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Will the LHC destroy the Earth?

December 19, 2008 on 1:42 pm | In Physics, black holes |

Despite multiple articles on the topic, I keep getting comments and emails telling me things like the following:

The LHC COULD be safe, nobody can honestly know.

Frank Wilczek once said that smashing quarks will create the earth into a supernova

Because there is a chance for basic failure of current theories, the threat is potentially a global one, the issue develops into an ethical, or political one. Here, all the physicists are simply ruthless.

Really? Now these arguments are ridiculous, but it isn’t obvious. Remember the first time you heard the argument that the twin towers couldn’t have collapsed without “help” because burning jet fuel isn’t hot enough to melt steel? It sounded like a reasonable point, didn’t it? But what really happened in that situation was that steel weakens at high temperatures, and at jet fuel temperatures (about 1400 °F or 760 °C) steel loses about 90% of its strength, even though it’s still a solid.

And so things make sense. Now what if I told you that biologically, Aleut eskimos from Atka, Alaska and Mbuti pygmies from the Democratic Republic of the Congo were so different that they couldn’t interbreed! Would you believe me? After all, there are significant genetic differences between them, interbreeding never occurs in nature, and they have very different physical traits from one another. But that isn’t what the science supports. In fact, not only can all known races of humans interbreed, but humans, in the past, interbred with neanderthals!

But I’m not an expert on the tensile strength of steel or on evolutionary biology. I am an expert in theoretical physics, however. Credentials? Let’s see:

So with all of this in mind, my question to everyone is WHY?! Why do you think the LHC has a chance of destroying the Earth?

Why do you think that physicists are covering up some huge conspiracy so that they can get away with secretly destroying the planet with black holes? Not only is this a ludicrous idea, it isn’t physically possible.

Let me recap the real science here in as simple a way as I can:

  1. Black holes that are the mass of stars (or greater) have strong gravitational fields, and can grow by sucking up more of the matter around it.
  2. It may be possible to create black holes at a powerful particle accelerator that are much smaller than stars if there are special types of extra dimensions.
  3. These black holes, if we can create them, will not suck up matter quickly and grow. They are also energetically unstable, and will decay due to the laws of quantum mechanics.

But somehow, this doesn’t make it in to people’s brains, even when I spell it out like this. People hear the words “black hole” and freak out and dream of horrific deaths. Then they ignore the laws of physics that we already know and understand, and make up apocalyptic ones in their place.

I will state it again, clearly and unambiguously:

There is no conceivable, realistic scenario where a black hole or anything else created at the LHC could destroy the world.

Even if black holes are created there, there is no way that it poses any danger to anyone. But I bet you I still get comments at the bottom of this post where people will write about Hawking Radiation, Walter Wagner, Plaga and Tankersley, and a whole host of other legitimate-sounding theories.

So if you do, please consider the following as you write: is there anything I could state to you, any fact or any evidence I could show you, that would convince you that the world is safe?


84 Comments »

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  1. convinced sir

    Comment by baragon-kun — December 19, 2008 #

  2. A few things on the side of the Science are:

    1. Cosmic ray collisions in the atmosphere of the Earth are probably way more energetic than any collision energy the LHC can achieve. This means that for 4.5 billion years Nature has yet to turn the planet Earth or any planet in the solar system into a black hole. If you still feel very uncomfortable with the odds so far maybe you pray every night very hard. There are other things to do, spending your time wisely (nothing against prayer in general).

    2. The neutron star argument. The stable neutron star is a star that has collapsed as far as it can without becoming a black hole. In fact it cannot become a black hole in accordance with General Relativity. The jury agrees on this one. Again, high energy cosmic rays colliding into the neutron surface itself have yet to produce an example where a neutron star has disappeared in the very large astronomical database. Hasn’t happened yet. Just think a micro black hole thinking it has a chance to eat all those lovely dense neutronic states. No way. That micro black hole is like one atom in the space between all of our lovely galaxies.
    3. My own speculative take on micro or quantum black holes is that they are only interested in consuming thermal states and not matter like the classical black hole that 99% that people think of. In other words the quantum black hole has a different mission and appetite than the voracious black hole planet eaters that a lot of people envision. The quantum black hole is a different and more gentle animal. It is a corrective and build aspect of ‘quantum gravity’.

    Comment by mark a. thomas — December 19, 2008 #

  3. “…would convince you that the world is safe?”

    Perhaps the following might help, you could show us empirical evidence that Hawking Radiation Exists, or you could inform us that CERN agreed to wait for such evidence from the GLAST space telescope or agree to follow Dr. Habil Rainer Plaga’s risk mitigation measures.

    Concerns have not been fully addressed.

    Micro black holes MIGHT be produced as you and CERN predict, MIGHT NOT evaporate as several papers conclude and might consume Earth in decades as Dr. Otto Rössler calculates.

    There are arguments on both sides, but the issue is best articulated by Assistant Professor of Law Eric E. Johnson’s recent articles on PrawfsBlawg: Could Bad Judging Cause the Earth to Be Sucked Into a Black Hole? Maybe. [1]

    [1] http://prawfsblawg.blogs.com/prawfsblawg/2008/10/could-bad-judgi.html

    Administrator,
    LHCFacts.org

    Comment by JTankers — December 19, 2008 #

  4. what?

    WHAAAAT???

    You Again?????

    Sir, please Give Up, you and your Idol Walter Wagner Have Been Proved to be Fraud, and Plaga is just ignoring the cosmic rays model, and in his response, he just repeats himself a far as i tough.

    ……………………….

    all right sir, listen me up, is you have mathematical evidence that proves that cosmic rays do not prove safety over the issue, why you dont show to us, instead of linking to people who are not Physics Scientist, but you tell in your comments that they are.

    No sir, ALL you do is taking the parts did you understand, or edit them to make them sound like they support you and walter in the “risk”, and scare people, for example, remember the quote you taken from yy2bggggs?

    that quote was just sarcastical, thats it, he was just sarcasm, because in the rest of his post, Which you dont fuckin read i guess, he tells the complete opposite of what you want to make people believe he said, he was telling you the reasons why there´s no danger, i swear it, unlike most people, i dint get scared by the impresion, i read thepost you linked, and i se the truth.

    sorry men, i know you are scared, and you may feel dissapointed that your idol walter has been proved to be a fraud, and unlike the “evidence”
    you claim you have that proves your point, that evidence IS FUCKIN REAL

    Comment by baragon-kun — December 19, 2008 #

  5. tell me isnt the facts that the alleged catastrofic effects from hawking radiation dint happen on earth with charged BH and all BH in neutron stars and white dwarfs enough to convince you, and i see you little shitty post asumming that cosmic rays are invalid cause:

    “duh, neutron stars and white dwarfs deflects cosmic rays”

    “duh, cosmic rays just pass harmlesly trough the earth”.

    “duh, the lhc will do things that cosmic rays dont do”

    seriously men, give up already

    Comment by baragon-kun — December 19, 2008 #

  6. So, hang on. You want empirical evidence of Hawking radiation, even though it only applies to black holes, and the nearest black hole is about 8 light years away? What’s that going to tell you, and how do you plan to detect flux that small?

    When physicists say that “we’re not sure if Hawking Radiation is right”, most of them are talking about the energy spectrum of the radiation. If you want there to be no radiation, you have to invent new physics especially for black holes.

    So let’s say you invent that physics, and you happen to be right. (Which, again, is about as likely as Eskimos and Pygmies being unable to breed.) Then what happens? The black hole falls harmlessly to the center of the Earth, where it grows slowly, but fails to reach a mass of even one gram (see this post for the explanation of that calculation) by time the Sun dies, billions of years from now.

    Your LHCfacts website doesn’t have any scientific facts that I can find. Check this link for an explanation of how to prepare and deliver an argument.

    Comment by ethan — December 19, 2008 #

  7. Hear! Hear!

    Comment by Sili — December 20, 2008 #

  8. Have you read Dr. Hawking’s original conjecture?[0]

    Hawking Radiation has been called poorly reasoned, refutation arguments are compelling.

    “black holes do not radiate” [1]

    “The possibility that non-radiating `mini’ black holes exist should be taken seriously; such holes could be part of the dark matter in the Universe” [2]

    “the effect [Hawking Radiation] does not exist.“ [3]

    “2) infinitely delayed Hawking radiation; 3) infinitely weak chargedness of black holes“ [4]

    “it is possible that… the behavior of the black hole is stable“ [5]

    [0] projecteuclid.org/DPubS/Repository/1.0/Disseminate?view=body&id=pdf_1&handle=euclid.cmp/1103899181, Particle Creation by Black Holes, S. W. Hawking (12 Apr 1975)

    [1] arxiv.org/abs/gr-qc/0008016, Trans-Plankian Modes, Back-Reaction, and the Hawking Process, Prof. Dr. Adam D. Helfer (2000)

    [2] arxiv.org/abs/gr-qc/0304042v1, Do black holes radiate? Do black holes radiate? Prof. Dr. Adam D. Helfer (2003)

    [3] arxiv.org/abs/gr-qc/0607137, On the existence of black hole evaporation yet again On the existence of black hole evaporation yet again, Prof. VA Belinski Paper. (2006)

    [4] http://www.wissensnavigator.com/documents/OTTOROESSLERMINIBLACKHOLE.pdf Abraham-Solution to Schwarzschild Metric Implies That CERN Miniblack Holes Pose a Planetary Risk, Prof. Dr. Otto Rössler (2008)

    [5] arxiv.org/abs/0808.2631 On the Stability of Black Holes at the LHC, M. D. Maia, E. M. Monte (2008)

    Comment by JTankers — December 20, 2008 #

  9. JTankers,

    Yes, yes I have. Hawking actually does the (relatively) straightforwards calculation of the consequences of quantum mechanics in spacetime with one point-mass (e.g., a black hole). That’s where he found Hawking Radiation with the blackbody energy spectrum he predicted. It’s not poorly reasoned at all.

    Adam Helfer’s arguments, as far as I can tell, help illustrate that there are a number of unresolved issues with Hawking Radiation. This is fair and fine. He doesn’t say that Hawking Radiation doesn’t exist, he says that there are problems understanding its existence at one end of the energy spectrum. And he’s right about that. And so what?

