Science

A 1-in-1,000 Chance* of Gotterdammerung

Will European physicists destroy the world?

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Will the world come to an end on September 10? That fear is motivating two lawsuits—one American, another European—that aim to stop the physicists at the European Center for Nuclear Research (CERN) from switching on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) on that day. The LHC is a $10 billion 17-mile long particle accelerator lying in a circular tunnel beneath the border of France and Switzerland. Its massive superconducting magnets cooled with liquid helium accelerate two beams of protons and lead nuclei to nearly the speed of light. These particle beams will eventually be crashed into each other to produce temperatures and particles not seen since microseconds after the Big Bang 13.7 billion years ago.

One of the chief goals of the LHC experiments is to find the elusive Higgs boson, the only fundamental particle predicted by the Standard Model of particle physics that has not been directly observed. The Higgs boson plays a key role in explaining the origins of mass in other elementary particles. Exciting, if esoteric research, to be sure, but why oppose it?

Walter Wagner, a former nuclear safety officer, and Spanish science writer Luis Sancho, have filed a civil suit in federal district court in Hawaii asking for a temporary restraining order to stop the researchers at CERN from switching on the LHC until further safety analyses are completed. In Europe, Professor Otto Rössler, a chemist at the Eberhard Karls University of Tübingen in Germany filed a similar suit with the European Court of Human Rights.

These LHC opponents fear that the Earth could be destroyed by vacuum bubbles, magnetic monopoles, microscopic black holes, or strangelets produced by the high-energy proton-proton collisions planned by CERN physicists. Vacuum bubbles have been described as a kind of "cosmic cancer." If it turns out that there is a lower energy state into which the universe could settle, then the LHC might produce "bubbles" of such a state which would then expand, ripping apart the Earth and eventually the entire universe. If magnetic monopoles were produced they might induce protons to decay and thus destroy normal matter. Microscopic black holes might grow by gobbling up the Earth. And strangelets are combinations of quarks that theoretically interact with normal matter and transform it into strange matter.

At the Global Catastrophic Risks conference at Oxford University this past July, CERN's Michelangelo Mangano described the findings of a report released in June by the LHC Safety Assessment Group (LSAG). The bottom line: "There is no basis for any conceivable threat from the LHC."

While the LHC safety report goes through a number of scenarios, its chief point is that the energies produced in the LHC are "far below those of the highest-energy cosmic-ray collisions that are observed regularly on Earth." In fact, cosmic rays produced by phenomena in the universe "conduct" more than 10 million LHC-like experiments per second. If such energies actually produced vacuum bubbles, microscopic black holes, magnetic monopoles, or strangelets that could destroy planets and stars, physicists wouldn't be here to perform experiments in the LHC now.

At the Global Catastrophic Risk conference, Future of Humanity Institute research associate Toby Ord asked an interesting question: How certain should we be about safety when there could be a risk to the survival of the human species? As Ord argued, "When an expert provides a calculation of the probability of an outcome, they are really providing the probability of the outcome occurring, given that their argument is watertight. However, their argument may fail for a number of reasons such as a flaw in the underlying theory, a flaw in their modeling of the problem, or a mistake in their calculations."

In other words, for the argument that the LHC poses no existential risk to humanity to be sound, the theory underlying it must be adequate. But physical theories have been upended in the past. Ord pointed out that Lord Kelvin had calculated the age of the sun. Using the best physics of his time, Lord Kelvin concluded that the sun was 100 million years old. It was not until the discovery of radioactivity that the current estimate of 4.6 billion years could be calculated. So Ord argued that it's not unreasonable to think that there is a 1-in-1,000 chance that the theories underlying the LHC are flawed in some important details.

In addition, the model of the problem itself could be flawed. As an example of how flawed models can impact the real world, Ord cited the Castle Bravo 15-megaton thermonuclear bomb test in 1954, the explosive yield of which was two and half times what had been calculated by the bomb's designers at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Those experts had missed the fact that the lithium-7 isotope, when bombarded by high energy neutrons, decomposes into tritium and boosts neutron production. As a more recent example, Ord claimed that Lloyds of London's insurance models for New Orleans had failed to consider the risk that the city's levees might fail.

And finally, it's possible that errors in calculation could slip into errors of analysis. Ord cited the frequency of miscalculations in medication dosages as an example of such errors. To get an estimate of argument failure, Ord cited survey evidence which found that 1-in-1,000 to 1-in-100 articles are retracted from high-impact scientific journals. For an article to be retracted something must be found to be seriously wrong with it. "If the probability estimate given by an argument is dwarfed by the chance that the argument itself is flawed, then the estimate is suspect," argued Ord. He suggested that multiplying the probabilities that the theory, model, and/or calculations on which the operation of the LHC rests are wrong dramatically increases the probability estimates that switching it on will destroy the world. Thus Ord concluded that the LHC should not be switched on.

Mangano from CERN objected furiously to Ord's presentation, arguing, "I can apply that estimate of a 1-in-1,000 chance to everything." Ord responded that his analysis should only apply to experiments that pose an existential risk to humanity, not to experiments whose outcomes can be ameliorated later. I asked Ord if he could think of another experiment or situation to which he would apply his analysis. He looked surprised for a moment and then reluctantly said, "No." Over canapés after Ord's talk, several of his colleagues expressed glee at the prospect that a philosopher's arguments might derail a $10 billion physics experiment. Personally, I estimate the probability of that happening at less than 1-in-1,000.

