Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Ho Hum, Physicist Claims End Is Near, Again!

OK. These days I am struggling through the day to get my work done with a nagging ailment (see Item 7, Number 3 here). So, finding new material for posts on subjects that I am used to writing about has becoming very secondary when I get a free moment. Luckily, I have friends like Cable and Brett (guest blogger extraordinaire) to, as Kristy says, "Poke the monkey."

A couple of days ago, I arrived at work to an email from Brett asking me what I thought about this article. If you don't feel like going through the effort of clicking the link, here is the summary. The international physics community (along with many governments) has gotten together to build the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) on the border between France and Switzerland. Some people including physicist and lawyer (that's a real combination) Walter E. Wagner have filed a lawsuit in Hawaii (somehow this group thinks that the state of Hawaii has jurisdiction over an international accelerator located in Europe). The lawsuit seeks to prevent the facility start up because there is "a significant risk that ... operation of the Collider may have unintended consequences which could ultimately result in the destruction of our planet (emphasis added)." I quote the lawsuit because I couldn't make this stuff up if I wanted to do so.

This would be extremely funny if it was the first time Wagner and his group tried to stop an accelerator from starting up. The Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) at Brookhaven National Laboratory faced an essentially identical lawsuit back in the late 1990's. RHIC overcame that legal challenge and has been operating (or destroying the world depending on your perspective, I guess) since mid-2000.

Perhaps physicists bring this on themselves by being somewhat flippant in the face of grave questions or before world changing experiments. For example, Richard Rhodes (The Making of the Atomic Bomb) tells us that to lighten the mood shortly before the first ever test of a nuclear weapon (Trinity test at White Sands Missile Range), Enrico Fermi offered to take bets from other physicists on whether or not the fission implosion weapon would ignite the atmosphere. He also allowed the side bet as to whether this ignition would just destroy New Mexico or the whole world. None of the physicists really believed that this would happen (a few weeks before Edward Teller had done the calculations anyway), but the soldiers were not so sure of the outcome after listening to the wagers being proferred.

Anyway, my first reaction to these claims of world destruction by physicists is to chuckle whether the prediction is made by giants like Enrico Fermi and Edward Teller or by Lilliputians like Walter Wagner, James Hansen, or Gavin Schmidt. That's what the giants would want while the others will never understand why I am laughing at them.

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By the way, gout is a real b&*^%. Avoid it like the plague if at all possible. I have had trouble walking the last few days because of the pain in my foot.

3 comments:

Josh & Margo said...

I read about this thing the other day and wanted to ask you about and see if you thought it could pose any risk. I wanted to know if I should start stocking up like for Y2K. It seemed like it could do some pretty cool stuff.

Russ said...

Josh,
Particles with more energy than they are producing whizz into the planet everyday. We don't know how some of the highly energetic GCR are produced in nature, but I am pretty darn sure that we aren't going to destroy the planet with the RHIC or LHC. Thanks for always commenting. Did you notice that you are now in the blog list?

Josh & Margo said...

I didn't stock up for Y2K by the way, but I did make fun of the people who did. I feel privileged to be on the blog list.

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