Science Guardian

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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blog, insofar as it seems to believe both in science and the importance of intellectual imagination, uncompromised by out of date emotions such as the impulse toward conventional religious beliefs, national aggression as a part of patriotism, and so on.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.
Many people would die rather than think – in fact, they do so. – Bertrand Russell.

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He who knows only his own side of the case, knows little of that. – John Stuart Mill

Whenever you find that you are on the side of the majority, it is time to reform. – Mark Twain

Although science has led to the generally high living standards that most of the industrialized world enjoys today, the astounding discoveries underpinning them were made by a tiny number of courageous, out-of-step, visionary, determined, and passionate scientists working to their own agenda and radically challenging the status quo. – Donald W. Braben

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Man’s mind cannot grasp the causes of events in their completeness, but the desire to find those causes is implanted in man’s soul. And without considering the multiplicity and complexity of the conditions any one of which taken separately may seem to be the cause, he snatches at the first approximation to a cause that seems to him intelligible and says: “This is the cause!” – Leo Tolstoy

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Global conCERN – Earth Down Tiny Black Hole Soon, Maybe

Dazzling engineering switched on, running fine and will risk all after Christmas

Critics appeal to UN to stop boffins playing with nuclear fire, but threat disturbs few

CERN escapes oversight, shielded by PR and scientists’ denial

Unrefuted paper by top physicist argues dire possibilities but goes unread

Interior of the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, Geneva: This magnificent sight is testimony to the mind of man and its brilliant ability to build a machine that can ape the moment one trillionth of a second after the universe began, as well as the confidence to switch it on in spite of the fact that no one has any real idea what will happen, but this courage and determination to explore the unknown may establish the existence of the Higgs boson to complete the Standard Model and the existence of extra dimensions needed to produce micro Black Holes and thus vindicate the popular author Brian Greene and his fellow string theorists, who otherwise have nothing in nuclear physics yet to back their speculations, keep their positions and win them a Nobel prize, but who of course are not influenced at all by any of that in supporting CERN in dismissing the chances of universal catastrophe as zero, and the critics' equally expert papers as not worth reading.

There was renewed excitement for thrill seekers around the world on Friday (Nov 20) as the Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire, otherwise known as CERN, fired up the Large Hadron Collider, its newly repaired $10 billion research gargantua/Christmas toy/doomsday machine which will explore the origins of the universe. Reports so far are that all is working smoothly in the LHC as proton beams whiz around its spectacular 17 mile racing circuit 330 feet under Switzerland and France in opposite directions, ready to crash into each other and reveal what happened the instant after the universe began.

A large part of the frisson of nervous pleasure generated by the biggest machine the world has ever seen derives, for some, from the thought that two thousand physicists are now playing with almost Godlike powers at recreating the way things were when galaxies didn’t yet exist. Respectable theorists have shown there is a not necessarily small chance that an inadvertent result may be the swift disappearance of the entire planet and possibly the sun as well into a small black hole, or if that is not our fate, the gigantic, gleaming, colorful contraption may spew forth sufficient “strangelets” to turn the world into an smoking asteroid of “strange matter” the size of a football field.

Supreme confidence in the unknown

Most people dismiss such notions as the scientific equivalent of “a dragon suddenly appearing in this room,” as a superconfident Brian Greene put it to us recently. The renowned string theorist and best selling author appeared at Philoctetes last weekend to discuss Mathematics and Beauty, and we took the opportunity to ask him where he stood on this neglected issue. His Op Ed contribution to the New York Times a year ago, The Origins of the Universe: A Crash Course, was unreservedly gung ho on going ahead with the LHC (Large Hadron Collider, hadrons being certain subatomic composite particles including protons and neutrons which combine quarks and antiquarks) to maximum power, but has been outdated, after all, by CERN’s safety report admitting that the chief reassurance he used, the familiar “we live with cosmic rays hitting the earth every day and remain unscathed” argument, was null and void.

Green wrote in the Times (Op. Ed. on the interesting date of September 11 2008):

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 wreacking 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.

But the LHC safety report to the public from CERN (see summary page) now admits that micro black holes (mBHs) produced by the massive collider could stay on Earth (7th para.). Since the proton beams will crash into each other in opposing directions, anything they yield could move slowly, like the fragments produced by two cars in a head on collision:

“Those (mBHs) produced by cosmic rays would pass harmlessly through the Earth into space, whereas those produced by the LHC could remain on Earth.”

Greene’s reply to us at Philoctetes, which we will detail in a future post, was the above dragon concept, the cosmic ray argument part II (equally flawed, some argue) and that anyway it “isn’t my field.” Given that no reputable physicists are writing papers saying a dragon may appear, the analogy seemed doubtful. Also, this statement seemed overlook the fact that the Columbia University department Greene belongs to has a project at the LHC, and funnels money and expertise to it, not to mention that his Op Ed piece remains the most prominent personal reassurance in the States that we don’t have anything to worry about. But Greene hurried away to an ice cream shop afterwards avoiding further questions.

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“The current issue has all the earmarks of something that needs outside review – possibly fatal global consequences, a safety report entirely produced by CERN scientists, the typical schoolboy attitude of physicists satisfying their curiosity, great public expense, the commitment of large organizations to evading public scrutiny, the tendency of huge projects to become unstoppable juggernauts, and so on.”
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We also attended the triumphant double presentation on “Hubble Trouble” at NYU recently, where Gregory Gabadadze and David Hogg, two top young physicist/astronomers there, described the latest results on black holes, white dwarves and other components of the universe beyond human sensory experience. Afterwards we asked both about CERN, receiving extensive replies (which we will convey in more detail later) full of boisterous confidence even after both graciously acknowledged that the cosmic ray argument constantly waved at doubters was invalid.

A black hole of possibility

But, as the Fermilab director Pier Oddone told Dennis Overbye of the New York Times a year or more ago (see earlier post), the truth is that “That there are many theories means we don’t have a clue. That’s what makes it so exciting. ” In other words, no one really knows what will happen as the drain on the Geneva power grid rises up to ten per cent of the total and the beam energy surpasses the current 0.9 teravolts (1 TeV = 10_12 electronvolts) operation record held by the Tevatron at Fermilab at Batavia near Chicago heading to levels never before explored (seven teravolts) to reproduce the conditions of the universe a trillionth of a second after the Big Bang.

