Wednesday, September 10, 2008
Lot of stuff in the news today about the new Cern collider. Mostly wrong. An interesting mixture in the media of a virtually religious awe without knowing exactly what to be awed about & criticism on 2 grounds.
1) That £5 billion is a lot of money. Well when divided across Europe (it comes to about £700 million for Britain which would be £60 million for the Scots) & dividing it up over 20 years (ie £3 million per annum for Scotland) it is not very much.
By comparison we gave up £6 million a year in fees from oil tankers on the spurious environmental grounds that they were likely to spill oil in the Firth of Forth. The EU regulatory system costs us £405 billion annually. In those terms it is small change.
2) That some scientists say it is going to create a black hole & destroy the world.
Also nonsense. If it were to create such a miniature black hole & there is no reason to suppose it will, it would instantly evaporate. Stephen Hawking proved this years ago but the catastrophe story is more newsworthy.
The "some scientists" are 2 who went to a Hawaiian court (!) to get it stopped. One is an engineer & the other has a biology degree & teaches “grade school to college”. There is also some German chemist. It shows how the media can & do literally search the world for somebody they can falsely describe as "independent astrophysicists" after their 15 minutes of fame. Unfortunately it is inevitable, human beings being what we are, that they will find somebody. This explains most of the scare stories that make up the media's "science journalism".
An worthwhile exception is this from Time:
From the flagellants of the Middle Ages to the doomsayers of Y2K, humanity has always been prone to good old-fashioned the-end-is-nigh hysteria. The latest cause for concern: that the earth will be destroyed and the galaxy gobbled up by an ever-increasing black hole next week.
.....German chemist at the Eberhard Karis University of Tubingen, filed a lawsuit against CERN with the European Court of Human Rights that argued, with no understatement, that such a scenario would violate the right to life of European citizens and pose a threat to the rule of law. Last March, two American environmentalists filed a lawsuit in Federal District Court in Honolulu seeking to force the U.S. government to withdraw its participation in the experiment. The lawsuits have in turn spawned several websites, chat rooms and petitions - and they have led to alarming headlines around the world (Britain's Sun newspaper on Sept. 1: "End of the World Due in 9 Days").
Should we be scared? No. In June, CERN published a safety report, reviewed by a group of external scientists, ruling out the possibility of dangerous black holes. It said that even if tiny black holes were to be formed at CERN - a big if - they would evaporate almost instantaneously due to Hawking Radiation, a phenomenon named for the British physicist Stephen Hawking, whose theories show that black holes not only swallow up the light, energy and matter around them, but also leak it all back out at an accelerating pace. According to Hawking, if tiny black holes occurred at CERN, they would evaporate before they got a chance to do any damage
......CERN spokesman James Gillies said that even if it is successful, the experiment will go ahead without U.S. participation.
"The U.S. court has no jurisdiction over our equipment...."
PS Mr Higgs, whose particle is being searched for, is Scottish. It will be interesting if the particle is found. Patriotism notwithstanding will be even more interesting if it isn't because that is how scientific progress is made - finding the theory is wrong & you need to improve it.