Conversation with an Anti-LHC Lunatic
Posted by mattusmaximus on June 5, 2009
As a quick follow up to a recent post – LHC Lunacy & Doomsday Scenarios – I wanted to share with you an online discussion I had with a physics woo on this topic. The conversation with James Blodgett, who seems to have a history of opposing the Large Hadron Collider on pseudoscientific grounds, is recorded on the Science & Technology subforum of the JREF Forum.
Allow me to, as a lesson in the kind of thinking employed by many pseudoscientists, point out some of the more egregious statements & arguments by Mr. Blodgett and why they are so off-base…
There is a well-developed debate on the collider issue.
Wrong. Statements like this are designed to give the uninformed reader the impression that there really is some kind of merit-worthy argument within the scientific community on this subject. In fact, there is no real debate among the community of physicists about the safety of the Large Hadron Collider – the consensus is that it is safe. Period.
This particular line of argumentation is very similar to that of creationists when they claim there is a “debate about evolution.” The implication behind these words is that evolution is “just a theory” or just a guess and not supported by facts. Hence, by employing the same kind of argument, Blodgett attempts to cast doubt on the safety of the LHC and other particle accelerators.
[RC] mentioned the blog with the topic “The LHC, Black Holes, and You”. … The most interesting thing in that blog is the reification of some rather crude accretion calculations, indeed the calculations and formula are not shown so that we can check, only a rough description of the method and the results. As a demonstration of the crudity of these ”calculations,” two respondents to that blog already disagree.
What Blodgett does here is cast doubt on the calculations by a theoretical physicist about what would happen to Earth in the worst case scenario of the LHC generating a planet-eating black hole – the result is that not much would happen at all. The problem is that he is basing his entire criticism of the calculations on the fact that someone on the blog comments disagrees. At no point does he ever critique the math, nor does he even attempt to make any kind of mathematically-oriented argument. Whenever he cites probabilities, such as that the odds that the LHC will create a black hole are 1 in 1000, he never does a calculation nor does he say where the numbers actually come from.
One respondent summed up the flaws in this line of argumentation as follows:
You know what’s even cruder than his [RC's] math? No math at all! Perhaps you can provide calculations we can examine, for accuracy?
And, as I said, no such calculations were ever provided… merely the assertion that the estimates were correct.
I would love to seriously try to consider some of the science and some of the math behind the collider debate. However, this place is basically a kangaroo court, so I don’t see that as possible here.
Blodgett was addressing the many physicists who were taking him to task in that JREF Forum thread. Of course, it is easy to see right through this particular argument, as it is little more than a straw man coupled with conspiracy mongering.
I am not a physicist, so I could use help with some of the units, but I do have a master’s degree in statistics, so I can usually follow and sometimes generate the math.
So here Blodgett admits that he isn’t trained in physics, yet when his ideas are torn to shreds by actual physicists (some of whom actually work on particle accelerators and the LHC!) he retreats into the realm of “common sense must be right” kind of thinking. Of course, if science has taught us anything, it’s that common sense isn’t that trustworthy, especially in the realm of physics.
Also, it is interesting to note that he makes much of his supposed mathematical background, yet all through the thread at no point does he ever back up his arguments with any actual mathematics.
This one is my absolute favorite. In order for you to fully appreciate the hilarity of it, you must first see a post I made…
They run the Tevatron at FermiLab pretty much 24/7/365, unless there is need for a shutdown, and they’re slamming proton and anti-proton beams together quite often. The energy levels of these collisions are about 1 TeV, which is only 7 times less than the LHC (it’s supposed to top out around 7 TeV).
According to the data we have on cosmic rays, as many have pointed out in this thread, it is not uncommon for those events to have energies within this range.
1. Naturally occurring cosmic ray interactions of this order of energy have been pelting the Earth for billions of years. And there has yet to be any Earth-destroying ill effect. This point has been made repeatedly.
2. FermiLab has been conducting artificial experiments of similar energy levels for as long as the Tevatron has been operable (about 10 years or so). The manner in which the collisions in the Tevatron take place are similar to those of the LHC (two counter-rotating beams colliding). The fact that we have already been conducting experiments of this energy level (on the order of 1 TeV) to no Earth-destroying ill effect also shows how misguided and incorrect JB’s arguments are.
End of story, JB. You lose.
And now, for the ultimate in physics woo, take a look at Blodgett’s response to my criticism…
Since accretion is supposed to be slow, previous colliders might have already created a black hole. Particle detectors might not see it if it is uncharged. I don’t worry about that since nothing can be done about it. In some models , colliders create a black hole every ten years or so of operation, so it is possible that current colliders are about to create a black hole. This might be a reason to shut current colliders down.
So in Blodgett’s fantasy land, the evidence that all of the current colliders, including the Tevatron which operates in a similar fashion to the LHC and at the same energy levels (TeV), have not produced any danger whatsoever in the form of planet-eating mBHs is an argument in his favor? Folks, this is a perfect example of what I like to call the “heads I win, tails you lose” kind of thinking that many pseudoscientists employ. It speaks to a fundamental flaw in their arguments, namely that these arguments cannot be falsified at all.
There you have it – a brief glimpse into the thinking of a physics woo-meister. Take note of these various methods of argumentation, because whether it is a physics woo, an anti-vaxxer, or some New Age psychic guru, you’ll be seeing them around in some form or another.