This is still the case. Nothing has changed since Fabiola Gianotti, a Cern physicist and the deputy spokeswoman for the team that built Atlas told Overbye in 2007, “Either we find the Higgs boson, or some stranger phenomenon must happen.”

Finding the “God particle” will complete the Standard Model of particle physics, and the planned production of mini black holes will imply extra dimensions do actually exist and thus will let string theorists off the hook of not yet having any actual physical results yet to show skeptics, but the truth is anything can happen. We have Brian Greene’s word for it in his Op Ed piece, Fermilab Director Pier Oddone has said the same thing, and Brian Cox, author of Why does E=Mc2, who might be said to be Britain’s version of Brian Greene, admits as much even while cheerfully if rather crudely dismissing fears of a black hole lunching on the planet as “a steaming pile of bollocks” on the Colbert Report a month ago.

Here is Brian Greene last year:

But the most exciting prospect of all is that the experiments will reveal something completely unanticipated, something that forces us to rethink our most cherished explanations.

Confirming an idea is always gratifying. But finding what you don’t expect opens new vistas on the nature of reality. And that’s what humans, including those of us who happen to be physicists, live for.

Can these men be trusted?  Two happy scientists at the controls of the CERN LHC as it started up in September 2008, only to fall apart almost immediately and take a year to repair and start up again on Friday, after 53 of the 9300 superconducting magnet units had to be removed and brought to the surface for repair after helium flooded the tunnel, following which a lightning strike put a transformer out of commission, and lately a small piece of bread shorted out the works for days.  On the basis of this record, would you trust these men, however worthy their motives, with the fate of the world? Rainer Plaga fires across CERN’s bows

Behind all the ridicule, however, there are some serious theoretical papers. One respectable theorist of disaster is physicist Rainer Plaga, previously a group leader at the Max Planck Institute for Physics in Munich. He is now being being ignored by CERN and the media, but he has shown that CERN safety theorists managed to reject his argument last year only by picking on the wrong equation, and they have not come up with anything better since that embarrassment, despite promises.

Plaga has refined his initial paper, On the potential catastrophic risk from metastable quantum-black holes produced at particle colliders, Version 1 through a second version, Version 2 (abstract), click this for full Version 2 pdf, in which he appended an explanation of how the attempted CERN rebuttal had confused his paper’s equations, into a third edition, of which this is the abstract at the physics site arXiv, On the potential catastrophic risk from metastable quantum-black holes produced at particle colliders Version 3 (Abstract):

On the potential catastrophic risk from metastable quantum-black holes produced at particle colliders

R. Plaga
(Submitted on 10 Aug 2008 (v1), last revised 9 Aug 2009 (this version, v3))
The question of whether collider produced of subnuclear black holes might constitute a catastrophic risk is explored in a model of Casadio & Harms (2002) that treats them as quantum-mechanical objects. A plausible scenario in which these black holes accrete ambient matter at the Eddington limit shortly after their production, thereby emitting Hawking radiation that would be harmful to Earth and/or CERN and its surroundings, is described. Such black holes are shown to remain undetectable in existing astrophysical observations and thus evade a recent exclusion of risks from subnuclear black holes by Giddings & Mangano (2008) and and a similar one by Koch et al. (2009). I further question that these risk analyses are complete for the reason that they exclude plausible black-hole parameter ranges from safety consideration without giving any reason. Some feasible operational measures at colliders are proposed that would allow the lowering of any remaining risk probability.
Giddings & Mangano drew different general conclusions only because they made different initial assumptions about the properties of microscopic black holes, not because any of their technical conclusions are incorrect. A critical comment by Giddings & Mangano (2008) on the present paper and a preprint by Casadio et al.(2009) – that presents a treatment of the present issue with methods and assumptions similar to mine – are addressed in appendices.

This is the paper (full version 3 in pdf form is at Full Rainer Plage Paper Version 3 pdf) that physicists involved in the enterprise at CERN and elsewhere are not bothering to read or are not even aware of, according to our interviewing. Their assumption appears to be that the initial CERN riposte rendered the paper invalid.

In fact, as Plaga makes clear, they foolishly chose the wrong equation to critique, and his polished third edition and its demolition of their assumptions and excessive confidence stands untouched, arguing that the world and all its inhabitants including you and me may well vanish down a black hole or in a third scenario that CERN has not even considered, that there is a distinct possibility that the greatest machine ever built could produce black holes generating an energy level equivalent to an H bomb every second, producing unprecedented global warming, multi continent earthquakes devastating civilization if not all of life, incinerating the 2200 physicists at CERN, Geneva and a large pie slice of France in the bargain.

Physicists joyride = planetary death ride?

Others like Nobel physicist Frank Wilczek and Astronomer Royal Martin Rees (in ten pages on collider risks in Our Final Hour) earlier (they have since retreated), and now prominent physicist Adrian Kent of Cambridge and space engineer and computer scientist Richard Wagner say that it could spew strangelets that will turn the earth into a smoking asteroid the size of a football pitch. Then there is the admittedly somewhat eccentric (he likes to include dirty jokes in his papers) all round wiz theoretical chemist and physicist (and immunology Ph.D) Otto Rossler, and attorney physicist and nuclear safety officer Walter Wagner, who say the world could go slowly down a black hole, which Plaga notes in passing that CERN has not disproved.

In other words, outlandish or not, it can be soberly maintained that the fate of the world is in the hands of physicists and bureaucrats who are acting like a bunch of overgrown schoolboys who are going ahead regardless of high level papers suggesting that dire possibilities are theoretically valid, and not even as extremely unlikely as generally supposed, ranging from tiny through 1 in 6 to 50% or even 100% in some doomsday analyses.

