish a prayer group that will beg the Lord to save the faithful and condemn the evil physicists to burn in hell for eternity. Act now, before it's too late!!!!



-- Jerry's Electric Church (The Screaming Blue Messiahs)


"Anyone who thinks the LHC will destroy the world is a twat." - Prof. Brian Cox


Yes, but Jebus makes those cosmic whatsits, so that's ok. The LHC borders Switzerland and France, clearly the devil's territory.


My son has just started secondary school. Today his science teacher told the class that at CERN they were trying to make a black hole. It got the whole of Year 7 in quite a state, apparently. I have a friend who works there (CERN, I mean, not the school), so my son was less bothered than most, apparently.

Really, we should be able to expect better of our science teachers.


Damn Charles, I alreay respect the hell out of you, but giving a nod to SBM. . . awesome. Now where the hell is Bill Carter?


I'm more excited about the imminent arrival of our time-traveling overlords! (From the same site)


Oooh, yeah, you big, strapping physicists -- Collide those Large Hardons!


The Four Hadrons of the Apocalypse


Every unix geek knows the world ends at Tue Jan 19 03:14:07 2038 GMT.

Now. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/2650665/Legal-bid-to-stop-CERN-atom-smasher-from-destroying-the-world.html

Professor Otto Rossler, a German chemist at the Eberhard Karls University of Tubingen who is one of the most vocal opponents of the LHC and was one of the scientists who submitted the complaint to the court, said: "CERN itself has admitted that mini black holes could be created when the particles collide, but they don't consider this a risk.


Professor Rossler claims that, in the worst case scenario, the earth could be sucked inside out within four years of a mini black hole forming.

If it's only going to take 4 years then this is proof conclusive that Wednesday's experiment will not cause the end.

(tongue firmly in cheek)


Never understimate the power of human stupidity...


The amount of energy necessary to compress enough matter into a small enough volume to trigger a runaway even horizon is, well, on the order of 1% of the Earth's mass translated into energy. Not to mention that you'd need about that much mass again INSIDE the hole. If we could do cool stuff like that, Charlie would have to revise his opinion on manned space travel.

Feh. A pox on all millenialists. I'm sick to death of the particular genus of memes that believe that a)TEOTWAWKI is imminent and/or b)a TEOTWAWKI catastrophe is either preventable or mitigable by human effort and/or c)The world would be a better place with about .1%-10% of the current human population. and/or d)If only their people were in power (or anarchy reigned) (a) and (b) would be non-issues.


I consider it more likely that the LHC will produce Zombies.


Actually, I'd love to see a court issue a statement explicitly ordering the LHC not to destroy the world. Case closed.


"Nor have they done ditto to any cosmic bodies we can see, such as planets or stars."

How about the ones we can't see any more, because they've been eaten up by the black holes their alien scientists foolishly generated in their backyards?


Charlie, don`t you know? Any sufficiently advanced civilization will inevitably turn into a black hole while trying to researh the Higgs boson. It`s a law of nature.


Heh, a truly terrifying prognostication:

Error with processing of xml: java.lang.Exception: Failed to process [/ElectronicTelegraph/ETJhtml/ETXml/content/earth/2008/09/05/scilhc105.xml] with [/ElectronicTelegraph/ETJhtml/ETXsl/property/earthbyline.xsl] - File "file:///ElectronicTelegraph/ETJhtml/ETXsl/property/earthbyline.xsl" not found.

Anyway, even if a black hole did form in the LHC, it'd evaporate in a small fraction of a second -- to achieve runaway Earth inhalation, it'd need to be many orders of magnitude more massive.

My favourite quote from the LHC Safety Assessment Group report:

"Each collision of a pair of protons in the LHC will release an amount of energy comparable to that of two colliding mosquitoes."

Hopefully there'll be a decent place to watch the switch-on from here at the UK grid-computing conference in Edinburgh. (You'd hope so, given that most of the people here are particle-physicists!)



Anatoly @20 - shhh... don't let the secret out, CERN are actually trying to solve the Fermi paradox, not find the Higgs.

Dave Bell @17 - In one of the amateur made mods to HL, Timeline II, Iced Earth, Gordon visits CERN. (In an alternate universe) It's crawling with zombies, aliens &c. (One of the best HL mods IMHO).


betabug @19: small black holes that eat cosmic bodies tend to put on a bit of weight, resulting in them growing into planetary or stellar mass black holes. Which accumulate accretion disks which are visible at a range of thousands to millions of light years. We haven't seen them. QED.


