Nov 2, 2011

Why the LHC won’t kill you — the podcast

Posted by in categories: education, particle physics, physics

With some help from colleagues, I recently produced a 365 Days of Astronomy podcast on why anti-CERN conspiracy theories about the LHC creating Earth-swallowing black holes really don’t make much sense.

The transcript is also available for reading on the 365 Days site if you are not a podcast fan.


Steve Nerlich (Space Settlement Board member and Death-by-LHC skeptic)


Comments — comments are now closed.

  1. Peter Howell says:

    Steve, I am glad to see there are some sane people left at lifeboat, unfortunately you seem to be a minority. You may share some insight why lifeboat is not stopping Roessler ‘s hate campaign — calling fellow scientists being “worse than Hitler” is spitting on the graves of millions of jews ikilled last century. How can lifeboat support such behaviour/thinking.

    Prof.Peter Howell

  2. Thanks Peter. I have noted before that I think the voices of LHC-doom on this blog are limited to Prof Roessler, backed up by Robert Houston, AnthonyL and Mike (sorry, I forget your surname Mike). It’s just that they post (the Prof) and comment (the rest) rather a lot.

    Prof Roessler and I have previously agreed in writing here that if the LHC is going to destroy the Earth it will happen in the next 5 years, so at least there is some time limit to this dialogue.

    Agree the blog should be moderated, but I can’t seem to get Eric Klien’s attention on this.

  3. jtankers says:

    An Interesting and well produced podcast, a bit biased, but a lot of interesting science and I still enjoyed listening to it.

    Unfortunately it lacked some of the objectivity and completeness of CERN’s 2008 safety study, such as explaining the fundamental flaw with the cosmic ray safety argument (found by Walter Wagner which prompted the 2008 safety study in the first place).

    But still an enjoyable podcast, thank you!

  4. AnthonyL says:

    Steve considers that concerns about the outcome of the LHC are “a load of bollocks,” but the problem is that his research is on about the same level as that statement.

    For instance, he said “And lastly of course, there’s the issue of cosmic rays. The Earth’s upper atmosphere is regularly bombarded with cosmic ray particles travelling at more than 99% of the speed of light. And these cosmic ray collisions with the atmosphere have been measured as having 50 times the energy that will ever be generated by LHC collisions.”.

    It is a fact admitted by all physicists involved that the cosmic ray argument is null and void. If you don’t know why have a look at ScienceGuardian.com where the last but two post by your truly is on this very topic.

    Sorry to contradict you Steve but it really is time that these kind of jolly but ignorant essays in putting down arguments you believe to be unsound without actually examining fully what they offer as evidence were called to a halt.

    The unsoundness of the LHC’s safety arguments, as revealed by any close examination which actually reveals that they admit it in more than one place, is the reason the public who have looked at the issue properly are calling for outside review.

    Posts which hinge on the author’s faith that concern must be wrong are not called for. They add their weight to curbing a free debate between intelligent people such as the readers of Lifeboat which CERN is already suppressing very well.

    Even simple statements that the chances are one in a million are in error. Since the outcome of the LHC at higher energy levels is unknown, with no actual evidence supporting hopes for the Higgs boson, etc, there is no rational way of calculating the number.

    One cannot estimate the chances of an outcome which is not predictable.

  5. As usual I refer you to http://public.web.cern.ch/public/en/lhc/safety-en.html which contains statements by eminent physicists, e.g:

    “I certainly have no worries at all about the purported possibility of LHC producing microscopic black holes capable of eating up the Earth. There is no scientific basis whatever for such wild speculations.“
    Prof. Sir Roger Penrose.

    You will find the standard comic ray argument re-stated there as consensus science and the article even engages in commentary on a character familiar to readers of this blog:

    The paper of Prof. Roessler has also been criticized by Prof. Bruhn of the Darmstadt University of Technology, who concludes that: “Roessler’s misinterpretation of the Schwarzschild metric [renders] his further considerations … null and void. These are not papers that could be taken into account when problems of black holes are discussed.”

    Anthony I completely agree that: One cannot estimate the chances of an outcome which is not predictable. I cannot calculate the likelihood of me bumping into the flying spaghetti monster tomorrow. At the same time, I have complete confidence that it will not happen.

    My comment about a one in a million chance was in regards to mass-extinction asteroid impacts — which are exceedingly rare events, very unlikely to happen in our lifetimes, but still well worth worrying about. I do not consider death-by-LHC to be worth worrying about at all.

