Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
The Courts Science

The LHC, Black Holes, and the Law 467

Posted by kdawson
from the nobody-left-to-collect-damages dept.
KentuckyFC writes "Now that the physicists have had their say over the safety of the Large Hadron Collider, a law professor has produced a comprehensive legal study addressing the legal issue that might arise were a court to deal with a request to halt a multi-billion-dollar particle-physics experiment (abstract). The legal issues make for startling reading. The analysis discusses the problem with expert witnesses, which is that any particle physicists would be afraid for their livelihoods and anybody else afraid for their lives. How can such evidence be relied upon? It examines the well established legal argument that death is not a redressable injury under American tort law, which could imply that the value in any cost-benefit analysis of the future of the Earth after it had been destroyed is zero (there would be nobody to compensate). It asks whether state-of-the-art theoretical physics is really able to say that the LHC is safe given that a scientific theory that seems unassailable in one era may seem naive in the next. But most worrying of all, it points out that the safety analyses so far have all been done by CERN itself. The question left open by the author is what verdict a court might reach."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

The LHC, Black Holes, and the Law

Comments Filter:
  • oh well (Score:4, Insightful)

    by nicolas.kassis (875270) on Wednesday January 06, 2010 @12:54AM (#30665718)
    What's the point of living but to try to understand our universe and find the true answer to life,universe, and everything. Everything else is just fluff.
  • STFU (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 06, 2010 @12:59AM (#30665746)

    The LHC will not destroy the world.

  • US LAW ? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Tensor (102132) on Wednesday January 06, 2010 @01:03AM (#30665778)
    Who cares what the American law says ? Its built by CERN, its in the France-Switzerland border ...
  • Ugh (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dexmachina (1341273) on Wednesday January 06, 2010 @01:04AM (#30665784)

    It asks whether state-of-the-art theoretical physics is really able to say that the LHC is safe given that a scientific theory that seems unassailable in one era may seem naive in the next.

    And yet again, a basic understanding of the fundamental scientific process causes people to say foolish things. "Previous scientific theories were proven wrong, so we shouldn't trust current theories" blah blah blah. Previous scientific theories weren't proven wrong, just incomplete, as has been said thousands upon thousands of time. Under restricted conditions, they are still "right"- in the scientific sense of the word, which is "matches observation to our more precise measurements". OK, so people want to make the, "LHC is an extreme condition and so outside the tested realm of theory." Yeah. No. Not at all. The exact same theory which predicts that black holes could be created predicts that they are also being constantly created in the earth's atmosphere. And the exact same theory predicts that they evaporate via Hawking radiation, etc. You don't get to have it both ways. And this is where people's arguments get really silly: "But, you could be completely wrong!" Yes. I suppose we could. But in that case, we could be wrong in an infinite number of ways. And an earth destroying black hole would require us to be wrong in a very specific way on par with, "Our knowledge of electricity could be wrong and some magical circuit with just the right components will end all of reality as we know it."

    Arguing that theoretical physicists would be likely to be biased is, if possible, even dumber than the LHC panic arguments. You don't need a PhD to understand that the whole hysteria is retarded. In fact, suggesting that you do is creating a false dichotomy: either you need to be a particle physicist, or you're just taking their word for it. Seriously, this "analysis" will probably do more harm than good.

    Now can we as a society please move on?

  • Going in circles (Score:5, Insightful)

    by CopaceticOpus (965603) on Wednesday January 06, 2010 @01:04AM (#30665786)

    The scientific theories that are relied upon to show the LHC is safe may eventually prove to be false, or at least short-sighted. However, these same theories are what led people to consider the possibility of black hole production in the first place. If those theories are taken away, then the reason for concern also disappears.

    If we are going to take the prevailing theories to be unreliable, then all that remains is common sense. Someone might raise the concern that a car collision would lead to a devastating black hole, if it happened in exactly the wrong way. There is no reason to take this concern seriously given the number of accidents which the earth has already survived. Similarly, there is no reason to think that the LHC will produce anything more dramatic than the high-energy particle collisions occurring in our atmosphere every day.

