CERN Scientists Receive Death Threats

Anyone following the CERN switch-on in the media may have seen the article in the Telegraph this week about how some physicists have been getting death threats. Brian was quoted as saying, “Anyone who thinks the LHC will destroy the world is a twat.”

As of this writing, teh interwebs is alight with conversations about his quote and – again as of this writing- it’s the fourth most popular Digg. Brian’s been getting requests for interviews from all over the planet.

There are about three people behind these scares. They have no knowledge, but very loud voices. Anyone who has been following blog posts about CERN and the LHC will have seen JTankers pop up everywhere spewing shite. He always refers to the main centre of this crap, the LHC Concerns site.

The other day the “death threats” article was written about there. Brian responded:

Dear all,

I’m quoted in the article posted here as being rather abusive to people who are worried about the LHC – I’d like to clarify!

I certainly don’t think that people who are worried about new scientific endeavors are “tw*ts” ! Skepticism is a valuable and vital part of our society, and one which is perhaps sadly lacking in public debate. For the record, the concerns about LHC are certainly wrong from a scientific perspective – nature is rather more robust than we give her credit for, and nothing we can do at the low energies we can manage at LHC or anywhere else in the foreseeable future will affect us in any way. But – I would always encourage a rational debate about future advances in science, and in that sense I support the goals of this forum.

What I would say is that it is not sensible to hold an opinion in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Whilst I understand that much of the language of particle physics is opaque, there does come a time when it is worth accepting the views of experts. The analogy I would give is the design of aircraft wings – I am happy to trust an expert in aerodynamics to get it right rather than offer my own opinion about what shape they should be. It’s really the case that the particle physics community are sensible, rational human beings who go about their research because they believe that exploring the subatomic world is good for our civilization, not to mention interesting. It is also true that if anyone, including myself, had any doubt about the safety of what we are doing, we would stop immediately. I and all my colleagues consider our personal safety and the safety of our families to be FAR more important than the search for the Higgs particle – indeed, if the risk were even as high as 1 in a billion, or whatever people quote, then I would be campaigning with you to stop it.

But honestly – the case advanced against the LHC is based on the rather loud pronouncements of a couple of people who really do not have the knowledge to make them. This “jtankers” chap who posts all over the place began one statement claiming that we collide particles together at twice the speed of light, and Otto Rossler, whilst clearly a distinguished biochemist, has based his argument on a pretty basic error in General Relativity. Now I am not criticizing these gentlemen for offering an opinion, but wisdom comes from noticing when ones opinion is disproved by evidence. This is the key to science.

So, in summary – I support this forum as a place where skeptical voices can be raised, but skepticism must go hand in hand with rationality. When theories are shown to be false, the correct thing to do is to move on.


Brian Cox.

**EDIT** Brian did a little ‘diary’ piece in the Telegraph this weekend which mentions the ‘twats’ thing.

54 Responses to “CERN Scientists Receive Death Threats”
  1. bruce says:

    That was mischievous of Roger Highfield…. He knew that quote would get Brian into hot water.. There again Roger usually always runs his article by the people he quotes before publishing. So bravo Brian for having kahunas for saying this.

    I think that this shows that Brian not only knows what he is talking about but is passionate and not aloof.

  2. giagia says:

    Yes, of course, Brian approved it! He emailed Roger (who he knows fairly well) this morning to thank him for printing it! Though I *think* it was actually in the Radio Times first.

    Brian doesn’t feel he’s in ‘hot water’ at all, to be honest. He’s fed up with the idiots bombarding him with insane emails day in day out. He’s got a small taste of what Richard Dawkins must have been going through for years. There have also been the Neo Nazis who think Relativity is a Zionist conspiracy who have had a go – saying he’s scum because the ‘Jewish media’ loves him and “I know why, look at his wife!” (implying that I am Jewish… ironically my ancestry is mainly Italian and Croatian, Nazi-loving Catholic fascists in WWII…).

    ‘Fame’ is not a barrel of laughs.

  3. James says:

    Fantastic! Absolutely fantastic!!! I can’t see how Brian could have put it any better.

    Maybe it would be a good idea to Brian’s programme ‘The Big Bang Machine’ up on the web somewhere? As a public relations exercise, I think it could be very successful.

