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