back to article Feds urge court to dismiss lawsuit protecting life on Earth

The US government has asked a court to throw out a lawsuit that seeks to stop the world from ending. Late last week, federal lawyers along with other defendants asked for summary judgment in a lawsuit designed to halt the start-up of the most powerful particle accelerator yet built. The lawsuit, which was filed in Hawaii last …

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  1. Adam Azarchs

    As Dr. Hawking once said,

    if a black hole was created in one of these colliders, it would evaporate almost instantaneously, "and I would get a Nobel prize."

    Really, this lawsuit is a perfect example of a little bit of knowledge being a dangerous thing. Black holes of the size which could be created are completely harmless (unless you happen to be standing within about a foot of where they're created, which makes you a candidate for gene pool chlorination). As for the 'strangelets,' the fundamental thing missing from the discussion is that even the LHC won't be coming anywhere close to the magnitude of energies produced by astronomical events, some of which send extraordinarily high energy particles into our atmosphere. The universe is a very big place - anything we're trying to do with the LHC has happened before somewhere, and the universe still exists.

    These people should go back to complaining about superman costumes not having warning labels instructing children that the cape won't let them fly.

  2. Chris Stephens

    actual report cited in story

    The report cited in the story

    http://lsag.web.cern.ch/lsag/LSAG-Report.pdf

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Why not??

    Get some environmental wacko on board (or former vice president?) and start spouting off. Then make a power point presentation, and then a movie. Get nominated for an academy award, and a Nobel Prize.

    It has been done before, why not now?

    Chicken Little syndrome?

  4. Peter

    True or not...

    but I demand at least 1 Bruce Willis action movie and 1 computer game based on this fear! Bad guys hijack ISS and start making black holes on dark side of moon etc etc...

  5. rasputinsDog
    Paris Hilton

    A new plan of attack . . .

    What these two need is a new plan of attack. Gore would only be the beginning. They need to declare this as environmentally destructive, then they could famous movie stars with IQ's approximately equal to chances of these guys winning their suit. Then you could get green peace and the sierra club on board too. All you would need then were some trumped up claims of scientific consensus.

    Paris cuz she's be against it. Mini black holes and strangelets just aren't fashionable.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Coat

    magnetic monopoles

    Magnetic monopoles would mean you could build a pepetual motion machine pretty quickly- or at least thats what some sceptics have said is missing from a few proposed designs.

    mines the one with free energy rocks... at the LHC on the back.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Hawking and black hole "evaporation"

    Yes, that's fine in theory. However, the theory is just that, and has NOT been experimentally verified. Six billion lives is rather a high bet to place on the theory being true, don't you think?

    With any risk assessment, you multiply the probability of an undesirable event by the severity of the consequences. In this case, the potential consequence is the destruction of the entire planet, so by my book that makes even "practically impossible" events still very risky.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Joke

    @Truth or not....

    "Bad guys hijack ISS and start making black holes" ... Its a better plot then the last Bruce Willis outing. 'Fire sale' indeed.

    I wonder what would happen if Iran starting building a collider? Maybe the CIA could use some artwork from Doom 3 as proof of terrorist propaganda?

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Boffin

    @Adam Azarchs

    No one ever seems to remember the tag line to "a little knowledge is a dangerous thing ... but to completely fuck things up requires an expert"

    If we get down to the Planck level then I might start being concerned. More by whatever they will have to make to get the energy up that high. 27Km round a nice part of Europe will not be cutting it.

  10. Mark Graybill

    Clearly a Plot

    But for murder, rather than annihilation. Will we be remarking how visionary Sir Arthur was with respect to murder weapons as well as geosynchronous satellites in a few years when scientists start dying under mysterious circumstances, closer to home than the Sands of Mars?

  11. Jeff Rowse Silver badge
    Alert

    It's all perfectly safe...

    Wait, what was tha

    <<NO CARRIER>>

    ps Peter, Shouldn't that be a Canoe Reeves/Morgan Freeman movie with (sigh) Rachel Vice as the eye candy? And didn't someone mention Gordon Freeman recently? Oh wait, that would be me :-)

    DANGER!! Danger, Will Robinson!

  12. Matt

    We need to know!

    Surly the real danger is opening up some kind of rift to allow colonisation by an alien species?

    Wheer's Dr. Freeman now?

  13. Dave
    Coat

    Delays?

    If it's not going to be heard until September, what happens if CERN decide to just go ahead before that date (assuming it's ready, I know they've had technical troubles)? For once the US government appears to be seeing sense and accepting that it has no real power over something happening outside its borders. A pre-emptive military strike could be a bit problematic, given the location and the fact that the French probably have a decent defence capability.

    Mine's the one with the strange charm.

