The Large Hadron Collider! The marvels of modern technology and the fundamental quest of the human spirit enable us to build an incredible über-accelerator to probe the very nature of reality, and fundamental flaws in the human psyche allow people to ask "How can I make money off this?" Also, "How can I exploit mistrust of scientists to create great headlines - and thereby make money off this?"
1. Walter Wagner
El Presidente of the Anti-Science Circus is Walter Wagner, a botanist taking on the perils of eleven-dimensional astrophysics and therefore the worst-qualified scientist since Gordon Freeman's degree in Crowbarology landed him a gig at Black Mesa. And despite being entirely fictional and unable to speak, Dr Freeman still has more experience with actual dimensional threats.
Just like all real crusaders for the common good Walter's main hobbies are begging for money, threatening lawsuits and google-searching himself. He has many dedicated supporters including "his right hand" and "his left hand", who often pretend to be other people who support him SO HARD that they copy his writing style and grammatical errors despite allegedly being other people. Walter's lawsuit against the LHC was recently thrown out of court so hard it landed in the next state.
2. Proof That They Don't Even Read
Did you read any "The LHC might destroy us after all?" articles last week? If so, you can cross whatever website that was off your "science" list and put it in the "Can't even read" column instead. Every single one was based on a paper by Robetro Casadio and colleagues, a paper which states "We argue against the possibility of catastrophic black hole growth at the LHC" and "the growth of black holes to catastrophic size does not seem possible." But it had the words "Catastrophic Black Hole" and "LHC" in the title in large type, which is exactly as far as the average scaremongers scientific research extends.
One or two actually got as far as the pretty pictures - truly, their intellectual efforts are without bounds! There they found an out-of-context graph indicating that if you use a certain particularly unsupported mathematical framework - and we mean so unsupported that even its own authors currently hope to someday provide an actual testable theory - and put in numbers that looked more like lottery prizes than reality then black holes would still not destroy the world. But they would last slightly longer than previously claimed so OMG SCIENCE WRONG WE'RE GONNA DIE!!!!
3. Time Travel
We have to respect the staff of Moscow's Steklov Mathematical Institute, who at least make their made-up claims interesting. Mainly by using hack science fiction stories as the source. Irina Aref'eva and Volovich claim that the very large energies involved in the LHC could cause an invasion from the future. Because very large energies risk ripping open wormholes in spacetime.
The thing is, that's like claiming that a "very large" cat could eat the Death Star. There are two fields that utterly destroy the meaning of "big" and those are relativity and astrophysics - the LHC isn't a damp match compared to constantly-occurring cosmic events, and the total count of time-travellers to date is "Doctor Who". And we think he's an actor. This would be more forgivable if those behind the claim weren't mathematicians - they know loads of words for different kinds of number, this was the one chance in their entire lives to actually use those skills in public and they screwed it up.
4. Cooling system could kill us
How can you tell when they're scraping the scaremongering barrel? When they start telling us that the cooling system will kill us. The science fridge, basically. The LHC uses three quarter of a million liters of supercooled helium, which you might recognise as "the exact opposite of even the concept of explosive." The thing is some scientists showed how you could create an ultra-cold explosion in Bose Einstein condensates back in 2001, and despite how
a) That was with Rubidium, not Helium
b) You have to work hard to make it happen
c) The final "explosion" reaches the awesome inferno-like temperature of 200 nanoKelvin, aka "fifteen million times colder than deep space"
people seized on the process as a possible risk. Because, you know, it has the word "explosion" in it and they don't actually read the papers - or to put it another way, the average LHC scaremonger makes an airport security checkpoint look like the Nobel prize committee.
The entirety of LHC risk debate is summed up by this story. Malcolm Fairbarn (scientist at the European Organization for Nuclear Research, 36 published papers including Physics Review and the Journal of High Energy Physics) and Bob McElrath (convener of CERN workshop section on CP Violation and Non-Standard Higgs theory, 19 papers, referee for Physics Review Letters) examined the problem and confirmed that there was no risk. "KFC" (named after a fast food chain, known qualifications include ability to type, refuses/unable to print his own name) disparaged their calculations as "back of the envelope" and implied that mysterious factors could still cause disaster. Mysterious factors other than the one-and-only effect ever observed, which was quantified and tested by trained scientists. The average apple is more likely to explode than liquid helium, and we don't mean the electrical machine - we mean the fruit.
5. Mock Math Mistake
The latest "Let's have a crack at the LHC for fun and profit" crew are
staff of the Future of Humanity Institute, and with a name that damn
grand we suppose they have to get their name in the papers any way they
can. Their work is based on the accuracy of probability predictions,
which would seem fine until you realise that they just jammed the LHC
in there to get some press attention. They jammed it into section 4.3
on page 14 of an 18 page paper, to be exact, and their entire
scientific contribution to the issue was "It would thus seem overly
bold to set this [risk of disaster] below 0.15% without some substantive argument."
In other words, "We have absolutely no proof so we're going to say it's your job to disprove it and act like it's fact." If you recognise this argument from religion, well done. If you realise that they just pulled a number out of their ass to garner some suh-weet headlines, double well done. Their entire argument hinges on the fact that everyone would die if a persistent black hole appeared from the LHC: we could say that everyone would die if a black hole was created by mime, it still doesn't give us grounds to declare a 0.15% risk. BONUS: banning mime would actually have positive effects.
We understand it's hard, Toby Ord and colleagues. You call yourself the "Future of Humanity Institute" but don't have cyborgs or robot suits so nobody cares about you. Finding a way to get attention to your probability mathematics paper must have been very exciting, but please, if you want to get people to look at you without using "scientific merit" then strip clubs are always hiring (both genders in these modern times). Until then a quick ethics refresher: "Just making things up is BAD."
Posted by Luke McKinney.
Walter Wagner http://www.dailygalaxy.com/my_weblog/2008/06/particle-theori.html
Walter Wagner Donation http://lhcdefense.org/lhc_takeaction.php
Doomsayer Dunces Don't Even Read http://www.dailygalaxy.com/my_weblog/2009/01/science-debunks.html
Time Travel Travails http://www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/articles/news/news.html?in_article_id=512733&in_page_id=1770
Cooling system will Ice everybody http://www.dailygalaxy.com/my_weblog/2008/10/here-we-go-agai.html
Mock math mistake http://arxiv.org/abs/0810.5515