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Large Hadron Collider Sparks 'Doomsday' Lawsuit 731

smooth wombat writes "In what can only be considered a bizarre court case, a former nuclear safety officer and others are suing the U.S. Department of Energy, Fermilab, the National Science Foundation and CERN to stop the use of the LHC (Large Hadron Collider) until its safety is reassessed. The plaintiffs cite three possible 'doomsday' scenarios which might occur if the LHC becomes operational: the creation of microscopic black holes which would grow and swallow matter, the creation of strangelets which, if they touch other matter, would convert that matter into strangelets or the creation of magnetic monopoles which could start a chain reaction and convert atoms to other forms of matter. CERN will hold a public open house meeting on April 6 with word having been spread to some researchers to be prepared to answer questions on microscopic black holes and strangelets if asked."
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Large Hadron Collider Sparks 'Doomsday' Lawsuit

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  • by i_liek_turtles ( 1110703 ) on Thursday March 27, 2008 @06:41PM (#22887474)
    Captain Zapp Brannigan: We'll just set a new course for that empty region over there, near that blackish, holeish thing.
  • Obligatory (Score:5, Funny)

    by bondsbw ( 888959 ) on Thursday March 27, 2008 @06:41PM (#22887480)
    xkcd []
  • Not this again... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Ethan Allison ( 904983 ) <> on Thursday March 27, 2008 @06:42PM (#22887496) Homepage
    I smell FUD. It says in the article that most scientists dismiss the whole doomsday machine theory.
    • by ShieldW0lf ( 601553 ) on Thursday March 27, 2008 @06:51PM (#22887580) Journal
      The reason they're doing the experiment is because they don't know what will happen.

      Any scientists who say that they know one way or another what will happen are not scientists at all.

      Scientific experiments that aren't surrounded by uncertainty and doubt are not much use in removing uncertainty, are they?
      • by node 3 ( 115640 ) on Thursday March 27, 2008 @07:15PM (#22887858)

        Scientific experiments that aren't surrounded by uncertainty and doubt are not much use in removing uncertainty, are they?
        Well, that's the UD of FUD, but this whole episode centers really around the F.

        While the whole point of any experiment is to generally know the unknown, to clarify the doubt, there are still expected ranges of outcomes. For example, while you might not know what will happen if you feed your adult dog Puppy Chow, you can be fairly confident it's not going to turn him into a cat.

        Likewise, while the people at CERN may not know if they'll get mini black holes, they can be fairly sure the sorts of dangers they pose, which are "none".

        My understanding of the LHC is that it doesn't do anything that doesn't already happen on Earth already. The main difference is that instead of the mini black holes being created by cosmic rays in the upper atmosphere where we can't study them, they are happening right inside of a controlled scientific device, which is the ideal place to study them.

        Am I to believe that the energies and particles involved are beyond what happens on/in the sun, or when the Earth is bombarded by radiation from space, or inside of an H-bomb explosion? If so, that's quite amazing.
  • Hawking Radiation (Score:5, Insightful)

    by thesilverfox06 ( 999188 ) on Thursday March 27, 2008 @06:45PM (#22887512)
    So what if it creates microscopic black holes? They'd dissipate in a fraction of a second. []
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 27, 2008 @06:46PM (#22887518) []

    I havent seen any massive blackholes emerge and gobble up the sun or solar system. How the hell would the puny LHC be able to do it?

    The jerks suing are just trying to make a name for themselves.

  • Hold on... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 27, 2008 @06:46PM (#22887524)
    Hold on, haven't we been bombarded by even higher energy particles from space for billions of years now without us, or for that matter the world (as in the rest of all visible matter) turning into a black hole?
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      Yes. The upper limit of the LHC [], using heavy ions like lead, is on the order of 10^15eV in a collision. Ultra-high-energy cosmic rays [] can have energies of 10^20eV and higher, far beyond anything we will ever be able to create on Earth, and yet we're alive.

      When they build a particle accelerator out of the asteroid belt, call me and we can panic together :)
  • by supabeast! ( 84658 ) on Thursday March 27, 2008 @06:46PM (#22887530)
    What happens if an escaping convict accidentally wanders into the collider, gains super powers, and tries to take over the world?
  • ICE-9 anyone? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by hguorbray ( 967940 ) on Thursday March 27, 2008 @06:50PM (#22887570)
    Well -they were afraid when they detonated the first above ground nuke as well -thought they might torch the atmosphere, but they did it anyway -better dead than.......?'s_Cradle [] []

    I'm just sayin'
  • idiots! (Score:5, Informative)

    by wizardforce ( 1005805 ) on Thursday March 27, 2008 @06:51PM (#22887578) Journal
    there's never any attempt at understanding the physics of any of this, it's just a nice way to scare people who don't know any better. never mind the fact that cosmic rays hit the atmosphere all the time with at least the amount of energy the LHC is going for- you'd think that over billions of years if there was ever a time for strangelets and blackholes to kill us all it would have happened by now.
  • by EjectButton ( 618561 ) on Thursday March 27, 2008 @06:52PM (#22887594)
    I think we can all agree that even if it does end the world it would be an even greater crime to build a machine that big and then not turn it on. I would rather be converted into strangelets than living in THAT world.
  • 10 year old news... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by calebb ( 685461 ) on Thursday March 27, 2008 @07:00PM (#22887676) Homepage Journal []