  6. Peter Howell says:

    AnthonyL wrote: “It is a fact admitted by all physicists involved that the cosmic ray argument is null and void. ”

    Anthony, you are learning quickly from Roessler to state your personal opinion as fact. You surely have proof for your claims, other than referene to your own website.

    P: owell

  7. AnthonyL says:

    What is wrong with reference to my own website if the post there contains the public statements I refer to? The cosmic ray argument was dispensed with some time ago, as long ago as 2003 by Martin Rees in his book as I recall., and even earlier

    You and Steven are under-researched in this matter, and have ignored the posts earlier where I and others have pointed this out. I know it is a bore looking up references which others make particularly when they disagree with you but it is a chore which we all have to do if we are to remain up to speed on an issue.

    It is not very polite to label my statement as opinion when it is based on references I have quoted, and you do not trouble to look them up.

    It is troubling that such distinguished minds as yourself and Steven are apparently unaware that consensus can be very misled and even totally wrong. As to quoting Roger Penrose, he is apparently an example of a familiar phenomenon, a distinguished mind behaving in exactly the same way as your distinguished selves — pronouncing judgment on a matter which you haven’t sufficiently researched.

    Let me say however that I share your tra-la-la what me worry? — I trust the experts — Alfred E. Neuman optimism about the LHC, and do not often bite my nails over what the LHC will produce. I merely point out that the inadequate, inconsistent and sometimes self-contradictory safety arguments of CERN amount to weak minded propaganda which wouldn’t convince outstanding minds such as yours if you ever troubled to examine it properly, and that the public interest dictates that an outside review should take place.

    I have no idea of the real danger and nor do you or anyone else until this review takes place. I just happen to admit it is equivalent to keeping my fingers crossed, since I do not share your naive faith in the impartiality and serious attentiveness of the officials and senior scientists in charge of this exciting but irresponsible venture into the deep unknown.

    I also know that better physics informed people such as Kent Plaga and others have serious concerns too.

    If you really automatically accept the statements of your betters in the physics universe then you should know about the good minds who do think there is a problem, so that you don’t base your judgment on faith in them and the kindness of the universe, rather than reason and evidence.

    The quotation of the spaghetti monster is similar to the babble from Brian Greene about there being the possibility of a dragon appearing in the room but he is not going to worry about. Spurious drivel.

    We are not discussing spaghetti monsters, whatever they are, we are discussing the greatest contraption ever assembled exploring the ultra deep unknown world of sub sub sub atomic physics, where monsters may well lurk for all we or they — the operators — know.

    And given the evidence of the poorly reasoned and superficial safety arguments advanced by CERN we know that they don’t actually have any so we should be responsible and put away our paper hats and booze and stop the party in case the building goes up in flames, especially since e have no idea at the moment of how likely this is.

  8. AnthonyL says:

    “As usual I refer you to http://public.web.cern.ch/public/en/lhc/safety-en.html …’

    And by the way, if you ever bother to read this reference for yourself with any thoroughness, you would know that it is precisely here that they admitted that the cosmic ray argument was spurious, because the mBHs produced by the LHC will probably linger rather than shoot off to deep space like any products of cosmic rays have undoubtedly done. This is because if you smash things head on their net momentum is zero.

    CERN is a wonderful source for contradicting their own propaganda. It was a paper by CERN experts in 1999 that first exploded the cosmic ray rationalization, perhaps the most widely quoted but lame brained defense of the safety of the LHC.

  9. Is this the self-contradictory bit Anthony?

    The Universe as a whole conducts more than 10 million million LHC-like experiments per second. The possibility of any dangerous consequences contradicts what astronomers see — stars and galaxies still exist.

    Otherwise could you cut and paste the relevant bit in with your input please (it’s not hard). The document still reads to me like they think the LHC risk is zip and wrote the document in the vain hope of silencing conspiracy theorists.

  10. Robert Houston says:

    The old CERN boilerplate Steve quoted about the “LHC-like experiments” by nature’s cosmic rays was contradicted just three paragraphs down in the same public safety report from CERN. There, a crucial difference is acknowledged: “collisions at the LHC differ from cosmic-ray collisions with astronomical bodies like the Earth in that new particles produced in the LHC collisions tend to move more slowly than those produced by cosmic rays…” In regard to neutral microscopic black holes, CERN then admits that “Those produced by cosmic rays would pass harmlessly through the Earth into space, whereas those produced by the LHC could remain on Earth” (Safety of the LHC, p. 2).