  4. bruce says:

    Well we all know what a twat is…I just wonder if it was the appropriate dismissive. Calling them ignorant is more accurate but less newsworthy..

    So all in al,l mission accomplished if the world’s media sit up an listen.

    Hmmm. “Fame”…. I wanna live forever!

  5. giagia says:

    James, can I ask you this: why are people who predict the end of the world and spread fear and lies based PURELY on what they BELIEVE to be happening any different from religious people who do similar kinds of things because they BELIEVE in something they call ‘God’? Both groups willfully ignore the evidence in favour of their BELIEF.

    Honestly. It’s OK to say that people who think the LHC is going to destroy the world are ignorant idiots, but I *can’t* say that about religious people who think that God is telling them to go war in Iraq?

    Come on. Clear thinking here, kid.

  6. giagia says:

    Bruce, ah, but it’s funnier, isn’t it? ;) As you know, I am very sweary. So is Brian. If anyone ever heard what we are like when we are on our own… it’s like a couple of Marines with Tourette’s round our house.

  7. James says:

    ‘Honestly. It’s OK to say that people who think the LHC is going to destroy the world are ignorant idiots, but I *can’t* say that about religious people who think that God is telling them to go war in Iraq?’

    I could see that question forming on your lips as I was typing my reply.
    May I ask, what is your view on atheists who support the war in Iraq? Why didn’t you ask:

    ‘Honestly. It’s OK to say that people who think the LHC is going to destroy the world are ignorant idiots, but I *can’t* say that about people who support the war in Iraq?’

    What makes atheist beliefs so special that they are allowed to support the war in Iraq?

    With the the risk of presenting a mere contradiction instead of an actual argument (great Monty Python clip btw), I never actually said that people who support the war in Iraq aren’t ignorant idiots. ANYONE who supports the war in Iraq, or any war for that matter, IS an ignorant idiot. That statement applies to both theists and atheists equally because although both will have different beliefs, their actions are ultimately the same.

    All of the above aside though, I think the LHC situation is seperate form the issue of religion. For example, Neo Nazis who think Relativity is a Zionist conspiracy having a go has nothing to do with religion and everything to do with racism. But mainly, it’s just annoying that people are not willing to listen to the scientists on this issue. It’s not as if they’re building nuclear weapons, it’s an entirely peaceful experiment which betters us as all as human beings. Like Brian said, nothing of this magnitude has been attempted since man first walked on the Moon.

    And yet just like the Moon landings, there are inevitably conspiracy theorists out there who just won’t let go. I think the sense of self-importance that comes with being “the only one who isn’t blind to the truth” must be too addictive. That jtankers guy is having his/her 15 minutes of fame. In their mind, they believe that they are correct and that the several thousand physicists and engineers connected to the LHC are all wrong. That is just pig-ignorant, selfish human emotion. I’m not even sure they believe what they are saying, they’re just addicted to the temporary ‘underdog hero’ status they’ve gained. It’d be fine if it didn’t rely on Brian and others being made out as crazed, arrogant scientists stuck in their ivory tower without a care for the rest of the human race. People are now even resorting to personal attacks against you Gia just for being Brian’s flipping wife! That’s just plain unfair, although it is to be expected.

    What’s really frustrating is that the same people that don’t trust particle physicists will be the same people that worship “nutritionists” and who buy “scientifically proven” anti-wrinkle creams. Ignorance is bliss I suppose.

  8. David Gerard says:

    I have a theory about all this.

    (My other theory is that the Westboro Baptist Church misheard the name as Large Hardon Collider, but that’s a line of thought I’m refraining from developing.)

  9. The world of physics needs more guys like Brian. In the research system, many physicists are so “into” their subject, keeping their heads down with little concern for public opinion – this is no good for public relations. Brian has a fantastic mix of wit, sarcasm and positive drive that makes him immune to sounding even remotely offensive, I’ve never known a guy who is so genuinely enthusiastic about his subject without sounding stuffy or boring. I wish I had half the ability Brian has to communicate physics to the world – his no-nonsense style will definitely win him many fans.