There is no indication in the literature yet that the sophisticated critics are any less correct in their analysis than the CERN scientists, and currently Rainer Plaga has the best of his CERN critics.

Doubts about the gung ho approach have also been voiced by respected physicists such as Adrian Kent of Cambridge. Tony Rothman of Princeton quotes the papers of the highly respected Russian physicist Grigory Vilkovisky in support of caution, and a group of well informed professionals including the theorist Otto Rossler (founder of endophysics, the Rossler attractor in chaos theory and visiting professor in theoretical physics) and the knowledgeable former federal radiation safety official (he studied physics and did cosmic ray research at Berkeley) Walter Wagner (founder of LHCdefense.org who has now appealed to US federal court after his Hawaii suit was ruled out of jurisdiction) appealed to the United Nations last Friday (Nov 20) as the LHC was cranked up.

That 73 page appeal to the UN Human Rights Committee and the Commissioner of Human Rights at the UN by conCERNed international and LHC Kritik (Critique), calls attention to the lack of oversight of CERN actions and asks the UN to intervene and insist on outside review for CERN’s plan to take the planet on a roller coaster thrill ride with no guard rail to prevent a drop into the chasm.

Enclosed are critical studies of the method used in the CERN risk studies, one from members of the “Future of Humanity Institute” of the University of Oxford and a review on the LHC safety assessment process by risk assesment expert and ethicist Dr. Mark Leggett concluding that CERN at this date has fulfilled not more than a fifth of the necessary criteria expected for a modern safety study.

As long as there is no clear evidence that the possible production of “micro black holes” (expected to be created by many CERN scientists) pose neither long- nor short-term danger to life and to planet Earth, CERN and the member states should not aim for their production in high energy experiments at all.

CERN LHC under repair yet againCynics however do not expect it to result in action fast enough to stop the fuse CERN has lit reaching high explosive. We use that metaphor advisedly since another possibility in the forefront of consideration is that heat radiation as powerful as a 12 megaton H Bomb every second may irradiate Geneva and a sizeable portion of France to a crisp in short order, according to Plaga’s calculations.

Panic over flu but end of world faced with calm fortitude

All in all, concerned citizens must wonder why scientists and their supporters in the media are ridiculing the critics when even the most infinitesmal chance of the biggest setback possible would seem to argue caution.

After all, the media have been happy to help stir up fear over the second coming of swine flu, which has now peaked at about two million cases so far in the US yielding 4000 deaths according to the CDC, compared with 20,000-50,000 for seasonal flu related deaths annually. There were plenty of sensational segments on national network television showing children in hospital dying from “swine flu” to the prayerful horror of their parents at bedside day and night, and 160 million vaccines were being rushed into production, with much popular clamor and even some cheating among people who want them as soon as possible.

Meanwhile excitement over the imagined consequences of the LHC has so far been confined to Hollywood (Angels and Demons), and amusing articles in the Times over whether the future is sending preventive measures:

A pair of otherwise distinguished physicists have suggested that the hypothesized Higgs boson, which physicists hope to produce with the collider, might be so abhorrent to nature that its creation would ripple backward through time and stop the collider before it could make one, like a time traveler who goes back in time to rescue his grandfather from a traffic accident.

Holger Bech Nielsen, of the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen, and Masao Ninomiya of the Yukawa Institute for Theoretical Physics in Kyoto, Japan, put this idea forward in a series of papers with titles like “Test of Effect From Future in Large Hadron Collider: a Proposal” and “Search for Future Influence From LHC,” posted on the physics Web site arXiv.org in the last year and a half.

There is no doubt that the LHC is the most exciting machine ever built, and inevitably whets the appetite of every red blooded physicist to start it up and take it out on the racing ciruit at top speed to see what happens, which of course since it has already gone wrong in unexpected ways none of the responsible senior officials and physicists at this international project would allow to happen unless everything was fully checked out as far as safety goes in advance.  What?  They have already gone ahead, you say?  Surely not.Despite all the signs that the physicists in charge have an almost comic inability to handle basic engineering tasks such as insulating the vast creation from lightning strikes and even bird droppings, the PR campaign of behalf of the LHC has effectively shut down public debate this year, and now the LHC has started up again without fanfare.

Captive congregation of $10 billion church

The difference, we imagine, is that CERN scientists are the high priests of a very rich and esoteric church, particle physics, whose texts are completely illegible to most mortals, and whose credibility is absolute with the general public. On the face of it, the idea that they are behaving like NASA sending up the entire world’s population including 1.8 billion innocent children on a spectacular joyride which might explode like the Challenger or vanish as it heads for regions of tiny space and time beyond our ken seems no more credible that the prognostications of Michel de Nostradamus, 1503-66.

The CERN LHC seems to have been foretold by Nostradamus, according to  those who see the analogy between two fish passing in opposite directions and two beams doing the sameThat notorious prognosticator did make a prediction that sounds rather ominous in this respect,as it happens. According to our reading of his text he advised everyone to leave Geneva around this time since there was a threat of “counter positive rays” dealing death and destruction to that city. The exact phrase was “Migrés, migrés de Genesve trestous, Saturne d’or en fer se changera, Le contre RAYPOZ (sic) exterminera tous” which, since the three metals named (Saturn means lead, to be collided in the ALICE experiment at CERN late next year, gold and iron) are or have been involved in collision experiments using beams moving counter to each other, offers juicy fodder for prophecy mavens.

The world keeps its nerve

So while the flu false alarm is trumpeted noisily in media world wide, whatever public concern was felt last year, when the LHC was first started up only to fall apart rather ignominiously, has largely dissipated, at least in the media. The whole issue has been successfully painted by the CERN publicity machine as one deserving of fictional treatment only, and Hollywood has been happy to oblige. Thus Angels and Demons offered a fine glimpse of the great 21 Century time and space galleon in its opening segments, and the just premiered 2012 overlooks CERN but has followed up with all kinds of imaginary threats derived from Mayan tablets and climate doomsayers to bring nervous Nellies into disrepute.