    Thus slowed to below escape velocity by the symmetrical collisions of the LHC, an mBH if stable could have many years to accrete matter. We can hope the mBH would be evaporated by Hawking radiation, but there’s no direct evidence for it and both its existence and ability to extinguish a black hole have been put in doubt by the studies of respected physicists. Even CERN’s top safety theorists conceded that “elements of the original derivation [by Hawking] of black hole radiance rely on assumptions that are apparently not valid” (Giddings and Mangano, CERN report, 2008, p. 3).

    Steve’s podcast on the LHC is nearly the same as his article at Universe Today, which was shown to be full of misrepresentations in documented comments I provided after his LHC piece at Lifeboat in Sept. and at UT (2nd comment). Apparently, he ignored all the corrective information in order to push outdated safety arguments that were discredited by CERN itself in its three 2008 safety studies. These acknowledge that plausible new theories of extra dimensions indicate that black holes may indeed be produced the LHC — contrary to Mr. Nerlich’s speculations that such is impossible.

    The new studies found that all past safety arguments for LHC safety were either invalid (e.g., cosmic ray comparison) or open to question (e.g. Hawking radiation). This is why in 2008 CERN produced a new safety argument: that the density of neutron stars and white dwarfs would stop a CR-induced black holes. This too turned out to be shaky for, as admitted by Giddings and Mangano of CERN, such stars are shielded from cosmic rays by magnetic fields up to a trillion times stronger than the Earth’s; these may deflect or weaken cosmic rays so that they can’t form black holes. Thus, CERN is proceeding on its reckless course without any solid arguments for the safety of its potential doomsday machine.

    Prof. Rossler never agreed, as Steve alleged, that the danger would pass in 5 years. In his papers, Rossler’s actual estimate was that the Earth could be destroyed in “50 months to 50 years.” His estimate was independently confirmed by three CERN-affiliated physicists, who calculated that “with one extra dimension, the earth would be accreted into the black hole in 27 years” (B. Koch, M. Bleicher, and H. Stocker, at ArXiv.org 7/22/2008, v.1).

  11. AnthonyL says:

    “Otherwise could you cut and paste the relevant bit in with your input please (it’s not hard). The document still reads to me like they think the LHC risk is zip and wrote the document in the vain hope of silencing conspiracy theorists.”

    Sorry to line you up in the path of a blockbuster, Steve, in the form of Houston’s post above, and it is not that I think you deserve being hounded to death by correctives, though you should be corrected. I understand fully that you like most of us prefer to assume that the decent and law abiding citizens of science who lead the LHC are people of integrity and not politics, but sad to say, they are political, and are so for a very good reason — they fear with some justification that a public critique of the LHC would threaten to close it down, given the financial situation of the funding countries at present and the general ignorance about science on the part of the bulk of the public in the US at least.

    People like yourself who are excited about the LHC and in line with that thrill want to protect it and who want to believe in its operators I have complete sympathy for. But nevertheless we should all preserve the integrity of our judgment on its future and any possible needed caution by making sure we have the right data in hand.

    As Houston correctly points out, the texts of CERN contain a very clear admission that mBHs could linger on Earth for the reason I gave above, and the quotation you seek is in his post above.

    But in response to your potshot that it’s “not too hard” to give you a quote I would answer that it’s not too hard to read the report, either, which is only three or four pages long, as I recall, or maybe a little longer.

    We should all enjoy reading the references as long as they are written in the Queen’s English, or the President’s!

    Skeptics can have fun too, you know, and in a way may be more fond of true science than the careerist physicists we are taking about, who so enjoy appearing on TV, even though in doing so they are it seems quite prepared to mislead the public and the trusting talk show host eg Lisa Randall and Tavis Smiley tonight on PBS.

  12. Not getting the CERN contradiction — quoting from the same source:
    Whilst collisions at the LHC differ from cosmic-ray collisions with astronomical bodies like the Earth in that new particles produced in LHC collisions tend to move more slowly than those produced by cosmic rays, one can still demonstrate their safety. The specific reasons for this depend whether the black holes are electrically charged, or neutral. Many stable black holes would be expected to be electrically charged, since they are created by charged particles. In this case they would interact with ordinary matter and be stopped while traversing the Earth or Sun, whether produced by cosmic rays or the LHC. The fact that the Earth and Sun are still here rules out the possibility that cosmic rays or the LHC could produce dangerous charged microscopic black holes. If stable microscopic black holes had no electric charge, their interactions with the Earth would be very weak.