    He is right, there needs to be more trust in the particle physicists who are working on the LHC, these guys have devoted their lives to the safety of accelerator physics. Unfortunately, in the current climate of blame and media hype, physicists have to work disproportionately hard at making the cutting-edge physics experiment transparent to the public. And this is what Brian has been doing. An outstanding physicist and public speaker, very rare! Definitely a guy I’d love to work with.

    Thank you Gia for posting this, I’ve gotten the word out too:

    Best wishes, Ian

  10. (PS. There’s been no word from JTankers yet… I think he may have run out of steam. I miss my daily spam updates from him on my website…)

  11. Alex says:

    There is justification for the war in Iraq. There is justification for U.S. forces stationed on bases all over the globe. There is justification for all the weapons we develop and make. There is justification for the soldiers who are trained to kill and die for the nation.

    It is just that most people are not privy to the real justifications.

    People are sheep. Give them bread and entertainment. Give them enough education and knowledge so they become good consumers.

    There is your real truth.

  12. madge says:

    Well said Brian and Gia. The scientific community need more folks like you guys. As the late great George Carlin said “A twats a twat and that’s that” These doomsayers will huff and puff and then once Wednesday has come and gone and the planet is still here they will shuffle on to the next nonexistant threat to life as we know it. 2012 anyone?

  13. madge says:

    The BBC seem to be giving the LHC some really good coverage. I just found this on BBC News website.

    It’s a pretty good introduction to the experiment, how it works and what it hopes to do (not a patch on Brian’s Big Bang Machine programme of course : )

  14. giagia says:

    James, Hitchens supports the war in Iraq. I don’t agree with him, but his reasons are not fundamentally based on superstitions. So, perhaps instead of the war I could have said, ‘Creationism in schools.’

    The issue is, of course, that at the moment our society seems to think that everyone’s opinion is of equal value. The Daily Mail article about the LHC this week is an example of that. There is the whole of the physics establishment on one side that knows categorically that the world won’t be destroyed by the LHC and on the other hand there are 3 ill-informed and ignorant people who think it will. In the interest of ‘balance’, some journalists think that it’s important to *mention* the views of these whackos… By doing that they are giving validity to those people as if the uninformed beliefs of 3 people are *equal* to the knowledge and experience of the whole of the physics establishment.

    That is wrong.

    Just as it is wrong for anyone to give validity to the ‘opinions’ of Creationists or Armies for Jesus simply because ‘we can’t be seen to offend their beliefs’.

    The attitude that “everyone has the right to be listened to” is bullshit.

    James, you should realise that I am doing you a favour by ‘listening’ to you.

  15. Hugh says:

    James, you seem to have slightly misinterpreted Gia’s comment that you quoted at the top of your post.

    You appear to have substituted “religious people who think that God is telling them to go war in Iraq” for “religious people who support the war in Iraq”.

    Now, without wanting to get into the right and wrongs of the war in Iraq, I personally think that, as long as they’ve considered it based on what we know about Iraq and the reasons that the US gave for going there in the first place, then they have every right to their opinion, whether they are religious or not. What Gia was getting at, though, was the people who have *not* considered it, and just support the war because “God is telling them to”. (Or, more likely, because their pastor is telling them that God is telling them to, seeing as I’m highly sceptical that God tells anyone anything)

  16. Adam Higgs-Boson says:

    JTankers? You sure you got the spelling right there? I’m thinking you’ve got a ‘T’ where you should have a ‘W.’

    Otherwise, keep up the good work! 8-)

  17. Ricardus says:

    Wow. Some people!

    Everywhere we look there is evidence to support the fears of the “twats.” One out of every ten Star Trek The Next Generation episodes had rips in the fabric of space/time, and interdimensional vortexes opening up… particularly in the episodes with the meddling Wesley Crusher.

    Super Androids routinely visit us from the future to kill people, and we all know what happened when we tried to mess with the Silicon-based-life on LV-426.

    Plus I think politeness goes a long way.

    You’d think the death threats wouldn’t even be necessary, since the scientists who were threatened are going to be killed by the blasted machine, anyway.

  18. sideshowjim says:

    I think for their next experiment, CERN should set up something that they know WILL destroy the world. Then issue demands. Have Paris re-named after Richard Feynman or something.