    "Within 24 hours, the laboratory issued a rebuttal: the risk of such a catastrophe was essentially zero"
    • "...the risk of such a catastrophe was essentially zero"

      While I'm not one of the doomsdayers, I do have to ask how these statistics are created, and what bullshit statements like "essentially zero" mean. For example, if "essentially zero" means that 0.00000000000000000001% of the particles cause black holes, then there could be millions of said black holes in the reactor. Does it mean that there's a 0.00000000000000000001% chance that two or more mini black holes would be close enough to cross event horizo

  • by diewlasing ( 1126425 ) on Thursday March 27, 2008 @07:01PM (#22887684)
    Just to preface this; I'm a 3ed year undergrad student in physics on track to get a PhD in high energy physics. That being said, I spoke with my professor about this, he explained to me that the formation of world swallowing black holes is so small is negligible. He explained to me (if I remember correctly) that high energy cosmic rays have been bombarding the Earth for billions of years, at much higher energies than the LHC could ever produce. If these world-ending things were to form they would have already, long before humans were around and we wouldn't be here to study these fascinating phenomenon.
  • by OSU ChemE ( 974181 ) on Thursday March 27, 2008 @07:02PM (#22887700) Journal
    Will they be distributing them at the open house meeting? Perhaps that will calm those worried about the doomsday scenarios.
  • by RobinH ( 124750 ) on Thursday March 27, 2008 @07:02PM (#22887702) Homepage
    Could this explain why we haven't found the universe teeming with extra terrestrial life? Every civilization becomes more and more advanced, then starts doing more and more powerful experiments, and thinks, "the chance of destroying our planet is really slight... we're perfectly safe going ahead with this." Then, poof!
  • by 99BottlesOfBeerInMyF ( 813746 ) on Thursday March 27, 2008 @07:02PM (#22887706)

    As you sow so shall you reap.

    After reading the tenth or twentieth scientific article that interviewed people working on the LHC, that includes some wild speculation about remote possibilities that might come to pass when it comes online... this surprises me not at all. I understand being a bit sensationalist to make a more entertaining article. I understand hyping the potential a bit to help keep that government funding coming in. Still, black holes, strangelets, cascading subatomic events, time travelers finding the earliest point to return to... it was a bit much. Maybe you get promoted in experimental physics by making waves and smoking pot with the boss. The you want your name in a magazine so you spin some half-assed idea as though it was a real possibility. The only problem is, some people listened and are now worried.

    This is why the Manhattan project was top-secret: two out of six physicists think it might destroy the planet... okay those are good odds, let's try it.

  • Vade retro, lawyers! (Score:5, Informative)

    by martin-boundary ( 547041 ) on Thursday March 27, 2008 @07:03PM (#22887724)
    Trial judges and lawyers shouldn't be allowed to dabble in scientific questions. Leave the deciding of risks to real scientists.

    Last time a bunch of lawyers and politicians tried to legislate the value of pi [], they got 3.2.

  • by LoRdTAW ( 99712 ) on Thursday March 27, 2008 @07:03PM (#22887728)
    I remember hearing the same kind of dooms day predictions about RHIC at Brookhaven national labs. Also it was said that some scientists predicted the first atomic bomb would ignite the atmosphere destroying the planet. At any rate none of those doomsday predictions occurred and RHIC has been operating since 2000.
  • by internic ( 453511 ) on Thursday March 27, 2008 @07:16PM (#22887862)

    While this is the first I've heard of lawsuits, the subject of a possible catastrophe due to a new particle accelerator is not a new idea. This has actually been a cycle that's happened a couple of times, IIRC, usually when someone mentions the possibility of black holes (or even AdS-CFT black hole analogues) being created in a new particle accelerator. Scientists have actually thought about this and published a number of papers on the topic. Here are two that came up easily via Google Scholar:

    The latter is freely available on the arXiv. From the conclusion:

    We have shown that the relatively late formation time of Earth implies that life on our planet is highly unlikely to be annihilated by an exogenous catastrophes during the next 109 years. In the case of the doomsday scenar- ios studied in the Brookhaven report [2], our bound also applies to hypothetical anthropogenic disasters caused by high-energy particle accelerators (risks 1-3). This holds because the occurrence of exogenous catastrophes, e.g., resulting from cosmic ray collisions, places an upper bound on the frequency of their anthropogenic counter- parts.

    In short, similar events occur naturally due to highly energetic cosmic rays, so, even if we assume we know almost nothing about the physics of the hypothetical catastrophic event, we can infer from teh fact we're still here that such a catastrophe is very unlikely. Based on this conclusion, and the fairly wide acceptance of that conclusion amongst experts, I think it's safe to say this lawsuit is without merit.

  • by geekoid ( 135745 ) <> on Thursday March 27, 2008 @07:24PM (#22887954) Homepage Journal
    gorg will be rubbing two sticks together next wednesday. He hopes to create a sustainable heat source.

