LHC Doomsday Lawsuit Finally Dismissed by Hawaii Judge

[/caption]It’s official, the LHC lawsuit has been dismissed. After seven months of hype, media frenzy and hysteria about the non-existent risk associated with the Large Hadron Collider, Federal Judge Helen Gillmor said her Honolulu court lacked jurisdiction over the European-based CERN particle accelerator. This decision may have been a long-time coming, but at least we can all look forward to spring 2009’s delayed LHC experiments without a fantastical lawsuit hanging over the proceedings.

Although the suit, filed by Walter Wagner and Luis Sancho, was intended to discredit the science and safety behind the LHC, it turns out that it may have done exactly the opposite…

We have been following the LHC lawsuit with some interest on the Universe Today (just in case you hadn’t noticed). At first, the lawsuit seemed to be some kind of half-witted stunt, and it was treated as such. However, once the world realised that two guys in Hawaii really had filed a real lawsuit against the US partners in the European project, the media started to get interested. Questions of concern began to crop up, such as: What if Wagner is right? What if a black hole does swallow Earth after the first particle collisions? What’s going to happen if the LHC does spawn a choking hoard of strangelets?

But as the frenzy calmed and physicists started to formulate their own, more grounded, arguments against the lawsuit’s claims; the public started to investigate what all the fuss was really about. Then we started to get more inquisitive questions, such as: What actually is the Higgs Boson? What is the “Standard Model” and why is it important? What do you mean by “re-create the conditions shortly after the Big Bang”? Very quickly physicists realised that the LHC lawsuit – although clearly unhinged and fearful – could be used to their advantage. Excellent physics speakers such as Brian Cox became the centre of attention as the world’s minds turned to them for answers; the worlds biggest physics experiment suddenly became the topic of conversation in coffee shops and bars the world over.

Actually, this isn’t a bad thing

Although picking holes in Wagner et al.’s theories was fun for a while, more media hype was on the horizon as the September 10th LHC “switch on” approached. I saw various mainstream media sources publishing horrendous articles predicting the end of the world in days, based purely on the speculative claims of Wagner’s legal action. (After all, fear sells.) However, through the hysteria, many sources were talking coherently and intelligently about what the LHC will do and what we hope to discover. For the first time in many years, a physics experiment was on the front page of every new paper, website and TV headline.

One of the plaintiffs, Luis Sancho, responded to Judge Gillmor’s decision and summed up the lawsuit fairly accurately. “The lawsuit was an unbelievable success in that it put the collider issue on the intellectual agenda,” he said in an email to the New York Times. Although he was referring to his “collider issue”, he is absolutely right that his actions helped to put the LHC on the “intellectual agenda.” For once, it looks like from all this doomsday hype, the LHC managed to generate huge positive interest, and with the patient safety reports and arguments put forward by CERN scientists, any fears were quickly subdued.

Back in the courtroom, Judge Gillmor rightly stated that Wagner’s suit was a “complex debate” of concern to the whole world, and not just physicists. If anything, at least this lawsuit did achieve one thing: it brought a complex physics experiment into the public domain so it could be debated. Plus it created some fantastic advertising ahead of the first (delayed) experiments early next year

Source: NY Times

29 Replies to “LHC Doomsday Lawsuit Finally Dismissed by Hawaii Judge”

  1. I take it that Walter Wagner and Luis Sancho have’nt acrually studied physics at all?

    I have a friend of mine of facebook the other day freeking out about the recent planetary alignment. I replied to her, It’s planet X – lol and her reply my me was ‘in only you knew!’

    Thank God for physics and universetoday.com! I really, really hope you get a lot more people reading this site and maybe educate ‘the great unwashed’ as to what ‘reality’ is all about.

    Thanks for the info Ian.

  2. @br:-
    Unsupported statements? Where?
    Name calling? Where?
    Biased? Actually, you’re right on! I am very biased, but not without reason…

    At no point do my statements contradict each other. The problem with physicists is that we believe that anything is possible (optimistic bunch aren’t we?), and no matter how teeny-tiny the probability, we’ll still give the probability a number. After all, a 1 in 10^99 chance is still a chance. It’s not odds that I’d bet on though.

    As I discussed with Walter on Paranormal Radio in July, there is no such thing as 100% safe in physics experiments. Walter wanted the LHC to have it’s safety overhauled, making it 100% safe (not 99.999999999% safe). That’s not a safety rating physicists can give any piece of kit!

    Purely because the LHC is doing physics beyond the realms that are possible today doesn’t mean we should be fearful of the end of the world via a purely speculative mechanism. If particle colliders had a history of creating nasty side-effects, I’d understand why the lawsuit was attempted.

