LHC “Doomsday Lawsuit” Scrapped by Sensible Hawaiian Judge

The Large Hadron Collider is now officially safe in the eyes of the law (and no, that's not because it broke down). Credit: CERN

Oh no! It’s all over. The US Large Hadron Collider lawsuit filed by Walter Wagner and Luis Sancho has failed. On Friday, Hawaiian Federal Judge Helen Gillmor officially declared that the American judicial system has no jurisdiction over the largest experiment ever devised by mankind. Although Wagner and Sancho were suing the US partners in CERN, it would seem this convoluted and inaccurate attempt at proving the LHC will destroy the Earth was a bridge too far for the Honolulu court to entertain.

This decision ends the seven month battle for Wagner, following quickly behind Otto Rossler’s eleventh-hour failed attempt at the European Court of Human Rights last month to convince lawmakers that the LHC was going to turn the Earth into a dot.

So in the eyes of the law (and every other sane person on the planet), the LHC is safe and the claims about the production of micro-black holes, strangelets, monopoles, bosenovas etc. etc. are totally unfounded.

But hold on, why do I feel a little sad about all this…?

In March, Walter Wagner and Luis Sancho filed suit against the Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation for the US organization’s roles in funding LHC science. Let’s remind ourselves about their complaint:

The compression of the two atoms colliding together at nearly light speed will cause an irreversible implosion, forming a miniature version of a giant black hole. [...] Any matter coming into contact with it would fall into it and never be able to escape. Eventually, all of earth would fall into such growing micro-black-hole, converting earth into a medium-sized black hole, around which would continue to orbit the moon, satellites, the ISS, etc.” Walter F. Wagner and Luis Sancho lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Honolulu.

Wonderful!

So, today will be a sad day for all those wanting to take legal action against the LHC. Although many tabloid headlines have had a field day with the “end of the world” claims (even some more reputable reporters have succumbed to the promise of increased readership, through scaremongering text), the old phrase, “bad publicity is still publicity” (or, “there’s no news like bad news“) still applies. Let’s face it, all this talk of doomsday is great for getting a physics experiment into the limelight.

In response to Judge Gillmor’s ruling, Sancho said something quite profound: “The lawsuit was an unbelievable success in that it put the collider issue on the intellectual agenda.” Although he is referring to his “collider issue”, he is 100% right in that the lawsuit has put the LHC on the intellectual agenda. The last few months have shown that doomsday prophecies can be useful!

Let’s take September 10th for example. Millions of people were watching the LHC circulate its first protons. The Internet became jammed with traffic trying to access the CERN websites. Every news website, newspaper, mainstream TV news and radio show was devoted to the Large Hadron Collider. Let’s confirm what I just wrote: The world’s attention was focused on a physics experiment. I have never had the fortune to see such an event, and what an event it was.

Admittedly, it has been a blow that the LHC will be offline due to the “quench” that occurred a few days ago, but the world is paying attention, everybody wants to know what is going on. People who otherwise have little interest in science are asking questions (What is the Higgs particle? How big is the LHC? Why are protons being accelerated? Can black holes really be created? – the list is growing by the day), and there is a growing base of scientists who are working to provide those answers.

When the next doomsday prophecy or misguided lawsuit is filed against an awesome experiment, ask questions and get the the root of the issue.

For now Walter Wagner and Luis Sancho, I hope you aren’t too sad, there are many more big physics experiments out there (but we won’t be so surprised if we see another lawsuit in the future…).

Source: New York Times

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9 responses to “LHC “Doomsday Lawsuit” Scrapped by Sensible Hawaiian Judge

  1. The quote incorrectly attributed to co-plaintiff Luis Sanchco was actually from an email sent to him (apparently sloppy reporting or editing in the original article, I don’t know if a retraction has been printed).

    For the record, both lawsuits have been dealt setbacks from the courts, but the US lawsuit does not exclude an appeal (planned) and the European lawsuit has been allowed to continue, only the emergency injunction has been refused.

  2. Hi, you’re right, Sancho was partly misquoted:

    He did not say, “The study was not perfect, but at least the safety factors on which CERN is relying are not quite as bad.” (That quotation, contained in an e-mail message sent to the reporter by Mr. Sancho, represents the view of James Blodgett, who studies risk assessments and has been critical of how physicists determine risks.)

    However, there is no mention that he was misquoted as not saying, “The lawsuit was an unbelievable success in that it put the collider issue on the intellectual agenda.” – I’ll have to assume that the text is accurate unless you have another source.