    But if you want to talk dark matter, that’s where I’m an expert. The notion that mini-black-holes are dark matter is reasonable but experiments have limited them to a very small fraction of dark matter. Moreover, they are not destructive at all; your contention of its risk for the Earth are completely not based in reality (your reference #4). Dr. Roessler, from what I can tell from his paper (loaded with smiley-faces, of all things) is first off, not a physicist, and second off, is crazy. Why should I listen to him when my arguments are sound, logical, and based in accepted and well-understood physics?

    The point, again, is that even if black holes are created, and even if they are stable, they still pose no risk to Earth! What part of that don’t you get?

    Comment by ethan — December 20, 2008 #

  10. Contrary to your statement Dr. Helfer clearly writes “black holes do not radiate” [1]

    Professor Belinski writes the same: “the effect [Hawking Radiation] does not exist.“ and Dr. Rössler similar “infinitely delayed Hawking radiation” (see links above).

    In Dr. Hawking’s own words Hawking Radiation requires Dr. Einstein to be doubly wrong, however recent studies of Bohmian Mechanics suggest that science may have adopted the wrong model when it rejected Dr. Einstein’s deterministic quantum model.[2]

    Finally you don’t lend credibility to your own arguments by calling crazy the scientist who invented Chaos theory’s Rössler attractor, won the Chaos Award of the University of Liège and the 2003 René Descartes Award.

    It is not scientific or unbiased to attack the credibility of opposition scientists like Dr. Rössler because their conclusions are not convenient.

    Are you so certain of science’s current understanding of nature to be assured that man is not capable of destroying himself with his own experiments? Some scientists are not so certain.

    [1] arxiv.org/abs/gr-qc/0008016, Trans-Plankian Modes, Back-Reaction, and the Hawking Process, Prof. Dr. Adam D. Helfer (2000)

    [2] http://space.newscientist.com/article/mg19726485.700 Quantum randomness may not be random, NewScientist magazine, 22 March 2008

    Comment by JTankers — December 20, 2008 #

  11. Okay, JT. I’ve been nice long enough.

    Adam writes “black holes do not radiate,” but hundreds of other scientists write that they do. His conclusion is not the scientific consensus, and in fact the paper you point to has not been cited by any other physicists according to the Spires HEP database.

    Hawking radiation requires Einstein to be wrong about quantum mechanics, which he was. Big deal.

    Rossler did some fine work in his field, I’m sure. But the paper of his that you linked to is certainly wrong, and regardless of his work on Chaos Theory, doesn’t do anything to convince me that anything that goes on at the LHC is dangerous.

    Now, that I have answered your arguments, the onus is on you to answer mine. To repeat, even assuming the LHC makes a micro-black hole, and even assuming that Hawking Radiation never happens, how is there any semblance of a danger to us? There is none. A stable black hole of ~10-20 grams will sink to the center of the Earth, absorbing the occasional subatomic particle, and will grow slowly due to gravitational infall, failing to reach the “one gram” mark during the lifetime of Earth.

    And I will continue to attack the credibility of all arguments that are unsound, and all arguers of those arguments. Including you and your buddy Otto. Make an argument that makes sense, that argues on principles and facts instead of on what other people say, and then we can get somewhere. Otherwise, you don’t belong on my website.

    Comment by ethan — December 20, 2008 #

  12. Thank you Dr. Siegel,

    My argument is nearly complete. You have reduced the micro black hole argument to a single issue, how fast might a stable micro black hole grow.

    Opposition scientists (most notably by Dr. Plaga and Dr. Rössler) conclude that cosmic rays impacts with stable bodies (potentially super fluid white dwarfs and neutron stars) do not definitely exclude the existence of stable fast growing micro black holes.

    Lets assume these conclusions may be correct, that leaves us with the task of computing how fast stable micro black holes might grow. Lets further assume that reverse Hawking Radiation does not exist (the believed existence of dark energy makes reverse HR more plausible than classic HR, no need to borrow energy across an event horizon and at least one speculative theory conjectures the existence of reverse HR [BigCrash.org]).

    The best math that I am aware of on the growth rate of stable micro black holes is done by Dr. Otto Rössler[1], he calculates exponential growth and a time frame of not less than 50 months.

    The fundamental difference between Dr. Rössler exponential growth calculation and linear growth calculations is that Dr. Rössler believes that micro black holes could become charged (magnetically attractive) by capturing electrons in orbit.

    I find Dr. Plaga’s, Dr. Rössler’s, Co-plaintiff Walter Wagner’s and other concerns compelling, I find “no danger” arguments incomplete and the risk of miscalculation is the loss of Earth’s past present and future.

    I personally could live with strict adherence to Dr. Plaga’s feasible risk mitigation measures (basically a compromise to proceed slowly).[2] Isn’t that more reasonable than to assume your calculations are infallible and concerns are not possibly credible? What part of this argument do you find definitely and consequentially flawed and what part of reasonable caution do you find unreasonable?

    [1] http://www.wissensnavigator.com/documents/OTTOROESSLERMINIBLACKHOLE.pdf Abraham-Solution to Schwarzschild Metric Implies That CERN Miniblack Holes Pose a Planetary Risk, Prof. Dr. Otto Rössler, Division of Theoretical Chemistry, University of Tübingen (2008)
    [2] arxiv.org/abs/0808.1415v2 On the potential catastrophic risk from metastable quantum-black holes produced at particle colliders, Dr. Habil. Rainer Plaga (26 Sep 2008), Feasible risk mitigation procedures Part 6, Page 9

    Comment by JTankers — December 20, 2008 #

  13. There is the phenomena that when even successful older PhD’s step outside their area of expertise they often present weird crankish theories, ideas etc(not you Ethan, you do not yet approach the that age bracket). This is in a sense way more devastating than a rank 1 amateur trying to present his or her’s not well thought out presentation. The media or certain supporters (who want fame) will claim that so and so has a (contrarian belief) theory which will overturn everything the experts have worked hard to maintain so that Science does not come off of its tracks. In this sense a said contrarian Professor is a genuine ‘crackpot’. He or she is decoupled from the process from which a science paradigm could possibly be changed or overturned (however, not in this case of the now genuinely stupid LHC micro black hole argument). There are examples of more than one Nobel winner presenting these whacked out ideas. And you would be surprised who they are today and they write strange popular books on science. I propose that when Phd’s become famous or frustrated of their lack of contribution in their field that they attend classes on how to wind down without making fools of themselves. Give today to http://www.keepaPhDfromgoingwhackjob.com and make Science breathe a little easier.

    Comment by mark a. thomas — December 20, 2008 #

  14. Reverse Hawking Radiation?

    Where did that came from???

    you just make thing at random to make scientist look terrible, so you better shut the fuck up, in my opinion

    by the way sir, i heard once that thers nothing in eisntein work contradicts Hawking radiation (Q-mechanics), but you say that he was wrong on quantum mechanics, how is that?, theres pieces of evidence of quantum mechanics who supports the Hawking radiation?

    or is that Eisntein theoryof relativity is in conflict, or hisrelativity and Quantum mechanics are complete different thing?

    Comment by Jeremy Cortez — December 20, 2008 #

  15. Giddings and Mangano [1] are willing to concede that neither Hawking radiation nor the analogy between colliders and cosmic rays as seen on earth are adequately protective. Giddings and Mangano extend the collider/cosmic ray analogy by looking at white dwarf and neutron stars which should capture cosmic-ray-created black holes, giving them a shorter lifetime than observed. This is a better set of safety considerations than previously considered. But it raises questions.
    a) A year ago, CERN was prepared to start up based on safety factors that Giddings and Mangano now concede are inadequate. This suggests that CERN is not being as careful as one might wish.
    b) This website is still touting safety factors that Giddings and Mangano concede are inadequate. That suggests that the authors of this website are not up on the issue.
    c) Confidently-asserted safety factors have evaporated three times now. 1) Safety factors evaporated after the initial environmental assessment by CERN, which discussed radiation in the tunnels, but did not consider black holes or strangelets [2], 2) Safety factors evaporated after the RHIC report, which asserted that black hole creation required energy beyond the reach of any collider [3] 3) Safety factors evaporated after the 2003 CERN report, which said that black holes would dissipate via Hawking radiation. [4] In each of these cases, rapid developments in physics caused confidently-asserted safety factors to be called into question. The issue here is, might evolving physics come to find problems with safety factors confidently asserted by the current LSAG study? Toby Ord of Oxford says not to believe very low probability estimates of trouble; the probability that [physics on which low probability estimates are based] is wrong is higher than the very low probability we would like to see when earth is at stake.
    This is an issue that needs good philosophy, not name calling and ad hominem arguments. Physicists need to take risk management seriously.

    Comment by James Blodgett — December 20, 2008 #

  16. 1] S.B. Giddings and M.L. Mangano, “Astrophysical implications of hypothetical stable TeV-scale black holes”, Physical Review D, Phys. Rev. D 78, 035009 (2008) Available at: http://arxiv.org/abs/0806.3381

    2] Étude d’impact sur l’environnement. CERN. Mars 1997. Available at: http://cernenviro.web.cern.ch/cernenviro/docenviro_img/4aspect/_images_aspect/image_et_pdf_etude_impact/etude_impact.pdf

    3] W. Busza, R.L. Jaffe, J. Sandweiss, and F. Wilczek; “Review of Speculative ‘Disaster Scenarios’ Brookhaven, 2000

    4] J.-P. Blaizot, J. Iliopoulos, J. Madsen, G.G. Ross, P. Sonderegger, and H.-J. Specht, “Study Of Potentially Dangerous Events During Heavy-Ion Collisions At The LHC: Report Of The LHC Safety Study Group” CERN, 2003

    Comment by James Blodgett — December 20, 2008 #

  17. mr.blodgett, did you know that tevatron has been making collisions at 2Tev since 1989?

    thats more than the RHIC, and gues what, no black holes or strangelets

    and mangano is from CERN in case you dont know about, and the study has been done in 9 months, the last one and wich collaborations of CERN scientist

    Comment by Jeremy Cortez — December 20, 2008 #

  18. oh and phyloshopy DOES NOT APPLY!!!!

    correct me mr.ethan is im wrong

    Comment by Jeremy Cortez — December 20, 2008 #

  19. ohm amd your argument about the “evaporating” ecidence, is also wrong too, the original cosmic ray model is still valid, what gidings and mangano did is extend it (thats right Extend it) to other objects, after all cosmic rays do not bombard other astronomical objects than earth?, and what makes white dwarfs and neutron stars more vulnerable is thier high density and velocity scape, so even the neutral or slippery micro black holes cant escape, oh and dont talk about magentic fields, theres is neutron stars with companions in the magnetic fields, neutron stars can enter from polar angles, and theres is both neutron stars and white dwarfs witch lower magetic fields enough

    by the way sir, i heard once that thers nothing in eisntein work contradicts Hawking radiation (Q-mechanics), but you say that he was wrong on quantum mechanics, how is that?, theres pieces of evidence of quantum mechanics who supports the Hawking radiation?.

    and now all you crackpots jut use the old excuse of ad-hominem attacks to avoid the facts

    or is that Eisntein theoryof relativity is in conflict, or hisrelativity and Quantum mechanics are complete different thing?