    As mentioned above, if we are talking “risk”, there is more of a chance that a pink elephant will suddenly appear in my office; that all the oxygen molecules will drift to the other side of my house (thereby making me suffocate); there’s a bigger risk that a rock from Mars will hit me around the back of the head.. right now! (I’m still here.) Do we really want to worry about all these vanishingly low-chance events? I thought not. So why worry about the speculative LHC doomsday events (that have an even lower probability of happening than the events described above)?


    Ian 😉

  3. I find this article quite disappointing and biased (cheap name-calling, unsupported statements etc). The seriousness of a danger is estimated by multiplying the probability of the event with the damages produced in case the event does happen. The probability alone is meaningless.

    In this case, the probabilities are very small. From one of your older articles:
    “Strangelets are practically impossible… No strangelets have been found in eight years… The chain reaction theorized has no experimental foundation… Perturbations generated by the LHC could push it into a more stable state (a vacuum bubble), destroying the Universe as we know it. Not very likely… Magnetic monopoles are practically impossible…”

    While the probabilities are very small, they’re not 0!!! There is a world of difference between [practically impossible/not very likely], and [Impossible, period]. Is there anyone who can say FOR SURE that strangelets, black holes, vacuum bubbles will NOT happen? What are the estimated odds: 1 in a million? trillion? quadrillion? googol? How small should this probability be so that the benefits from the experiment are considered to outweigh the risks?

    What do you get when you multiply very small probabilities with practically infinite damages? Is the result meaningful? How confident should we be the analysis is right before proceeding? Who should make the final decision about an experiment – a commission, a few tens/hundreds of scientists, an elected body, a judge, etc; why? Should one judge be trusted with analyzing this type of issues? What could be the ideal approach to such dilemmas?

  4. Hey br – there is a very small chance that you will suddenly turn into a zebra, or the cup on your desk will suddenly fall through it for no apparent reason.

    But the chances of them actually happening are so small that they might as well be zero.

    That is the difference, which non-scientists like you continually fail to realize.

    If I am to be surrounded by a growing world of the ignorant, by Athena I am not going to go out quietly.

  5. “Hey br – there is a very small chance that you will suddenly turn into a zebra, or the cup on your desk will suddenly fall through it for no apparent reason.

    But the chances of them actually happening are so small that they might as well be zero.

    That is the difference, which non-scientists like you continually fail to realize.

    If I am to be surrounded by a growing world of the ignorant, by Athena I am not going to go out quietly.” Here, here DestroyAllHumans, enough of all this controversy by ill-informed internet conspiracy theorists and just plain wacko’s parroting misleading, inaccurate statements surrounding the LHC (and RHIC before that.) The real science to be performed by LHC gets marginalized when the popular press gets hold of these misguided statements & rumors which then take on a life of their own. Check out the Cosmic Variance site (and Universe Today, of course) for factual info on these topics of interest for informed readers.

  6. People do not understand statistics, which is proven every day by the lotteries.


  7. The risks are real, the ONLY debate are the odds.

    the FERMI lab accident about 3 years ago near Chicago should have been a wakeup call for those who follow these collisoion experiments.

    if you are unfamiliar with that accident then you have no credibility IMHO to post in this thread; it should be required reading for all partical physiscts and a warnign to them about the dangers involved.

  8. You might not directly call people names in the post, Ian, but the tone is pretty dismissive of people who were concerned, even if out of a lack of knowledge.

    Words like ‘hysteria, feeding frenzy, hype, half-witted stunt, non-existent risk’ make the disposition towards one side of the story very clear. I don’t mean this as an attack on you, but that there was a conclusion of opinion in the first paragraph intertwined with reporting on the facts – you know, the parts that science likes – just takes away from the quality of writing.

  9. I don find the tone of this article dismissive at all.
    However, I can sense that author is tired of repeating those obvious facts to people who missed those important physics lessons and went out of school to fool around with cars, football, girls, boys.. whatever.. thinking that it was not important to learn about such things anyway.
    On the other side, I found the dismissive tone in posts written by people described above…
    Yes, thet have right to say and write whatever they want, but they should also be prepared for critical review of their ideas by those who are experts in the field. No-one goes to fix the leak in their bathroom if they do not know how to do it .. They give the job to expert – plumber in this case, right?
    Yet, they think they know better if it is physics …

  10. The LHC pales in comparison to the energies of natural particle collisions that occur every day when highly accelerated cosmic rays (probably from quasars or pulsars) hit our atmosphere. If you ever wondered why your hard drive crashed on your computer, chances are good that a shower of particles from a cosmic ray was responsible. Thousands hit the earth every day colliding with elements in our atmosphere. The highest energy collisions are truly massive and much bigger than what the LHC will produce but are invisible to the naked eye. They occur several times a day and you can do the math of how many must have occurred even if you believe the Earth is only 6000 years old. Some of these undoubtedly have formed micro black holes which evaporated instantly much like the LHC collisions may produce. If you have read anything of Stephen Hawkings you will understand that black holes evaporate and only truly large ones can live more than a second. Believeing that the world can end from a relatively puny LHC produced collision is akin to believing that you absolutely will drown because a drop of rain fell from the sky.