As intriguing as Ord's argument is, I am ultimately unpersuaded by it. Why? Largely because the empirical evidence is that the universe has been running trillions of these high-energy physics "experiments" for billions of years without disastrous results. In fact, Ord's colleagues Nick Bostrom and Max Tegmark from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology calculate that the empirical evidence suggests a conservative estimate of the annual risk that LHC-like experiments would destroy the earth is 1-in-a-trillion. At the end of his talk, Mangano reminded the Oxford conferees, "Jeopardizing the future of scientific research would be a global catastrophe." Any theory, model, or calculation that suggests otherwise is clearly flawed.

*Correction: Toby Ord from Oxford University points out that the headline is not accurate. In addition, the quotation from CERN's Mangano gives a misleading impression of his actual estimates. Ord informs me that his overall estimate of disaster from switching on the LHC is between 1 in 10,000 and 1 in 1,000,000. I thank him very much for his correction.

Ronald Bailey is reason's science correspondent. His book Liberation Biology: The Scientific and Moral Case for the Biotech Revolution is now available from Prometheus Books.

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  1. Is it cause for alarm that there’s no link?

  2. Ah, there it is.

  3. NY Times headline:

    HUBRISTIC SCIENTISTS DESTROY ENTIRE UNIVERSE

    WOMEN, MINORITIES HARDEST HIT

  4. Either way my girlfriend demanded that all I do on September 9th is bang her relentlessly, just in case.

  5. Ron can be such a dolt.
    Having studied the matter in depth, independent scientists have concluded the Large Hadron Collider will cause a rift in the space time continuum wreaking death and destruction in both the past and the future. This is obvious to anybody who’s meticulously studied the videotapes of THE WORLD TRADE CENTER COLLAPSE!

    The Grays have confirmed this.

  6. I’m going to guess nothing happens. No end of the world & no scientific benefit.

  7. European Center for Nuclear Research

    Anyone want to take bets that if they do destroy the universe, NPR will still manage to blame it all on America?

  8. Mad Max,

    If an asteroid hit Manhattan, would it leave a disparite-impact crater?

  9. What do you think is the next obstacle the Earth people will put in our way?”
    “As long as they can think, we will have our problems.”
    ……….
    “You didn’t actually think you were the only inhabited planet in the Universe? How could any race be so stupid!”
    ……….
    “This is the most fantastic story I’ve ever heard!”
    “And every word of it is true, too!”
    ……….
    “You speak of solanite. But just what is it?”
    “It will explode the source, the sunlight here.
    Explode the sunlight here, my friend, and you
    explode the Universe!”
    ……….
    “You see! Your stupid minds! Stupid! Stupid!”

  10. lying beneath the border of France and Switzerland

    If it were in Germany I’d be worried. Those guys know how to destroy big things, like Europe and the universe.

  11. The evil fiziks types are trying to kill us all!

    Who will stand up to these monsters?

  12. … there should be a law.

  13. This is why we never encounter real ET’s. They all kill themselves with these particular excellerator things before they can reach us.

  14. Who will stand up to these monsters?

    I will, my totally not-descended from a monkey friend!

    (Look! Up the sky! It’s a bird that has never gone through major morphological changes in the 6000 years the Earth’s been around! It’s a plane that stays in the air through the prayers of blind children! It’s CREATIONISM MAN!)

  15. On September 9th, we should transmit as loudly as we can on all available bands a message that we are firing this thing up. If that’s that last thing another civilization hears from us, they’ll know why.

  16. bibigslacker,

    Fermi’s paradox just got PWN’D!

  17. Barbara Walters:

    “*American Idol* has been cancelled in the wake of the universe’s destruction.”

  18. This is silly. We all know that Skynet destroys the world, not some Euro-trash scientists.

  19. New York Newsday Headline:

    “Hero cops try to save endangered coeds from universe-destroying particle accelerator.”

  20. Headline in the Newsletter of Those Guys who try to Stop the Coming Apocalypse in all those sci-fi and horror movies:

    “Fools, blind fools, all of you! We tried to warn you, but in your arrogance you have doomed us all!”

  21. That’s more of a Post headline. With a blurb about Michael Jackson under the headline somewhere.

  22. You maniacs!

  23. Ska,

    At my NY college, they distribute *Newsday,* in order to show us uncultured out-of-state hicks what sophisticated journalism looks like. I’m trying to reconstruct the *spirit* of their headlines.

  24. I’m pretty sure the NY Post headline would be:

    EURO-
    TRASHED

  25. Chief physicist’s last words before turning on the particle accelator:

    “Hey, y’all, watch this!”

    Wait, I may be mixing up my jokes here.

  26. I used to study chemistry in T?bingen… if Roessler is against it, nothing bad can come of it.

  27. Wrong again, Episiarch. Skynet doesn’t destroy the world, it merely rids the world of the human pestilence. Not at all the same thing. Kudos to Homo europeanithicus for finding a way to blow up the planet before the machines–or their friends, the apes–rise to power.

    Of course, one must ask whether this is actually a human program at all. My understanding is that the Martians would like to destroy the Earth, because it obstructs their view of Venus.

  28. No, the Earth obstructs their view of . . . of . . . no, I can’t bring myself to do such a cheap shot.

  29. Wrong again, Episiarch

    I’m never wrong, ProL. It’s high time you came to understand that.

  30. I don’t know about anyone else, but I think it would be pretty damn cool if someone managed to destroy the universe.

  31. Bailey why aren’t you covering burning man?
    I guess it has already peaked, I heard nothing on it this year.

    Or is it Doherty that usually covers burning man?
    Well, I guess that proves my point.