“Most of what’s claimed for 2012 relies on wishful thinking, wild pseudoscientific folly, ignorance of astronomy and a level of paranoia worthy of ‘Night of the Living Dead,’ ” Ed Krupp, director of the Griffith Observatory, in Los Angeles, and an expert on ancient astronomy, wrote in an article in the November issue of Sky & Telescope.

CERN LHC scientists at the Atlas controls, presumably hoping the darn operating system doesn't freeze up just when they inadvertently go over the danger mark in beam energy and plunge Geneva into darknessEven the New York Times’s previously helpful correspondent in this matter, the same Dennis Overbye, has done little this time on the topic other than write a jokey piece, Is Doomsday Coming? Perhaps, but Not in 2012, about speculation in some quarters that all the accidents that have interfered with the progress of the LHC so far – the latest being an a fowl or some other force of nature that shortcircuited its operation last week by dropping pieces of a baguette into its wires, if you can believe it – are visitations from a future than cannot survive if the LHC does rev up to its grand aim of over seven times the record set by the Tevitron (0.98 TeV).

Overbye took the opportunity to swipe at the CERN doubters rather offhandedly in passing: “All of this reminded me of the kinds of letters I received last year about the putative black hole at CERN. That too was more science fiction than science fact”.
The normally sensitive and alert New Yorker doesn’t seem interested, either, although Elizabeth Kolbert in 2007 caught the CERN officials telling the staff to say that the risk of things going wrong should always be said to be zero in answer to any public enquiry.

CERN’s chief scientific officer, Jos Engelen, is from the Netherlands. He serves under the director general, who is from France, and alongside the chief financial officer, who is from Germany. I went to speak to Engelen in his office; behind his desk a chart indicated when the various parts of the collider are supposed to be completed. It was a crazy quilt of multicolored blocks, with lines radiating in all directions. Engelen greeted me with a half-ironic cheerfulness that struck me as very Dutch. Among his responsibilities is dealing with the frequent calls and letters CERN receives about the possibility that the Large Hadron Collider will destroy the world. When I asked about this, Engelen picked up a Bic pen and placed it in front of me.
“In quantum mechanics, there is a probability that this pen will fall through the table,” he said. “All of a sudden, it will be on the floor. Because it can behave as a wave, it can go through; we call that the ‘tunnel effect.’ If you calculate the probability that this happens, it is not identical to zero. It is a very small probability. But it never happens. I’ve never seen it happen. You have never seen it happen. But to the general public you make a casual remark, ‘It is not identical to zero, it is very small,’ and . . . ” He shrugged….

Engelen said that CERN officials are now instructed, with respect to the L.H.C.’s world-destroying potential, “not to say that the probability is very small but that the probability is zero.”

Russian roulette, or caution?

CERN scientist hard at work repairing the LHC, where one of the 7200 or so scientists employed was taken off the job and accused of contacting Al Quaeda a few weeks ago.We would probably be in the same camp dismissing CERN anxiety as laughable if it weren’t for the fact that the realm of HIV/AIDS has shown so clearly that the advice of a distinguished scientist who is indubitably right can be swept under the carpet and then flattened by the steam roller of political propaganda and disinformation generated by those in charge of maintaining funding for huge scientific organizations, such as NIAID.

After all, it certainly seems like science fiction to suggest that the future is sending back signals that CERN’s gigantic adventurism is unacceptable, and sabotaging it accordingly. It is also hard to credit that so many responsible experts working in unison on a fabulous machine are prepared to risk their own lives, and the lives of their wives and children, let alone six billion other human beings, simply to find out whether the Higgs boson exists, and create the mini black holes which will support the string theorists in their dreams of glory and a Nobel prize, if there was the slightest chance that the entire globe would reduce to the size of a 2 cm marble and disappear into a black hole the size of a golf ball, as Rossler states.

But the history of internal disputes in science, particularly of the distinguished Duesberg’s fate in the hands of the distinctly lesser folk running AIDS science, tells us not to dismiss lightly members of the elite (such as Plaga or Adrian Kent) who challenge the mainstream.

The current issue has all the earmarks of something that needs outside review – possibly fatal global consequences, a safety report entirely produced by CERN scientists, the typical schoolboy attitude of physicists satisfying their curiosity, great public expense, the commitment of large organizations to evading public scrutiny, the tendency of huge projects to become unstoppable juggernauts, and so on.

That is why we will post further on this ridiculed topic by showing what the literature of the dispute actually conveys, and noting in full what three prominent physicists at NYU and Columbia admitted to us when we talked to them recently.

So far of course the world has emerged unscathed from similar anxious moments, such as start up of the Tevatron which was contested on similar grounds. The detonation of the world’s first atomic bomb was thought to risk the possibility that the atmosphere would catch fire and burn up. The research of Emil Konopinski suggested that it was safe (E. Konopinski, E. J, C. Marvin; Edward Teller (1946, declassified Feb. 1973). Ignition of the Atmosphere with Nuclear Bombs. Technical Report Los Alamos National Laboratory LA-602.)

But as noted previously, when we asked Hans Bethe once if there was 100% certainty, he denied it. “We were not completely sure.”

Given that speeding past the limit observed by the Tevatron is scheduled for the world’s biggest experiment before the New Year, the CERN public affairs group will no doubt begin crowing that the danger is over soon after, if nothing worrying seems to happen, but that may be premature.

The scenarios extant include waiting for several years as the black hole sinks to the center of the globe and digests the Earth from the inside out. Only after as long as four to fifty years will the complacent routines of everyday life eventually be disrupted as the surface finally crumbles and we and all our works all fly into a tiny golf ball of inner space.

Here is a preview of what we are in for if the nervous Nellies are right after all, viewed 3.5 million times so far.:

Black Hole Swallows Earth on YouTube

Or you may prefer a more poetic version:

Our Final Days

A list of papers and articles on the topic from experts is at LHC Defense – Experts and also LHC Defense – What Experts Say

Interesting facts from Hazel Morris about the LHC (It could hold 150,000 fridges full of sausages at a temperature colder than deep outer space etc)

9 Responses to “Global conCERN – Earth Down Tiny Black Hole Soon, Maybe”

  1. Baby Pong Says:

    Why are you making trouble? Let the cern scientists do their thing. Humanity deserves to be sucked into a black hole, and the universe will be better for it.

