September 10, 2008

 There is no cause for worry

The Large Hadron Collider has been switched on under Geneva and is being tuned up as I write. It's featured on today's Google search page.

It's never reassuring when experts assure you things are quite, quite safe. Thus Steven Hawking in a BBC radio interview yesterday (times are from the audio clip):

2:50 The LHC is absolutely safe.
3:20 The world will not come to an end when the LHC turns on.
3:40 We don't know what we will find when we run the LHC. If we did, it wouldn't be worthwhile spending all that time and money to run the experiment.
Notice the wee contradiction? I'm sure Hawking, Bell and the other luminaries have checked the calculations carefully and are right to dismiss the doomsday scenarios that have been worked out. But the genuinely unknown is always a bit risky.

A later passage reveals I suspect the scientists' real attitude:

5:55 Both the LHC and the space programme are vital if the human race is not to stultify, and eventually die out. Together they cost less than one tenth of a percent of world GDP. If the human race cannot afford that, it doesn't deserve the epithet, human.
Not taking the tiny risks of venturing into the truly unknown would simply be cowardice. An older generation would have said: do your best and trust in God.

I can live with the LHC doomsday risk and anyway it's too late to worry. (Just in case, let me say that it's been a nice conversation here.)

We should spend some time on doomsday risks. One of the solutions to the Fermi paradox - where are the aliens? - is that advanced civilisations always self-destruct. We are now faced with two risks that are well above the giggle bar: climate disaster (not just major problems, which are certain) and a nuclear holocaust (not just regional wars, which are likely). This is an additional reason to keep crackpots away from nuclear weapons. Like Osama bin Laden, Kim Jong Il, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad - and Sarah Palin.

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