Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Some things are a bad idea

Is it because the world is full of pricks trying to destroy it?

Now I have scenes to finish and have to get ready for this thing next week so I'm not going to off the guy. And I'm not suggesting you do either (just in case I get hauled up for incitement to violence or something). But here is a guy doing something when "a handful of scientists believe that the experiment could create a shower of unstable black holes that could ‘eat’ the planet from within".

Eat the planet.

From within.

For what? Seemingly to satisfy his curiosity. Now, the things is, this is just a Daily Mail piece. They love their scaremongering and will jump at the chance to hype up any remote chances that we might be killed, mugged, damaged by videogames or preyed on by internet stalkers (I know you're here, reading... waiting). And those handful of scientists could well be wrong. It's likely total alarmist rubbish, as the scientists conducting the experiments assure. Like the Millennium Bug. But for it to be worth even the tiniest miniscule risk of creating a shower of black holes that could eat the planet from within, the payoff would want to be pretty damn fantastic. And a few smug satisfied grins doesn't seem to me to be that fantastic payoff.

But Dr.Evans, the guy in question, isn't worried. No, "he is so relaxed about the project, he even wears shorts to work."
Shorts aside, I have to say I don't trust scientists to make any sort of rational decisions. They are prone to getting excited and next thing you know they are performing lobotomies in hotel rooms or something. They just go ahead and so stuff. And (this is scientific law) - stuff has consequences. Those scientists who declare something impossible usually always turn out to be wrong, as do the scientists who declare something perfectly safe and go about doing things like selling radioactive material in tubs.

Having spent a brief stint in University, in the science end, it makes perfect sense - scientists aren't smart. Oh sure, they know a lot of things. About science. But plain ol' basic human common sense just isn't their thing. And it seems the more they know about science, the less smart they become. Now that's just going from observation in one University so it's a big sweeping generalisation but it's one I'm happy to stick with until I meet a smart scientist who can make it all the way through a conversation without coming across insane.

So, yeah, this is likely nothing but I still think he's a dick. I hope he gets eaten by a bear. And if he causes the destruction of the planet, I'll be really pissed off.
At what point does the risk become large enough to justify an assassination, I wonder?


Toole said...

Black holes only have as much gravity as their mass. If humans had the power to crush mount everest to its schwartzchild radius, it would only be a black hole with the gravity of mount everest. Mount everest doesn't eat up the world now, if it was squeezed into a quantum scale it wouldn't do it either. There's just not enough mass involved in these little particle accelerator black holes to do anything harmful.

Andy J. Latham said...

Well I'm technically a scientist and I'd like to think I'm not insane!!

Would you avoid going outside because of the minimal risk of being mauled by a badger? Well the risk of anything bad happenning in the collider is even smaller. Unimaginably smaller.

Did you know that if you put your hand on the wall, there is a miniscule chance that it will go straight through it like a ghost? This is the weird world of quantum physics. It's a world of incredibly strange things, but for those strange things to happen on a large scale (and your hand is considered a very large scale) is an immeasurably small chance.

Toole is right too. Even in the extremely unlikely event that a black hole is created, it wouldn't have enough mass to destroy the earth. There is a tendency to think that black holes have infinite "sucking power". Well they don't. If they did, we would all have been sucked into one by now. We are orbiting a supermassive one.

The public are scared of science (and the Dialy Mail doesn't help). The fear comes from a lack of understanding. Scientists are shown to be claiming wonderful things that later get proved wrong. This is because the papers get hold of the story before thorough investigation has taken place. Just like with celebrities, they don't care about getting the full story because the full story won't sell newspapers. The full story is boring and unsexy. I can just imagine the headline, "Some Science Experiments Were Done But We're All Fine and will Continue to Be For The Forseeable Future, Don't Worry".

Bitter Animator said...

Your badger example isn't really comparible though. If the question was, would you avoid going outside because there is a risk doing that could destroy the entire planet, that would be comparible.

I don't mind scientists getting mauled by badgers, if that's the risk they choose to take. If they unleash a horde of man-eating badgers on the rest of us, that is different.

You're right that it's more about being a Daily Mail thing than anything else but, even this case aside, science has consequences. This is all theory, especially the black hole stuff. At what point does the risk become unacceptable?

And, Andy, I think you probably moved away from science because you weren't quite insane enough. But then, you want to move into making films a frame at a time so perhaps there is plenty of insanity there!

Mr. Trombley said...

Dear Sir, The earth gets hit with cosmic rays with much higher energy levels than the ones that will be used by the CERN LHC (which I assume the article is about, having read other reports) all the time. If the out come you predicted was going to happen, it would have happened billions of years ago!

If we do this in laboratory setting, perhaps we can figure out how to prevent these situations from happening in the future. Nature has proved itself time and willing to ignore the comfort of it's occupants.

Andy J. Latham said...

Maybe I shoudl question my insanity more!!

Scientists aren't crazy people putting all our lives on the line for the sake of satisfying their curiosity. They aren't like Doctor Octopus!

Far more dangerous things have gone on for years, like atomic weapons testing. Sure, science was behind that technology, but it wasn't the scientists who wanted to develop weapons from it.

There is a possibility that a huge undetected asteroid will reach Earth and cause untold destruction, and that possibility is a lot greater than the risk of this collider experiment going wrong. In fact some scientists even predict that we are actually due such a catastrophe, but people don't worry about that, so why do they worry about this so much? Yes, this would be a human-created catastrophe, but the end result is pretty much the same.