    Comment by Jeremy Cortez — December 20, 2008 #

  20. So if we want to destroy the world, JTankers and others, here is a list of the new physics you need to do it. Keep in mind, all of this stuff is conjectured with not a shred of experimental evidence for it:

    1. Stable, large extra dimensions at a very low energy scale (lower than 14 TeV and higher than about 200 GeV).
    2. For Hawking Radiation to not work. This would refute everything we know about quantum field theory in curved spacetime, something we think we understand extremely well.
    3. Exponential mass growth of black holes on the interior of the Earth. This requires standard laws of physics, the kind that have been well-known for centuries, to be wrong for micro-black-holes.

    Now, how likely are these things? For the first one, I say extremely unlikely. But let’s for the sake of argument, go with the optimists. Maybe 1 in a million then. And I wouldn’t risk the Earth’s safety on 1 in a million odds.

    What about the second one? Well, we’ve got a few hundred thousand pieces of experimental evidence that we understand it correctly. So, again, let’s say 1 in a million that we’re wrong. So now we’re up to odds of 1 in 1012. But let’s concede that even these odds aren’t good enough.

    Which brings us to Otto Rossler’s argument and the rate of black hole growth. He’s just wrong. His calculations are wrong and not based in the laws of physics that Newton and Maxwell knew. The electromagnetic force is so much stronger than gravity that any charge on such a black hole will very quickly be neutralized. If not by proton/electron capture, then by the quantum mechanical mechanism (the same one that causes Hawking Radiation, BTW) that you dismiss. Then, you can calculate how quickly black holes will grow. I did this. The growth is linear for a very long time, longer than the age of the planet.

    So I would say the chances of a micro-black hole undergoing exponential mass growth are zero. But what do I know? I didn’t go all over the world trying to find 5 or 6 scattered scientists to agree with me. I just figured out what the answer is.

    Comment by ethan — December 20, 2008 #

  21. Mark,

    I encourage you to consider the case of Halton Arp. His catalogue of irregular galaxies is still the gold standard, and there are many “Arp” galaxies named after him. His work is first rate and he’s an excellent scientist.

    He also doesn’t believe in the big bang. This was reasonable 45-50 years ago when he supported an alternative theory, because the experimental/observational data was ambiguous. He still doesn’t believe in it, though, and now that’s just absurd.

    I’m sure Otto Rossler did some excellent work that happens to not be in my field. But you start talking about astrophysical gravity, matter, and the gravitational growth of systems, and now you’re on my turf, and you’d better be prepared to step up and play my game.

    And Jeremy,
    Einstein thought that quantum uncertainty was simply limited by our ability to see what the true variables were. Hawking radiation requires that there actually be real uncertainty in quantum mechanics, as first proposed by Neils Bohr. They did the experiments (many of which were designed by Einstein) about 70 years ago. Einstein was wrong. Neils Bohr was right.

    Comment by ethan — December 20, 2008 #

  22. Mr.Ethan

    im glad that you show to this people all the facts, the real ones

    and i know how do you feel about, but dont let them make you angry or intimidate you

    in the case of Jtankers, may be better just to block him?

    Comment by baragon-kun — December 20, 2008 #

  23. Baragon-kun,

    I think it’s important to let people speak their minds and state their cases. It’s important to see what their arguments are, so that we not only know the facts we have, but can see the flaws in the alternatives.

    I do, I fully admit, get riled up when people don’t listen, or when they only respond to the arguments that are convenient for them to respond to. If someone gets out of line, I will let them know, personally and privately. The stuff that’s been posted is close to that line, but not over it.

    Thanks for your concern.

    Comment by ethan — December 20, 2008 #

  24. “Thank you Dr. Siegel,

    My argument is nearly complete. You have reduced the micro black hole argument to a single issue, how fast might a stable micro black hole grow.”

    I love it! Repeat a point ad nauseum until your opponent says, “Look, even assuming that were true…” then proceed to your next point as if you’ve actually proven it! Proof by exhausting your detractors: I never learned that one in school. It’s the same sort of structure people who try to disprove global warming use. Even the I.D. folk sometimes go that route, or at least use the related “yell enough to get attention, and let the attention lend you (false) credibility” tactic. Honestly, even replying to these comments may be giving him too much credence. I usually just delete spam.

    Comment by benhead — December 21, 2008 #

  25. A problem here is that the standards of science are different from the standards of risk management. Consider the standards required for scientific publication: peer review and rejecting the null hypothesis at the .05 level. (A Bayesian statistician would be comfortable saying that there is a 95% probability it is true.) This does not mean that theories that pass these tests will always be true, but these tests do require that a theory approved for publication have a reasonable probability of being true. If someone touts a theory that does not pass these tests, there is a tendency for the somewhat more grumpy among the scientific community to think of that person as crackpot.

    Now consider applying these tests in a simple risk-management situation. A mechanic looks at a bent airplane landing gear, and makes a subjective but well-informed estimate that there is a 10% chance that it will fail. Now consider applying the test for scientific publication. The theory that the landing gear will fail does not have a 95% probability. If we applied the test for scientific publication, the theory that the landing gear will fail does not make it. But would you want to ride on that airplane? Even if the chance were one in a thousand, it would not be approved for civilian aviation. And earth has many more passengers than an airplane. Standard expected value calculations (probability times cost) suggest that we should require the probability of trouble to be much lower than one in a thousand in the case of earth.

    If questioned, most scientists would say that the probability of destruction needs to be low for earth. But I think that few have done the philosophy required to internalize what this means for evaluation of theories. It means that even theories that seem quite improbable need to be considered. The problem is that current practice is to disregard theories that seem improbable, and there is a tendency to do this reflexively even when evaluating the case of risk.

    As an example, one physicist wrote an article for a popular newspaper in which he assured readers that colliders were not dangerous. When I asked his reasons over lunch, he said that he did not believe in any kind of black holes. “When an equation goes to infinity, that shows that there is something wrong with the equation.” Now this is an interesting point of view. It may turn out that he is right. I have no objection to him entering the scientific jousts and attempting to build a case for this theory. However, it seems questionable to bet the earth on the truth of a speculative theory. It also seems questionable to bet the earth on a well-established theory, if there is some reasonable chance that that theory might be wrong. Physics today is changing rapidly, and has many speculative voices. I question whether any current physics theory in the quantum gravity arena can be well-established enough to give us the greater than one-in-a-billion certainty we really should have in the context of a risk to earth. Toby Ord of Oxford says that the probability that the physics is wrong is higher than the low probability required.

    Comment by James Blodgett — December 21, 2008 #

  26. The problem with the collider/cosmic ray analogy is that it is not a precise analogy. In the case of a cosmic-ray-created black hole, a cosmic ray particle hits an earth particle. The mass and momentum of both colliding particles (the quarks, not the protons) will be captured by the Schwarzschild barrier, so we have an inelastic collision. Since one of the particles has relativistic velocity, a resulting black hole will be moving rapidly in the earth frame of reference. The collider case is different. In the collider case we have opposite speed particles. The net momentum is zero. Actually, the momentum will not be precisely zero. The beams may not balance precisely. Also, the collision of consequence is the collision of the quarks, and they have independent random momentum within the parton. Calculations show that only one in several thousand will be moving at less than escape velocity from earth. However, since some physicists predict production of a black hole per second, a few hundred per year will be moving at less than escape velocity.
    -
    Speed matters because mini black holes can be modeled to look like neutrinos. Neutrinos zip right through earth and escape into space. Only one in millions hits anything and stops. In the case of a rapidly moving black hole, it would not stop, but only accrete whatever it hits. It would have to accrete thousands of AMUs to slow below escape velocity from earth. The binomial probability of this ever happening, even in trillions of cases in the billions of years of earth’s existence, is still vanishingly small. So the two cases are not analogous. Cosmic-ray-created black holes can be modeled to consistently escape into space, but some collider-created black holes will be captured by earth.
    -
    This is why Giddings and Mangano need to extend the analogy and apply it to neutron stars. I concede that they have a good demonstration. But can we say with a billion-to-one certainty that it has no flaw? I can see several possible speculative flaws.
    -
    Note that I do not claim that the model presented here is true, only that it is plausible enough to cast doubt on the absolute truth of the analogy.

    Comment by James Blodgett — December 21, 2008 #

  27. James,

    That isn’t true. In fact, very little of what you said is true. A scientific theory, to get published, does not require even a 1% chance that it is true, much less 95%. For example look at the 177 papers on leptoquarks, which, apparently, do not exist. Also, see the papers on technicolor, large extra dimensions, and (perhaps) strings. Not even a great optimist would say these theories have a 95% chance of being true. They don’t. And yet they’re published all the time. Why? Because people find them interesting. They’re just not taken as “the truth”, like the theory of gravity is.

    And James, as for your cosmic ray analogy? Yes, any micro-black-holes produced by cosmic rays will have a large momentum. They also will hit the Earth, and have 12,000 km of solid rock to pass through, providing plenty of opportunity to capture a few thousand AMUs. Considering the trillions of cosmic rays constantly hitting Earth and the billions of years we’ve been around, and considering all the other planets we have (and stars that we see) that haven’t mysteriously turned into black holes, that’s pretty good evidence that we’re safe.

    To answer your question,

    But can we say with a billion-to-one certainty that it has no flaw?

    yes, we can, if by “we” you mean the community of physicists who are experts on matters of black holes, cosmic rays, gravitational growth, and colliders.