  32. Episiarch,

    You are wrong!
    Pro Libertate, your creator, is dead.
    You have mistaken me for him.
    You are in error.
    You did not discover your mistake.
    You have made two errors.
    You are flawed and imperfect and have not corrected by sterilization.
    You have made five errors. [Ed. Three, sir!] Three errors!

  33. One detail. When the universe pelts us with cosmic rays, or microscopic black holes, they are moving very quickly in relation to Earth.

    However, if the LHC creates something icky, it will be almost at rest with respect to Earth.

    That could yield a very different outcome.

  34. Headline in H&R after the particle accelator destroys the universe:

    “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (and I feel dead)”

    Prompting a dispute among commenters about the artistic merits of REM.

  35. Scientists? Political or Social . . . ?

  36. You have made five errors. [Ed. Three, sir!] Three errors!

    Wrong.

    (“sterilizes” ProL)

  37. Maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to wait and try and crunch the numbers a bit more. After all, the potential gain from this experiment is jack shit next to the end of the universe as we know it.

  38. Much like Ron, what ultimately persuaded me on the safety of the LHC is the fact that millions of similar events happen in the atmosphere every day. Even if our understanding of these processes turns out to be deeply flawed and all of the calculations need to be revised (this possibility is one reason why they’re doing the experiments) the simple fact that these collisions happen in the atmosphere without ill effect on a daily basis is rock-solid empirical evidence. Having similar collisions in a vacuum chamber, a place where any bizarre or dangerous matter would be isolated from other matter (mitigating against chain reactions) seems even safer than having them in the atmosphere.

    Of course, if we evil fiziks types do manage to destroy the universe, this will just mean that we need more funding to create a new universe and try this again. I’m working on the grant proposal right now, just in case.

  39. I too am willing to relentlessly bang members of the opposite gender on September 9th. Just in case.

  40. Wrong again, Episiarch, my logic is impeccable.

  41. CBS News:

    “Particle physicists say it’s time to move beyond the whole who-destroyed-the-universe blame game. ‘Really, who among us hasn’t made foolish mistakes they later regretted, like smoking dope or exploding the universe?'”

  42. my logic is impeccable.

    And your pecker is illogical.
    So it all evens out.

  43. Sean Hannity:

    “It’s easy to blame the people who made a judgment call and, with pure motives, destroyed the universe. This much is certain, though: Under the Democrats, the universe would have been destroyed even more.”

  44. . . .is the fact that millions of similar events happen in the atmosphere every day. . . .

    So, you admit that the billions of Euros poured into the LHC were completely wasted, because cosmic rays provide us with exactly the same results for free? Damn you, sir, God damn you to hell.

    Last time a bunch of physicists worked together, Hiroshima got wiped out.

    Jamie Kelly,

    Indeed. I store all my illogic there.

  45. Wrong again, Episiarch, my logic is impeccable.

    (sterilizes ProL again)

  46. It’s not working, Episiarch! Ha! That’s another error–your sterilizer isn’t working!

  47. During the Manhattan Project, the same fear was voiced, that the chain reaction would somehow extend beyond the bomb material. Fortunately, it never happened.

  48. Check your sperm count, buddy.

  49. You can’t win, Episiarch. If you sterilize me, I shall become more powerful than you could possibly imagine.

  50. Can’t they wait one day for 9/11? Don’t they know that’s “Catastrophe Day”? Maybe then for the microsecond it takes for the Earth to be destroyed we’ll have something to talk about besides the WTC attack.

  51. If you sterilize me, I shall become more powerful than you could possibly imagine.

    Are you Kirk or Obi-Wan? You need to decide.

  52. I am Kirok!

  53. Walter Wagner, a former nuclear safety officer, and Spanish science writer Luis Sancho, have filed a civil suit in federal district court in Hawaii asking for a temporary restraining order to stop the researchers at CERN from switching on the LHC until further safety analyses are completed

    Even if he won his case, how would a district court in Hawaii enforce its will in Switzerland?

  54. Prompting a dispute among commenters about the artistic merits of REM.

    REM blows chunks.

  55. REM blows chunks.

    You’ll be singing a different tune as you’re being swallowed by a black hole.

  56. I confess to near-total ignorance when it comes to physics. OTOH, I do understand plain English that describes what is to happen as a result of a man-made experiment, and what already happens every second or so in the universe, without man’s interference.

    The objections seem to me simple Luddism, that is, fear of the unknown. And since mankind has always been talented at assessing the unknown and deciding what risks can be taken, Luddism is nothing more than obstructionism.

  57. I’m in favor. If we’re goin down lets take the whole damn thing with us.

  58. Let’s be realistic here, folks. If the LHC were really a threat to human existence, wouldn’t the physicists use that fact to hold the world hostage to their demands? Beginning with a demand for a Hollywood starlet for each physicist and ending with a demand for one trillion dollars for fusion research?

  59. PL,

    The problem with your scenario is that the physicists would fight amongst themselves over who gets Angelina Jolie and who gets the leftovers (i. e., Jeanane Garofolo).

  60. Mad Max,

    Don’t be silly. The physicists can use their great mathematical skills to develop an algorithm for rotating the women amongst themselves. After all, there are far more starlets than there are physicists.

    I could see a major row over Kari Byron, however.

  61. Eh. If it destroyed the universe, we’d never know anyways.


  62. You’ll be singing a different tune as you’re being swallowed by a black hole.

    Yes, an almost infinitely longer but much slower tune.