  14. Vendicar Decarian
    Boffin

    President Gore and you

    "But I demand at least 1 Bruce Willis action movie and 1 computer game based on this fear!" - Peter

    The fact is that nature produces particles of much higher energy and they impact upon the earth and jupiter and the the sun, and these objects have yet to become a huge strangelet ball or black holes.

    It is for this reason that there is confidence that the collider will be mostly harmless.

    It is doubtful that man will ever manage to produce a particle accelerator powerful enough to produce collison products that should be worried about, but given the potential for conversion to non-existance, these questions should not be ignored.

  15. Steve Roper
    Go

    Re: True or not

    There is (or was) a computer game based on just this, which was released on the Amiga back in the early 90s. It was called "Another World" and was based on the premise of a particle-physics experiment creating a wormhole that transports this scientist to another world, from which he has to return!

    Quite a difficult game to complete, as I recall...

  16. F Seiler

    strangelet

    "eventually converting Earth to a strangelet of huge size" - umm, i thought it already was.

  17. Gordon Pryra
    Thumb Up

    @Hawking and black hole "evaporation"

    I don't know why you posted AC - thats an extremely good point

  18. Steve

    No impact on operation?

    "An American injunction would consequently have no impact on the operation of the accelerator."

    It would certainly slow things down as the staff would be pre-occupied with regular mocking of any Americans working there.

  19. Edward Rose

    Disgusting

    (I wonder if this will lead to good nuclear fusion knowledge?)...

    This machine is going to waste huge amounts of energy.

    If we don't fire it up that'll be a few billion tonnes of coal saved each year. How could people think this is a good idea? Balls to the black holes, they ain't the issue.

    And so it begins.....

  20. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

    Do it and see what happens

    Before the Trinity test some Manhattan Project scientists were slightly afraid that a nuclear explosion will set the Earth atmosphere on fire....

    After that, some thought the deuterium in the Earth oceans may be triggered into a fusion reaction by a nuclear explosion underwater....

    Here it's not even any of the scientists - just a couple of losers desperate for publicity to try to make some fame for themselves out of it.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Flame

    @Edward Rose

    I'll bet your caveman ancestor was there when fire was being discovered: "This fire thing is just a big waste of wood that we could use for making sharp sticks! How is it going to improve my life?".

    A flame (thank goodness we ignored the nay-sayers)...

  22. Dan
    Boffin

    Book plot been done already

    Read Cosm, by Gregory Benford. All this and more, written in such a way as to present all the events as theoretically possible (even if doubtful) given our limited knowledge in this area.

    Goggles cos it's a fairly intelligent story.

  23. Mark

    Re: Hawking and black hole "evaporation"

    But it's an even LESS tested and LESS likely theory that would have the LHC create a mini black hole. In nature, it looks like only stars greater than about 5 solar masses will become black holes. We have absolutely no evidence (and there should be) of black holes of less than a solar mass, which, if collisions between charged particles at speeds near the speed of light is possible, should be very common indeed:

    Particle wollops into star. Creates micro black hole. mbh eats star. Star is black hole. Average star = 1 solar mass.

    So it is a good question, but the answer is already there and been looked over.

    Your point is basically

    a) black hole safety is just a model

    b) so it could be wrong

    But then you have to work out all models and their likelihood.

    If you see that a hundred people are eating a small red fruit, it could still be poisonous. Or you could be allergic. But given that nobody has gone and died from eating them for hundreds of years, it seems safe to assume the fruit is safe and you can eat it.

    Same here.

  24. Graham Marsden
    Boffin

    @Clearly a Plot

    @ Mark Graybill

    Are you sure you're not thinking of "The Hole Man" by Larry Niven...?

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Truth or not

    You see, this is what we get when they refuse to release Lexx season 4 on dvd over here.

    The earth is a type 5 planet and thus it is inevitable we will be crushed to the size of a small pea trying to measure the size of the higgs-boson particle. That's how type 5 planets end up every time.

  26. nils
    Paris Hilton

    "retarded expert"?

    "Walter Wagner, a retired radiation expert,"

    ..was it only me who first read "retarded expert"? - oh, well..

    Paris, because.

  27. Sean Ellis
    Boffin

    @AC

    "However, the theory is just that, and has NOT been experimentally verified."

    As the first commenter says, there are *much* more energetic events happening many times a day somewhere in the universe. This is experimental verification that the theories are not wildly wrong. Just because it's not us who are running the experiment, doesn't mean that we can't observe the results.

  28. _bastos

    Theories

    @Vladimir Plouzhnikov : perhaps you also believe the earth is flat? Or the center of the universe? This were also theories as predicted by the worlds greatest minds ... scientists are humans, and therfore they can make mistakes -- even the best of them. Usually a theory proven wrong has no real consequences. But if they got this one wrong, there will be no time to say "I told you so" ....