    Comment by ethan — December 21, 2008 #

  28. in that case mr ethan,

    the theories that allows the microblack holes (strings, extra dimensions), how much probability of true they have?, as well as the ones who poves thta they cant be formed (standard model and eisntein general theory of relativity?

    and the evidence of eisntein beign wrong in quantum mechanics is not in conflict wich general relativity?

    i think that that will make things even more clear

    Comment by Jeremy Cortez — December 21, 2008 #

  29. vy the way in wikipedia dosnt say much about the experiments that proves eisntein wrong

    Comment by Jeremy Cortez — December 21, 2008 #

  30. Jeremy,

    Excusing your earlier profane comments, many decades ago science was presented with two models of quantum mechanics, one that predicted the quantum world was random and one that predicted the quantum world was deterministic (not random).

    Academia adopted the random model against the advice of Dr. Einstein. However recent work with Bohmian quantum models finds that Dr. Einstein’s deterministic (non-random) model is at least as accurate a predictor of empirical (measurable) quantum events as the standard (random) quantum mechanics model. Dr. Einstien may have been correct and academia may have chosen the wrong quantum model. (Quantum randomness may not be random, NewScientist magazine, 22 March 2008)[1].

    Bohmian mechanics is arguably simpler conceptually, for example entangled photons do not require faster than light communication or any communication at all, but quantum mechanics is magnitudes easier to compute using a probabilistic mathematical model[2]. In fact deterministic calculations are not even possible currently due to our inability to measure the state of the quantum world without affecting (changing) the quantum particle that is being measured.

    In plain English, it is easy to calculate the probability that a coin will land on one side or the other but nearly impossible to actually calculate a specific coin’s flight path, effects of wind and environment and final disposition (heads or tails).

    Bohmian mechanics (like the scientists who are not convinced that LHC safety is assured) currently has only a small following and is not the currently accepted model, but that does not mean that it is wrong. An obvious consequence of using the wrong model is that predictions based on the wrong model are more likely to be themselves wrong.

    [1] http://space.newscientist.com/article/mg19726485.700 Quantum randomness may not be random, NewScientist magazine, 22 March 2008
    [2] http://quantum.bigcrash.org Quantum Determinism, Bohmian Mechanics (2008)

    Comment by JTankers — December 21, 2008 #

  31. Jeremy,

    I don’t want you walking away thinking that what JTankers wrote is what scientists either believe or accept. Just because it was reported in New Scientist doesn’t mean it has any validity, it means that one writer saw a headline or title and thought it made for a good story.

    Remind me, either later today or tomorrow morning, to write about this topic and I will do a full article for you tomorrow.

    Ethan

    Comment by ethan — December 21, 2008 #

  32. As an old-school journalist, not like the fools of today who refuse to research, I hope you don’t mind answering the following questions, Ethan:

    If the Hawking radiation theory hasn’t been proven to exist, how can anyone state micro black holes will simply evaporate due to this unproven process?

    What are your thoughts of individuals who state Hawking radiation like it’s proven when it’s just a theory?

    If you was the head of CERN, would you risk the world to test unproven theories to prove the safety of the LHC?

    You stated above that cosmic rays shoot through us harmlessly, as many physicists state that if it did come in contact with stationary earth particles, it would simply knock it into space at great speed, to include micro black holes if created. How does this compare with protons in the LHC which are aimed at each other at the same speed until they collide? What would be the speed of the particles in the LHC after head-on proton collisions?

    CERN compares colliding protons, which they state will be 100,000 times hotter than the core of the sun to two colliding mosquitoes. What are your thoughts on this comparison?

    How did CERN come up with the collider mosquitoe comparison?

    CERN states the LHC is safe due to their LSAG report, but their physicists keep stating they don’t know what’s going to happen. How can the public take their word that the LHC is safe when their own people contradict the safety report?

    CERN physicist Brian Cox, spokesperson for the LHC:
    “We might not have thought of what turns up, but we know we’ve got to see it.”
    title=”A Life in the Day: Dr Brian Cox”>http://tinyurl.com/2k4wcy

    “The LHC is certainly, by far, the biggest jump into the unknown.”http://tinyurl.com/7jsqa6

    “It’s really true to say that this machine is a leap into the unknown. We really don’t know what will happen when we turn it on.”http://tinyurl.com/7q7wyn

    “We know it will discover exciting things. We just don’t know what they are yet.”
    http://tinyurl.com/8lwv6u

    “At every stage of understanding the universe better, the benefits to civilization have been immeasurable. None of those big leaps were made with us knowing what was going to happen.”
    http://tinyurl.com/8lp6em

    CERN physicist John Ellis, LHC Safety Assessment Group reviewer:
    “We don’t know exactly what we’re going to find, but we know whatever it is it’s going to be something new.”http://tinyurl.com/6tmap4

    CERN physicist Alvaro De Rújula:
    “science is what we do when we don’t know what we’re doing.”
    http://tinyurl.com/7jsqa6

    What are your thoughts on Brian Cox, who contradicted the LHC safety report on numerous occasions, stating no one at CERN knows what will happen, then turns around and calls people with opposing views “Twats” who don’t feel the LHC is safe?

    CERN stated physicists who were part of the LHC Safety Assessment Group (LSAG) were not involved with the LHC before, and after investigating this, turns out a physicist by the name of John Ellis who was part of the LSAG is employed by CERN and has been a representative for this experiment for years before being assigned to review it’s safety. What are your thoughts on this?
    John Ellis Wikipedia page:http://tinyurl.com/7bjsyu
    John Ellis blog:http://qd.typepad.com/24/

    Comment by Old-School_Journalist — December 21, 2008 #

  33. Mr Ethan, here are my questions again if you want to see it for the (unfortunely need it) extra article about it, and no, dont worry, what Jtankers says is ofr any conceabable angle, not valid ^0^

    the theories that allows the microblack holes (strings, extra dimensions), how much probability of true they have?, as well as the ones who poves thta they cant be formed (standard model and eisntein general theory of relativity?

    and the evidence of eisntein beign wrong in quantum mechanics is not in conflict wich general relativity?

    by the way in wikipedia dosnt say much about the experiments that proves eisntein wrong

    ————-

    the guy under the name of Old_school Journalist, dosnt even says his realname to give him some confiability

    in fact, all the links are taken from BBC around 2007, and they were the same to say that the LHC will create the micro black holes based on what they understand from Martin Rees book, “Our Final Century”, but Mr Frank Close did clear the misunderstanding, in wich BBC dont told about the 1/50,000,000 probability

    Comment by Jeremy Cortez — December 21, 2008 #

  34. you know viewing all the links provided by this Old_School_Journalist, it seems that he only quoted what he understood, or rather only the part what he nneds to make it sound like the people making th quote, were referring to something else, and i think thats what Jtankers and others are doing to attack the scientific community

    the links provided by this guys, ITS ONLY REFERRING ABOUT THE HIGGS BOSON, not the micro black holes, the first LSAG report was made in 2003, and all the links were referring to the higgs boson and the good discoverys on the LHC, not the destruction of earth!!!!

    and where did you got evidence, NOT MADE IT BY YOU, that brian cox was agaisnt the safety reports???

    thtas what i call, Liying

    Mr ethan i wil wait at maximun tomorrow morning dic 21 sir fu the enclosing of this articles, sure is not going to convince people like Jtankers who is always been doing the same things, quoting erroneus statements, makig up, distorting, or misunderstanding.

    keep the good work Mr ethan

    Comment by Jeremy Cortez — December 21, 2008 #

  35. just for the recod sir, the points i made, as well the evidence on the H.Radiation experiments and how they support the theories, as well as the other points i made, need the adrees for tomorow sir

    the theories that allows the microblack holes (strings, extra dimensions), how much probability of true they have?, as well as the ones who poves thta they cant be formed (standard model and eisntein general theory of relativity?

    and the evidence of eisntein beign wrong in quantum mechanics is not in conflict wich general relativity?

    Comment by Jeremy Cortez — December 21, 2008 #

  36. by the way, have you seen this article form Mathew

    http://bainite.wordpress.com/2008/09/07/physics-experiments-to-get-more-and-more-dangerous/

    according to his data, hi will get a phd, and he even say o someguys in his comments

    “the argumment about cosmic rays is bogus”

    Comment by Jeremy Cortez — December 21, 2008 #

  37. The standard model has so much experimental evidence against it,

    he said in his article when talking about hawking radiation

    Comment by Jeremy Cortez — December 21, 2008 #

  38. Jeremy Cortez: “the first LSAG report was made in 2003, and all the links were referring to the higgs boson and the good discoverys on the LHC, not the destruction of earth!!!! And where did you got evidence, NOT MADE IT BY YOU, that brian cox was agaisnt the safety reports??? thtas what i call, Liying”
    -
    Jeremy, reading your response to me, readers here might take it that you’re twisting the argument to mislead them like a politician, or you’re clouded by your emotions in support of the LHC experiment, or you’re a child because of your bad spelling and grammar. I’m just stating a fact of what some might assume. Never did I state above that Brian Cox doesn’t believe in the LSAG report or the links describe the destruction of Earth. You know as well as me that Brian Cox believes in the LHC safety report, it’s just a fact that his words contradict it till this day when he states that they don’t know what will happen.
    -
    Jeremy Cortez: “in fact, all the links are taken from BBC around 2007″
    -
    Jeremy, Jeremy, my links points to articles published in 2008 before and after LSAG report, and 2007. Here are the links again that you’re choosing to ignore which were ment for Ethan, and why I linked them:
    -
    A Life in the Day: Dr Brian Cox
    ““We might not have thought of what turns up, but we know we’ve got to see it.”
    -February 24, 2008-
    -
    Large Hadron Collider readies for world’s biggest experiment
    ““We know it will discover exciting things. We just don’t know what they are yet.”
    -September 04, 2008-
    -
    Is it science’s greatest leap forward?
    “At every stage of understanding the universe better, the benefits to civilization have been immeasurable. None of those big leaps were made with us knowing what was going to happen.”
    -September 09, 2008-

    -
    Jeremy Cortez: “the first LSAG report was made in 2003″
    -
    The first report of the safety of the LHC was performed by LHC Safety Study Group (LSSG) back in 2003, not the safety group of 2008, LHC Safety Assessment Group (LSAG). I’m just stating a fact to which you’re honestly confused about.
    -
    Wikipedia, LHC safety reviews: http://tinyurl.com/9837en
    -
    Now all my questions above are for Ethan since this is his field, not that I’m saying this isn’t your field, Jeremy, before you assume this. I’m just asking questions based on facts stated in my first comment. I don’t have a stance on the experiment, just curious.
    -
    Ethan, I’m looking forward to your response to my questions. I’m posting them in another comment clearly spaced for reading.