  • by NtroP (649992) on Wednesday January 06, 2010 @01:05AM (#30665794)
    Seems to me the same arguments could be made for the "expert witnesses" (and if you take the Climate-Change-will-destroy-humanity crowd at their word, the cost-benefit analysis as well) in the AGW debate.
  • Re:Ugh (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dexmachina (1341273) on Wednesday January 06, 2010 @01:40AM (#30665988)
    I know you probably meant that as a joke, but the fact is that the epicycle model fit observable data quite nicely. A physical model may be incorrect, but a mathematical model, which is what actually makes testable hypotheses, that fits the data can only ever be incomplete.
  • False premise (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Mr. Freeman (933986) on Wednesday January 06, 2010 @01:47AM (#30666042)
    The lawyer is basing his findings on a false premise: "any particle physicists would be afraid for their livelihoods". This is not the case. There are a lot of particle physicists that are not working for CERN and whose research does no depend on CERN nor the LHC.

    Also the bit about "anybody else afraid for their lives". I am not afraid for my life.

    I am neither a particle physicist nor afraid for my life, there is no problem.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 06, 2010 @02:01AM (#30666128)

    A 'cosmic ray' created by the smashing of two particles together at 99.9999991% the speed of light is hardly going to be created 'at rest'.

  • by MechaStreisand (585905) on Wednesday January 06, 2010 @02:19AM (#30666254)
    Thank you for showing that you are one of the twats.
  • Re:STFU (Score:2, Insightful)

    by BronsCon (927697) <social@bronstrup.com> on Wednesday January 06, 2010 @02:30AM (#30666330) Journal

    The LHC will not destroy the world; and if it does, it'll be over before you knew it started. No worries, either way.

    There, fixed that for ya.

  • Re:Redundant (Score:3, Insightful)

    by The Wild Norseman (1404891) <tw@norseman.gmail@com> on Wednesday January 06, 2010 @02:50AM (#30666424)
    Yeah, I know now that I look back at it.


    Do you know why they bury lawyers twelve feet under rather than six?


    Because deep down, they're really good people.
  • by thinktech (1278026) on Wednesday January 06, 2010 @03:54AM (#30666718)
    then why didn't the risk assessment team place the risk at zero? If the risk is greater than zero, then why take a chance with the entire planet? Within a few decades this would be entirely possible to do on the moon.
  • Re:STFU (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 06, 2010 @04:04AM (#30666778)

    I think the OP must be the ghost of Fred Hoyle! These are freaking scientists after all, the same people who without fail land space craft on Mars and never make mistakes....oh, wait...

    Don't make me use the cosmological constant example, please, I beg you, it's tedious.

    I don't think the LHC is going to kill us all, either, but not questioning science and telling people to STFU is no different than religious fundamentalism.

  • Re:No (Score:4, Insightful)

    by AK Marc (707885) on Wednesday January 06, 2010 @04:09AM (#30666798)
    When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.

    I once asked a distinguished but elderly scientist whether there was a large elephant on my head. He said he thinks that a large invisible elephant sitting on my head is impossible. Since he is very probably wrong, that means it is more likely than not that I've had an elephant sitting on my head for many years and didn't know.

    In other words, that's just silly. The LHC will produce smaller collisions than found in nature. It just does it where we can see the results. It has the same chance (I'll grant as non-zero) of destroying the planet as crashing the latest Ford over at the IIHS or NHTSA test sites. Just because no other crash has created a black hole among the tens of millions of automobile crashes in the wild and other test sites, doesn't mean the next one won't, right? The chance of that Ford making a black hole and consuming the earth is the same as the LHC. Except the LHC is approximating something that hasn't been done just tens of millions of times, but trillions of times or more. All without incident. Yet the one done by man will end the earth when all the ones in the wild never did? Sure, and the IIHS crash test will end the world as well.

    Arthur C Clarke would have loved this debate BTW.

    No one enjoys debating with the willfully ignorant. Arthur C Clarke included.
  • by meerling (1487879) on Wednesday January 06, 2010 @05:46AM (#30667224)
    Let's see:
    flying monkeys crawling out your rectum > LHC destroying the world > homosexual leprechaun giving you magical money tree that grows $100 bills for leaves and has cocaine filled nuts

    Of course, it's kind of hard to prove any of those is absolutely impossible, but you sure can calculate them as having absurdly low odds.... (So low, that if you tried to count the zeros between the decimal point and the first non-zero digit you'd fall asleep long before you got to it. That's why scientists like using those funny looking math formulas most of the LHC haters can't understand.)

