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I am Albert Einstein, and I heartily approve of this blog, insofar as it seems to believe both in science and the importance of intellectual imagination, uncompromised by out of date emotions such as the impulse toward conventional religious beliefs, national aggression as a part of patriotism, and so on.   As I once remarked, the further the spiritual evolution of mankind advances, the more certain it seems to me that the path to genuine religiosity does not lie through the fear of life, and the fear of death, and blind faith, but through striving after rational knowledge.   Certainly the application of the impulse toward blind faith in science whereby authority is treated as some kind of church is to be deplored.  As I have also said, the only thing that ever interfered with my learning was my education. I am Freeman Dyson, and I approve of this blog, but would warn the author that life as a heretic is a hard one, since the ignorant and the half informed, let alone those who should know better, will automatically trash their betters who try to enlighten them with independent thinking, as I have found to my sorrow in commenting on "global warming" and its cures.
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CERN’s LHC: Black Holes Welcome, Regardless

April 22nd, 2011

Denials of danger depend on obsolete cosmic ray argument peddled shamelessly by top physicists

Treating the public as children, with swift change of ground if challenged

Could it be that safety arguments have all but expired, but no one cares that Earth could go pfft!?

Lisa Randall tenured theoretical physicist at Harvard and author of Warped Passages is not afraid of the LHC - in fact, she explained to Charlie Rose on March 30 what physicists hope and dream it will reveal  Like all well informed supporters of progress in science for the benefit of humanity we normally trust and celebrate the highly intelligent, benignly motivated and often extremely personable (Brian Greene, Lisa Randall, Brian Cox) physicists who lead the charge to uncover the truth at the core of physical reality as we know it.

From long experience in uncovering the truths found at the core of human nature, however, at least as exhibited by leading scientists in fields vexed by a mismatch between their claims and their published literature (HIV/AIDS and cancer, for example), we are sorry to see signs of public irresponsibility in the actions of the 3000 or more fine men and women in charge of the LHC and its pioneering research.

To be more specific, to ward off public scrutiny and the danger that the LHC might be put on hiatus while its safety is independently reviewed, top physicists, we have found, habitually reply to public safety concerns by quoting an argument which they know not to be true – for when challenged, they immediately admit it.

The well known argument we have in mind is what was helpfully labeled “Cosmic Ray 1” by Brian Greene, famed string theorist and popular author, when we asked him at Philoctetes about the safety of the LHC two years ago at the session on Mathematics and Beauty on November 14, 2009. (The Philoctetes Center is a distinguished platform for discussion of creativity and the imagination in Manhattan). “Do you mean Cosmic Ray 1, ” he asked, “or Cosmic Ray 2?”

What’s wrong with Cosmic Ray 1?

Cosmic Ray 1 is simply the idea that cosmic rays of subatomic particles generated by supernovae have been whizzing at the Earth for aeons and if their impact on any particles they encounter had created planetivorous black holes we wouldn’t be here to talk about it. This implies therefore that there won’t be any such danger from similar collisions within the Large Hadron Collider.

Unfortunately this overlooks a very simple difference between conditions of such collisions in Nature and those inside the Large Hadron Collider. The first will give rise to particles which will fly away at speeds far in excess of the escape velocity of the Earth, so even if they include mBHs (mini Black Holes) or other fearsome entities they won’t linger to do any damage here. In the collider, however, the collisions between protons or lead ions are head on, like those of cars when one crosses the divider on a highway and smashes into another. So the debris may well be ejected at speeds well below terrestial escape velocity (25,000 mph) all the way down to nil, and thus any tiny black holes, strangelets etc will linger to cause whatever havoc they might be capable of.

In fact, this problem with the logic of Cosmic Ray 1 was noticed as early as 2003 by the celebrated British astrophysicist Sir Martin Rees in his doomwarning book “Our Final Hour: A Scientist’s Warning: How Terror, Error and Environmental Disaster Threaten Humankind’s Future In This Century–On Earth and Beyond”.

In other words, despite lay defenders of the LHC in Web discussions jumping to quote it as the decisive rebuttal to conCERN about the LHC, the argument has been dead at the starting gate for a decade.

The three card monte physicists play

Columbia string theorist and World Science Festival founder Brian Greene, Lisa Randall's classmate at Stuyvesant High School, has no fear of the LHC either, although he admits that the reason he gave the readers of his Op Ed in the New York Times why he was sure it was safe has been obsolete for a decade

But this drawback has not stopped Greene and others cheerfully telling the public that they can forget any worries about micro Black Holes being generated by the LHC on this basis. In his Op Ed piece for the New York Times on September 11, 2008 The Origins of the Universe: A Crash Course Green wrote:

The collider’s workings are straightforward: at full power, trillions of protons will be injected into the otherwise empty track and set racing in opposite directions at speeds exceeding 99.999999 percent of the speed of light — fast enough so that every second the protons will cycle the entire track more than 11,000 times and engage in more than half a billion head-on collisions.

And why wasn’t this effort to penetrate to the very edge of speed and the conditions at the beginning of the universe dangerous? Why? Cosmic Ray 1, of course!:

Micro Black Holes

Now for the possibility that’s generated the fuss.

Recent work in string theory has suggested that the collider might produce black holes, providing physicists with a spectacular opportunity to study them in a laboratory.

The common conception is that black holes are fantastically massive astrophysical bodies with enormous gravitational fields. But in reality, a black hole can have any mass. Take an orange and squeeze it to a sufficiently small size (about a billionth of a billionth of a billionth of a meter across) and you’d have a black hole — with the mass of an orange.