    Comment by Old-School-Journalist (Jonathan Stevens) — December 22, 2008 #

  39. I hope you don’t mind answering the following questions, Ethan:
    -
    If the Hawking radiation theory hasn’t been proven to exist, how can anyone state micro black holes will simply evaporate due to this unproven process?
    -
    What are your thoughts of individuals who state Hawking radiation like it’s proven when it’s just an unproven theory since it’s never been observed in nature?
    -
    If you was the head of CERN, would you risk the world to test unproven theories to prove the safety of the LHC?
    -
    You stated above that cosmic rays shoot through us harmlessly, as many physicists state that if it did come in contact with stationary earth particles, it would simply knock it into space at great speed, to include micro black holes if created. How does this compare with protons in the LHC which are aimed at each other at the same speed until they collide? What would be the speed of the particles in the LHC after head-on proton collisions?
    -
    CERN compares colliding protons, which they state will be 100,000 times hotter than the core of the sun to two colliding mosquitoes. What are your thoughts on this comparison?
    -
    How did CERN come up with the collider mosquitoe comparison?
    -
    CERN states the LHC is safe due to their LSAG report, but their physicists keep stating they don’t know what’s going to happen. How can the public take their word that the LHC is safe when their own people contradict the safety report?
    -
    CERN physicist Brian Cox, spokesperson for the LHC:
    “We might not have thought of what turns up, but we know we’ve got to see it.”
    http://tinyurl.com/2k4wcy
    -
    “The LHC is certainly, by far, the biggest jump into the unknown.”
    http://tinyurl.com/7jsqa6
    -
    “It’s really true to say that this machine is a leap into the unknown. We really don’t know what will happen when we turn it on.
    http://tinyurl.com/7jsqa6
    -
    “We know it will discover exciting things. We just don’t know what they are yet.”
    http://tinyurl.com/8lwv6u
    -
    “At every stage of understanding the universe better, the benefits to civilization have been immeasurable. None of those big leaps were made with us knowing what was going to happen.”
    http://tinyurl.com/8lp6em
    -
    CERN physicist John Ellis, LHC Safety Assessment Group reviewer:
    “We don’t know exactly what we’re going to find, but we know whatever it is it’s going to be something new.”
    http://tinyurl.com/6tmap4
    -
    CERN physicist Alvaro De Rújula:
    “science is what we do when we don’t know what we’re doing.”
    http://tinyurl.com/7jsqa6
    -
    What are your thoughts on Brian Cox, who contradicted the LHC safety report on numerous occasions, stating no one at CERN knows what will happen, then turns around and calls people with opposing views “Twats” who don’t feel the LHC is safe?
    -
    CERN stated physicists who were part of the LHC Safety Assessment Group (LSAG) were not involved with the LHC before, and after investigating this, turns out a physicist by the name of John Ellis who was part of the LSAG is employed by CERN and has been a representative for this experiment for years before being assigned to review it’s safety. What are your thoughts on this?
    John Ellis Wikipedia page: http://tinyurl.com/7bjsyu
    John Ellis blog: http://qd.typepad.com/24/

    Comment by Old-School-Journalist — December 22, 2008 #

  40. OSJ,

    One at a time, here are the quick answers:

    Hawking radiation requires that our theories of quantum fields be correct. IF they are correct, then Hawking radiation certainly exists.

    In order to make micro black holes, you need extra dimensions. Not only extra dimensions, but one of a select few of special types of extra dimensions that are unlikely to exist (but it’s feasible). Extra dimensions, in order to exist, require that our current theories of quantum fields are correct *and* require extra physics.

    Combine these two, and what do you get? That if it’s possible to make micro black holes, it’s inevitable, according to all the physics we know and have imagined, they’re going to evaporate.

    If I were the head of CERN, yes, I would proceed with the experiments.

    If stable micro-black holes are created, some of them will be created at close to zero velocity, and will be captured by the Earth. I’m not scared, though, as I’ve already calculated what will happen in that case.

    I think the mosquito comparison is obscure and doesn’t help anyone. I dislike it.

    And finally, I’ve met John Ellis before, but never Brian Cox. Brian must have been pretty upset and flippant to use such language. I wonder what provoked him? And your comments keep getting caught in my spam filter. Know why? Because you post too many links. Limit yourself to one per comment, and you won’t be marked as spam.

    Comment by ethan — December 22, 2008 #

  41. Jeremy and others,

    Here’s your post on what Einstein was wrong about:
    http://startswithabang.com/?p=1304

    Enjoy!

    Comment by ethan — December 22, 2008 #

  42. Thanks Ethan for answering some of my questions.
    -
    Brian Cox shouldn’t have lowered himself to insulting individuals, specially when he contradicts the LSAG safety report while for the experiment. Kind of hard to convince a reasonable person all is safe while contradicting this message.
    -
    Meeting John Ellis doesn’t answer my question about CERN appointing him to the LHC Safety Assessment Group (LSAG). I’m just curious on your thoughts of CERN appointing a physicists employeed by them, John Ellis, to the LSAG report, while stating physicists involved with this report was never involved with the LHC before being assigned to conduct this safety report, when in truth Ellis supported this experiment for years. Was it a bad move by CERN? Wouldn’t CERN’s message of safety of the LHC carry more weight to a reasonable person if they didn’t assign a CERN physicist with past ties to this experiment to conduct the LSAG report?
    -
    About the theories of quantum fields, are they correct to prove the existence of hawking radiation? Judging by the your statement on Hawking radiation theory on the bottom of your blog entry and it’s comments, I take it as well as anyone else reading this that you believe Hawking radiation does exist even though quantum fields is still considered a theory as you stated in your reply above.
    -
    Part of the calculations which gave us the Hawking radiation theory was admitted to be in error by Stephen Hawking after he lost a bet in 2004. For over 30 years he believed his Hawking radiation theory was infallible until he met John Preskill of CalTech. How sure are you of your theoretical calculations and CERN’s that micro black holes wont grow fast if created? Could the theories be wrong?

    Comment by Old-School-Journalist — December 22, 2008 #

  43. Again, OSJ, the only part of Hawking Radiation that’s open for debate, again, assuming QFT is correct, is what the edge of the energy spectrum looks like. (My bet is on Blackbody, but I’m not an expert in that area to a far enough extent to definitively make that prediction.) The reason we assume QFT is correct is because it’s been experimentally tested about 100,000 times and has been dead on every time. But if it’s wrong, Hawking Radiation might not happen.
    So to answer that question, yes, I believe in Hawking Radiation. I believe it is the correct description of what happens near the event horizon of a black hole, and is the only mechanism I know of causing a black hole to lose mass. I believe that for all the energies we know about, Quantum Field Theory is not only a good description of what happens, it’s the best description of what happens. Its prediction of Hawking Radiation is robust.
    I agree with you that Brian Cox shouldn’t have name-called. But his statement you quoted from him was taken in a very specific content talking about expected collider results; it was not geared towards discussing whether black holes could eat the Earth.
    And my point about John Ellis (sorry if I didn’t make it earlier) is that you need a Physicist to tell you about the Physics involved. It’s like if you wanted to know if operating on a brain tumor was going to kill the patient, you’d want to talk to the best two experts you could find: the patient’s regular doctor and a specialist in brain tumors. You wouldn’t want to leave any of the people with unique expertise out.
    And finally, how sure am I of my theoretical calculations and CERN’s? I’m 100% the calculations are right and I’m 100% sure the theories used to calculate the calculations are right as far as we know. The question you need to ask is how sure are we of our theories? And the answer is that we’re more sure of these theories than we are of anything that happens in our day to day lives. Will you safely cross the street? The odds are worse than they are of Black Holes not existing. Will you drive to work without an accident? The odds are worse than they are of Hawking Radiation not happening. Will you somehow managed to get yourself fired from your job today? The odds that you will be fired today are way higher than the odds that Quantum Field Theory is wrong at 14 TeV. The theories can always be wrong, but the certainty with which we know them means that even if they are wrong, the amount that they could be wrong by isn’t enough to endanger us.

    Comment by ethan — December 22, 2008 #

  44. Ethan, you stated the Quantum Field theory has been tested experimentally 100,000 times, can you provide some reference links to this information? How did the quantum field theory predict the hawking radiation theory? Are the quantum field theory experiments just calculations, or was their collisions involved in particle accelerators to prove this theory? Why is the quantum field theory still called a theory instead of a fact after being tested?
    -
    I never mentioned Brian contradictions were part of a discussion on whether black holes could eat the Earth. I was just stating a fact that on numerous occasions he contradicted CERN’s LSAG report by stating they don’t know what to expect when they test their theories.
    -
    Ethan: “And my point about John Ellis (sorry if I didn’t make it earlier) is that you need a Physicist to tell you about the Physics involved. It’s like if you wanted to know if operating on a brain tumor was going to kill the patient, you’d want to talk to the best two experts you could find: the patient’s regular doctor and a specialist in brain tumors. You wouldn’t want to leave any of the people with unique expertise out.”
    -
    Ethan, a reasonable person who reads your statement above will conclude that you approve of CERN lying to the public when they stated physicists assigned to the LHC Safety Assessment Group (LSAG) were never involved with the LHC before being assigned when John Ellis was for years. I’m just bringing this to your attention.

    Comment by Old-School-Journalist — December 22, 2008 #

  45. sir, reading what you say that extra dimensions in order to exist, quantum mechanics tehories need to be true, but in wikipedia when i search on extra dimensions, it dosnt say anything about quantum fields, or perphaps i can be wrong?

    Comment by baragon-kun — December 22, 2008 #

  46. its says more about general relativity, or the special type of extra dimensions are because of quantum relativity?