    Sorry Slashdotters, but I'm getting sick of this paranoid ignorant jihad to crucify a rather expensive but potentially critical piece of research.
    If you want to whine about how much money is being used, fine, it's a bloody lot. (Though it's less than the cost of 10 stealth bombers.)
    If you want to whine about how 'pure research' isn't useful, fine. (When electricity was still in the 'pure research' stage and the question was raised as to what use was it, a famous scientist replied "what use is a baby"...)
    If you want to spout conspiracy theories (yours or other peoples), please go back to your paranoid blogs and leave this stuff to people who actually passed grade school math and science classes without cheating. (Many slashdotters have actually passed college level classes on trig, calculus, and even physics.)

    Now lawyers are jumping into the mess when they aren't asked to.
    What are the lawyers going to do next, threaten to sue people for not preparing for the fantasized, err, 'predicted' 2012 world disaster?

    At least these media spawned circuses keeps the reporters from investigating my secret genesplicing experiments to create parasitic miniaturized colon dwelling hybridized eagle-macaques.

    Thanks, take a break, and laugh at the stupidity before you drown in it...
  • Re:STFU (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Boronx (228853) <evonreis@mohr - e n g i n e e r i ng.com> on Wednesday January 06, 2010 @05:53AM (#30667260) Homepage Journal

    There are other possibilities, but even if you are right, history is not destiny.

  • by MichaelSmith (789609) on Wednesday January 06, 2010 @07:30AM (#30667776) Homepage Journal

    Hey you are right! Your link returns 404.

  • by qc_dk (734452) on Wednesday January 06, 2010 @07:56AM (#30667932)
    Until you realize that "lifeboat" is a misnomer. You will only have a small amount of time before you run out of oxygen/food and while you slowly starve to death you'll have to listen to lawyers arguing a case. So "deathboat of extreme boredom" is a more accurate name.
  • by IrquiM (471313) on Wednesday January 06, 2010 @07:57AM (#30667948) Homepage

    However, these same theories are what led people to consider the possibility of black hole production in the first place. If those theories are taken away, then the reason for concern also disappears.

    What I haven't seen is a person that understand the current theories, argue for the possibility of a black hole that could swallow the earth being generated by the LHC. I choose to believe the people who understand the theories.

  • Re:oh well (Score:3, Insightful)

    by tepples (727027) <tepples@nOSpAM.gmail.com> on Wednesday January 06, 2010 @08:55AM (#30668302) Homepage Journal

    Please keep your mythological beliefs to yourself.

    Tell that to all the Pastafarians on Slashdot who talk about Internet piracy in a climate change story or vice versa.

  • Re:No (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Just Some Guy (3352) <kirk+slashdot@strauser.com> on Wednesday January 06, 2010 @11:24AM (#30669850) Homepage Journal

    Yet the one done by man will end the earth when all the ones in the wild never did?

    The other ones were Natural. These new ones are made from harsh chemicals and might give the Earth cancer.

  • Re:STFU (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Str1der (524776) on Wednesday January 06, 2010 @11:34AM (#30670044) Homepage
    same time.
  • by Roger W Moore (538166) on Wednesday January 06, 2010 @01:31PM (#30671914) Journal

    LHC was designed to shed light on why there is matter at all in this universe.

    No, it was designed to determine why fundamental particles have mass. It may shed some light on the matter/anti-matter imbalance but that is not its primary design goal.

    But, matter is not all that matters, there is also justice.

    Indeed there is. First it is worth mentioning that law is not the same as justice and never has been. It is a best approximation to the concept that we have come up with but laws are by no means always just. Additionally since the LHC is built in Europe and NOT the US it is European law/justice which is relevant. So frankly this study is not worth the paper it is written on since US courts can huff and puff all they like and make not one whit of difference - expect perhaps preventing US groups from working on it which, since it is already built, will probably only caue a delay in analyses. Of course it would be very damaging to US physicists and even this threat will make it harder to convince the international community to build any future facilities in the US where such idiocy apparently has a better chance of success.

    Its seems there is nothing anybody can do, mostly because nobody really cares.

    Correction: nobody really believes the idiots going around predicting the end of the world. This is a very good sign because it shows that deep down the majority of people really do believe in science and not what the latest scaremonger with a tenuous grasp of reality thinks will garner them the most attention.

Good salesmen and good repairmen will never go hungry. -- R.E. Schenk

Working...