  2. Truthseeker Says:

    What trouble? Nothing we write here will affect the course of events by one degree, don’t you agree? A beautiful big $10 billion machine is like a shiny new Ferrari delivered to the front door. The phone may be ringing from the dealer to explain they got the address wrong, but you will already be on the highway driving at top speed.

    The chances of anyone stopping CERN going ahead into the realm of reality wherein unknown fairies and demons exist is surely zero. All we are doing is providing an early warning that despite CERN reassurances, there is a chance that the future will be radically different from the past, and there will be no need after all to save for a life longer than four or five years, if that.

    Whether or not you wish to gamble on that is up to you. Personally we have the instinct of any true scientist and say Let’s go, baby! This is an interesting proposition just from the point of view of working out what the chances are, no?

    Or are you some kind of wet blanket who expects us to worry about women and children, not to mention the planet? Evidently not. Bully for you. We expect no less from all the readers here who put science before all, and believe the main purpose of life is to find things out.

  3. Baby Pong Says:

    Yes, I agree. Nothing we do will change anything. But this is interesting and raises many questions.

    You say that some theorists think there are slow black holes that might take 4 years to eat the earth. (sort of like slow viruses?) What I want to know is, if the black hole was slowly sinking toward the center of the earth, there to begin devouring the planet from the inside out, would we know about this?

    Do the CERN scientists have tests that can detect whether the planet has been infected by a black hole? Would the newspapers report that there was a black hole sinking toward the earth’s center?

    I tend to think that they would censor the news just as they censor so many other important things, so people wouldn’t panic and the elite could figure out a way to save their asses, maybe by using taxpayer money to establish an elite domed colony on another planet.

    But if the news did get out, and people realized that humans only had four years to live, how would they behave? Might the whole world perhaps toss Aids Inc. in the rubbish and go on a spree of nonstop unsafe orgiastic sex?

    CERN’s admirable adventure has implications sociological as well as physical.

  4. Truthseeker Says:

    Our insufficiently researched understanding is that no one would know about the black hole inside the planet until it broke through the surface as it were, as one big surprise, whenever it has finished gobbling up the inside. So there will be a period where CERN scientists go around saying Ha ha told ya so, weenies! until eventually they and the rest of us are sucked into unbreathable deep inner miniature space, with no time at all to prosecute them for endangering the planet.

    However some say it could be detected earlier so there would be time for whatever irresponsible partying might be attempted in that rather unnerving period. Presumably the authorities would insist it was “safe”, however, for the same spurious reason as now, where it has no effect on “AIDS” whatsoever, ceteris paribus.

  5. Baby Pong Says:

    But if the black hole were sinking to the center of the earth, wouldn’t it create a tunnel as it sank, because it would be eating all the dirt? Surely someone would notice the tunnel. Or is the black hole deactivated as it sinks, and “switched on” when it reaches the chewy center of the earth? Does the black hole have an extended latency period as it sinks, perhaps up to 10 years, before it starts eating contaminated packages of fried dried onions, t-cells, Playstation consoles and other items?

  6. Baby Pong Says:

    Apparently there is a breakthrough in the fight against the Hepatitis-C virus. This story says that a new drug has been developed that “outwits” the clever virus.

    http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-sci-hepatitis-c4-2009dec04,0,1848983.story

    We were shocked to read in this article that a prominent virologist says that, currently, life expectancy after a Hep-C diagnosis is only one year!!!

    My God! The Hep-C virus is deadlier than HIV!!!

    Why aren’t we having “World Hep-C day” instead of World Aids day? Why aren’t our health authorities warning us about Hep-C with outdoor boards, public service announcements and the like?

    Why have no celebrities joined the fight against Hep-C?

    Someone’s not doing their job.

  7. Truthseeker Says:

    The current situation according to our skimming research on that question is that CERN is so confident that the micro black holes (mBHs) will dissipate in a fraction of a second in Hawking radiation (never actually observed yet) that they have not set up any means to detect any such hole as it heads for the center of the earth at about 7 miles per second, so it will eat up very little as it travels downwards, too little probably for the tunnel to be detectable using geologist’s instruments, but as it sits doing its thing at the center it will create very high temperatures, so maybe there will be that indication.

    Hepatitis C scare

    Thanks for the Hepatitis C item. Apparently they are going to use an “antisense” drug, which seems suitable. After all, the drugs used in HIV/AIDS make no sense at all, so this is a familiar type of treatment. But whether hepatitis C makes sense or not is not something we have studied yet. If you die within a year from liver cancer, presumably the virus does not often cause liver cancer if three or four million have it in the US, since deaths are not that high, presumably. Does it in fact cause the cancer? Anyhow Hepatitis C is worth checking into certainly although you mistook the claim, it seems, since it was for liver cancer not Hep-C.

    The new agent is a so-called antisense drug that binds to RNA required by the virus for replication, preventing the virus from proliferating in the liver. Preliminary tests suggest that the drug, called SPC3649, has no toxic side effects, does not allow development of resistance — which plagues other hepatitis drugs — and has lasting effects after treatment has stopped…

    An estimated 170 million people worldwide, and 3 million to 4 million Americans, have chronic hepatitis C infections. The persistent infections produce scarring of the liver, or cirrhosis, and frequently lead to liver cancer, which is the most rapidly increasing cause of cancer death in the United States, according to virologist Robert E. Lanford of the Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research in San Antonio, Texas. Life expectancy is a year after diagnosis, he said.

    Back to the Big Bang 2.0

    Unfortunately, we still have to assess the correct risk of the CERN machine to 6 billion lives before turning to this forbidding topic. “Recreating” the beginning of the universe seems rash, to say the least, but this is what one scientist there is now insisting is the right way to characterize the adventure.

