Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

Culture of Superiority?

Sunday, June 1st, 2008

Do CERN employees have a culture of superiority? It is understandable that physicists might have a unique culture. But is that culture at CERN so far removed from the rest of society that they do not take the concerns of the rest of society seriously? Some physicists have even gone so far as to say that press releases to the public are analogous to “lies we tell to children so they will not worry“. CERN was served a few days ago with a legal summons to appear in US Federal District Court in Hawaii for the June 16, 2008 hearing. However, CERN spokesman James Gillies told Alen Boyle of msnbc’s Cosmic Log that he wasn’t aware that any papers had been served. “We haven’t received anything as yet,” he said.

Is this the culture that tells us “no risk, nothing to worry about”, but does not even conduct a serious safety study until outside pressure and the threat of a US Federal Lawsuit compels a partially positive response and a massive propaganda effort including “no risk, black holes won’t eat you“. Of course, we still don’t have any released and independently peer reviewed studies that confirm that assurance, and several eminent scientists that are far from assured.

With unfortunately shrinking science budgets, and particle physicists having a difficult time staying employed (Fermi lab recently was forced to lay off large numbers of employees, cut salaries and employ furlows…) I could understand if physicists might be worried that if the Large Hadron Collider can not be proved safe, that it might shut down a significant amount of current and future research. I understand that this is a significant concern, but that does not justify taking potentially significant risks with the safety of the planet.

Now we are told that a theory of proof of safety has been completed and approved by an undisclosed panel of outside scientists selected by CERN. The composition of this mysterious CERN selected safety review panel is unknown, the process is unknown, and the contents of this report are unknown, the existence of a minority report is unknown. But CERN does assure us, they will release the report at some point in the near future. The world is waiting…

Is risk analysis taken seriously, or are “informed betting oddsgood enough for CERN?

Is CERN respectful of the concerns of the general public, or even of other scientists? The New York Times reports:

In the paper “Might a laboratory experiment destroy planet earth?” published in 2000 by with the title “Might a Laboratory Experiment Destroy Planet Earth?” by Francesco Calogero, a nuclear physicist at the University of Rome and co-winner of the 1995 Nobel Peace Prize for his work with the Pugwash conferences on arms control, deplored a tendency among his colleagues to promulgate a “leave it to the experts” attitude.

One problem is that society has never agreed on a standard of what is safe in these surreal realms when the odds of disaster might be tiny but the stakes are cosmically high. In such situations, probability estimates are often no more than “informed betting odds,” said Martin Rees, a Cambridge University cosmologist, the astronomer royal and the author of “Our Final Hour.” Adrian Kent, also of Cambridge, said in a paper in 2003 reviewing scientists’ failure to calculate adequately and characterize accurately risks to the public, that even the most basic question, “ ‘How improbable does a catastrophe have to be to justify proceeding with an experiment?’ seems never to have been seriously examined.”

Are some CERN physicists willing to accept high risk based on disputed assumptions?

One blogger who appears to represent other CERN physicists has the user login ID of yy2bggggs. (It is a play on words that represents: “Two Ys” + “2” + “B” + “Four Gs” + “S”, you should be able to figure out what it means from that hint).

Link: LHCConcerns >A Challenge to JTankers

Taliesin (former co-moderator of LHCConcerns) wrote:

CommonSenseStopNow wrote:
If as if it apprears, CERN Scientists who may have concerns have been told not to voice them

I believe it was Jtankers himself who started that little urban legend. He claimed this in the xkcd thread , it kida blew up in his face when a few members there (who worked for cern, the ATLAS project i believe) stated that they had no such internal memo.
Clearly it was an attempt to villify the cern empolyees , elluding to secrets that the public shouldnt know etc etc….
its pretty funny really.
Btw , that xkcd thread is certanly worth a read. I recommend everyone who has not read it do so.
here it is.
[Link:] xkcd LHC Dangerous?

Dear Taliesin,

That is an interesting accusation…
I try to be honest, accurate and factual in my statements, and your speculation it is not correct, it is part of the evidence in the legal action.
You should read the legal documents and arguments involved in this case, you might find some of them compelling.

In the affidavit of Luis Sancho in Support of TRO and Preliminary Injunction, submitted to US Federal Court in Hawaii, Luis Sancho writes on page 18.

Luis Sancho – US Federal Court Affidavit wrote: CERN censors information on the risks involved. Its Chief Scientific Officer, Mr. Engelen passed an internal memorandum to workers at CERN, asking them, regardless of personal opinion, to affirm in all interviews that there were no risks involved in the experiments, changing the previous assertion of ‘minimal risk’. This happened as he himself explained in a 2007 interview in The New Yorker, due to the growing public fear. So instead of addressing the legitimate fears of the citizenship, CERN decided to hide all risks involved;

The following individual on that same thread was clearly concerned that a very unfavorable risk assessment that he made was not actually a risk assessment.

Link: xkcd LHC Dangerous?”

yy2bggggs wrote: We don’t want to know if it’s possible we will blow up the world–because, quite frankly, we already know the answer. And the answer is, quite frankly, despite all the testing we will ever do–yes. It’s possible. That doesn’t help us.

What we want to know is if we are going to destroy the world. And we can’t know this with certainty, but in reality, we don’t really care about certainty. We care about whether or not it’s probable–that is, likely, that we will destroy the world. So again, possibility–irrelevant. Likelihood–key.