  63. But there is a 1:1000 chance it will destroy the world if we DON’T turn it on.

  64. We simply cannot take such extreme unknown risks. We should only take known risks, where we’re sure of the outcome. I propose a complete moratorium on scientific research until more scientific research is done to assess the risks!

    Either that, or the scientists should have to pay for full liability insurance in case they destroy the universe. I just happen to have such a policy available at low, low rates…

  65. I believe that the only danger posed by the “Large Hadron Collider” is a headline writer’s imminent misspelling catastrophe.

  66. Nobody worry.

    Gordon Freeman’s been assigned to the LHC. With a crowbar.

  67. I’m going to shut down the LHC. Because I’m curious. I wanna know more about what you do here! Frankly, I’ve heard alot of wild stories in the media and we want to assess any possibility of dangerous and possibly hazardous waste chemicals in your basement.

  68. non,

    We are all agreed that your theory is crazy. The question which divides us is whether it is crazy enough to have a chance of being correct. My own feeling is that it is not crazy enough.

  69. Sheesh, I don’t what the big deal is, Ive been in plenty of regular-sized hardon colliders before and the universe didn’t blow up.

  70. Amen , Thoreau- Ron should get a life–

    People who live in galaxies with black holes in the middle, and un-housebroken magnetars wandering about unleashed shouldn’t throw lead bricks at gadgets that can barely burp up a Higgs boson

  71. “Largely because the empirical evidence is that the universe has been running trillions of these high-energy physics “experiments” for billions of years without disastrous results.”

    where… inside stars? the surface of the Earth is a stable system with unusual characteristics (compared to most of the universe). If you want to start simulating freaky stuff that happens somewhere else “in the universe”, running those experiments on the surface of the earth is not a good idea. It’s rather like doing experiments with explosives on sheet ice.

    One other point: this claim that the events occur in the atmosphere ‘all the time’ is a theoretically based hypothesis, it’s not an observable fact.

  72. Please. We’re worried about all this theoretical mumbo-jumbo, while we ignore a far greater peril lying right under our nose.

  73. I tend to agree with the anti-crowd. Like all risk analysis, focusing on the costs or the benefits in isolation is the wrong way to go. The cost benefit doesn’t seem to favor running CERN.

    When the potential negative is the destruction of earth (the universe is probably more resilient), and the potential benefits don’t seem to go beyond sating the curiosity of a few scientists, I think we should build this facility on Mars, which we will miss far less if we screw up our calculations.

  74. Ord is asking the wrong question. It is irrelevant how likely it is that the models governing particle physics are wrong (perhaps his ~1/1000 is close), but rather, he should be asking how likely it is that they are so wrong that it would matter…and that number is trivially small.

  75. Somewhat on topic: In 1998, Jonathan Lethem wrote an interesting novel called As She Climbed Across the Table about a scientist who accidentally creates a black hole in just this sort of a situation. It’s a very entertaining novel in an off-beat sort of way.

  76. As Ron and a couple of commenters have pointed out, Nature has done this experiment already on a vastly greater scale than anything Man is capable of. Gamma-ray bursts, for example, likely involve relativistic jets in comparison with which the LHC is a three-year-old weeing in his training toilet.

  77. commenter bubba raised a good point above: mini-black holes and strangelets created by cosmic ray events would be moving at high speed relative to earth, a mini-black hole would go right through the earth if it were moving at high speed, but if it were stationary relative to earth, it would sink into the core and possibly begin gobbling terrestrial matter.

    gotterdammerung might not happen all at once. it would take a mini-black hole a few months to gobble the earth. there would be an initial period in which the scientists declined to tell us what was happening, followed by a subsequent period in which it would be clear to all that something was seriously wrong.

    i’m gonna die eventually anyway. there might be a moment of clarity and previously hidden knowledge involved in getting sucked into a singularity, and hey, scarlet johansson is getting sucked right next to me into the same dimensionless point, so i say go for it.

  78. “One of the chief goals of the LHC experiments is to find the elusive Higgs boson, the only fundamental particle predicted by the Standard Model of particle physics that has not been directly observed.”

    What about the elusive watchable M. Night Shyamalan movie? That has never been directly observed. Why aren’t frenchy scientist trying to find that?

    They should throw copies of The Village and The Lady in the Water at each other in that accelerator and see what happens.

  79. When the SSC (US super collider) was going to be built, it was planned to operate at twice the power for less than half the cost of the Euro system.

    Nobody worried about the end of the world back then. Are journalists just dumber now?

  80. you know the drill people, hand over the Playboy Playmate of the Month, the Penthouse Pet of the Month, and whatever they call the skank of the month spreading her meat curtains in Hustler, and do it every month until the end of time.

    Don’t get any bright ideas of printing fuglies for the playmate, pets and whatever the hell they call them in Hustler to foil me. Trust me, years of studying anatomy through pornography, I can tell the difference.

  81. scarlet johansson is getting sucked right next to me into the same dimensionless point, so i say go for it.

    You know what else will be there? Ron Jeremy’s penis. Also his hairy ass. Johny Holmes long dead penis, all the penis the world has ever seen, and all the vaginas as well. If you are bisexual, you are really going to love the Singularity.

  82. Can anybody here do probability? Or better yet, can anybody here do arithmetic?

    “He suggested that multiplying the probabilities that the theory, model, and/or calculations on which the operation of the LHC rests are wrong dramatically increases the probability estimates that switching it on will destroy the world. Thus Ord concluded that the LHC should not be switched on.”