    That gives even us pause, gung ho though we are to switch on anything this big to see what happens. Another post is called for even though the response of this normally skeptical community seems largely inert. Where is Robert Houston, for instance, whose posted Comments at Science, Nature and now the London Times seem very well informed and unimpressed with CERN’s safety reassurances?

    eg at Nature News:

    The theme of a scientist at the LHC being connected to a terrorist group was portrayed last Spring in the movie “Angels and Demons.” The single scientist as terrorist story may be misleading, however, for it implies that CERN’s leaders are blameless, i.e., “Angels.”

    But in terms of potential threats to the planet, CERN’s management may itself function as a terrorist group far more dangerous than Al Quaeda, for they are subjecting France, Switzerland and the world to the risk of damage on a Holocaust scale through the potential generation of black holes and strangelets by the LHC. Some scientists, such as physicist Rainer Plaga, PhD (at arXiv.org) and Prof. Otto Rossler (see pdf at wissennavigator) have warned against the reckless game of Russian roulette that CERN is playing with our lives.
    Robert Houston

    21 Oct, 2009 Posted by: Robert Houston

    “But in terms of potential threats to the planet, CERN’s management may itself function as a terrorist group far more dangerous than Al Quaeda, for they are subjecting France, Switzerland and the world to the risk of damage on a Holocaust scale through the potential generation of black holes and strangelets by the LHC.”

    Seriously? No one with any credibility takes these supposed “threats” seriously. The earth is bombarded constantly by particles orders of magnitude more powerful than anything the LHC can create. Every second of everyday. To compare the scientists at CERN to Al Quida is disingenuous, dishonest and downright rude!

    23 Oct, 2009 Posted by: Ian Brooks

    My earlier comment quoted by Ian Brooks should have been better qualified. I would like to note that the leaders of CERN are no doubt well-motivated by good intentions to further scientific progress. They are in no sense conspiratorial or malicious. My comment was only concerned with the possibility of unintended adverse consequences from potential phenomena produced at the LHC.

    Are cosmic ray particles striking the Earth’s atmosphere the same as protons collided at the LHC? Some scientists note a crucial differerence: if micro black holes were formed in direct collisions in the collider, some would be slowed to below the Earth’s escape velocity and linger, whereas the products of cosmic rays would speed off harmlessly at nearly light-speed. The cosmic ray argument has thus been shifted to dense neutron stars and white dwarf stars, but critics (such as Plaga) point to holes in each example. A safety conference including all sides should be called.

    29 Oct, 2009

  8. Truthseeker Says:

    The physicist Michio Kaku on WBAI runs a standard LHC defense in his hour on WBAI today, in NYC, as a good string theorist is bound to do. According to Kaku, there is no need to worry, because the LHC is a “tiny pea shooter compared with Mother Nature”, who sends far more powerful beams shooting through the Earth every day etc etc. In other words, “don’t quit your day job, children”, advises Kaku, who evidently hasn’t heard that the cosmic ray argument has been dispensed with by CERN itself, if you read its report carefully. Time for another post clearly, since the same uninformed and breezy dismissals are being included in every instance of media coverage on air and in print.

    Meanwhile, where is Robert Houston? Here are some more posted Comments earlier elsewhere by our colleague in arms for scientific sanity, calling attention to the fact that the thoughtless claims of physicists that all is well and the objections of the alarmists are all dealt with in the CERN safety report are quite misleading, particularly as they ignore Rainer Plaga’s third version which not only puts down the CERN rebuttal to his version 1, noting once again that they chose the wrong equation in supposedly refuting his theoretical analysis, and refining his reply, but also deals with two more rather dubious papers from other sources, as we will show in our next post:

    ===============================================
    On TierneyLab at the NYTimes Sep 29,02008:

    What is the sophisticated view here? Is it to dismiss critics of CERN’s Collider project as fools and accept without question the safety assurances of CERN and its supporters? Or is it to consider seriously the concern of a number of scientists who believe that the project poses a potential threat to pubic safety and even to the viability of the planet? In his eloquent post, John Tierney provided links to three interesting articles to help reassure us all is well. On examination, however, they fail to do so.

    * Ronald Bailey’s article in Reason actually dwelled on an analyst’s specification of a number of ways in which a safety assessment such as CERN’s could be flawed.

    * Dennis Overbye’s article in the Times on Sept. 8th mentions that there have been several safety reports and that the director of CERN has said, “The LHC is safe.” Mr. Overbye notes that “There are many theories about what will happen..” and adds, “But nobody knows for sure…”

    In a previous Times article (3/29/08), reporter Overbye astutely harpooned CERN’s major safety argument: that the Collider beams are comparable to cosmic rays.

    “What is different, physicists admit, is that the fragments from cosmic rays will go shooting harmlessly through the Earth at nearly the speed of light, but anything created when the beams meet head-on in the collider will be born at rest relative to the laboratory and so will stick around and thus could create havoc.” (Dennis Overbye, “Asking a Judge to Save the World… ” NY Times, 3/29/08.)

    * Mr. Tierney’s third citation, the 2005 paper by Tegmark and Bostrom, depended heavily on the the same false comparison with cosmic rays. In addition, their calculations presupposed that there had been no major disaster in the solar system. This is questionable, however, for some scientists have theorized that the asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter constitutes remnants of a small planet that met with an unknown cataclysm.

    Thus, the three Tierney citations are far from reassuring. Other scientitsts have brought suit in the European Court of Human Rights to try to block CERN from procceding with its reckless “Big Bang” experiments.

    –Robert Houston

    On Science Insider at Science:

    By Robert Houston on October 20, 2009 1:50 AM:
    To start collisions at half the LHC’s design maximum is not being “on the safe side,” for it’s nearly four times Fermilab’s world record. Safety is now being considered only in relation to the physical instrument and not the environment or planet. Yet in the past year the safety rationales set up by CERN’s in-house theorists have been put in serious doubt by some outside physicists. In particular, a recent revised paper by physicist Rainer Plaga, Ph.D. – at ArXiv.org Version 3 – disputes CERN’s “cosmic ray” safety arguments and argues that these do not rule out the LHC’s production of “metastable quantum-black holes” that could release enormous thermonuclear energy potentially devastating CERN and parts of France and Switzerland.
    Robert Houston

    By Robert Houston on November 3, 2009 9:27 PM:
    Most reporters covering the LHC have behaved like handmaidens to CERN’s PR office. Dan Clery has been one of the few to take objective note of scientific opposition to the collider.