You know, I think this is fundamentally a problem with the very literal way that professional geeks see the world. For example, if you asked a bloke in the pub whether custard would spontaneously become sentient, he would say "nah, never happen. It's custard, innit?".

Ask a biology researcher or chaos mathemeticician and they'd ho and hum and then say "Well, there's a vanishingly small chance that the proteins in custard could combine to form at least some form of what we could call life, if combined with sufficient energy, such as say, a lightning strike, which some argue was the original impetus for single-celled biological life in the distant past... but really, it's not a risk we should be worried about."

Then the next day the headlines blare "BOFFINS WARN CUSTARD COULD KILL US ALL!!"

If scientists could bring themselves to be slightly less literal and precise in their answers and avoid the constant qualifications, caveats and justifications that characterise scientific argument, just when speaking to excitable journalists, there would be a lot less of this sort of thing.


Rock star, TV presenter, physicist, even a Professor.

And there we were thinking Buckaroo Banzai was fiction.


Dave@23: That is why my sole reply to any journalist, for any question, for the last decade has been: "I decline to answer on the grounds that I will be mis-quoted".

I regard it along with "I wish to speak with my attorney, and do not consent to any search" (or the local equivalent thereof) as vital knowledge for anyone in our current society.


My friend Simeon attended a Heroes and Villains party, recently, as a scientician from the Conseil pour l'Explosif Recherche Nucléaire. He explained that their plan to destroy the world has only one problem: British secret agents.


Are you sure that's not Sam Tyler?

DCI Hunt is never going to believe this.


If we do all die, I'm going to be annoyed.


Of course, in practical terms Wednesday is only First Beam, and it will probably smack into the wall without going all the way round. (Anyone know how they detect that and fix it?) The first actual collision is weeks off, and even then won't be at maximum energy. It'll be interesting to see whether the Chicken Little community keep pecking at this, or go and panic about something else.

Personally, I expect the only thing to be destroyed will be the Standard Model, which has far too many duct tape patches applied.


Martin McCallion@9

New Scientist Aug 30th, 2008 "Power Up" p30 -

"Meanwhile, the LHC should be well on its way to reaching its design performance, perhaps producing mini-black holes by the thousand and ...."

The NS is a fairly respected science newspaper, and this is the cover story, so it doesn't surprise me a teacher might be mentioning that the LHC was designed to try to generate black holes. Of course these black holes would almost instantly evaporate, but not everyone knows this, and it is a theory, not an experimentally proven fact.


I'm taking the day off anyway, even if the world isn't going to end.


Bah. Humbug. Everyone knows the world ended at 00.00.01 on Jan 1 2000 (or 2001, depending upon your point of view) Or was that only the computers we are writing all this on? Ergo, we are all now merely figments of the Great Author's imagination.

Yes. Charles Stross is God. We are not worthy.


"Sure. Yeah. I think so. 'Sides, if I mess up, not like you'll be able to yell at me." - Kaylee


Dave @ 23: The scientists *need* to think that way to pursue their professions, especially in rareified fields like high energy physics.

Due to the same rareification, said geeks tend to be hard core geeks. Expecting them all to have appropriate reporter instincts is a stretch, even if you specifically trained them.

In any case, I wonder how people can think a project his big, international, and complicated would have proceeded if it led in any clear way to Har-Meggido.

(Unclear paths, like "Oh, so we can build a bomb like *this*" are actually moderately credible.)



This powerpoint presentation describes the elaborate precautions to prevent an unscheduled beam dump, which could do serious damage to the machine - see the fourth slide for an illustration (btw, Powerpoint? What happened to making your slides in LaTeX? Standards must be slipping).

As an ex-physicist I've been most disappointed by the media coverage - more physics coverage in a few weeks than there's been in the last decade, and all of it dumbed down to the point where no useful information at all is transmitted. Nice pictures of all the big detectors etc I suppose.


Heh, through evil use of grammar the headline should read: On Wednesday, when they turn on the LHC, around 150,000 people will die

All parts of that statements would be true, just not cause and effect. That is the normal global death rate per day.


If Steam-engine drivers make their breakfast on a shovel pushed into the firebox, how long until someone tries to make a cup of coffee in it, or tries to answer the question 1 cat + 2 beams = ?.