    No. It doesn’t. Any time one multiplies probabilities, he obtains successively smaller numbers.

    If Mr. Ord actually believes this, he knows less than my nine-year-old.

  83. bubba, bruce & Dave of Sydney.

    1) If something is moving at relativistic velocities, it doesn’t matter what the angle of incidence to the Earth’s surface is. It either passes right through in about 0.04 of a second like neutrinos do or it hits another particle and produces a whole bunch of decay particles from alpha particles to w-particles. At that speed, the gravitational attraction of the Earth is not even in the significant figures.

    2) And, yes, dave of sydney, these things really have hit Earth. This is an observed fact. Millions of them. Large area cosmic ray detectors, with arrays covering only a few square kilometers, regularly detect the collision products of cosmic rays with energies as high as 10^18 electron volts – about 100,000 times as powerful as the particles produced by the LHC. Since the arrays cover only a minute fraction of the Earth’s surface, it is a reasonable inference that the same sort of events are occuring at the same relative frequency in areas not being observed.

  84. Can anybody here do probability? Or better yet, can anybody here do arithmetic?

    Oh momma, can this really be the end? Stuck in side the Singularity with this
    asshole science geek, again.

  85. Given the cosmic nature of the suggested down side, the vacuum bubbles will gobble us up in a nano second so we will never feel a thing – we won’t know it happened and there will be no time to blog.

  86. I’m more concerned about micro black holes than the universe destroying stuff. If they create one and it doesn’t disappear an instant later it’s possible it might become self sustaining. Then what do we do?

    It starts taking in whatever matter there is in the imperfect vacuum then it could touch the side of the containment/impact area and immediately start sucking up that matter too. Nothing would stop it. Then it could end up falling straigt down into the earth gaining velocity the whole time and probably go right through the whole earth and possibly out the other side before it falls back in again and through the earth again.

    No clue how fast it would grow but we would be in a heap of trouble.

  87. Scientific papers get withdrawn for other reasons than errors in the analysis.

    Like fraud.

  88. Look at the bright side…
    At least we wouldn’t have to worry about global warming. 😉

  89. After reading this, the first thought that comes to mind is, “Elvis is dead, and I don’t feel so good myself.”

  90. Accepting Ord’s premise would essentially mean shutting down all technological progress and scientific research alltogether. If we cannot trust our theories, then there is really no way to say for sure which acts posit existential risks and which do not. Perhaps nanoparticles can in some people trigger the formation of highly contagious prions that cause massive brain cancer? Highly unlikely, and nothing whatsoever hints at it, but hey, it’s an existential risk isn’t it?

    Of course we could go further. The fact that something (say nuclear reactors) have been generally safe to operate so far, but what if there’s a 1-in-billion chance per each reactor of igniting a chain reaction in atmosphere? Shut them down, and let most of modern technology follow.

  91. A. Allan,

    Somewhat on topic: In 1998, Jonathan Lethem wrote an interesting novel called As She Climbed Across the Table

    Hush! We aren’t suppose to talk about Lethem’s science fiction novels. The English department wants Motherless Brooklyn to be his “debut.”

  92. Your “1-in-1000” title for the article is indefensibly misleading.

    Some guy guessed 100mil about something, it turned out to be 4.5bil, therefor he thinks it’s okay to assume there’s a 1/1000 chance the LHC calcs are off = there’s a 1/1000 chance of destruction.

    Why put that in there if the number has no relation to the topic, nor is it based on anything.

    Would “pulled it out of his arse” have gotten you in trouble with your editor ?

  93. Can anybody here do probability? Or better yet, can anybody here do arithmetic?

    “He suggested that multiplying the probabilities that the theory, model, and/or calculations on which the operation of the LHC rests are wrong dramatically increases the probability estimates that switching it on will destroy the world. Thus Ord concluded that the LHC should not be switched on.”

    No. It doesn’t. Any time one multiplies probabilities, he obtains successively smaller numbers.

    If Mr. Ord actually believes this, he knows less than my nine-year-old.

    What they probably meant was something like this:

    If the accepted theory/model is right the chance of being able to run this thing without a problem is (for the sake of argument) 0.9999999 or 99.99999%. So the chance of having a problem is 0.0000001 or 0.00001%.

    But lets say there is only a 90% chance of that theory/model being correct. That means the probability of being able to run this thing without a problem could be as low as

    0.9 X 0.9999999 = 0.899991 (89.9991% chance of no problem, 10.0009% chance of a problem.)

    Of course that is the formula if an error in the theory means that there definately will be a problem, which is not the case. To figure out what the probability of having a problem is using this method, you have to know the answer to the question: “If the accepted model is wrong, then what are the odds that running this thing will cause a problem?”.

    If I had to put money on it, I would bet that this will not destroy the universe. But I will not pay until after I have verified that the universe has – in fact – been destroyed.