    The idea that “the black holes would quickly decay” is based on a theory of Hawking radiation, which lacks evidence and is disputed by respected physicists such as Helfer (2008) and Belinski (2006). Others calculate that an LHC-produced micro black hole could survive for extended periods and become “metastable” (Casadio and Harms, 2002). These analyses were excluded from CERN’s safety review. So was the “3rd Scenario” from physicist Rainer Plaga involving the limited growth of metastable black holes that “emit Hawking radiation that might be dangerous to Earth as a whole or the inhabitants of CERN and its surroundings” (at: ArXiv.org Version 3 ).

    Mr. Clery provided a link to an LHC safety review and wrote, “the main argument…has been that collisions of similar energies happen daily…as cosmic rays slam into atoms in the air…” But regarding neutral “microsopic black holes,” CERN’s safety report now admits (7th par.), “Those produced by cosmic rays would pass harmlessly through the Earth into space, whereas those produced by the LHC could remain on Earth.” (As in a car crash, the LHC’s head-on collisions result in a slowdown.) The cosmic ray argument thus has been relocated to dense neutron stars which, as Plaga notes, are protected by powerful magnetic fields.

    With the its safety rationales in serious doubt, this dangerous project, which threatens the very future of the world, should be halted at once.
    Robert Houston

    By Robert Houston on November 20, 2009 11:57 PM:
    The 70-page complaint by ConCERNed International against CERN’s LHC project was filed today, Nov. 20, 2009, at the Human Rights Committee of the U.N. in Geneva, Switzerland. See the press release: http://www.concerned-international.com/

    The previous two-page comment from readers in India exemplifies common types of defense by LHC supporters. The Indians write that the formation of a “micro blackhole” by the collider “would be rather a thrilling” occurrence, and that “it would also be perfectly safe.” Thus, thrill-seeking is posited as an adequate reason for risking the planet, and blanket reassurance is the simple answer to serious scientific concerns. Such an attitude may be well-meaning and widespread but amounts to reckless negligence.

    Ironically, the only study they cited for such reassurance is one by Casadio et al. early this year, which raised alarm in the scientific community by concluding that micro black holes from the LHC could survive for minutes or more (see: ArXivblog ). This contradicted CERN’s usual claim, echoed by Science Insider, that they’d evaporate in a trillionth of a second from Hawking radiation, even though it has been disputed by some prominent physicists.

    On the other hand, if real, Hawking radiation from semi-stable micro black holes could itself pose a serious danger, a 3rd scenario ignored by CERN but developed in a brilliant paper from a former group leader of the Max Planck Institute for Physics. In a new appendix to his recently revised paper – at http://arxiv.org/abs/0808.1415v3 – Rainer Plaga critiques the 2009 Casadio study, noting that it excluded without reason plausible parameter values that could result in catastrophic growth of a micro black hole produced by the LHC.

    By Robert Houston on November 22, 2009 12:01 AM
    The international complaint against CERN’s LHC doomsday machine was filed on Nov. 20, 2009, at the Human Rights Committee of the U.N. in Geneva, Switzerland. The press release and 73 page document are available at the first link in Daniel Clery’s article.

    The preceding two-page comment from readers in India suggests that the formation of a “micro blackhole” by the collider “would be rather a thrilling” occurrence, and that “it would also be perfectly safe.” Thus, thrill-seeking is posited as an adequate reason for risking the planet, and blanket reassurance is the simple answer to serious scientific concerns. Such an attitude may be well-meaning and widespread – especially at CERN – but amounts to reckless overconfidence.

    Every safety assumption for the LHC, such as those that Clery relays, have been put in serious doubt by recent studies, as is well-documented in the human rights complaint just filed. Ironically, the only study cited by the Indian commentators for their reassurance is one by Casadio et al. early this year, which raised alarm in the scientific community by concluding that micro black holes from the LHC could survive for minutes or more. This contradicted CERN’s usual claim, echoed by Science Insider, that they’d evaporate in a trillionth of a second from Hawking radiation, even though such radiation has never detected in the black holes in space and has been disputed by some prominent physicists, including Belinski (2006), Helfer (2003), and Unruh and Schutzhold (2004).

    On the other hand, if real, Hawking radiation from micro black holes could pose a serious danger of global warming and widespread destruction, a 3rd scenario ignored by CERN but developed in an important paper from a former group leader of the Max Planck Institute for Physics. In a new appendix to his revised paper at the physics website Arxiv.org, Rainer Plaga critiques the 2009 Casadio study, noting that it excluded without reason plausible parameter values that could result in “catastrophic growth” of some micro black holes produced by the LHC.

    By Robert Houston on November 23, 2009 12:54 AM
    Contrary to the statement by CERN’s publicist Mr. Gillies, two of the arguments by collider critics in recent years were conceded as essentially valid – not “baseless” – by CERN’s June 2008 safety report. First of all, it deviated from their previous safety report in 2003 by acknowledging that new theories made the production of microscopic black holes by the LHC a plausible possibility.

    Secondly, CERN has conceded that there is a crucial difference of velocity between possible black holes created by cosmic rays versus those at the LHC. As stated in CERN’s own public report on “The Safety of the LHC” (linked at the end of Mr. Cho’s article), under “Microscopic black holes” (3rd paragraph): “Those produced by cosmic rays would pass harmlessly through the Earth into space, whereas those produced by the LHC could remain on Earth.”

    Consequently, CERN’s theorists had to relocate the cosmic ray argument to dense neutron stars and white dwarf stars, but critics have pointed out various holes in such examples. Several are specified in the 73-page complaint just filed, which presents a powerful and well-documented indictment of CERN’s safety review.