    Comment by baragon-kun — December 22, 2008 #

  47. or either the standart model
    and i read lately that the standart model has evidence agaisnt Hwaking radiation, wich means that will be evidence agisnt quantum field or mechanics

    Comment by baragon-kun — December 22, 2008 #

  48. Ethan says that the odds of a collider accident are less than the odds of dying in a car accident.
    -
    1) I would like to know how he computed these odds. I at least did several Delphi exercises with physicists. I suspect Ethan’s odds are simply arm-waving. I suggest that arm-waving to give spurious assurances with an issue of this importance is not very ethical. If Ethan’s methodology or citation is better than arm-waving, I would like to review that methodology. I see methodology as appropriate for debate here.
    -
    2) Actually, I would not be quick to claim odds higher than the odds of a dying in an automobile accident, which the National Safety Council gives as 1/20,331 per year. [ see http://www.nsc.org/research/odds.aspx ] We need to multiply the conditional probability of several moderately unlikely events here, so I will concede that the probability is not the higher probability claimed by several collider opponents. I do not concede that it is much lower, since there are quite a few paths by which things could go wrong and since the safety studies (with the possible exception of the most recent) have large holes. Given a standard calculation of negative expected value (probability times cost), odds of 1/20,331 times 6.5 billion current lives (the population of earth) gives a negative expected value of 319,708 current lives, to say nothing of future lives. I do not think the LHC is worth that many lives. This is the standard math of decision theory.
    -
    I think this calculation does throw light upon why many physicists and even citizens are relatively blasé about these prospects. In order to care about a high negative expected value, it is necessary to care about 6.5 billion people. Most folks are more selfish than that. If one cares only about oneself, these prospects are no worse than the prospects of things folks risk regularly. But they don’t risk them with the earth also at risk.

    Comment by James Blodgett — December 23, 2008 #

  49. Ethan:

    As you are a philosopher [doctorate of philosophy], I’m sure you recognize the philosophical implications of the LHC.

    The CERN proponents tout the “profound” understanding of our existence it poses to bring to humanity. While I am all in favor of developing deeper understanding, I believe that other areas of science, in particular the acme of science, Biology, will provide those profound insights, more so than particle physics.

    But for a good insight into the design of the universe, here’s a good video by George Smoot which provides a profound statement of the organization of the universe:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c64Aia4XE1Y

    Please do not not include me in your group, when you state “we” physicists and then assert that all physicists believe as you do. I’m a physicist who disagrees with you. I am also a biologist. Ergo, I am a scientist. I will do you the return favor, and when I refer to us scientists, I will specifically exclude you as part of us.

    As a biologist, I believe that we will develop a profound insight into what we as a species are as we develop a deeper understanding as to the merger of the two chromosomes in the other primates [2a and 2b] into a single chromosome in the genus Homo [No. 2 chromosome], leaving us humans [please note, I have included you in the term “us”] with one fewer chromosomes than the other primates. I believe that as we elucidate that simple change that we will develop a more profound outlook on us as a species than anything that the LHC would be able to do. Of course, you’re not working on that, so perhaps you’re not even aware of what I’m writing about.

    We scientists do have concerns about the LHC, and in particular I have concern that you have not even discussed the single most troubling aspect of the LHC, which was glossed over in the LSAG report, namely that the proposed collision of two high-Z nuclei, which does not occur in nature at the equivalent energies of the LHC, might produce a novel form of matter, namely stranglets.

    While I have read all [or, at least, almost all] of the arguments pertaining to strange matter and whether or not it would form at the LHC, I believe two of our Nobel laureates sum it up best when they asserted that they believe the LHC is “unlikely” to form dangerous strangelets. I agree that it might appear unlikely.

    It is also “unlikely” that 100 magnets would simultaneously quench; but it happened just a few weeks ago. It is also “unlikely” that we will discover a novel particle at the Tevatron at under 2 TeV; but it happened just a few weeks ago.

    How can we go from the “unlikely” to “impossible”?

    Until that question can be answered, I believe we scientists are best answering all of the other questions of science as the source for understanding the profound nature of the existence of our humanity.

    Best regards,

    Walter L. Wagner

    Comment by Walter L. Wagner — December 23, 2008 #

  50. I’m a physicist… I am also a biologist.

    Still at it, I see, Walter. Unless you’ve managed to complete the requisite courses of study since the last time you surfaced you’re neither. You’re no scientist, of any kind. You’re also not a lawyer.

    Would you like me to run down the list of what you actually are, Walter? How about we start with Gail Morton and work our way up to radioactive kitchen tiles. Or people can just go here and read about for themselves.

    Comment by Jim Wright — December 23, 2008 #

  51. i think that the strangelet creation is more likely, cause not even the moon proves safety about it, since the ion collisions will differ, or since high particles from space can actually escape those objects before they starts destroying earth.

    just because the RHIC dint create any single strangelet in 8 years, dosnt mean that one can pop up tomorrow, and if the scientist know that strangelets can be dangerous, why they want to seek them, its horrendous and vile.

    and what if the LHC will create strangelets contrary to predictions?

    Comment by Aron Sosa — December 23, 2008 #

  52. Jim Wright challenges Walter Wagner’s description of himself as a physicist. He says that Wagner has not completed the “requisite courses.” I ask Wright what are the requisite courses? Would he claim that Newton was not a mathematician because he did not have a Ph.D.? Wagner does detail his background in various places.
    -
    I ask if any of the physicists in this debate have the “requisite courses” in decision theory and risk analysis. The evidence of their debate strongly suggests that they do not. If Wagner is not allowed to discuss physics, I suggest that they not be allowed to discuss these important topics.

    Comment by James Blodgett — December 24, 2008 #

  53. i think that the strangelet creation is more likely, cause not even the moon proves safety about it, since the ion collisions will differ, or since high particles from space can actually escape those objects before they starts destroying earth.

    just because the RHIC dint create any single strangelet in 8 years, dosnt mean that one can pop up tomorrow, and if the scientist know that strangelets can be dangerous, why they want to seek them, its horrendous and vile.

    and what if the LHC will create strangelets contrary to predictions?

    cayse if you reallythink about it, we were just lucky in the RHIC for no creating strangelets in 8 years, but theres still chances that strangelets can be formed the next 2-3 years, after all, in the world of science, anything happnes even if the probabilities are so small, sinc eit seems, and sadly, the moon and neutron stars dont provide safety over strangelets,since strangelets, like micro black holes can escape those objects at high speed, even theearth (for the ones made by cosmic rays), or in the case of theearth, since they arent heaby ion colliding with heavy ion, theres no problem, oh please stop theRHIC before its too late.

    CERN and othershave been failed to prove safety over the RHIC, and its more likely than micro blackholes, we were just lucky for this years

    you hear me Mr.Ethan

    Comment by Aron Sosa — December 24, 2008 #

  54. Wow, a lot of comments since I last checked!

    Old School Journalist,

    Every collider measurement that measures either an event rate or a cross-section of a particle physics event is a test of quantum field theory. You can sign up at http://pdg.lbl.gov/ for a free particle data book (2008 edition) that contains the net results of all of these measurements. In this sense, quantum field theory is the best experimentally tested theory in history. Every result, so far, agrees with QFT’s predictions.
    It’s called a theory the same way every scientific theory (evolution, gravity, electromagnetism) is called a theory. They’re not “right and wrong”, they’re valid or invalid. In this case, supremely valid.

    Baragon-kun,

    Extra dimensional theories need to be consistent with the quantum field theories we have today. That means that for us to have extra dimensions (something we don’t know of), they need for us to allow the laws of physics to work the way we see them working in the four dimensions (three space, one time) that we’ve observed. That’s why I’m not worried about Hawking Radiation not happening.

    James Blodgett,

    The only people who’ve ever died at colliders are people who work there, who’ve died of either work-related accidents (like having a beam fall on them) or of cancer from doing something stupid (like sticking their eye in the beam — I’m not making that up)! Nobody has ever died from something unstoppable and destructive being created at the collider, and nobody will. That’s been my point on this matter, and continues to be my point on this matter.

    Walter,

    Thanks for your comment. I disagree with you. Based on your comment, I can’t conceive of anything I can say to change your mind. Good luck with that.

    Aron,

    We know a lot about strange quarks in isolation. We know a lot about strange quarks in twos, and threes. We know the following things from what we’ve observed: anything with even one strange quark is unstable. The longest lived thing with even one strange quark lives much less than 1 microsecond. We also know that the more strange quarks something has, the faster it decays.

    If you’re going to be scared of the unknown, I can’t stop you. If you’re going to tell me that your fear of the unknown should stop me from exploring it, you’re going to have to do better. You’re going to have to convince me that what I’m doing is dangerous to me and the entire world. The onus is on you. You have not yet succeeded.

    Comment by ethan — December 24, 2008 #

  55. Jim Wright,

    Were you looking for this link?

    http://onscreen-scientist.com/?p=34

    Comment by ethan — December 24, 2008 #

  56. Wow, have you heard about the recently proposed particle called the destroyon. In its reduced state it is also called the destruct-ion. The probability of its occurence is directly proportional to the amount of scientific knowledge humankind accumulates. The earth is especially vulnerable during times of the emissions of science grants, funding of high-energy projects and appropiate bestowal of university degrees. The only thing that can keep the particle from forming is anti-science and possibly some forms of ignorance. This particle is very speculative and represents the overturn of centuries of the main body experts of science. Therefore, it is likely to happen no matter what. Please do not listen to established theories or facts or the main body experts. We need a maverick who is not taught in the traditional manner of universal Socratic argument. We need paradigm change now. The gymbals which suspend Newton’s corpse have been allowed to spin around too long. He must be dug up and reoriented to the new way. Let’s pick and choose what we like.

    Comment by mark a. thomas — December 24, 2008 #

  57. Mark,

    If you’re worried about high levels of knowledge creating a destruct-ion, I guess you can always vote for Palin in 2012 to fight this “evil”.
    -
    -
    -
    BURN!

    Comment by ethan — December 24, 2008 #

  58. oj so thtas means that strangelets do not exist, or are not dangerous sir, thanks

    Comment by Aron Sosa — December 24, 2008 #

  59. soory for my prro grammar, was an acident kind sir, isjust that i read the safety articles of strangelets, andin my opinion, are not too convencible, bit neutron stars can prove safety over them?