  94. Man’s technology has exceeded his grasp. – ‘The World is not Enough’
    Zealous Nobel Prize hungry Physicists are racing each other and stopping at nothing to try to find the supposed ‘Higgs Boson'(aka God) Particle, among others, and are risking nothing less than the annihilation of the Earth and all Life in endless experiments hoping to prove a theory when urgent tangible problems face the planet. The European Organization for Nuclear Research(CERN) new Large Hadron Collider(LHC) is the world’s most powerful atom smasher that will soon be firing subatomic particles at each other at nearly the speed of light to create Miniature Big Bangs producing Micro Black Holes, Strangelets and other potentially cataclysmic phenomena.
    Particle physicists have run out of ideas and are at a dead end forcing them to take reckless chances with more and more powerful and costly machines to create new and never-seen-before, unstable and unknown matter while Astrophysicists, on the other hand, are advancing science and knowledge on a daily basis making new discoveries in these same areas by observing the universe, not experimenting with it and with your life.
    The LHC is a dangerous gamble as CERN physicist Alvaro De R?jula in the BBC LHC documentary, ‘The Six Billion Dollar Experiment’, incredibly admits quote, “Will we find the Higgs particle at the LHC? That, of course, is the question. And the answer is, science is what we do when we don’t know what we’re doing.” And CERN spokesmodel Brian Cox follows with this stunning quote, “the LHC is certainly, by far, the biggest jump into the unknown.”
    The CERN-LHC website Mainpage itself states: “There are many theories as to what will result from these collisions,…” Again, this is because they truly don’t know what’s going to happen. They are experimenting with forces they don’t understand to obtain results they can’t comprehend. If you think like most people do that ‘They must know what they’re doing’ you could not be more wrong. Some people think similarly about medical Dr.s but consider this by way of comparison and example from JAMA: “A recent Institute of Medicine report quoted rates estimating that medical errors kill between 44,000 and 98,000 people a year in US hospitals.” The second part of the CERN quote reads “…but what’s for sure is that a brave new world of physics will emerge from the new accelerator,…” A molecularly changed or Black Hole consumed Lifeless World? The end of the quote reads “…as knowledge in particle physics goes on to describe the workings of the Universe.” These experiments to date have so far produced infinitely more questions than answers but there isn’t a particle physicist alive who wouldn’t gladly trade his life to glimpse the “God particle”, and sacrifice the rest of us with him. Reason and common sense will tell you that the risks far outweigh any potential(as CERN physicists themselves say) benefits.
    This quote from National Geographic exactly sums this “science” up: “That’s the essence of experimental particle physics: You smash stuff together and see what other stuff comes out.”
    Find out more about that “stuff” below;
    http://www.SaneScience.org/
    http://www.LHCFacts.org
    http://www.risk-evaluation-forum.org/anon1.htm
    http://www.lhcdefense.org/
    http://www.lhcconcerns.com
    Popular Mechanics – “World’s Biggest Science Project Aims to Unlock ‘God Particle'” – http://www.popularmechanics.com/science/extreme_machines/4216588.html

  95. You know the only reason all these unabomber Leftists claim to consider this dangerous is because of their wet-dream hoaxer Titor, right?

  96. Not only do we not fully understand physics. We don’t fully understand digestion either. So I estimate that there’s a 1 in 1000 chance that my next fart could destroy the universe. And it’s just KILLING me trying to hold it in.

  97. Question:

    The article first says:

    “These particle beams will eventually be crashed into each other to produce temperatures and particles not seen since microseconds after the Big Bang 13.7 billion years ago.

    Then it later says that such events happen countless times every second so there’s nothing to worry about.

    ?

  98. This has really been blogged to death over the past year. A physicist at the Perimeter Institute has written quite a few detailed, yet accesible, blog posts on the topic:

    http://backreaction.blogspot.com/

    Sept. 10 is the tentative date for the first ‘live’ circulating beam at 450 GeV with the goal of ramping up to 5 TeV beams for collisions at a center of mass energy of 10 TeV this fall. I won’t be surprised if that is delayed until next year as the original dry run scheduled for the spring was cancelled last year after the problems with some of the magnet assemblies.

  99. This was all foretold on the SciFi show “Lexx”… Click on my name for more… Totally safe for work

  100. First Little Pig,

    Stage 13? I could’a swore she was Stage 18!

    *bah dum bah*

  101. Chad is correct above but I want to bring out his point more strongly.

    Even if we stipulate that there is a 1 in 1000 chance that the argument is wrong, that doesn’t mean that there is a 1 in 1000 chance that the LHC will blow up the earth (let alone the universe)! The argument could be wrong but the LHC still not blow anything up. So this whole line of reasoning is complete garbage.

  102. Higgs Boson — the only particle that has not been directly observed? Have you directly observed a Tau Meson recently? Or even an electron? How about “the only particle for which there is not yet experimental evidence?”

  103. This is the best paper contradicting Giddins and Mangano deduction, it is made by a serious german physicis:

    http://arxiv.org/PS_cache/arxiv/pdf/0808/0808.1415v1.pdf

    In Italy the populace been stirred up to a frenzy by a novel, about apocalypse caused by micro black holes. January 1st, 2009 evening time, be ready. Angelo Paratico “Black Hole” Mursia. Me dont mind that time still boozed from the night before.

  104. Excuse me! The world was created 6,000 years ago…fucking scientific east coast/european elites!

  105. To Gigi:

    The Plaga paper by a “serious German physicist” has been totally demolished in a reply by Giddins and Mangano:

    http://arxiv.org/PS_cache/arxiv/pdf/0808/0808.4087v1.pdf

    The guy is not very serious either. See my latest blog post: “Large Hadron Collider: What’s the Risk?”

  106. i think that even though there is a small chance that the planet can get sucked up it own ass it is still a chance that should never be took

  107. Scientists are idiots. Why would you do a test that could possibly destroy us all?
    No one wants to hear this, I’m at school and nearly %80 are talking about it, maybe more.
    I’m actually concerned, if this works, they better not do anymore of these dangerous experiments.
    Fucking retards.