    The 90 page text-dump on this thread by the rude poster called “Global Alliance” is way off topic and never even mentions the LHC or CERN. It is an egregious abuse of the posting privilege at Science. Readers are advised to scroll to the end to read the trenchant and probing comments by philosopher of science Luis Sancho and a foremost risk assessment expert, Prof. Mark Leggett.

    On the Huffington Post:

    e-Creating Creation, Take 2: The Large Hadron Collider Fires Up Again
    Commented Nov 27, 2009 at 03:14:14 in World
    “Ali Rizvi has provided a better-than-average version of the standard journalistic approach to those who warn of public or planetary dangers: the LOL technique. The worse the described danger, the more light-hearted is the air of gaiety. The implication, of course, is that sophisticated readers should take none of the possible dangers seriously.
    To reassure us, the writer quotes the preamble to CERN’s public safety report equating the LHC beams with cosmic rays. This is undermined, however, later in the CERN document, where it states under Microscopic Black Holes that, “Those produced by cosmic rays would pass harmlessly through the Earth into space, whereas those produced by the LHC could remain on Earth.”
    The 73-page complaint filed against CERN at the UN is well-documented and developed by international scientific and legal experts, It makes a devastating case that the LHC is the most dangerous project in human history and that CERN – without regulation or oversight – is betting the planet on the basis of flimsy and misleading safety assumptions.”

    Also, on natureblogs at The Great Beyond:

    Actually, the name of the international group that filed the human rights complaint regarding CERN’s LHC project is even more clever than your 3rd paragraph suggests. “ConCERNed” stands for the Committee on CERN Experimental Dangers. Their 73-page complaint presents a well-documented indictment of the inadequacies of CERN’s safety review.

    Posted by: Robert Houston | November 23, 2009 04:30 AM

    At the Times of London Times OnLine:

    Mark Henderson wrote that physicist Michio Kaku put the “chance that the LHC could produce a black hole” as comparable to the “chance that it could produce a fire-breathing dragon.”

    But Prof. Kaku used the dragon joke only to illustrate the idea that “there is a tiny chance that anything will occur.” What he also wrote in his June 2008 Guardian article was that “the LHC is expected, at best, to create mini black holes at the rate of one per second…”

    Some scientists are appalled by this prospect, including those who developed the well-documented 73-page complaint to the UN against CERN. Moreover, a recently expanded paper by physicist Rainer Plaga, PhD – at http://arxiv.org/abs/0808.1415v3 – rebuts CERN’s safety theorists and shows how Hawking radiation emitted by semi-stable micro black holes produced at the LHC could imperil France and Switzerland and even the entire planet.

    POSTED BY: ROBERT HOUSTON | 28 NOV 2009 10:42:22
    ============================================

    Certainly the dragon analogy is a patronizing putdown which doesn’t hold up logically, but the key issue which Houston is emphasizing time and again is that Rainer Plaga’s paper Version 3 is going unread when it contains what seems to be a perfectly valid theoretical analysis which tells us we should be concerned, and one that should be addressed successfully by CERN apologists in a serious manner, and not dismissed lightly by the horde of hacks celebrating the greatest machine ever built in the history of the world, which is going to recreate the moment the universe was created a trillionth of a second after the Big bang, a prospect which surely should give pause to anyone who contemplates it.

    As Michio Kaku himself has put it,

    God. By whatever signs or symbols you ascribe to the deity. This machine, the supercollider, will take us as close as humanly possible to his or her greatest creation, genesis. This is a genesis machine, designed to study the greatest event in all history: the birth of the universe.”

    A vast machine, in all its beauty, which is going to mimic the Godlike power of Nature herself as she created the universe, Yes, Sir, but let’s be aware that there may well be some risk involved.

    Of course, our own attitude is entirely parallel to the seven thousand or so irresponsible schoolboys who are driving this exciting prospect of tearing the very fabric of space and time, in that we cannot imagine not going ahead to whatever extreme this fantastic construction can take us. If it is built, it must run.

    But we also are prepared for those more responsible in their attitude to the future of 6 billion men women and children who point out that perhaps they should have a say in the matter.

    We will post shortly a full account of where things stand, and how irresponsible and childish is the performance of the media once again in a matter of some consequence in science.

  9. Robert Houston Says:

    Thank you, Truthseeker, for your excellent overview of CERN’s ghastly, giant LHC project, which is credibly viewed by some scientists as a potential doomsday machine.

    The psychologist Erich Fromm warned of the danger of the Technological Imperative, aptly described by Truthseeker: “if it is built, it must run.” As Fromm put it, “Technological civilization is programmed by the principle that something ought to be done because it is technologically possible. If it is possible to build nuclear weapons, they must be built, even if they might destroy us all. Once this principle is accepted, humanist values…are dethroned and technological development becomes the foundation of ethics.”

    It’s obvious that potentially dangerous technology needs to be held in check by regulation and oversight, yet this is what is so sorely lacking in the LHC. Instead, a self-interest group of particle physicists is allowed to threaten the future of the planet for the sake of the their extremely selfish pursuits of career opportunities, awards and recognition, and curiosity-seeking.

    I appreciate the collection of my comments which was included on this thread, but they must be rather confusing to the reader as they’re out of context. My frequent mention of Plaga’s paper and inclusion of the link to its 3rd version Abstract was to call it to the attention of readers, scientists, and editors, for – except for one mention in Science in Sept. 2008 – this major challenge by Plaga to CERN’s safety review has been ignored by the scientific press and by virtually the entire print media (except for a Canadian newspaper last year). I do not know that it is not being read – the problem is that it is being ignored, despite that fact that it makes a plausible case that the LHC is potentially threatening very much on the order of the movie 2012, even if it does not produce a black hole that consumes the Earth.

    Plaga, however, did not discuss the strangelet scenario, except to mention a paper that does so. Other scientists suggested that the production of stranglets by the LHC could “turn the earth into a smoking asteroid the size of a football pitch,” as Truthseeker stated.

    Thanks again for this a great article, Truthseeker – truly the most important article that ever appeared at this website, and one of the most important ever to appear on the worldwide web.

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