    THAT’S how you get kinds interested in Science!

  19. nicemandan says:

    Nice one Brian! Putting the Manc back into physics – love it!

  20. masonic boom says:

    Well, that quote certainly got MY attention! It made me do a massive LOL, and then suddenly I went “Hey!”

    Let’s be honest, the whole “ohmigod, it could rewrite science, it could DESTROY THE UNIVERSE” angle that the popular press have been playing has attracted huge amounts of attention – like rollercoasters, even though you know it’s been engineered to within a degree of its life to be totally safe, well the idea that something scary *could* happen… is part of the appeal!

    That is a part of why it’s caught the public imagination so much! Being a little bit scared is fun. Like the most immediately engaging part of high school science was blowing shit up in the lab. It gets people’s attention.

    Still, anyone who sends death threats to scientists over their work is more than just a twat – I’d call them a criminal.

    Anyway, “Duran Duran” or not, look what’s turned up in some of the coverage… tee hee hee

    ::bouncing with excitement for the big (bang) day::

  21. giagia says:

    Masonic Boom- Yay! Your images are BEAUTIFUL!!!

  22. Ciaran says:

    While following all of this with great interest, work has prevented me from jumping in the fray, even when this issue comes up (on my favoured board)!.

    The best that I can relate on this is an exchange that happened at our front door, (while our 10 year old was talking to a friend)

    Friend: Did you hear that the world is going to end Wednesday
    Son: Where did you hear that?
    Friend: My Dad said.
    Son: See you Thursday then!
    kthxbye! :D

    With 15-20 years worth of data, there’s a slim chance I might be able to finish my degree and get myself to the level of pouring into it. Mind you, my son will probably get there before me :)

    All the best for the big day!

  23. mrs sallows says:

    The first comment is a strange one ?
    YES it *could* just well effect the world in some way maybe not untill a long time. So go take the experiment to the moon dig a hole there and FUCK UP you own life. not were im living.

  24. mr ashton says:

    Question : Whats the different between Professor Brian Cox and Bin Laden ?
    Answer : NOTHING !!

    not very funny but it is true .

  25. giagia says:

    “Mr Ashton” ie “Mrs Sallows” (same IP, same email address), but I don’t get it, Brian doesn’t have a beard…

  26. B says:

    “At least I’m challenging the public image of the tweed-clad professoriate, carefully crafting their public pronouncements while strolling through hushed quadrangles beneath dreaming spires.”

    Seriously, kids. A physicist wrote that.

  27. I’m trying to get my head around why it is that scientists are despised by so many people. We are living longer more productive lives. We have the mechanisms to eradicate world hunger . We have the knowledge to assist in combating climate change. Who gave us these tools? Would you rather be dying at 30 because drugs weren’t available to treat you? Perhaps you would like to have an operation without anaesthesia? All these benefits to mankind have been provided, in the most part, by great sacrifice on the part of the scientist that discovered them. If you want these things, then some sacrifice has to be made. Some risk taken. The LHC risk, as stated is infinitesimally small. You stand a significantly higher risk of spontaneously becoming a dog (try Googling that  )!

    Perhaps the only criticism that can be levelled at science is the engagement of the public in these endevours. but as soon as someone comes along who wants to tell us how our money is being spent (very little of your money I hasten to add), we send death threats??? It’s bizzare in the extreme. I was going to comment on Mr Ashtons post but after writing a piece of about 3 pages long decided that perhaps I could condense it into 4 characters. I’ll leave you to guess which those were.

  28. Adam_Y says:

    I heard that the LHC will cause frogs to mutate into giant man-eating amphibians… I have no idea how it does this since I’m not an expert in such things, but it sounds highly plausible given all the films I’ve watched.

    Sorry, I couldn’t resist, everyone seems to be doing it these days.

  29. giagia says:

    Hey, Adam, there’s as much chance that happening as the world being destroyed at the LHC… so don’t take it lightly. ;) Scream it from the rooftops!!! Also, don’t leave your house today because there’s a similar chance that you could set off a series of unlikely events that will result in nuclear war by dinnertime!!! The sky is falling!! The sky is falling!!! Aaaaarrrgghhhhhh !!!!!!