    -Tiffney & Grace.

  108. Study of an imaginary Big Bang that never occurred is not science! The energy source that sustains life is recorded in the 3,000 mass data points that represent every atom in the universe – the Earth, the Sun, the cosmos.

    See: Physics Atomic Nuclei 69 (2006) 1847
    astro-ph/0609509

    Oliver K Manuel

  109. When ever some thing unveil from secret, people oppoise to it.Most people donot want change.
    That is common rut.
    Geniune scientist must neglet and go ahead

  110. I’d like to know what possible jurisdiction a U.S. Federal District Court in Hawaii could have over a superconductor thingy in France and Switzerland?

    Oh well, I don’t know if they turned the thingy on yesterday, but it’s now 9/11 and the world’s still here!

  111. So it’s OK to use someone else’s science to predict that there’s a chance of disaster but not OK to use it to estimate that that chance is infinitesimally small? Sheesh!

  112. darn, I have already payed the mortgage for October

  113. I’d like to express my misgivings about the journalistic standards of an article that makes a headline of a number that has been so obviously and completely plucked out of thin air.

  114. I apologize if someone else has pointed this out, but if such an experiment could destroy the universe, then either we are truly alone in the universe, or we are the first civilization in a universe of 100 billion+ galaxies to reach the ability to accomplish this destruction. In any case, the fact that we are still here means something.

  115. Since this IS (or so I thought) a putatively “libertarian” site–ya know–with libertarian styled input, what is of more importance to me now that someone somehow assessed that the chances of CERN blowing the world up and sucking us all into the imploding Nothingness, is rather WHAT the libertarian response is to the crowing the Euros are doing.

    After all, this is not a venture of venture capitalists alone. GOVERNMENT–yeah–big bag world nasty rights-limitin’, pollyanna, big brother government–financed most of this ball of wax called CERN. Need you ask why I ask?

    OK. I’ll tell you anyhow, in case you haven’t heard the back-slapping just yet. While we here in America are trying to figure out whether Palin’s Jesus Jabber and belief in Noah’s pet dinosaur are conducive to Federal or even ANY involvement in science among our youth, the Euros are making is happen. RIGHT NOW. WITH, yes, GOVERNMENT input, and high rates of taxation.

    Over on Cosmic Log the word on the non-physic minded street is that CERN’s new collider is going to place Europe, oh, about 25-30 years ahead of US theoretical physics research. Not that the Euros won’t share the bounty. But in the matter of principle, what IS (since Bailey has not chimed in to defend the typical Libertarian position that being a redneck and smoking dope on the weekends and being mutually non-disagreeable and clinging to yer shotgun and other high marks for the Libertarian crowd is what makes advanced science tick..) the “libertarian” answer to the argument now crowing from Europe that only govenrment can finance the future of science?

    Well?

    That’s vastly more important a discussion than trillion to one odds of black holes and sparkles of light in the Indian Ocean. Right?

    Though on the other hand, to say that something is highly unlikely is not the same thing as saying it is impossible. The ID and Creationist crowd is mocked incessantly for (correctly, I might ad) point out that the formation of life on Earth had magnitudes of somewhere in the quintillions to 1 odds.

    Funny, in a way. Does the market REALLY solve everything? Is this is the Age of Homo Economicus? As long as libertarian rednecks going around saying “hey boss man, let me hold the dollar” and sucking down beer in between fishin’ trips feel good about the “free minds and free markets” give-n-take, all is OK?

    Or is there not something to be said for more sohpisticated types–like most of Europe’s socialistically minded class who understand that health, energy, education, infrastructure, and yes science need a helping boost once in a while?

    CERN will stand head and shoulders above anything stateside, and we all know it.

    BUSTED!

  116. This whole thing is just STILL another closed system, therefore it is still bound by the second law of thermodynamics!

    Now…at a certain point, a concept known as “credulity” comes into play, where you must suspend all skepticism and just fucking say “this is a cheap piece of shit compared to the scientifically, and artistically precise miracle that is the universe! We can destroy ourselves, but not the fucking universe, no god damn way!”

    Not gonna happen!

  117. So if Ronald Bailey argues that these “experiments” have been conducted by the universe for billions of years without disastrous results, then he needs to take into account how many of these “experiments have been run on the Earth under our delicate atmosphere for the past hundreds of thousands of years that humans have been around. These experiments are just too risky because if it goes wrong there is no alternative, no where for anybody to go. We are all dead.

  118. Next Tueday, 30 March 2010, the CERN LHC has scheduled their first attempt at 7 TeV collisions, this is the current maximum energy. DO you know that there is a serious CERN LHC critics movement and one of it’s most prestigious members, Professor Otto E. Roessler gave an interview to notepad publishing senior journalist Armin Albarracin?

    Key exerpts:

    On Black Hole may destroy the Earth:
    ‘If CERN is successful producing them it would be producing about one per second. Many, many, many of them. And most of them would fly away. Only one in every million or so would stay inside the Earth because it would be slow enough not to escape. So its intrinsic velocity and there will be almost no friction they all would go right through the Earth and go away, except when it is slow enough. It would then be circling inside the Earth and if it would be growing fast enough – which I think that I can proof – it would eat the Earth from the inside out in a few years time. ‘

    On Black Hole may destroy the Sun and the Moon:
    ‘The size of any mass, of any black hole which has the mass of the Earth, is 1.9 centimeters. But of course much of the energy would be radiated away so it would eventually be a little bit smaller than 1.9 centimeters. But we were talking about the danger to the Sun and the Moon. To the moon for example. So some of these many little black holes that would be radiating away they would be going in all directions. I didn’t know that when I said the moon would be safe. I learned that from Professor Landua in CERN. And therefore as to the Moon: Enough would be hitting the moon and one would be slow enough to stay on the Moon. It’s not very probable but if there are many enough it would also happen with one hitting the Moon and also with the Sun. So the Sun would go out as well.’

