• 06 JAN 10
    • 0

    #1187: The Hadron Collider controversy

    I have keep well away from giving an opinion on the Hadron Collider controversy for several reasons. Besides being off-topic for this list, scare talk about the creation of a Black Hole gobbling up the Earth like a cosmic PacMan seems just too ridiculous to even consider and better left to the Evangelical end-of-worlders to play with.

    However, there is much more to this issue that what I first thought and I highly recommend having a read of the excellent physics arXiv blog available through MIT’s Technology Review online publication.


    From Technology Review (MIT):


    The physics arXiv blog

    The Case Of The Collider And The Great Black Hole
    Posted: 04 Jan 2010 09:10 PM PST

    The physicists have had their say. Now a legal study asks how a court might handle a request to halt a multi-billion-dollar particle-physics experiment. The analysis makes for startling reading

    For particle physicists, the Large Hadron Collider is a long-awaited dream that has finally come true. The LHC should supply a steady stream of data for the community to number crunch and that should lead to some fundamental new insights into the nature of the Universe. It also guarantees jobs and careers for a generation of physicists around the world.

    But there is another group who say that CERN, the organisation that has built and runs the collider, has not done enough to re-assure the world that the work is safe. The fear is that the collider can produce black holes that might gobble up the Earth. Various legal actions have failed to halt the work, not because of the scientific or safety issues involved, but because of problems of jurisdiction. CERN has an immunity from court action in its member states and a US court action in Hawaii found that it did not have the jurisdiction to proceed.

    Today, we get an fascinating new perspective on the issue from Eric Johnson, an assistant professor of law at the University of North Dakota School of Law in Grand Forks. Johnson asks what a court should do with a preliminary-injunction request to halt a multi-billion-dollar particle-physics experiment that plaintiffs claim could create a black hole that will devour the planet.

    This is a problem, he says, that has all the hallmarks of a law-school classic. And to give him his due, it’s certainly a gripping read.

    Johnson begins with an account of the history of the debate behind the science and its safety. This is worth a read by itself because Johnson writes with flare, clarity and an excellent grasp of the issues that scientists grapple with. He is not a physicist but uses his journey of understanding as a way of benchmarking how a court might come to grips with the issues involved.

    Having set the scene, he then introduces the unique legal problems that this cases presents. “The enormity of the alleged harm and the extreme complexity of the scientific factual issues combine to create seemingly irreducible puzzles of jurisprudence,” says Johnson.

    For example, one problem that a court might have to deal with is the expert witness. The problem here is one of independence. There is a huge amount at stake for these witnesses. On the one hand, an injunction would threaten the career of almost any particle physicist who gave evidence. On the other hand, there is the threat to the Earth.

    “The experts are either afraid for their livelihoods or afraid for their lives,” writes Johnson.

    SNIP : Go to link above to access full article

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