    Anyhow, isn’t one of Rossler’s key assumptions the idea that black holes do not retain charge?

  13. And — the 5 years timeframe comes from a pers comm between Prof Rossler and myself, see our exchange of comments at: http://lifeboat.com/blog/2011/09/dear-cern-either-reply-or-stop#comments

  14. eq says:

    Rösslers 5-estimates are not based on any form of rational or scientific reasoning. It is pure scaremongering.

    On the other side, the 27 years are based on a certain precise model of large extradimensions of the spacetime itself. Unfortunately this model is not in agreement with observations and this is the reason why it is not mentioned in the final version of the paper of Bleicher et al. Houston, as always, is a master of selctive citation and propaganda, as he is leaving always critical points out.. Everyone can check that for example Giddings and Mangano treat the problem with this magnetic fields of Neutron stars.

    It is, by the way, also importantto note that there are no symmetrical collisions at th LHC. The collision products have still significant percentages of the speed of light and are therefore totally able to leave the earth. Rössler obviously has never looked at the experimental design of the collider.

  15. Nicolai says:

    Calculations show that 1 in 100000 of the black holes that might be created by the LHC will be moving slower than Earth’s escape velocity, so they will orbit within the earth.

    Nevertheless, this observation does not change the fact that Rossler’s equations have been shown to be incorrect, so the whole point is moot.

    Also, Rossler never satisfactorily explained why his Telemach theorem, which predicts mass will go to zero as an object falls in a black hole, does not also prove that the black holes created will have no mass and hence no gravity and no accreting power. His inaccurate dropping of buzzwords like “Komar Mass” proves only that he has no understanding of the relevant concepts. Nor does he explain how the black holes predicted by Telemach, which are unable to split virtual particle pairs because they are “infinitely far away,” are able to attract anything at all if this is the case.

    He also does not explain how Telemach, if taken literally, will give wrong predictions for planetary orbits.

    In fact, he never explains anything at all, which proves he understands nothing about what he is talking about.

  16. Robert Houston says:

    The last comment, by “Nicolai,” s a hoax and shows how dishonest CERN supporters can be in promoting their mechanical monster. “Nicolai” is NOT Hermann Nicolai, director of the Albert Einstein Institute. From the style, key words and malicious tone, it’s obvious that this is a new nom-de-plume of an LHC-backer who calls himself “EQ” and “Hansel,” and who has carried on a personal vendetta against Prof. Rossler at Lifeboat. Even I did not suspect that CERN supporters could be so unethical as to perpetrate a criminal fraud by falsely assuming the identity of a well-known physicist.

    Writing as “Nicolai,” EQ/Hansel admits that 1 in 100,000 black holes at the LHC would get stuck in the Earth. He then sucggests “the whole point is moot” because he and a couple of other CERN activists disagreed with the form in which a particular Rossler formula was written. No one, however, has disagreed with the principle Rossler was expressing: that time slows in the lower part of an accelerating rocket and deeper in a gravitational field, such as that of a black hole.

    Whether the LHC can produce black holes and do so in sufficient quantity for some to stay has already been admitted by CERN. Its own scientists wrote that “the 14 TeV centre-of-mass energy of the LHC could allow it to become a black-hole factory with a production rate as high as about one per second” (A. Barrau and J. Grain, CERN Courier, Nov 12, 2004). At that rate, there could be 86,000 mini black holes formed a day, with one stuck on Earth every 28 hours.

    EQ admits that the “27 years” estimated for Earth’s destruction by an LHC-black hole, which came from three CERN-affiliated physicists, “are based on a certain precise model of extra large dimensions…” But he suggests “this model is not in agreement with observations…” Actually, the estimate was based on only one extra dimension and corresponds to the 5-dimensional Randall-Sundrum model, which is one of the most respected (and most cited) of all theories of extra dimensions. The paper by Koch et al. also dealt with other numbers of dimensions postulated by other theories in a section called “Taking Black Holes Seriously”. The entire section and an accompanying figure showing the resuilts for several multi-dimensional models were all excluded without explanation from the published paper, which had the purpose of whitewashing the LHC’s dangers. This is not a conspiracy, just a clearcut cover-up.