One thing that hasn't been mentioned is the financial incentives for scientists who also sell books to create at least some FUD. Let's face it: FUD sells! This story has already laid the foundation for robust non-fiction book sales.


In other news, another threat associated with the collider has been spotted. http://www.joystiq.com/2008/09/09/terrible-news-gordon-freeman-spotted-near-large-hadron-collider/



As a journalist, could I quote you on that? In all seriousness though, I tend to find the science and technology background (or legwork at least) of most daily general interest journalists sadly lacking or nonexistent. Then again, the real goal is to sell newspapers/get eyes on Web sites, as opposed to a sober and well-written piece.


The best proof that the LHC won't cause the end of the world is the reluctance of the Bush administration to help fund it. Anything that brings on the End Times is just fine with them.


Hmm ... my last post seems to have been eaten by one those LHC mini-blackholes. Trying again ...

The best proof that the LHC won't cause the end of the world is the reluctance of the Bush administration to help with funding. Anthing that brings us closer to the End Times is just fine with them.


A double-post by Bruce is a primary sign of The Apocalypse. I've discovered an unknown passage by Nostradamus. He writes, "In the day before the first use of a great machine for smashing rocks, there will be a twice-told message uttered by the anti-pope which signals the beginning of a great calamity for mankind."


"I'm sick to death of the particular genus of memes that believe that a)TEOTWAWKI is imminent"

Well, it is. For certain values of "imminent."

(But it would be really, really funny if they fired the LHC up, and all it did was go "Hummmmmmmmm... poink" and never worked again...)



Livish coverage of the LHC experiment. As of 9:30 they'd completed a complete 'circuit' in one direction. They're starting to fire a beam the other direction (testing just once beam again if I understood right).

Looks like the actual collision may be done well within the week.

Still won't be the actual cause of the end of the world though.


It doesn't help that the BBC uses emotive phrases like "cataclysmic force" to describe the LHC operation as in:

"The £5bn machine on the Swiss-French border is designed to smash particles together with cataclysmic force."

Readers probably have visions of the lights across Europe dimming, the ground shaking, landslides, seas boiling every time a button is pressed on it.


Coltrane @ 3:
December 20, 2012, not December 21. The thirteenth b'ak'tun ends on the 20th, the fourteenth starts the next day (December 21).


The cosmic ray example is not a good one because any created microhole/strangelet would retain a fair fraction of the impactors momentum and fly through the Earth at 99%C,never to be seen again. The head-on collisions at CERN could (albeit very,very rarely) create them with a residual velocity less than escape velocity, leading to them orbiting thru the Earth...
So the bloody things damn well better evaporate rapidamente or there could be hell to pay..I'm looking in your direction Hawking!!


@47: Like it :)

An intruiging glimpse of what the French version of the laundry might be like - "Croussant Mime forces" instantly conjours images of white-faced terror......

Going back to the original panic. I find it interesting to dig a little into the backgrounds of the "authorities" claiming that XXX may cause the end of the world etc. In this case, as in many others, the prime movers might be said to have a vested (religious) interest.


"The Black Hit of Space..get James Burke on the case!"


It's been less than 12 hours since the LHC activation, and already Kim Jong-il is missing. How do you explain _that_, huh?


My personal favorite quote of Dr Cox from the time travel story:
"The energies of billions of cosmic rays that have been hitting the Earth's atmosphere for five billion years far exceed those we will create at the LHC, so by this logic time travellers should be here already. If these wormholes appear I will personally eat the hat I was given for my first birthday before I received it."


You underestimate the 'thrill' factor. If you sit back and carefully count the number of 'end of world' scenarios you have survived in your life, the number is absurdly high. I, for one, woke up today with the thought "Well, I guess CERN didn't eat the planet yet". What a rush! They're not FUD slinging mob-mongers you know, they're just adrenalin junkies. eXtreme science is just mad science with less world domination and more accidental global extinction events.

It almost makes up for the comically (or is that cosmically) inaccurate portrayals of CERN and the purpose of these experiments. Worse to me than fears that 'OMFG BLACK H0L3!!1!' are the thousands upon thousands who cannot imagine what good this experimentation could possibly do for us. They are bitching about the price tag, since it does nothing (as yet) to improve (directly) their comfortable, spoon-fed lifestyles. BBC radio last night on the drive home from work, to be 'fair', gave one of those calls airtime.
With that kind of awesomeness, I was almost hoping for some black holes.....


insect_hooves @12
"Oooh, yeah, you big, strapping physicists -- Collide those Large Hardons!"

