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The Sky is falling

Posted Saturday, September 13, 2008, at 9:50 AM

Because of the popularity of late night radio, a lawsuit filed in Hawaii, and some rather prolific blogging, cutting edge physics has again made the headlines:

CNN September 12, 2008

A hopeful crush on the LHC

Posted: 12:15 PM ET

"It's not every week we power up a machine and wonder about the speculations, however unwarranted, that a black hole will swallow the planet. On Wednesday morning, everyone was either utterly fascinated or fearful as the Large Hadron Collider, a $10 billion machine more expensive and powerful than any of its predecessors, started up for the first time."

The world didn't end, but just to make sure we weren't playing with the proverbial fire, I contacted a physicist friend of mine to get his take on the matter (no pun intended). Here is what he said:

"As a physics teacher, I suppose I ought to be glad. I am. But it does remind me how those of us in the business of science education need to do a better job of reaching the public.

In any case, here is one opportunity. This week, at the European Organization for Nuclear research, an experiment began in the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). The LHC is

"a particle accelerator used by physicists to study the smallest known particles -- the fundamental building blocks of all things. It will revolutionize our understanding, from the minuscule world deep within atoms to the vastness of the Universe."

So says the LHC website. That is, the goal of the experiment is twofold. Researchers will test the so-called 'standard model' of the nature of matter while also testing differing versions of the 'Big Bang' theory which most physicists believe accurately describes the origin of the present universe. The experiment is really rather simple: two beams of protons or electrically charged lead atoms are fired at one another at a speed closer to that of light than in any previous such experiment. At these speeds and the corresponding high energy of the particles, current theory predicts black holes may be produced. A black hole is formed when matter is squeezed into so tight a space that even light can't escape the resulting gravity. These particular black holes would be tiny-really tiny. The largest theoretical BH that the collider could produce would be many powers of ten smaller than a proton… a particle which is itself about one hundred thousand times smaller than an atom. The best theory available predicts that such exotic objects would be unstable… so unstable that they would decay in less than a one hundred millionth of a billionth of a billionth of one second by shedding so-called 'Hawking radiation" named after Stephen Hawking, who first predicted it in the 1970's. Concern evidently started in the media when a German chemist published a non peer-reviewed paper (scientifically vetted) that suggested that such BH's might be stable after all. If so, such a tiny object could pass back and forth through the earth acquiring more and more matter, thus expanding to consume the earth. The paper was reviewed by well placed particle physics who found numerous inconsistencies and inaccuracies. In a nutshell: its baloney.

But ah, you say, suppose those things really are stable after all! What assurance can you give me that one or more produced by the LHC won't eat the earth and bring doomsday!

It turns out that the best reason not to worry is that if the LHC makes mini black holes, so do cosmic rays in the earth's atmosphere! In other words, they occur naturally. In fact, there are at least two observatories tasked on detecting black holes through their decay signatures in the earth's atmosphere. Expected observation rates could top more than 20 per year according to information from one of these observatories. So, either the LHC can't make little black holes to begin with, or else they are so common that doomsday would already have occurred even if they are dangerous. If they're real, the happen all the time. If not, there is no concern at all. We should however excited about the experimental results because of what they will tell us about our amazing cosmos and its origin."

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I may be one of the more notable "prolific bloggers", but in a nutshell: this is similar to selling pharmaceutical drugs of dubious safety, big stakes and biased propaganda and in this case little or no oversight.

The papers criticizing Dr. Rossler's well crafted paper were prepared at the request of CERN as a favor, objectivity is in question[1].

Senior German visiting Professor of Physics Dr. Otto E. Rössler is an award winning scientist famous for his valued contributions to Chaos theory and founding the field of Endophysics.

But Dr. Rössler is not alone in his concern.[2] Most recently senior German Astrophysicist Physics PHD Dr. Rainer Plaga also reviewed CERN's safety conclusions and discovered fundamental flaws with CERN's safety arguments. Dr. Plaga proposes feasible risk mitigation measures[3]

CERN announced plans to speed up rather than slow down.[1]

Dr. Plaga, Dr. Rössler, former Nuclear Safety Officer Walter L. Wagner and other scientists are calling for non-biased independent verified proof of safety before high energy collissions begin. Law suits are pending in Euorpe and the US.

CERN announced plans to ignore US courts.

Baloney or not will be determined by History but it should be determined before high energy collisions begin.

[1] www.lhcfacts.org/?p=72 CERN?s Dr. Ellis tells only half of the story - LHCFacts.org (2008)

[2] www.wissensnavigator.com/documents/OTTOR... Abraham-Solution to Schwarzschild Metric Implies That CERN Miniblack Holes Pose a Planetary Risk, Prof. Dr. Otto Rossler (2008)

[3] arxiv.org/PS_cache/arxiv/pdf/0808/0808.1415v1.pdf On the potential catastrophic risk from metastable quantum-black holes produced at particle colliders - Rainer Plaga Rebuttal (2008)

-- Posted by JTankers on Sat, Sep 13, 2008, at 1:09 PM

The Chicken Littles of this world have been predicting doomsday ever since the first transfer of ideas between human beings....................

