As has been discussed ad nauseum, there has been a suit filed in the Hawaii U.S. District court aiming to stop the Large Hadron Collider from starting operation, on the grounds that it might destroy the world. In a development that will shock no one (and I suspect that includes the plaintiffs) that suit has been dismissed, according to this story at MSNBC.
(Rambling thoughts and pontification on the whole affair below the fold.)
The dismissal cited the fact that the U.S. Federal courts have no jurisdiction over the operations at the LHC. While that is presumably correct (I have no legal training, so I’ll take her word for it), I’m a bit annoyed about one comment from the decision
It is clear that plaintiffs’ action reflects disagreement among scientists about the possible ramifications of the operation of the Large Hadron Collider
There isn’t disagreement. There a couple of attention-seekers making noise. They have a history of making these kinds of wild claims. It’s disturbing that they could create an impression for a federal judge that there is a genuine controversy in the scientific community about this issue. Is the narrative of “the one maverick scientist, suppressed by the establishment, warning the world of impending doom” so strong that it can creep out of the breathless doomsday press and into a legal decision?
This isn’t a minor point. While I appreciate the reaction that “the suit is gone, so we don’t have to worry any more”, the black hole scare has illuminated a real problem. In the aftermath of the recent scare, it seems worthwhile to ask ourselves questions about why this scare happened, and what, if anything, we can do to avoid something similar in the future. We can blame the press for focusing on the sensationalist scenario, but those stories would never have gotten traction if there wasn’t a perception that scientists are crazy nutcases who would, in fact, blow up the world if given the chance. One of the best points I saw raised was that each and every physicist working on the project had a family and friends and all manner of things they liked about the world. There is an absurdity to thinking that nearly ten thousand such people would sign on to a project that was so dangerous to people that they loved and cared for. And yet, this is exactly the premise that must be accepted by every journalist who writes a story about the “LHC doomsday”, and by every reader who becomes scared by it. To me, this says something devastating about how science and scientists are perceived; that is very much worth continuing to worry about.
(In other mildly-related news, Seth Zenz posted a transcript of LHC Project Leader Lyn Evans discussing the recent accident.)