    EQ also claims “there are no symmetrical collisions at the LHC.” This is yet another falsehood, for the beams are collided in opposite directions at exactly the same speed and energy — unlike cosmic ray collisions. “Special magnets…focus the beam…thereby maximizing the hance of two protons smashing head-on into each other” (CERN, LHC Guide, p. 29).

    Steve’s quote does not change the fact that CERN admitted that black holes “produced by the LHC could remain on Earth.”

  17. Ed Sweet says:

    Why do people keep arguing with Rossler? This “debate” goes around and around in circles, and gets nowhere. Rossler and his supporters are not convinced, and Rossler’s critics are not convinced. Sounds like a lot of wasted words on both sides.

    I admit, I tried my hand at debunking this six months ago (albeit with an argument that might not have been so good), but then realized I was wasting my time.

    Now I come back and look in on this and it is still going on…

    Please. people, don’t any one of you have anything better to do…?

  18. I have better things to do — and I do them. This is just a hobby ;-)

  19. eq says:

    I am not Nicolai…Houston, you are becoming paranoid.

  20. Ed Sweet says:

    Who is Robert Houston anyway, and why is he so convinced that the LHC will destroy the Earth? What is his background? Physicist? Engineer?

  21. eq says:

    certainly not if you look at his mathematical abilities or his selective citation style

  22. eq says:

    Ah, and Houstobn, again you forgot that there is a collision angle so there are not perfect head on collisions. Furthermore the proton is not a hard sphere but a particle composed of many subparticles (lets simplify it this way) so that together with the very high speed a perfct symmetrical collision with is very unlikely.

    I would recoommend to you to read a proper book about the experiment.

  23. Ed Sweet says:

    Has anybody actually done any calculations that indicate the fraction of assumed black holes created by the LHC (if any) that would be moving less than 7 miles per second? The commentator “Nicolai” above says that 1 in 100000 black holes made by CERN would be moving at less than 7 miles per second. Where did he come up with this estimate?

    Did any CERN physicists come up with an actual calculation?

  24. EQ says:

    A general question is whether this “black holes” are produced. The few hypotheses (they are not really theories) predicting them are also predicting the decay of this particles…

    Rössler has never shown any theoretical sound argument for the formation of this hypothetical particles called “micro black holes”. I am sure that he is not even basically familiar with the few models predicting this particles.

  25. Hansel says:

    BTW, Houston, perhaps you can answer the questions asked by “Nicolai” instead of the great scientist who always avoided to answer this important questions about implications of the Telemach-bullshit.


  26. AnthonyL says:

    Whether Rossler is right or wrong in his theorizing is immaterial to whether his concern about the LHC is misplaced if the several other good minds who predict the same threat are correct.

    The discussion should continue as long as people realize that.

    Meanwhile Houston’s selective citation is merely the product of an attentive reader’s detection of important admissions. By CERN safety experts authority (G and M) we know that mBHs will linger on Earth. Therefore the risk has to be addressed, unless we all sink into the tra la la stupor some people apparently like to bury their heads in, rather than question the distinguished leaders of the field.

    How naive they are. The truth appears to be otherwise ie those who lead almost any field are often the worst read of all experts. Their specialty has to be politics.

    Those who defend them also appear to favor playing politics rather than show open minded objectivity about an important question. Apparently they have never lost the tendency to ingratiate themselves with power that possibly proved so successful in their schooldays.

    Gentlemen, this is a scientific question. If you have no interest in science per se you shouldn’t discuss it.

  27. AnthonyL says:

    “Furthermore the proton is not a hard sphere but a particle composed of many subparticles (lets simplify it this way) so that together with the very high speed a perfct symmetrical collision with is very unlikely.” — eq (who seems to be Hansel, is that correct?)

    This seems to be wrong, from what CERN has said. There are some head on collisions which do produce low net momentum bits and pieces a la road traffic accidents.

    There is really no argument with the possibility admitted by all that mBHs will be produced. The issue is what they will do.

    And kindly don’t forget stranglets, which are fully expected judging from the detector set up to see them. though in a rather unhelpful location blinded by radiation.

    Is there anyone here who can read, and is willing to do so, apart from Houston?

  28. AnthonyL says:

    Strangelets, sorry.