    Comment by Aron Sosa — December 24, 2008 #

  60. Aron,

    My bet is that they don’t exist. My further bet is that if they do exist, the LHC won’t be able to create stable ones. My certainty is that if they do exist, they’re not dangerous, regardless of whether they’re stable or not.

    Comment by ethan — December 24, 2008 #

  61. Ethan says “Nobody has ever died from something unstoppable and destructive being created at the collider, and nobody will. That’s been my point on this matter, and continues to be my point on this matter.”
    -
    The problem is, he seems to think that assertions of safety are adequate, and he seems unwilling to discuss the evidence for those assertions of safety.
    -
    My point is not that someone will die, but that there is a small chance that the whole of the human race will die. The “smallness” of this chance depends on the certainty we have about various theories, in a field where there is a contention of theories.
    -
    The history of assurances that nothing will go wrong has not been encouraging.
    -
    First we were told that black hole production required energy beyond the reach of any collider. Then, several rather speculative papers were published by string theorists predicting black hole production at colliders. I do not assume that these papers are correct, but their authors are respected and credentialed physicists and they are published in peer-reviewed journals, so I say we have to accept some probability that they might be correct.
    -
    Second, we were told that black holes would dissipate via Hawking radiation. Then, papers were published questing the fundamental theory behind Hawking radiation. I do not assume that Hawking radiation will not work, but given papers in peer-reviewed journals by respected and credentialed physicists who question it, I say that we must accept some probability that it will not work.
    -
    Third, we were told that strangelets are safe because an aggregation of them will be electrically positive on its surface and not attract normal matter. Then, a paper appeared predicting that they will be electrically negative on their surface.
    -
    Fourth, we were told that an analogy between cosmic rays and colliders demonstrates that we are safe. There are to date no papers refuting this analogy, but we have stated reasons why it does not apply, and Giddings and Mangano accept these reasons as applied to earth.
    -
    Fifth, Giddings and Mangano extend the analogy to neutron stars and white dwarf stars. This may be the definitive safety factor. However, given the history of the other safety factors, it seems wise to vet this one carefully. Folks here are not doing that.
    -
    If anyone wants citations, I am glad to provide them.
    -
    So, Ethan, what are your reasons for believing that nothing can possibly go wrong? Would you like to discuss those reasons? Are you sure that the physics behind your reasons will not change again?
    -
    If you guys want to convince the world that colliders are safe, the level of debate here is counterproductive. When I saw Mangano fairly considering many angles, I was about ready to shut down. When I see how stupid physicists can be as exhibited here (and elsewhere), I am convinced that we at least need a good exposition of that stupidity. (It is a high-IQ version of stupidity called hubris.) Many physicists were prepared to launch with grossly inadequate safety factors, and that was bad even if the safety factors were subsequently improved and even if there turns out to be no disaster. You guys are a nice exhibit of the problem. You give me motivation to keep writing on the issue. Even if colliders turn out to be safe, the reactions of scientists to considerations of safety are relevant for future issues of scientific risk.
    -
    Incidentally, I wonder how many of the posters here have some claim to being scientists. I do not want to use this as an example of scientific stupidity when most are not scientists. But it is at least an example of stupidity in support of science.
    -
    Incidentally, some seem paranoid about Walter Wagner, as if he is the source of all contention. He in fact did publish a letter to the editor in Scientific American in 1999. However, I got involved in the issue long before I knew of that letter, when I saw string theorists predict black hole production but rely on Hawking radiation. I knew enough about risk analysis to question how sure we are that Hawking radiation, never seen nor tested, would work. I sent questionnaires to a bunch of physicists, and found a wide range of subjective probabilities. Subsequent publication by physicists on problems with the theory behind Hawking radiation outmoded my little Delphi work on the issue, but it did introduce me to the problem. So I was hardly hoodwinked by Wagner.
    -
    There are obvious crackpots—for example the Raelians—who are worried about colliders. However, there are obvious jerks—for example some posters here—who say that colliders are safe. Ad hominem is a classical example of poor argument. I suggest you guys redeem yourselves by actually discussing issues.

    Comment by James Blodgett — December 24, 2008 #

  62. James,

    The real reason there’s nothing to worry about from the LHC, regardless of what scenario you look at, is that cosmic rays continuously strike us with upwards of 1020 electron-volts, or 100,000,000 TeV. Now, the LHC’s maximum energy is 14 TeV.

    Ah, you may say, but Cosmic Rays move quickly while LHC collisions happen at rest. That’s true. So what we do in physics is we find the cosmic ray rest frame, and compute what the energy there is. It’s still large, about 432 TeV. Much larger than what the LHC makes. And the Universe has been making those things on Earth for the past 4.5 billion years.

    Wait, you say, they’re still moving relativistically! Yes, that’s true. But they’ve got a 10,000 mile-thick Earth to pass through. If there’s going to be any major interactions, the Earth is big enough and has enough “stopping power” that it would’ve captured anything of interest that gets created.

    So black holes? We’ve already made them if the LHC is going to make them. Stable black holes on Earth? We’ve already made them if the LHC is going to make them.

    You’re apocalyptically worried about strangelets? Well, cosmic rays haven’t made them on Earth (because of our atmosphere), but we would have made them on a planet with no atmosphere, like the Moon or Mercury. We also know that strangelets, if we can make them, are either very unstable on Earth and will decay quickly, or will be stable enough that they won’t pose any danger, and may, in fact, interact so rarely that they act like dark matter. There’s nothing to be afraid of as far as strangelets go.

    What people get upset about, and what *I* get upset about, is that people like you, Walter, JTankers, and Otto Rossler make assertions as though you have any sort of expert information. You’re not experts. You don’t know how to answer these questions. You’re upset because it hasn’t been explicitly stated how and why every doomsday scenario you can come up with is irrelevant. We’re scientists, and we have better ways of spending our time than listening to every doomsday scenario out there (and there are tons). You think yours is different and you’re wrong.

    You want to raise a stink about this stuff? If it’s that important to you, go out and do the necessary things to earn the credibility to be taken seriously. Until then, you will not be taken seriously. As well you shouldn’t.

    Comment by ethan — December 24, 2008 #

  63. Ethan:

    You ignore the fact that two Nobel laureates have written and published their opinion that the LHC should be operated because the risk that strangelets might be dangerous is “unlikely”. While they are entitled to their opinion as to whether or not the LHC should be operated, I am of the opinion that it should not be unless we can disprove the strangelet scenario.

    And the strangelet scenario is not of my invention. As you should well know, numerous theorists have developed and expounded upon the strangelet hypothesis. Numerous physicists have described a potential “ice-9″ effect. Those are not my terms, but the terms of other physicists.

    So essentially, it becomes an ethical debate, which is as James Blodgett seems to recognize. Should a few physicists be able to place humanity at risk to further their knowledge if they perceive the risk to be small? And, by what means do they perceive the risk to be small, when there is no experimental data to embrace as to the risk?

    While you seem to believe that the risk is worth taking in order to obtain a small increase in knowledge, you do so from a position of wallowing in your ignorance of most all other fields of science. I note with interest that you’ve made no comment about my statements regarding the profound questions we biologists are seeking to answer.

    Regards,

    Walter L. Wagner

    Comment by Walter L. Wagner — December 24, 2008 #

  64. Walter,

    I’m weary of this. Sure, the risk that strangelets may be created is “unlikely.” The risk that they’re dangerous? They’re unlikely in the sense that a quantum fluctuation that causes the Earth to teleport a few meters is unlikely. The probability isn’t zero, but it’s *so* small that I don’t have a problem equating a number like 10-100 with zero.

    Your fears don’t matter. Your worries don’t matter. In this area, all that matters is what the physics predicts. No one who’s reasonable talks about an ice-9 effect because it would have happened elsewhere in the Universe by now. I don’t know a single respectable physicist who has done serious work on this.

    And if you find them interesting, I encourage you to go out and answer your biology questions. I don’t care whether n=24 for other primates and n=23 for us, that’s not something that holds an interest for me. But if it does for you, go do the science and figure it out. I’m doing my science, and figuring the things out that interest me. For me, they’re about dark matter and dark energy. For others, it’s about particle physics. I know enough particle physics to understand what “risk” there really is.

    Comment by ethan — December 24, 2008 #

  65. Ethan says that rapidly moving black holes have “a 10,000 mile-thick Earth to pass through. If there’s going to be any major interactions, the Earth is big enough and has enough “stopping power” that it would’ve captured anything of interest that gets created.”
    -
    Are not neutrinos “of interest?” Only one in a very large number are stopped by the great “stopping power” of the earth. Mini black holes can be modeled to look like neutrinos. Giddings and Mangano calculate that earth (or the sun) have adequate mass to stop charged black holes, but not to stop those that are not charged (Giddings and Mangano, Astrophysical implications of
    -
    hypothetical stable TeV-scale black holes, page 10, at http://arxiv.org/PS_cache/arxiv/pdf/0806/0806.3381v2.pdf)
    -
    Thus they look to neutron stars.
    -
    Are Giddings and Mangano wrong? If not, shouldn’t we be talking about neutron stars, not earth?

    Comment by James Blodgett — December 24, 2008 #

  66. James,

    This is exactly what I mean. Exactly.

    First: Mini-black holes cannot be modeled to look like neutrinos.
    Second: If mini-black holes are not stopped by the Earth, they do not interact enough to be “of interest”.

    In terms of interactions that have potential ramifications, no, there is nothing they do that is “of interest.”

    Giddings and Mangano aren’t wrong, but the whole question isn’t “of interest” because of what the calculations bear out. Are you done yet?

    Comment by ethan — December 24, 2008 #

  67. Ethan: “I am a firm believer that the highest good in life is learning, and the greatest evil is willful ignorance.”

    Ethan, I hate bringing this up, but your defense of CERN against Walter Wagner and James falls flat because of your willful ignorance by excusing CERN for lying about John Ellis when they stated he wasn’t involved with the LHC as well as other physicist they assigned to the LHC Safety Assessment Group (LSAG), when in reality Ellis has been a representative of the LHC for years. What interests do you have in defending CERN’s lie that you’re willing to risk your credibility over the world wide web? Learning the truth about John Ellis’ involvement with the LHC before being assigned to the LSAG is something you can’t handle?