As Mr Trombley said, the sun does indeed produce such collisions as will occur in the LHC all the time. In fact the actual number of collisions the sun causes in a single year is around ten million trillion. If the LHC was running 24/7 for every day of the year, it would create about ten thousand trillion. That sounds a lot but it's a thousandth of the number created every year by the sun. The Earth has survived for 4.5 billion years without being destroyed by these collisions, so there really is no reason to think the LHC will make any difference.

Bitter Animator said...

I guess I would see that 'human-created catastrophe' thing as a pretty important distinction. Like the difference between someone dying from a massive heart attack (asteroid) and shooting them in the face (creating a big black hole in your lab).

And, no matter how tiny the chance that something can go wrong with it, unlike the mauling badgers, it only has to happen once for us all to be shafted and that chance can be reduced to zero by just not doing it.

So where have this 'handful of scientists' predicting doom gone wrong then?

Spider said...

Also on the list of "Why Microscopic Black Holes Devouring the Earth Is Not Plausible": Hawking radiation. According to the theory, black holes not only gain mass, they lose it as well: when virtual particles pop into existence (as they do everywhere, all the time) they come in pairs, matter and antimatter, and of course they immediately cancel each other out and nothing is left. This is compliant with the laws of physics: matter can't simply be created from nothing. But when a pair pops in right next to the event horizon of a black hole, sometimes one goes inside (technically, the inside of a black hole is "outside" our universe) and the other goes out, which violates said laws. Therefore, the black hole's mass must now be one particle less than it was before.

I know I'm not explaining this very well, but the point is, black holes as small as the ones that are going to be created lose mass more quickly than they can take in mass. They evaporate before they can grow larger.

Mr. Trombley said...

Dear Sir, Perhaps you aren't paying attention. What will happen in the LHC is happening right now, all the time. The probability is zero.

Scientists don't like to say that for technical reasons. I know I feel like a weirdo for saying it. But, in layman's terms, the odds of that event occurring is none.

Here's a simple way to do an experiment showing I'm right:

Take the number of times the earth has been destroyed by microblack holes (0) and divide by the number of opportunities (bazillions). Then do some math to find the standard error.

You'll find that the percent chance of this occurring is (rounded to the nearest percent) 0% +/- 0%.

Bitter Animator said...

That still leaves the question - if this is so obviously safe, where have this handful of scientists been led astray?

Mr. Trombley said...

Dear Sir, They haven't, unless they are quacks. This is a moral panic, what does quality science have to do with it? If I recall correctly, The Daily Mail is not a peer reviewed journal.

I'm not convinced that it understands the difference between "maybe possible in a weird model of space" with "probably going to happen".

Bitter Animator said...

Mr.T, you don't even sound like you know who the scientists are, and you're dismissing them as "quacks"?

And this is the problem.

It's all theory at this point. And we have sets of scientists with opposing views and, fact is, some of them are wrong. That's what it comes down to here - some scientists are wrong.

And you have read whatever you've read and chosen to buy into that theory and now you're dismissing others as "quacks" and calling it a moral panic without actually looking into the other side - because you have already decided what theory you're buying into.

And that sounds blinkered.

It also puts the risks higher than zero because your zero assumes the take on the theory you bought into is correct, which it may not be.

Science is full of mistakes. Anyone who has studied science will know this. Many of them might seem obvious now but, at the time, they didn't. And, yes, this is a Daily Mail article. I was clear on where I stood on that end of things. But if there's one certainty moving forward it is that mistakes will be made - some theories, if not all of them, will turn out to be incorrect.

And when the consequences move beyond a badger mauling and more towards involving the rest of us with little to no interest in badgers, that's a problem.

Andy J. Latham said...

Ok, I think by now we have seen the badger argument isn't working!

So how about this? You drive some of your family to the supermarket. There is a very real (albeit low) probability that you will make a mistake and roll the car, killing everyone inside and maybe other road users. Does this small probability stop us all going in cars? The reward of reaching the supermarket isn't enough to justify the risk of losing several lives, yet it's a risk we all take regularly.

I cannot say that the naysayers are quacks, but there are always naysayers. If you actually came up with a completely flawless plan, there would always be someone to contest it. There HAS to be someone to contest it - that's how science works. It's a constant argument. But the fact is, the number of people who contest this particular argument are a tiny proportion of the overall number of scientists. I would even wager that they are scientists of lesser repute than the ones who agree. I could be wrong, but that's my judgement from experience.

There is also the case that people like to hear a scientist to disagree with popular opinion. Take the whole global warming debate. Most scientists agree that we are the cause of it. However a select few were interviewed on the Channel 4 show "The Great Climate Swindle" saying that it's all a load of rubbish. That show was recently exposed as comletely erroneous. The facts these scientists cited were "doctored" and in many cases incorrect in the first place. I'm not saying global warming is or is not our fault, but I'm just making the point that sometimes people will just disagree for the hell of it - especially when a big company like Channel 4 (or the Daily Mail) offer them large sums of money to speak out.

Bitter Animator said...

That's true, Andy, there are always naysayers. But just because the popular opinion goes one direction does not make the majority correct simply by being a majority.

The whole science community could agree and that still doesn't actually make it correct. They've handed out Nobel Prizes to people who turned out later to be, as Mr.T put it, quacks.

Science is a history of people proving other people got it wrong, hence the naysayers I guess. To think we're at the top of the science food chain right now and that the accepted theories we have now will all turn out to be right would seem to be scientific arrogance.

In terms of being paid, I can't imagine the Daily Mail were quite able to touch the £4 billion or whatever it was that this project is costing. And, yes, that money has to come from somewhere so you're right that it taints things. That's a whole other discussion!

Bitter Animator said...

I tried to have a look at the live web feed and got this -