    Mrog, who new gorg as a child, is trying to stop it claiming this 'fire' may ravage the cave.
    Next up, a balanced report on why the wheel should be avoid at all cost due to it's risk.
  • simple answer (Score:3, Interesting)

    by confused one ( 671304 ) on Thursday March 27, 2008 @07:32PM (#22888046)

    This is old news, came up during the design phase of the LHC. I heard a simple common sense based answer:

    If high energy particle accelerators could create particles that could destroy the Earth, then you would see this effect all over the universe. Why, you ask? Because there are natural accelerators everywhere, many of energy much higher than anything we could hope to build on the Earth's surface

  • by Jodka ( 520060 ) on Thursday March 27, 2008 @07:34PM (#22888076)
    Maybe the rarity of intelligent life in the universe does not owe to infrequent arisal. What if the structure of the universe contains a built-in pitfall: the scientific understanding required to build large colliders is far less than that required to anticipate the lethal consequences their operation. Thus, progression of scientific understanding among all technically advanced species leads to self-extermination.
  • On strangelets (Score:5, Insightful)

    by nuzak ( 959558 ) on Thursday March 27, 2008 @07:38PM (#22888122) Journal
    If a strangelet chain reaction were possible, then it wouldn't stop at earth, right? So why haven't we detected any strangelet stars? Heck if one of them went nova, we should be seeing strangelet galaxies, no?
  • by justinlee37 ( 993373 ) on Thursday March 27, 2008 @07:58PM (#22888344)
    Try searching Google Scholar for "large hardon collider." [] You might be surprised.
  • here's the thing (Score:5, Interesting)

    by blair1q ( 305137 ) on Thursday March 27, 2008 @08:05PM (#22888400) Journal
    these are all mythical objects

    1) Microscopic black holes require a matter density higher than elementary particles possess. Ergo, once the microscopic black hole tries to swallow an elementary particle, the elementary particle swallows it, making it no longer a black hole, but just part of the particle's matter, with a true radius larger than its schwarzchild radius. Black Hole Down.

    2) Strangelets? Don't exist. Don't even have a decent theoretical underpinning. You might as well be worried about the production of caloric or magic.

    3) Magnetic monopoles also don't exist. Magnetism is a description of the curvature of electric flux. Imagining a magnetic monopole is like imagining a left with no right, or an up with no down.

    And, honestly, these people have no sense of adventure. The universe will end some day. Why be so arrogant as to insist that it be after you die, solo, from something less interesting?
  • by kpainter ( 901021 ) on Thursday March 27, 2008 @08:14PM (#22888484)
    I found this on Wikipedia (so it must be true). "What came later to be known as "The Black Mesa Incident" was triggered by a seemingly innocuous and routine experiment into teleportation. As part of the Anomalous Materials team in Sector C of the facility, research associate Gordon Freeman introduced a crystalline specimen..." []
  • by GrpA ( 691294 ) on Thursday March 27, 2008 @08:21PM (#22888546)
    If there was any likelyhood of civilisations wiping themselves from existance with the creation of microscopic black holes, then you would expect the universe to be full of black holes where each subsequent civilisation had extinguished itself.

    Now take a look into the night sky... How many black holes do you see?


    So obviously, this is completely safe...

  • by Jah-Wren Ryel ( 80510 ) on Thursday March 27, 2008 @08:23PM (#22888564)
    I am going to wait for the porn version of this experiment.

    The DVD will be called:
    Large Hardon Experiment Goes Interracial!
    Creates black holes and fills them with loads of quarks!
  • Cosmic Rays (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Strider- ( 39683 ) on Thursday March 27, 2008 @08:52PM (#22888824)
    Uh... if this was possible, our planet would never have existed. Cosmic rays whack our atmosphere all the time with far more energy than the LHC could hope to generate. Even if this causes a momentary microscopic black hole, it obviously doesn't matter, since we're still here.
  • by Xest ( 935314 ) on Thursday March 27, 2008 @10:26PM (#22889480)
    I notice from TFA the lawsuit has been filed in Hawaii, as CERN is in Europe surely even a succesful lawsuit could simply be ignored?

    I was under the impression that whilst the US has helped develop the LHC it doesn't actually own it and as such has no control over deciding whether it's allowed to start and stop. Is there something vital the US still brings to the project that could be used to prevent the project starting should the lawsuit be a success?

    I was going to make a comment about how it seems typically American to try and create a lawsuit to shut down something they have no right to try and shutdown (see things like the recent Wikileaks domain fiasco) but in all honesty I'm not sure abuse of the court system is really much less in many European countries now, the only difference being the European countries at least tend to make the sensible judgement on the case even if the case itself is idiotic. With again for example the Wikileaks case the judgement was just simply stupid and the fact the judge had to backtrack so quickly only emphasised the level of idiocy that can occur in some courts. At least cases like this were thrown out in British courts for example: [] []

    Hopefully (un)common sense will similarly prevail and save the day.

At work, the authority of a person is inversely proportional to the number of pens that person is carrying.