    Selected press coverage of interview with Prof. Roessler:

    Media: The Register
    Link: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2….._moon_doom
    Title: The LHC will implode the Moon or PUT OUT THE SUN’
    Quote: ‘Professor R?ssler wouldn’t make our list just for this, however: what’s really brought him up on our radar is an excellent interview he gave to Swiss anti-LHC tinfoiler blog (sorry, “non profit news agency”) notepad.ch. In it, the prof reveals some new and splendid notions on how the great Collider will doom us all’

    Media: Scientias.nl
    Link: http://www.scientias.nl/lhc-ka…..tigen/5890
    Title: “LHC kan de zon vernietigen” – ‘LHC can destroy the sun’

  119. Next Tueday, 30 March 2010, the CERN LHC has scheduled their first attempt at 7 TeV collisions, this is the current maximum energy. DO you know that there is a serious CERN LHC critics movement and one of it’s most prestigious members, Professor Otto E. Roessler gave an interview to notepad publishing senior journalist Armin Albarracin?

    Key exerpts:

    On Black Hole may destroy the Earth:
    ‘If CERN is successful producing them it would be producing about one per second. Many, many, many of them. And most of them would fly away. Only one in every million or so would stay inside the Earth because it would be slow enough not to escape. So its intrinsic velocity and there will be almost no friction they all would go right through the Earth and go away, except when it is slow enough. It would then be circling inside the Earth and if it would be growing fast enough – which I think that I can proof – it would eat the Earth from the inside out in a few years time. ‘

    On Black Hole may destroy the Sun and the Moon:
    ‘The size of any mass, of any black hole which has the mass of the Earth, is 1.9 centimeters. But of course much of the energy would be radiated away so it would eventually be a little bit smaller than 1.9 centimeters. But we were talking about the danger to the Sun and the Moon. To the moon for example. So some of these many little black holes that would be radiating away they would be going in all directions. I didn’t know that when I said the moon would be safe. I learned that from Professor Landua in CERN. And therefore as to the Moon: Enough would be hitting the moon and one would be slow enough to stay on the Moon. It’s not very probable but if there are many enough it would also happen with one hitting the Moon and also with the Sun. So the Sun would go out as well.’

    Selected press coverage of interview with Prof. Roessler:

    Media: The Register
    Link: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2….._moon_doom
    Title: The LHC will implode the Moon or PUT OUT THE SUN’
    Quote: ‘Professor R?ssler wouldn’t make our list just for this, however: what’s really brought him up on our radar is an excellent interview he gave to Swiss anti-LHC tinfoiler blog (sorry, “non profit news agency”) notepad.ch. In it, the prof reveals some new and splendid notions on how the great Collider will doom us all’

    Media: Scientias.nl
    Link: http://www.scientias.nl/lhc-ka…..tigen/5890
    Title: “LHC kan de zon vernietigen” – ‘LHC can destroy the sun’

  120. Next Tueday, 30 March 2010, the CERN LHC has scheduled their first attempt at 7 TeV collisions, this is the current maximum energy. DO you know that there is a serious CERN LHC critics movement and one of it’s most prestigious members, Professor Otto E. Roessler gave an interview to notepad publishing senior journalist Armin Albarracin?

    Key exerpts:

    On Black Hole may destroy the Earth:
    ‘If CERN is successful producing them it would be producing about one per second. Many, many, many of them. And most of them would fly away. Only one in every million or so would stay inside the Earth because it would be slow enough not to escape. So its intrinsic velocity and there will be almost no friction they all would go right through the Earth and go away, except when it is slow enough. It would then be circling inside the Earth and if it would be growing fast enough – which I think that I can proof – it would eat the Earth from the inside out in a few years time. ‘

    On Black Hole may destroy the Sun and the Moon:
    ‘The size of any mass, of any black hole which has the mass of the Earth, is 1.9 centimeters. But of course much of the energy would be radiated away so it would eventually be a little bit smaller than 1.9 centimeters. But we were talking about the danger to the Sun and the Moon. To the moon for example. So some of these many little black holes that would be radiating away they would be going in all directions. I didn’t know that when I said the moon would be safe. I learned that from Professor Landua in CERN. And therefore as to the Moon: Enough would be hitting the moon and one would be slow enough to stay on the Moon. It’s not very probable but if there are many enough it would also happen with one hitting the Moon and also with the Sun. So the Sun would go out as well.’

    Selected press coverage of interview with Prof. Roessler:

    Media: The Register
    Title: The LHC will implode the Moon or PUT OUT THE SUN’
    Quote: ‘Professor R?ssler wouldn’t make our list just for this, however: what’s really brought him up on our radar is an excellent interview he gave to Swiss anti-LHC tinfoiler blog (sorry, “non profit news agency”) notepad.ch. In it, the prof reveals some new and splendid notions on how the great Collider will doom us all’

    Media: Scientias.nl
    Title: “LHC kan de zon vernietigen” – ‘LHC can destroy the sun’

  121. This whole thing is just STILL another closed system, therefore it is still bound by the second law of thermodynamics!

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