JTankers wrote: How good are CERN scientists at playing Texas Hold’em poker?
My impression is that CERN is about to go “all in” on a pair of Kings.

(Part of risk analysis is how big are the consequences if you lose. I think nature was dealt a pair of Aces, CERN might still win, but I think the odds are against them/us/all of us.)

yy2bggggs wrote: You’re misinterpreting what I typed. Reread it, very carefully. This has nothing to do with risk analysis (about which you’re wrong anyway), and everything to do with possibility being irrelevant.

What message is CERN sending with their corporate logo?

A popular theme at CERN appears to be an obsession with making fun of superstition. That is understandable, but is that the focus of the CERN corporate logo? What is CERN trying to communicate by apparently including exactly three sixes in its corporate logo, and why do CERN supporters seem obsessed with 666 and the anti-Christ?

CERN Corporate Logo

What is the culture of bloggers who opposed a transparent safety review?

Link: BackReaction, Black Holes at the LHC – again, is blog thread that represents CERN’s position on micro black holes by a theoretical physicist husband and wife team, Steph and Bee (Dr. Sabine Hossenfelder). I think the CERN culture is demonstrated also on this site. I generally find Dr. Sabine Hossenfelder who does most of the blogging on this thread to be sincere, though some of her positions may not be fully supportable, particularly her theories about the possible mechanics of the confused and disputed theory of Hawking Radiation, which several scientists proclaim is at least an open question as to its validity.


This is part of the opening article of this now closed thread:

“But perhaps creation of a black hole is a holographic parallel to the world reaching 6.66 billion population in 2008, and the rise to power of the Antichrist in Russia. If a black hole is created by LHC, then initially it might not be noticed, but it could gravitate to the center of earth and start swallowing the earth’s core, perhaps over years. Perhaps such an event could be the cause of the Mayan calendar prophesy of the December 2012 destruction of earth. Lets hope for the best in this situation. If that should happen then nothing could be done about it. I think it is an interesting coincidence that CERN is turned on as the world population reaches 6.66 billion (in April 2008), 666 being the number of the Antichrist…”

Dr. Sabine Hossenfelder writes:

And what am I doing while the end of the world is coming close and the antichrist is apparently on his way? (Or is it ‘her way’? Does the antichrist have a penis? Anybody knows?) Well, what I was doing today, besides wondering whether the antichrist has a penis, is preparing a colloq I’m supposed to give next week [Dr. Sabine Hossenfelder, Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, Ontario, Observables of Quantum Gravity at the LHC] about, guess what, black holes at the LHC. (Look at this, they’ve even put together a poster, isn’t that nice?) Too bad I can’t download the above video, I’d have loved to embed it, it is just hilarious.

The article also include the following interesting thoughts

“YouTube video “The LHC– the end of the world again?” showing a teenage girl in a garden babbling about how the LHC will cause the end of the world. Starting with the disclaimer “I don’t have a very technical brain,” the main statement is “So, we’re creating a very unnatural situation.”

Is there any evidence that some CERN supporters might be deceptive?

It is interesting that an almost identical full time blogger personality presents on claims to also be “non scientifical”, but she has no concerns. And she works very long hours, virtually every day of the week helping to assure other visitors to the site that there is no reason to be concerned. That blogger goes by the user id “Whitegoddess”, and she is the girl friend or spouse of a similar male blogger personality “Taliesin” (they seem to have changed the definition of their relationship over time) who works similar long hours virtually 24/7, and they claim to also run a blog, but they do not disclose what blog that is, interesting that they do not wish to advertise it. However this pair claims that they are un-decided on the LHC Safety issues, but at the same time strongly oppose giving any money to, and strongly oppose any delays of the experiment for the worlds scientists to review or approve CERN’s safety study.

These two, Whitegoddess and Taliesin, appear to work in concert with other full time personalities on, all working long hours to help assure the public that there is no reason for concern. The other full time personalities on that site include one who claims to be a high school student plus two physicists who also strongly oppose independent safety reviews and at least one claims to have worked for CERN in the past (the user ids of the physicists are: SU3SU2U1 and NorthOfTheNorthPole). I asked Whitegoddess and Taliesin if they had any direct or indirect association with CERN, any incentive to promote CERN’s position. They said they did not, and took very strong exception to the question. Taliesin said he will never let me forget it… he should hate me… Not sure why he was so upset, if he was who he said he was… These full time personalities appeared on shortly after CERN announced an increase to their blogger teams, ten bloggers in teams of two. But user ids, and even IP addresses can be spoofed, so it is difficult to determine who is real, and what is just interesting coincidences … As far as I know, it is just coincidences …

Not entirely comforting when the consequences might be the end of Earth…

This is not entirely comforting, when this might be the group that we must trust to help us understand what the risks may really be, and the group we must trust to take these risks seriously and determine what level of risk is acceptable. And the group that might be willing to just “guess” at what the risks are, not knowing if the risks might in fact be closer to 100%.


Update 2008/08/05;

From: Blah, Blah, Blog

… why is there a statue of the Indian god of destruction [Shiva] outside CERN? That should certainly be of some conCERN, don’t you think?!?

The statue of the Indian deity Shiva at CERN was unveiled
by His Excellency K M Chandrasekhar [seated], Anil Kakodkar [left] and Robert Aymar [centre].