  30. Adam_Y says:

    Careful now, you’ll have the tabloids quoting you on that:

    “A source close to the LHC declares that there is a possibility of nuclear war occuring before dinner”.

  31. Canon Alberic says:

    Ive been following CERN and the LHC (singular international beacons of hope in dark times) for many years and its wonderful to be on the eve of this very great experiment.

    Maynard Keynes as well as famously observing that “In the long run we are all dead” also said “When the facts change. I change my mind. What sir do you do?” to the kind of ignoramous who regards Science as incomprehensible and dangerous; but, typically, has no problems with human behaviour being governed by the alleged utterances of a bronze age sky god.

    Of course the real “problem” will be that “nothing” will appear to
    happen on Wednesday just the slow business of empirical observation. This will not stop the same critics (many of them alas broadcast news media) saying that because the LHC hasnt collapsed space and time or whatever crap the twats have been saying, it hasnt actually “worked”.

  32. giagia says:

    I wouldn’t put it past them. 8-/

  33. This whole apocalyptic saga is reaching unprecedented levels, and my guess is we haven’t heard the last of it…. Until the LHC gets powered at its full potential, we’ll keep hearing all that paranoid crap on and on and on.

    I just thought to share a little something related to search engines.. We have an article on our site that was published a few months back about a lawsuit that was brought up to stop the LHC project.. this article does really well search-engine wise and brings us 1000’s of visitors each week… and the comment we get on this are absolutely ridiculous (I delete most of them)… Tons of crap about the end of the world and the Mayan Calendar.

    Anyways, in the last week, the traffic on this post has kept on going up more and more each day… and unsurprisingly, today is at an all high.

  34. Toby Jones says:

    You know, comments like Mrs Sallows/Ashton’s make me think if the LHC could wipe out existence it might be worth considering.

    Plus, with the Bin Laden comment, surely some sort of 21st century Godwins’ Law ('s_law) should be in effect here?

  35. madge says:

    I came here to say Good Luck tomorrow ( I have BBC Radio 4 tuned in to follow proceedings and will be listening all day while I study) And I saw the Sallows/Ashton comments. Such ignorance is straight out of the Dark Ages. LHC really is the candle of science shining a light on this Demon Haunted World (with apologies to Carl Sagan)

  36. David Gerard says:

    I refrained from refraining to follow that line of thought. I’m so very, very sorry.

  37. StompyDave says:

    “Just as it is wrong for anyone to give validity to the ‘opinions’ of Creationists or Armies for Jesus simply because ‘we can’t be seen to offend their beliefs’.”

    Damn right, and for a brilliant account of the reasons why we only have to turn to the late, great Douglas Adams.

  38. giagia says:

    David Gerard- nice Goatse Black Hole… ;)

  39. Ruby says:

    I am facinated by the research to be done and cannot wait to learn of the truths of our world they will find. Mindblowing what we can do now, isn’t it? I watched a peice on the Today this morn and was surprised to see all the crap that the media is spewing regarding the accelerator! Black hole? Blow up the Earth (in what? 15 months did he say?) Friggin ridiculous! The sky is falling!

    I can’t wait until they see the world is going to keep revolving and life goes on, with much to learn! Thanks to the scientists doing this work! Hoorah!

  40. Adam Higgs-Boson says:

    Can’t help wondering if the LHC hasn’t been sneakily started up ahead of schedule… ;-)

    The Radio 4 news announcer said today that a bank robber had been found guilty in November 2012.

    Time travel anyone?

  41. giagia says:

    Ruby- I was sent a link to a Today article. It starts: “God may have been around before then — but as far as scientists are concerned, the big bang is as far back as they can go.”

    Only in America.

  42. Mark Grant says:

    “God may have been around before then — but as far as scientists are concerned, the big bang is as far back as they can go.”

    This is the point Hawking makes in ‘A Brief History, science has no concern with what happened before the universe started as there is nothing to deal with in reality. Regarding these Death Threats, maybe some people already have made a Micro Black hole but only in their heads. Hawking is also happy to point out that greater particle crashes happen all the time around the edge of space.

    I hope we do make a Black Hole and we all get sucked into it, be the first time I get sucked in years, but it ain’t going to happen.