  29. Ken Hagan Gold badge
    Boffin

    Re: Unverified theories

    "Yes, that's fine in theory. However, the theory is just that, and has NOT been experimentally verified. Six billion lives is rather a high bet to place on the theory being true, don't you think?"

    *My* theory hasn't been verified either, but it says we're all doomed *unless* they switch on the LHC. Six billion lives cannot be put at risk just for the benefit of this loony. Flip that switch NOW!

  30. Anonymous Coward
    Stop

    @_bastos

    "perhaps you also believe the earth is flat? Or the center of the universe? This were also theories as predicted by the worlds greatest minds ..."

    They weren't "theories", they were myths; and they weren't "predicted by the worlds greatest minds" they were perpetuated by people too lazy, stupid or scared to ask questions about the way the universe really worked!

    To quote Carl Sagan, "It's good to be open-minded, but not so open-minded that your brains fall out."

  31. Mark

    @ _bastos

    But when you can see the experiment being done right now under processes that have run on billions of years, you're fairly secure thinking it isn't safe.

    The LHC has never been turned on before, but we do have magnetars that uses its magnetic field to accelerate particles to high energies. The LHC uses magnets to accelerate particles to high energies. This "experiment" on magnetars have run for billions of years and the magnetars are still there, not converted to black hole or strange matter or monopoles.

    Compared to the LHC, the magnetar

    1) Has 8 orders of magnitude higher energy particles, with a range of energies all the way down.

    2) Has a beam mass many orders of magnitude heavier (more numerous)

    3) Has been running for billions of years, compared to the operational lifetime of the LHC of a few years, so much longer time to get a rare event.

    If magnetars have so many more elements combinging to make its experiment in proton smashing elicit dangerous results AND IS STILL THERE, then the LHC has no chance of creating a problem here.

  32. John Werner

    Even Experts Can Be Wrong....

    Before the first successful detonation of a nuclear bomb, there was a very serious, on-going debate amongst the scientists on that project as to what if the atmosphere would ignite when they set it off.

    Back in 1999 several well papered experts all claimed that the world would come to a crashing end as power stations failed and banks lost money 8 years and 6 months ago because of this Y2K thing. That doesn't seem to have happened either.

  33. Heath Kitchin
    Coat

    black holes suck

    There is a common misconception that a black hole will suck everything around it into it but black holes have no more gravitation pull than an equivalent mass of normal matter. If the moon was turned into a black hole the only appreciable effect we would see is less moonlight (and a small increase in background radiation as the moon-hole's event horizon eats any small amount of matter it bumps into). Tides would continue to act almost exactly as they had before as there is no more mass up there, it's just more concentrated (so some minute effect from it being a point rather than a smear of mass).

    Black holes are so incredibly dense that if you were to somehow turn say a 1kg rock into a black hole it would be microscopic and incredibly dense but weigh no more and have no more gravitational pull than a 1kg rock. It would be so small, 1.5x10 e-27m by my calculation, that it could fall through the earth largely unscathed (atoms are in the order of 10 e-12m and are largely empty space). Where it did absorb some mass the energy released from impacts would act to accelerate it and most likely push it out of the earth into orbit, towards the sun or out of the solar system. This is 1kg. A black hole created by the LHC would be many orders of magnitude lighter so even less likely to bump into anything and much more likely to be shot off into space if it did. So even if it didn't evaporate (and there is good theoretical reason to think it would) we are not at any real risk here from tiny black holes of any origin.

  34. Mark

    Re: Even Experts Can Be Wrong....

    And so?

    The experts saying this will end life on earth are wrong.

    Still fits your addition to this thread.

  35. g e

    We all know the answer...

    And we've played the game...

    I just hope they got a guy on the staff at CERN called Gordon Freeman.....

  36. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @black holes suck

    Arghhh Silence you! With your intelligent interpretation of events!

    Motherland will not accept it! This world needs no more of your Science!

    Burn the heretics!

    The Eurolands are trying to destroy the world!

  37. JP Strauss
    Alien

    I, for one...

    ... welcome our new Combine overlords.

  38. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge
    Coat

    Y2K

    "Back in 1999 several well papered experts all claimed that the world would come to a crashing end as power stations failed and banks lost money 8 years and 6 months ago because of this Y2K thing. That doesn't seem to have happened either".

    It seems quite trendy now to laugh at those who predicted Y2K catastrophe and note how they got it wrong. That's a fallacy.

    Reality is that it was a prediction of "catastrophe if nothing is done". Something was done ( at huge expense ) and catastrophe was avoided. That is not 'experts getting it wrong' in any way.