Physicists have realized that the collider’s proton-proton collisions might momentarily pack so much energy into such a small volume that exceedingly tiny black holes may form — black holes even lighter than the one theoretically created by the orange, but black holes nevertheless.

Why might one worry that this would be a problem? Because black holes have a reputation for rapacity. If a black hole is produced under Geneva, might it swallow Switzerland and continue on a ravenous rampage until the earth is devoured?

It’s a reasonable question with a definite answer: no.

Work that made Stephen Hawking famous establishes that tiny black holes would disintegrate in a minuscule fraction of a second, long enough for physicists to reap the benefits of having produced them, but short enough to avoid their wreaking any havoc.

Even so, some have worried further that maybe Dr. Hawking was wrong and such black holes don’t disintegrate. Are we willing to bet the fate of the planet on an untested insight? And that question takes us to the crux of the matter: the collisions at the Large Hadron Collider have never before occurred under laboratory settings, but they’ve been taking place throughout the universe — even here on earth — for billions of years.

Cosmic rays — particles wafting through space — constantly rain down on the earth, the other planets and the wealth of stars scattered throughout the galaxy, with energies far in excess of those attainable by the Large Hadron Collider. And since these more powerful collisions haven’t resulted in astrophysical calamities, the collider’s comparatively tame collisions most assuredly won’t either.

So if the Cosmic Ray 1 argument is wrong, it reduces Greene by his own admission to betting the fate of the planet and the entire human race on an untested insight of the renowned Stephen Hawking, which is something of a responsibility for the wheelchair bound physics genius, especially since he has been wrong about major cosmological matters before, by his own admission.

A sop to the public

This brazen use of an argument which has already been exploded as a sop to the public is standard practice among leading physicists, as it happens. We have found it is shamelessly produced at every event where conCERN is expressed.

For example, just before being instructed by Professor Greene at Philoctetes (on November 14 2009 Sat) we had encountered two other very distinguished young physicist-astronomers, Gregory Gabadadze and David Hogg, at their own New York University, just after they had briefed a very large packed hall on the wonders of black holes and other galactic phenomena in a lecture (on September 29, 2009), labeled Hubble Trouble: The Expanding Universe and the Dark Energy Enigma. Both gave extensive replies to us and a small group of attentive listeners after their lectures, when we raised the topic of CERN’s dangers, dismissing them on the basis of Cosmic Ray 1.

David Hogg held forth gladly for several minutes as a group of listeners gathered round us at the post lecture reception, along these lines, until when he finished we asked gently if it was not true that that rationale had been debunked. Without a moment’s hesitation he acknowledged that indeed it had already been exploded, and without any sign of embarrassment went on smartly to invoke a quite different reassurance (what Brian Greene called “Cosmic Ray 2”, to be explained below) which has lately become almost as questionable.

Michael Tuts too

Michael Tuts of Columbia and US ATLAS Operations Program Manager at CERN is yet another physicist who could be cast in the remake of 2012, but let's hope his dismissal of danger doesn't bring it on in real lifeThe pattern of fobbing off public doubt by invoking a spurious rationale – in the manner of parents reassuring a child that everything will be alright as the plane heads for a dicey winter landing amid less than perfect visibility, if any at all – seems to be standard. Only the other week the handsome Columbia physicist Michael Tuts spoke at the Guggenheim. Tuts has an important role at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider. As the US ATLAS Operations Program Manager he is the titular head of a pack of 400 scientists who are helping to spend $40 million a year in US tax dollars running the world’s greatest “scientific instrument”, as he calls it.

When the Guggenheim Work and Process series invited him to explain all to their arts audience recently, an unusual double header resulted. On a Sunday evening, he explained the Standard Model and the next evening (Feb 7 Mon, which we attended in the front row) he explained to his second packed house the exciting prospect that the LHC might complete the Standard Model by finding the Higgs boson, the final piece of the theoretical jigsaw, not to mention confirming the possibility of additional dimensions and bringing gravity into the fold to pair it with quantum physics for the ultimate “theory of everything”.

We were lucky enough to get to ask the last question. “Given the stature of at least one of the critics of the safety review of the LHC, isn’t there at least a tiny risk of major catastrophe in its operation at peak energies?” Needless to say, Dr Tuts confidently reassured us that there wasn’t, and the chief reason he produced upfront was none other than …. Cosmic Ray 1! And the meeting broke up.

Since there were then refreshments in the Guggenheim museum ground floor, however, where Tuts was surrounded by admirers, we were able to follow up by asking him there whether Cosmic Ray 1 had not been busted long ago by Martin Rees in 2003, if not earlier. To which he replied with admirable frankness, Yes, indeed, and he then proceeded to expound Cosmic Ray 2, that the existence of neutron stars and white dwarfs served the same purpose, to show that cosmic rays flying at heavenly bodies did not generate black holes to eat them up.

Why do they do it?

So we do have a pattern here. The only safety argument physicists use in public until it is challenged is Cosmic Ray 1, and they know it is invalid. Since Cosmic Ray 2 is their fall back position, it is now the sole safety argument they still have for stating that any black holes that are generated will not consume the planet. Why don’t they tell the truth, and state the neutron-white dwarf rationale straight off? Could it be because that justification is crumbling also?

We suspect that this may the case, because the Cosmic Ray 2 argument is indeed crumbling, for different reasons. But since this post is already too long for comfort, we will go over that ground in a later installment, which will deal with the risk of the LHC creating strangelets, which might turn our planet into a small asteroid of strange matter.

Let us simply end here by noting that CERN physicists are so determined to avoid interference from outside with their marvelous project that they use every propaganda tool they can to allay doubt and evade having to account for themselves.

Including asking us to bet on a horse that is dead at the starting gate, and they know it.


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