  11. Ian:
    You asked for some examples of name calling and unsupported statements, so here are a few excerpts:
    months of hype, media frenzy and hysteria…
    the non-existent risk associated with the LHC… [non-existent?!]
    the lawsuit seemed to be some kind of half-witted stunt…
    the suit… was intended to discredit the science and safety behind the LHC…
    the LHC lawsuit is clearly unhinged and fearful…
    doomsday hype…

    None of the examples posted above (me transforming into a zebra, pink elephant in an office, rock from Mars hitting someone’s head, hard drive crash etc) have _anything_ to do with the questions I asked, because all these events are trivial (except perhaps to the selected “lucky” individual). Let me remind you that the possible damages discussed here are much, much greater than that.

    Now take a very low probability of something going seriously wrong (how about 10^-20) and multiply that with the cost of, say, the planet turning into a lump of strange matter. I don’t know what the probabilities are, can’t really estimate the possible costs, and have no idea what the conclusions would be. But the issue is real and deserves to be considered seriously.

  12. @pro you make a great case against any kind of topical blogging, especially Universe Today. Leave it to the trained journalists, and let nobody with interest try to pursue that interest in public. Well done.

  13. br, if Earth is converted into a lump of strange
    matter, what exactly are you going to do about it?

    Perhaps you should be more concerned about Earth getting hit by a large asteroid or being fried by a nearby supernova event.

    These have much higher chances of happening to us (and they did in the past), so what are you doing to stop them?

  14. Hey Todd S – Most so-called professional journalists wouldn’t understand science if it
    stripped naked, painted itself purple, and danced on a table singing SCIENCE! all day long.

    Blogs are the way of the future when it comes to news (you still watch the nightly TV network news?). They can be just as right or wrong as any other source. It is up to an educated public to know the real facts no matter what the source.

  15. The article is quite right to be dismissive of these lunatic cranks. The scientists at CERN should counter- sue these idiots as a warning to the other fools who lurk in the shadows afraid of science. Bah! a pox on them.

  16. > Perhaps you should be more concerned
    > about Earth getting hit by a large
    > asteroid or being fried by a nearby
    > supernova event.

    This misses the point — such events (and others like earthquakes, volcanic eruptions etc) are out of our control and there’s very little we can presently do to avoid them. By contrast, the risks associated with running various experiments (certainly not limited to the LHC, nor physics) can be avoided 100%, if we so wish, by not running the experiments in the first place.

  17. We CAN stop an asteroid from hitting Earth.

    We’ve got astronomers watching and recording them, while other scientists and engineers are designing ways to deflect and stop space rocks with real technology.

    Start your education here:


    You are wasting your time and energy worrying about the LHC.

    On the other hand, maybe it is keeping you out of someone else’s hair, so go nuts and stand outside CERN with a big sign, okay?

  18. You know what – forget it.

    I’d prefer to talk with people who don’t think that science is the be all and end all of knowledge, and who can accept that it’s a fluid body of knowledge that changes with what’s learned. It’s not a stick to beat people up with, and I prefer to read from sources that can embrace that in the spirit of exploration and not being some armchair know it all who disdains people who might not know the same factoids.

    I won’t be back to read or comment.

  19. > They can be just as right or wrong as any other source. It is up to an educated public to know the real facts no matter what the source.

    Right. So let’s all run around fact-checking each other. I posit that the world goes around the sun. Please go validate on your own, without consulting other sources, and get back to us on how it goes. The smarter than thou attitude is starting to totally drive me away from reading this blog.

  20. The nuisance (frivol) lawsuit fits a pattern along with the outrageous media hype kicked up by the collider.

    …so does nobody ever mentioning celebrated author Dan Brown’s scifi novel about dangerous possibilities in particle physics at CERN…


    Nonetheless, the practical slights of asymmetric war we’ve been watching for years in Iraq has some analysis at the link above, and at The History Channel, message boards gallery: Battle Stations/Suspect: Anti-Matter Weaponry–Iraq.

  21. Where is the frivolous brief anyway, can’t the public have a look?

    What inaction on the part of the Bush regime is it trying to hide, like trillions of defense dollars carted away to build it and then buy its dirty secret anti-matter bombs? Where’s the U.S. Energy Policy Cheney absconded with from the beginning? How many accounts for CERN are in it? How many for Blackwater vis a vis the Swiss government?

    Not an international court.