-- Posted by Johnny Yuma on Sun, Sep 14, 2008, at 6:05 PM

lets hope the aliens don't become hostile when their dimension is exposed by the lhc

-- Posted by jeramy on Sun, Sep 14, 2008, at 8:40 PM

I am the 'physicist friend' of Kenneth Jones who contributed the article to the blog above. I wanted to respond to comments from JTankers concerning the article and concerning safety from exotic matter/mini black hole production at the LHC for the sake of non-physicists who may be reading these blogs. After doing a more careful reading of the links he posted and my own research, I am even more convinced that there is no evidence of any debate among particle physicists concerning a potential for a disaster resulting from particle experiments at CERN. To some intelligent readers who nevertheless lack a formal background in physics, comments such as those of JTankers and others can create the illusion that there is a vibrant, legitimate controversy in the particle physics community on this point. Having spent considerable time over the last two weeks searching for evidence of such, I have found nothing significant. There is a lot of media and blogging related to LHC safety, but very little or no actual scientific work in the form of peer-reviewed scientific papers. I'll be more specific on that point below. If you don't wish to read my comments further, here is an excellent article on the subject from physics.org which summarizes the issues well:


Also, refer to this website at CERN:


As you can see, this report from CERN's website summarizes the response of CERN particle physicists and independent particle physicists to the speculative scenarios which have been popular in the press and blogosphere recently. In particular, notice the second link at the bottom of the page, reproduced here:


This is a statement issued by the American Physical Society's Division of Particles and Fields (DPF). As you can see, they fully endorse CERN's safety report (LSAG) and the peer reviewed assessment of the paper by Mangano and Giddings. The DPF is composed of a panel of experts in particle physics who work in university research and/or one of the U.S. national laboratories. They are not CERN staff scientists. I'm not sure how one would convene a more objective panel of actual experts in the field.

DPF then requested independent assessment of the statement and the LSAG report from another panel of outside experts. These included Gerard T'Hooft, 1999 Nobel Prize winner for physics. In other word's CERN's own safety report (which is quite thorough) was independently checked by the DPF-an outside agency…which was independently re-checked by T'Hooft et. Al. CERN has gone out of its way to address safety concerns however unfounded. I haven't yet found evidence of anyone in the particle physics community who thinks there really is cause for concern. That is: the relevant experts seem to agree that there is no reasonable concern.

When I wrote the original article, I'd already read Rossler's paper on Hawking Radiation. I took the time to reproduce his mathematics so that I could get a clear sense of his claims. He seems to have cherry-picked a formula out of context and then drawn a false inference. The problem with Rossler's claims is at least twofold: 1) They rest on a basic misunderstanding of the relevant theory (General Relativity) and 2) They are self-contradictory. This isn't my own assessment (see below). I'll just expand on point 2) a bit. Rossler claims that Hawking radiation never leaves the because the outgoing radiation would take an infinite time to traverse the infinite distance between the black hole's surface and any arbitrary point outside (including any point in the lab!). According to Rossler's own model then, any mini black hole generated would be safely at an infinite distance from CERN. This is only one of the problems with the paper. I encourage readers to first read Rossler's paper which can be found in JTankers' response. Then go to the following page:


For a more technical summary, see:


The (first) article was not written by a CERN staff member, but by a particle physicist with the Max Planck institute. JTankers seems to imply that it must be biased simply because somebody at CERN requested it. Apparently Rossler spoke with a physicist at CERN named Landua who made the request evidently to avoid any allegation of bias and to get expert commentary on Rossler's paper (which has not been published in any refereed physics journal/see my original article above). Rossler himself tells this story in an online interview with blogger Alan Gillis. I'm not sure what else Landua could reasonably have done. Finally, Rossler's main training is in chemistry. He's apparently made some contributions to chaos theory also, and so he must be a really smart guy, but he doesn't seem to have formal training in particle physics or General Relativity, which are highly technical fields (see above). So pointing out that he drew a false conclusion from a formula is no insult to Rossler.

About Plaga: Okay, Dr. Plaga is an astrophysicist, which is at least closer in expertise to particle physics. However, his paper (an Elsevier pre-print) affirms the majority of the points in the LSAG report (CERN's safety report). Here is Mangano's response to Plaga's paper (it's a bit technical):


Here the author shows that Plaga makes an invalid assumption by applying an equation in a size regime in which it doesn't belong (i.e. one that assumes the relationship between the radius and mass of the hypothetical black hole can be described in four dimensions when an equation assuming 5 dimensions is required to get the right result for the radius of the black hole's event horizon). In essence, Plaga miscalculates the size of the mini black hole by making it 100 billion billion times too large. Oops. This spoils his claim that hypothetical MBH's could hypothetically spew out as much Hawking radiation as would a hydrogen bomb. But, okay, say that you think these papers are too technical for nonspecialists. What is a layperson to do when 'experts' disagree? There is a more obvious problem however, in that Plaga believes in Hawking Radiation, while Rossler does not. To expand a bit, if Rossler is correct, then Hawking radiation never occurs for theoretical reasons, so mini black holes (MBH's) don't evaporate and might pose a risk for an entirely different reason. On the other hand, if Plaga is correct, Hawking Radiation does occur after the mass of the mini black hole reaches a certain threshold. I'm not assuming that JTankers meant to mislead anyone, but Rossler and Plaga can't both be correct. Citing them together as evidence of a problem with the LHC program seems inconsistent to say the least.

-- Posted by cmlo on Fri, Sep 26, 2008, at 3:23 PM

Science: 1


-- Posted by jonboon on Tue, Oct 7, 2008, at 2:50 AM

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