Yvonne Carts-Powell

News flash: Earth not sucked into black hole

In Uncategorized on September 14, 2008 at 11:22 am
Part of the Large Hadron Collider

The Large Hadron Collider smashed particles for the first time on Wednesday morning. It came off without a hitch,* and my congratulations to the tens of thousands of people involved in the project! (Any sort of particle physics is notorious for involving a whole lot of people — I’ve seen papers with scores of authors — and a piece of equipment the size and cost (and providing the potential results) of the LHC is bound to have even more participants than usual.)

The reason most of the general public has heard of the LHC isn’t because it’s big and expensive and exciting science. Most people have heard of it because of the hoopla largely created by people who don’t know what they’re talking about.

The problem, near as I can tell, is two-fold. First, most of the media wants to tell the truth, but even more than that, they want to tell a compelling story. (Most reporters just report. They don’t have the time or the editorial mandate to judge — as long as the story is compelling enough.) And highly emotional people, who aren’t obvious nutjobs, waving their arms and talking about scientists destroying the world by creating a black hole beneath Switzerland is a compelling story. Wacky, but compelling.

Second, if you call the Higgs boson “the God particle” then fundamentalist religious autocrats are going to pounce to claim some sort of exclusive right to it. You just can’t safely use religious metaphors about science, these days, which is a shame.

And by the way, here’s what CERN has to say about the safety of the LHC:

Want to know more about the LHC?

* Actually, not completely without a hitch. Some Greek hackers claim to have gained momentary access to a CERN computer system, says The Telegraph, via Slashdot.


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