    Idiot’s talking Bad Science me angry, each day we harm the world with our greed and consumerism, and rather than address these people make up scary fairy tales to blame science for – But this does make me think of all that vast energy and the billions spent to prove that a Higgs Boson doesn’t exist, maybe we should work on the food/air problem first, but maybe these experiments will lead to a solution to a few major problem.

    A religion isn’t in the equation anymore as the Universe is far to complex to have been created by a God, and she knows it!

  43. giagia says:

    Mark- Science isn’t concerned with what happened before the start of the Universe… unless M Theory is correct! ;)

    I found that first sentence so odd as the only place you’d get that sentence preceding and article on science here in the UK is in a religious publication – not on a terrestrial channel’s website! America is far too concerned with ‘God’.

    The actual cost of CERN is tiny as CERN itself is being paid for by the 20 member states based on their GDP and the LHC and experiments are being paid for by over 85 different countries. This means it works out that UK tax payers pay the equivalent of one pint of beer per year towards CERN…

    Last time they had an experiment at CERN they invented the World Wide Web… I don’t think anyone could say that hasn’t improved the world beyond belief…

  44. Mark Grant says:

    Yeah, that WWW is going to be big. But that power consumption is just a small con-CERN, super-cooling, magnets, etc.

    I really think we can’t imagine the technology that will come from such an experiment, it is well worth it and a major historic point of technology, and soon we will surpass their God’s on every level in a few hundred years as a technology race.

    To quote a pop-tune: “Things can only get better”

  45. Mark Grant says:

    PS. Did you see that Bookies offered 666,666,666-1 that there will be no tomorrow – if it goes wrong I’m going to die a rich man!!!!

  46. madge says:

    Just watched the BIG SWICTH ON via BBC News. It was AWESOME! They called it THIS generations Moon Landing and they weren’t kidding. I was so proud of the human race.CONGRATULATIONS to every last one of the scientists and engineers involved. GREAT JOB! And now the REAL work begins.

  47. Mark Grant says:

    Amazing, watched also on BBC, great coverage, bigger than the moon landing – to do something so complexed and enormous without a single glitch, beautiful. Geneva must be beaming even if the locals lights are flickering. I liked the dude who compared the whole experiment to firing a couple of needles from ever side of the Atlantic and trying to get them to meet in the middle – makes putting a man on the moon child’s play. Can’t wait for the new year, when they finally get up to speed.

    We are technology…

  48. masonic boom says:

    Hurrah and exultations!

    So my tax burden for the entirety of CERN is the same as a pint of beer? really? Is that it? Can I please ask that the massive amount of my taxes being wasted on the 2012 Olympics be diverted to CERN, please? Far better value for money!

    I’d *much* rather see people from 85 different countries getting together and cooperating and working for something constructive and productive and celebrating knowledge and science – than the pointless jingoistic displays of the Olympics.

    Here’s a pint of Badger’s Golden Glory for the LHC.

  49. patrice says:

    A friend of mine sent me this article today: This line caught my eye: “Today the white coat of the scientist has supplanted the surplice of the priest as the symbol of authority. ”

    I don’t think that’s true in the slightest. At least not here in the US. I wish it was, but I’m afraid it’s not even close.

  50. patrice says:

    I just posted a comment, which akismet apparently identified as spam. It had a link to a Telegraph article – maybe that’s why? Anyhow. here it is again without the link:

    A friend of mine sent me an article from the Telegraph today (“We must be wary of scientific research”). This line caught my eye: “Today the white coat of the scientist has supplanted the surplice of the priest as the symbol of authority. ”

    I don’t think that’s true in the slightest. At least not here in the US. I wish it was, but I’m afraid it’s not even close.

  51. patrice says:

    oh never mind. I guess the original post got through. Sorry for taking up 3 comments’ space, Gia! Hope you & Brian are well, despite all the “ado”. As for me – I’m hangin’ in there.

  52. The problem with science in the U.S. is that much of it is junk science designed to push forward someone’s personal agenda or science that is manipulated to do the same.

    Take a look at:

    Brian gets my full backing in

  53. masonic boom says:

    This is still my favourite commentary on the whole thing:

    (Programmer geeks, check the source code, which is also hilarious.)