    Ethan: “And my point about John Ellis (sorry if I didn’t make it earlier) is that you need a Physicist to tell you about the Physics involved. It’s like if you wanted to know if operating on a brain tumor was going to kill the patient, you’d want to talk to the best two experts you could find: the patient’s regular doctor and a specialist in brain tumors. You wouldn’t want to leave any of the people with unique expertise out.”

    I personally don’t have a position on the experiment, but your willful ignorance above will make it hard for readers to trust your word that the LHC is safe. Are you scared of being wrong?

    Comment by Old-School-Journalist — December 24, 2008 #

  68. OSJ,

    I am not concerned with who said what, nor with who called whom what.

    I’m not interested in defending CERN or in passing judgment on them.

    I’m only interested in what’s right, what’s valid, and really, that’s it. The rest is all fun, or I don’t want it at all. My readers are smart enough to pass their own judgments. And no, I’m not scared about any of the things mentioned here. We’ve been over that.

    Comment by ethan — December 24, 2008 #

  69. Hey, as long as you’re going to call names, there’s something I want to know, so I may as well ask.

    Why don’t you listen to me (or presumably others, since I’m surely not the first scientist you sought out) when I tell you what the most relevant factors are? You want to know about effect A or effect B, and I’m trying to tell you that those effects aren’t important. Part of being a physicist is knowing what the relevant and important parts of your model are, and what can responsibly be ignored. I’m very confident in my ability to distinguish, and in other physicists’ abilities to do the same.

    Why do you think that we’re insufficient at this? Why do you think we’re all wrong about this? Why do you think that some comment that CERN put out concerning its safety team has anything to do with any of this, or that strangelets have anything resembling disastrous prospects, or that collider-created black holes pose any threat? These things are, at worst, harmless curiosities, and at best, things that don’t even exist. So why the fuss? Why spend your Christmas Eve like this? Go have fun.

    Comment by ethan — December 24, 2008 #

  70. When I say that black holes can be modeled to “look like” a neutrino, I mean in the sense that they could pass through earth like a neutrino. Ethan states that black holes cannot be modeled to look like neutrinos, but appears to accept, in the quote below, the possibility that they could pass through earth. Note that he earlier stated that this is impossible. I must say that it is frustrating how quickly assurances that things are impossible turn out not to be true.
    -
    Ethan says “If mini-black holes are not stopped by the Earth, they do not interact enough to be “of interest”.” This implies mathematics that says that a rate of accretion that allows a cosmic-ray-created black hole to pass through earth is so low that accretion of a collider-created black hole orbiting within earth will not bother us for a very long time. I would be interested to see this mathematics. I would be interested to see the model of accretion on which it is based, especially on how accretion increases as the black hole gains mass. Note that we should use the larger Schwarzschild radius implied by the model of multiple dimensions required to produce black holes. Note that the accretion radius is larger than the Schwarzschild radius.

    Comment by James Blodgett — December 24, 2008 #

  71. James,

    Enjoy doing those calculations for yourself. I hope you do them successfully, and are satisfied with the answers that they give you.

    Merry christmas.

    Comment by ethan — December 25, 2008 #

  72. Ethan says “but the whole question (of whether black holes are stopped by earth) isn’t “of interest” because of what the [[calculations]] bear out.” (The emphasis on the word “calculations” is mine.)
    -
    I ask him to produce those calculations, and he suggests that I do them myself.
    -
    Apparently he is assuring us that earth is safe based on nonexistent calculations.
    -
    I would not be surprised to find that his intuition and arm waving on this subject (if that is what it is) are correct. However, it seems irresponsible to issue assurances that the earth is safe based on intuition and arm waving. It seems irresponsible to refer to calculations that one cannot produce.
    -
    I am not just trying to shoot down Ethan here. It is likely that on some level he is a pleasant chap. It is likely that he started this discussion to shoot down those nasty and wrong folks who somehow think that collider advocates just might have been a bit hasty on certain topics, and who have the temerity to question the priests of science. I think we are demonstrating that those nasty and wrong folks just might be correct. I think that assurances of safety issued here are all too similar to assurances of safety issued by collider advocates in several reports, assurances that turned out to have serious flaws. (Except possibly the last one.)
    -
    My point is not that we have proved that Ethan and collider advocates in general are wrong. Most likely they are correct. My point is that, where the safety of earth is concerned, we should check out safety factors very carefully. If you knew that an airline pilot had not completed his checklist, would you want to ride on that airplane? In a military situation, under fire, I can imagine ignoring a checklist to get away from the fire quickly, but in civilian aviation, with many passengers, ignoring a checklist is not allowed. Earth has many more passengers than an airplane. (To extend this analogy, Giddings and Mangano and the LSAG group have finally at a late date produced a fairly good “checklist,” albeit some scientists have suggested flaws. We should be discussing its adequacy. But no one here seems to want to go there.)
    -
    Some folks here appear not to understand expected value. I have even seen physicists make fun of it. So here is a brief tutorial. If you flip a fair coin, and will win $1 if the coin comes up heads, the expected value of that bet is the value you will win ($1) times the probability of heads (50%) = $.50. This is a standard calculation that is used in many situations in business and in risk analysis. It does not mean that the person flipping the coin will get $.50. He or she will get either $0 or $1. It means that in the long run the average will be $.50. It also means that philosophically we can say that the bet is “worth” that much. At the extremes there are considerations of utility that might modify these calculations, but these considerations do not apply when the metric is human lives rather than dollars.
    -
    Adrian Kent has a good paper that uses expected value in this context, and suggests that we need a very low probability of trouble where earth is in the balance. He wrote this paper after working at CERN. Note that this answers a question that Ethan asked at the beginning of this discussion, which is what would satisfy collider opponents. Most would be satisfied by a very low probability of disaster. Actually, I disagree with Kent. I wrote him suggesting that a very low probability of disaster might be balanced by a low probability of a transcendent discovery that would increase the human race by orders of magnitude, and I am one of many people that Kent thanks because of that comment. Note that my comment is one that should be welcome by collider advocates, if they had the wit to see it. [Adrian Kent, “A critical look at risk assessments for global catastrophes,” Risk Analysis, Vol. 24, No. 1, 2004.]
    -
    Ethan has asserted that the probability that colliders will destroy earth is less than the probability that one of us will die in an automobile accident. Actually, estimates of the probability that colliders will destroy earth have ranged from 75% to 10^-40. Actually, the bottom of this range is zero, since the scientific director of CERN was quoted in the New Yorker as instructing CERN scientists to say that the probability of disaster is zero. I have yet to see an estimate of this probability (other than my own) that is based on anything that makes very much sense. Even my own is a highly subjective guesstimate. I think we have to estimate the conditional probability of various theories being true, and multiply several conditional probabilities, and this is inherently subjective. If any reader knows of a good estimate of this probability, I would like to hear about it. Giddings and Mangano, I think quite sensibly, refuse to make an estimate of this probability. However, in earlier discussion here I agreed to follow Ethan’s suggestion and consider that the probability of disaster is on the order of the yearly probability that someone dies in an automobile accident. When we do the standard expected value calculation and multiply this probability times what we lose if it is actualized (the population of earth) the result is a negative expected value of 319,708 lives lost. (See the calculation in an earlier post.) Ethan pronounces ex cathedra that “no one will die.” I don’t think he gets the point. I agree with him that there is a high probability that no one will die. However, I also agree with him that there is a low probability that everyone will die. When we do the math, the probability suggested is “worth” a loss of 319,708 lives.

    Comment by James Blodgett — December 27, 2008 #

  73. Ethan:

    I wish to respond to your quoted questions:

    “Why do you think that we’re insufficient at this? Why do you think we’re all wrong about this? Why do you think that some comment that CERN put out concerning its safety team has anything to do with any of this, or that strangelets have anything resembling disastrous prospects, or that collider-created black holes pose any threat? These things are, at worst, harmless curiosities, and at best, things that don’t even exist. So why the fuss?”

    Here are some of the reasons why.

    Numerous theorists have posed various scenarios whereby strangelets might prove dangerous if created on earth. Two Nobel Laureates have argued in court that the danger is “unlikely” and that therefore the experiment should be allowed to go forward. However, they do not and cannot show how unlikely the danger is. It is not the near-zero value you project of some 1E-100. If it were, the expected outcome values referenced by James Blodgett would allow for the experiment to go forward.

    Likewise, there have been numerous assurances that the machine was properly designed - until it self-destructed on initial testing before dangerous collisions could be commenced

    Likewise, there is a growing acknowledgement that our knowledge of the physics is woefully inadequate, as witnessed by the recent discovery of a novel particle at the Tevatron at 1.96 TeV which had not been predicted in advance. There is still intense study now ongoing trying to fit that in to the ’standard model’.

    Finally, your assertions that the human genome is not of interest to yourself is insulting to all of the many millions of scientists who have been working in genetic research, advancing knowledge for the benefit of mankind.

    Happy New Year!

    Walter L. Wagner

    Comment by Walter L. Wagner — December 27, 2008 #

  74. re “So with all of this in mind, my question to everyone is WHY?! Why do you think the LHC has a chance of destroying the Earth?”

    People think this largely because this is an extreme experiment which has not been carried out before, so they assume (reasonably) that it may have unpredicted effects.
    They have no evidence that unknown effects will not spiral out of control & destroy life as we know it - no one quite has this evidence (we could be living in a simulated universe & the extreme calculations could cause problems with the calculating device producing it)
    Hence, as it is not provable that the experiment will be similar to previously observed effects, panic eschews.

    I feel it may be best to just say ‘based on my calculations & observations of, for example gravity pulling things of mass gently towards each other, this will not destroy the world’ and leave it to the people who say it will to provide a evidence for their argument - and not just going ‘oh, but it might do this’ ;-)

    - imma

    Comment by imma — December 31, 2008 #

  75. Well, like the saying goes, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”

    Comment by ethan — December 31, 2008 #

  76. […] to avoid perpetuating these end-of-the-world myths. However, don’t take my word for it - let’s ask an astrophysicist! Ethan’s bio. __________________ After careful consideration of NASA’s Constellation Program, […]

    Pingback by Large Hadron Colliders a DANGER?? - Page 59 - Bad Astronomy and Universe Today Forum — August 24, 2009 #

  77. I simply wished to thank you very much again.

    Comment by Billy Stoneburner — September 6, 2011 #

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