    Thanks, Ian

  3. ‘ So in the eyes of the law (and every other sane person on the planet), the LHC is safe and the claims about the production of micro-black holes, strangelets, monopoles, bosenovas etc. etc. are totally unfounded.’
    Sometimes entire civilizations go ‘insane’, as did germany in the 30s… That making black holes on Earth is a prove of ‘sanity’, seems to me truly bizarre
    regards

  4. Pingback: 2012 Has Become the Tweed Jacket of Doomsday Scenarios | Astroengine.com

  5. Pingback: Miniature black holes are nowhere near as cool as their name suggests – Absurd Intellectual

  6. It's not the blackholes I worry about anymore, it's the precedent. The next time someone points out a plausible (but outlandish-sounding) risk, they will be compared to the anti-LHC guys and thus discredited without the substance of their concerns being seriously addressed. This is NOT how science is supposed to work. We don't settle questions by majority vote or the weight of authority. We evaluate the evidence. When I originally saw the lhcdefense.org page, I did not get the impression of the typical luddite/crackpot/creationist attack against science. I got the impression of individuals who were acting in good faith by looking at current theory in the field, drawing some disturbing conclusions from it, and wanting to alert the public.Instead of saying “even the velocities of opposing beams cancel out to produce a slow moving blackhole that does get trapped inside the earth, here is why we believe it cannot harm us” and then presenting their evidence, the LHC people were dismissive and glib, which gave more weight to Wagner's argument. I'm glad that the possibility raised by Wagner has been researched and apparently found to not be a threat, but that should have been the very first response.I don't think there would ever be a conspiracy where LHC scientists *knowingly* would run an experiment that would implode the planet. However, every field has its own biases. The bias I suspect here is fascination with a puzzle. I know that when I'm obsessed over getting a particular idea to work, I don't always care as much as I should about scaring the neighbors, violating city ordinances, or damaging the house. If someone pointed out these externalities, if my project was fascinating enough, there's a good chance I would dismiss their criticisms and minimize the risks. And when I did, I would sound just like the LHC fanboys did in their backlash against the slow blackhole argument.

  7. It's not the blackholes I worry about anymore, it's the precedent. The next time someone points out a plausible (but outlandish-sounding) risk, they will be compared to the anti-LHC guys and thus discredited without the substance of their concerns being seriously addressed. This is NOT how science is supposed to work. We don't settle questions by majority vote or the weight of authority. We evaluate the evidence. When I originally saw the lhcdefense.org page, I did not get the impression of the typical luddite/crackpot/creationist attack against science. I got the impression of individuals who were acting in good faith by looking at current theory in the field, drawing some disturbing conclusions from it, and wanting to alert the public.Instead of saying “even the velocities of opposing beams cancel out to produce a slow moving blackhole that does get trapped inside the earth, here is why we believe it cannot harm us” and then presenting their evidence, the LHC people were dismissive and glib, which gave more weight to Wagner's argument. I'm glad that the possibility raised by Wagner has been researched and apparently found to not be a threat, but that should have been the very first response.I don't think there would ever be a conspiracy where LHC scientists *knowingly* would run an experiment that would implode the planet. However, every field has its own biases. The bias I suspect here is fascination with a puzzle. I know that when I'm obsessed over getting a particular idea to work, I don't always care as much as I should about scaring the neighbors, violating city ordinances, or damaging the house. If someone pointed out these externalities, if my project was fascinating enough, there's a good chance I would dismiss their criticisms and minimize the risks. And when I did, I would sound just like the LHC fanboys did in their backlash against the slow blackhole argument.

  8. I don't know alot about physics, i like it but here's a fact. As humans nobody says we can't think, we can't fly, we bulit a plane. Demoutus way back smashed a rock and stated evrything was ethir made of atoms or void. In ulitimatum it's the fact we we want to know. If we want to know what would happen, then as intlectual beings we find out. The reality is that people have a choice if they want to find out, and be their own freewill, they do. Now yes, humanity has a bad track record with “leathal knowlegde” but so was the dicovery of gunpowder. And even though I somwhat understand both veiws (really, I need to get better with my physics) the truth is what prevails, and the truth is what exists. We found out we could make salt by combining Na & Cl, and we now have dramatic consoquences on each side. One, high blood pressure can result into heart disase while the iodine found in salt can help our bodies. So even if Luis Sanchco is correct, and we may lead into a holocaust, allowing all the gates of hell to be loose, intelectual life has, and always will have. A) A good, keen observation on their deams and wants.B) A strong face of logic and willingness to use it.and sadly somtimes.. C) A damn good way of keeping it real. “Let us Boldly go where no one has gone before”- Spock.

  9. The September 2008 dismissal of the US-based anti-LHC lawsuit, based on the District court's decision that the US Federal court had no jurisdiction because the US Government's funding of parts of the LHC did not amount to turning CERN construction and operation into a '“major Federal action” within the meaning of the National Environmental Policy Act. 42 U.S.C. § 4332(2)(c)', was appealed. On August 24, 2010, the appeal was decided by a three-judge panel and unanimously affirmed on the grounds that the plaintiffs did not meet any of the three legs of standing to sue in Federal court: '(1) an “injury in fact,” (2) “a causal connection between the injury and the conduct complained of” that is not attributable to “the independent action of some third party not before the court,” and (3) a likelihood that a favorable decision will redress the injury' and, importantly, because 'CERN has never been properly served, and is not a party to this case' there was no one involved in the case who had a finger on the on/off button. This echoes the early questions of the District court concerning proper channels, a statement from the Swiss mission to the US, and concerns of Wagner's own process server.Ultimately, the courts (like science) are evidence-based, and as the judges wrote: 'Speculative fear of future harm does not constitute an injury in fact sufficient to confer standing.' Which is what we have been telling Wagner (more or less) since before he filed.The decision in text with a link to the PDF with nearby transcripts and audio of the appellate hearing and 2008 decision: http://sciforums.com/showthread.php?p=2609237#p…-rpenner

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