    Where is the legal synthesis in the brief to tie together the U.S. government and obligations laid out in legislation whereby claims can be made to the federal system by the public to sue for willful and endangering negligence or violation of enacted scientific safeguards, or provisions warranting the concomitant intervention or withdrawal of support regarding funding from the government to foreign governments in the arena of high energy physics? What are the latitudes of oversight the government must answer for in either case, as third party or uninvolved or in some other conflict of interest regarding our national and world security in the substantive declaration against interest being made by the litigants?

    Are their men and women (sons, daughters, husbands, wives)choosing to serve, being sent into a booby trap they are deliberately left uninformed and untrained to engage as a fighting force? Is that booby trap a violation of the Geneva Convention–of course it is. Is that prospecting, soliciting and recruitment of volunteers to kill with that trap a federal crime–of course it is and then some; it is also a military crime under Title 10 and its own jurisdiction. Is it not straight up fratricide without a chance in a deathtrap other than the probability of simply surviving a massive explosion, scheduled in advance, on orders of routes to proceed and not deviate from, and preconfigured to isolate the U.S. as the target of preference with the foreknowledge of its nature, deployment, and utility in the conflict residing in the chain of U.S. command—thus its permissions through whatever carrier and implementer contracted to play a shadow asymmetric intermediary catalyst to inflame the conquest against peasants holding rifles? And on into Afghanistan and Pakistan and even Georgia, even incurring a military response from Russia.

    This is U.N. Security Council level cause at issue, not the Bush Company or their hollowed out renovation of U.S. state level bodies. This is where NATO’s naughty has to receive the peer pressure of its global security partners. How far are they going to provoke the Former Soviet Union in broad daylight, with a scheme of preemptive deception based on a technology imported from Geneva’s backyard?

    I’ll tell you where it is, it’s in Title 50, War. Conscripting U.S. citizens to fight a privatized entity’s conflict overseas and be thus routinely used for live combat weapons experimentation or a duped commodity of kill quotas without any evidentiary strings attached or a source for which to take the prosecution of war’s reprisals; and with an unknown or untraceable source of destructive power resulting in massive loss of life; and in order to purport a justifiable cause for war to the Congress, that it remains a threat or exists as so described and attributed, whereas it may be concealed in an elaborate triangulation as far as Switzerland’s CERN particle physics laboratories. As it is verbatim forward grey propaganda in print, by a widely published source in a manner typical of ablative suggestion to misinform the public and lend an automatic air of incredulity to the subject or its possibilities or potential threat–so that when mention is made or questions go asked the response simply reclines on the scapegoat it is a fiction.

  22. Exercise of a legal sciences vocabulary to lend a discussion on this story, certainly couldn’t hurt by stimulating some thinking on this story. Dan Brown does routinely choose the invective of religious pretexts in his novels, hence the title of the one in question regarding anti-protons “Angels and Demons”.

    –in reference to a popular tv portrayal of a suit regarding a soldier killed in Iraq, there is further language to add:

    That abc show BL, was a case about a family objecting to the ambiguous nature of their brother/son, soldier’s death in unexplained or unsubstantiated circumstances. The presumption that roadways are built over an effective minefield, (without precedent or plausible reckoning due to the nature of roadway condition illustrating a continuity of uniform wear without obvious tampering or sign of repair resurfacing; the typical tactical defensive spread of mines or their utility in that regard contrasting naval mine warfare with landmines), without any indication or advanced knowledge bombs, IEDs, have been planted there (again, where the vital support infrastructure is and ought to be heavily monitored by all means intelligence gathering, and gathering place of commerce they should watch for the enemy’s comings and goings at all times too). And no enemy in sight either, unlike engaging a hostile combatant, rather than kids playing in the streets or people huddled in a room in a house where the procedure is to roll a grenade in their door to blow them up. You can’t throw people away like that when they put it all on the line…no way…their relatives are going to raise hell. Anybody can recognize a cheat, a screw, a raw deal that only sized them up for a figure cumulated into an allotment for one month,

    Wrongful death not in a comprised set of circumstances rationalizable as a death occurring in understood parameters of surrounding risk correspondent to the cause of death detailed in the death certificate, i.e. government’s statement documenting that (or signed onto combat role engaging the enemy under reasonable conditions of prepared for ascertainment of threat, its nature in detail and level of tactically adaptive survival vis a vis determinable advantages and autonomous election to outmaneuver–as were it an actual fight or contest and not a rigged slaughter) compared to listed cause of death and its circumstances.

  23. Buh-bye Todd S – it’s always the soft-thinking ones who cry foul and unfair and whine about how science isn’t the end all of everything.

    You sound like a typical religion.

    There’s enough soft-headed thinkers (if I can even use the word think for them) on the net, so one less is all the better.

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