Strapping physicists? You mean they're using dildoes?????


Not dead yet...


Ed @52: I have developed a Gibsonesque theory about the mystery surrounding Kim Jong-il. Yakuza have hacked his wetware and turned his mind from that of a fascist into a Zen meditation practioner. According to the journal Plos ONE, "Meditative training may foster the ability to control the automatic cascade of semantic associations triggered by a stimulus and, by extension, to voluntarily regulate the flow of spontaneous mentation."

The Yakuza have accomplished the removal of a dictator (for a price, of course) and gained a Zen Master who they have brainwashed into using his spontaneous thoughts to find creative solutions for avoiding the police.


According to some entity calling himself Walter Wagner, the LHC is going to be used to make black holes:

Find him in the comments. I would say go and have some fun, but the page is from earlier in the year, so nobody will be watching it.


Just for the fun of it, what is your opinion of what an "acceptable risk" would be for operating the machine (or doing any other experiment, for that matter) if there was a microscopic but still finite chance of the end of existence resulting? Call it 0.0x01%. x = how many zeros?



Well I guess you just hit the nail on the head there Rich.

There is a finite probability of anything happening (my coffee cup spontaneously imploding, a monkey typing the works of Shakespeare, etc) - it's just that most are very, very unlikely.

Scientists are trained not to give absolute answers because of this (myself included). Any answer has a probability attached to it, even if it is only a margin of error. Journalists, lawyers and joe public really don't understand this.

So ask the question "Will the LHC create black holes that will eat the Earth?" and you'll get the answer "It's very unlikely" - very unlikely being on the same order of probablity of the questioners head spontaneously morphing into a geranium, rather than even a very high one in a million chance.

People just can't cope with big numbers or low probabilities (which is why they play the lottery).


BoingBoing today reminded me of something the LHC doomsayers bring to mind: Mike the Headless Chicken.

On Kim Jong Il, when it was announced several months ago that No.Korea would tear down their reactor and start talks, my thought was "What life-threatening illness does he have that can only be treated in the US?"


Many people were devastated with the news that the LHC did not perform appropriately...well, they were devastated when they sobered up.


It would probably help if they actually required liberal arts students to take real science and math classes, instead of the dumbed-down versions that some colleges and universities require. Of course, some don't even require those, so we get such blatant idiocy as "creation science," "intelligent design," and "the World will end when the LHC starts up."


Ed, required college English courses in the U.S. are even more dumbed down than science and math. A large vocabulary isn't emphasized nearly enough at the college level, which results in fewer readers for advanced fiction and non-fiction.



I'm looking at it from the viewpoint of a person who has a BS in Mechanical Engineering, but got it about 30 years ago. The liberal arts students got jolly* numbers; we didn't get jolly creative writing. Regardless, critical thinking is not being taught. Respect for authority is too widely encouraged.

*At the midwestern US university I attended "jolly" was used in the sense of "the idiot's version of..."


@63 <- what's even funnier about that website is that it's got an RSS feed. LOLZ.


...and they've broken it already. Bah!

(Apparently a magnet quench that boiled off a metric ton of liquid helium.)

Estimated repair time: 2 months.




Yes, I too came across the article about how the scientists had broken their new toy. And in record time
no less...(At least someone will not get laid off this month to do the repair work, and someone will have to do the failure analysis)

For all of you out there though loudly proclaiming that
the uneducated masses don't have a thing to worry about,
I merely refer you to the unintended consequences of toying about with things sometimes a) better left alone, or b) postponed until you know what is going to happen as a result of your experiment before you do the experiment.

Google "killer mousepox" or read this:

The key line:
This work replicates and extends upon work first reported back in January 2001 where some Australian CSIRO scientists were accidentally trying to develop a mouse contraceptive and produced an extremely lethal strain of mousepox instead.

Note the word "accidentally"...and if you research
the original experiment, the words "extremely lethal" above actually equated to a 100% fatality rate.

So in closing, the "we have nothing to fear from technology" crowd so prevalent in message boards is as equally ignorant as the "uneducated masses" you chide.
People are at work in research labs all over the world, 24/7, and given the above example, were the Aztecs better at statistical analysis then we gave them credit for in predicting the next "oops"...