    If your GP tells you to go on a diet or you'll die of a heart attack, when you go on that diet and don't have a heart attack it doesn't prove your GP was wrong.

    Is the world getting dumber or is it just a lack of critical thinking taking hold ? Maybe disappearing at the flick of a switch is what we deserve ?

    Mine's the one with the pamphlet which says "All Guantanamo inmates are guilty or they wouldn't be Guantanamo inmates".

  39. Anonymous Coward
    Coat

    @nils

    I thought it said "magnetic monopoly".

  40. Anonymous Coward
    Flame

    @Adam Azarchs

    "The universe is a very big place" thank you Captain Obvious.

  41. Andrew Jackson
    Black Helicopters

    @JP Strauss

    Precisely! Nowhere have I heard so much as a breath of concern about this. (Could it be that the Combine have aready arrived? That would certainly explain Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld...)

    One need only remember the trials of one Gordon Freeman. Count me among the Resistance.

  42. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    @Adam Azarchs

    to paraphrase: Really, this lawsuit is a perfect example of a large amount of stupidity and money being a dangerous thing.

    "These people should go back to complaining about superman costumes not having warning labels instructing children that the cape won't let them fly."

    Aw crap, I just got the cape to go with my x-ray specs. And, I'm sorry; but I keep reading that as large hardon collider and thinking I want to see her wearing my cape....

  43. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I'm suing too!

    To forestall emotional damage and loss of social status, I demand that my future Christmas presents be shipped by air from China, lest they sail off the edge of the earth or be swallowed by sea monsters on the way to a store near me.....

  44. Mark

    Re: We all know the answer...

    Actually, I hope they don't have a Gordon Freeman on the team. Without that dude sticking the thing under the thingy (Highly Trained Scientist), it wouldn't have gone boom.

    I played the game once, jumping and skipping for HOURS when the sample was prepared and the resonance cascade never happened.

    My coworkers never got tired either.

    One day, I'll spend a full weekend just jumping about in the chamber, see if they ever go home...

  45. The Prevaricator

    how do we know...

    that the world hasn't already ended?

    I bet 10 million Zimbabwean Dollars it has.

  46. Mark
    Boffin

    "The universe is a very big place"

    OK, if that's a bit freaking obvious, how about

    "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,

    Than are dreamt of in your philosophy. "

    So if heaven and earth contain not one monopole, strangelet or microbackhole eaten object, our natural philosophy (physics in old speek), then there aren't any likelihoods we'll be making one just because it's us doing it.

  47. Anonymous Coward
    Stop

    Seriously ...

    I can't believe I'm reading this fucking shit.

    Perhaps they've already switched it on and I've been transported to fucking Bizarro world.

    These people are complete tit-wanks.

  48. peter greaves

    Yes, and yes

    "Is the world getting dumber or is it just a lack of critical thinking taking hold ?"

    see above.

  49. Dalen
    Black Helicopters

    There are reports...

    ...of a main in a suit with a briefcase prowling the corridors of the LHC.

  50. Naiirita
    Coat

    @ dave

    i was with you up untill

    "the fact that the French probably have a decent defence capability."

  51. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    Experts?

    We've never done this before. Who's an expert? How often have we been told by scientists that "this is absolutely safe", only to find that it kills us? X-Rays, DDT, DES, Thalidomide, and on and on. What scientists say is worthless.

    Having said all that, the LHC isn't going to be doing anything that hasn't been done before. It's just going to let us have a closer look while it's happening. The black holes and strangelets and such aren't even theoretical. They're wild imaginings. Collisions of particles at these energies happened in the past and still happen. Somehow, the Universe manages to get along.

    What I *would* consider more of a potential threat is the possible harm from radiation coming from this device. We don't know what that might do. I suppose it might be a new danger, though that seems unlikely.

  52. Anonymous Coward
    Flame

    house cleaning...

    can we send the black hole with barely escape velocity (so it can pick up a few things, people, etc. on the way) through D.C.?

  53. Mark

    Re: Experts

    'We've never done this before. Who's an expert? How often have we been told by scientists that "this is absolutely safe"'

    Not scientists.

    People like the oil lobby, the tobbacco lobby, the alcohol lobby, the medical lobby tell us that sort of thing.

    And why do you ignore the absolute and observable FACT that micro black holes etc have not eaten the earth despite billions of years with hundreds of these particles each day hitting us at energies equivalent or higher to the LHC output?

    If you want to be REALLY pedantic, you could eat a bit of mashed potato, it goes down the wrong way and you choke to death. So potatoes are not 100% safe. But, unless you're an american, there aren't warning labels on mashed potato saying "choking hazzard", are there?

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