End of the World Postponed

At taxpayer expense.

The end of the world been postponed for two months, but the poor, suffering taxpayers will be hit yet again.  Reuters reports:

A technical glitch has forced scientists to shut down the huge particle-smashing machine built to simulate the conditions of the "Big Bang" for at least two months, they said on Saturday.

The "huge particle-smashing machine," also identified as the "Big Bang Collider", is intended to simulate conditions just before and after the "Big Bang," a so-far hypothetical event which triggered the formation of the universe; its formal name is the Large Hadron Collider (LHC).

The Big Bang machine was not welcomed unanimously.  Many feared that the machine would create small black holes which would cause the earth to collapse into a tiny, but very heavy, dot.

Fortunately for the fearful, there was a problem with the machine that will shut it down for a couple of months.  The repair will take a long time because the Collider is such a very cool machine:

In order to fix the problem, the machine will have to be warmed up from its operating temperature of minus 271.3 degrees Celsius (minus 456.3 degrees Fahrenheit), spokesman James Gillies said.

"Because the LHC is a superconducting machine that works at very low temperatures, in order to get in and fix it we've got to warm it up, then we go and fix it, and then we cool it down again, and that's a process that's likely to take two months," he said.

The organization said strict safety regulations had ensured there was no risk to people from the malfunction. [emphasis added]

They're talking through their hats when the say "no risk."  First, and perhaps least, "regulations" don't ensure safety unless you follow them, and even then, they aren't always perfect.

If their spokespersonage had said "strict safety precautions," he'd have a bit more credibility, but the spokesperson makes the common mistake of believing that regulations make things safe in and of themselves.  Any real engineer knows that, just surely as a Smith and Wesson beats four aces any night of the week, Murphy trumps regulations and often nullifies precautions.  New York City recently illustrated this phenomenon with a rash of construction crane collapses despite being endowed with enough crane-operating regulations and red tape to outweigh the cranes themselves.

The more serious concern with their statement is that they actually seem to believe that there are no risks to people, a statement which can't possibly be true.

The Collider has been sold as a machine for carrying out experiments.  By definition, you don't know for sure what will happen when you do an experiment.  If you know what will happen, it's not an experiment, and the $8 billion it cost to build the LHC is a sham and a fraud.

Ordinary folks know that nobody knows what will happen when these experiments come down:

The project has had to work hard to dismiss suggestions by some critics that the experiment could create tiny black holes of intense gravity that could suck in the whole planet.

People with long memories will recall that when the atomic bomb was about to be tested in the waning years of WWII, some rather serious scientists suggested that the atomic chain reaction might go a bit further than intended and convert the entire mass of the Earth into energy.  That would have been a big bang from our point of view, but it would have been nothing in comparison with the Big Bang being investigated by the Collider.

Smaller, earlier versions of the Collider which carried out some of the experiments leading to the first atomic bomb were called "atom smashers" because they slammed particles together hard enough to split atoms up in to smaller particles.  Some physicists estimated that the probabilities of an atomic chain reaction getting carried away and smashing all the atoms in the earth during the first atomic test were large enough to be worrisome.

In the end, that didn't happen, but until the experiment was carried out, nobody knew for sure.  The physicists though it pretty unlikely that the Earth would be converted to energy, and they were right that time, but the experts didn't think the Challenger would blow up either...

The physicists in charge of the Collider have estimated that the chances of accidentally producing a black hole which will absorb the earth are small enough to be ignored, but we won't know until they try it.

So in that vein, we celebrate the fact that the end of the world has been postponed for two months at least.  Dang.

We'll have to vote for president after all, and we'll have to keep worrying about what to do with nuclear waste.  Maybe a nice small black hole would be useful for that purpose at least?

However, the taxpayers don't get off the hook so easily.  What will happen to all the engineers, physicists, press flacks, and other hangers-on during the two months it takes to warm the Collider, fix it, and chill it out?  They'll be drawing pay for no work.

Black holes may or may not eat the Earth, but taxpayers always get eaten.

Will Offensicht is a staff writer for Scragged.com and an internationally published author by a different name.  Read other Scragged.com articles by Will Offensicht or other articles on Economics.
Reader Comments
I wonder what Gregory Benford thinks about the Hadron Collider?


As for taxes, it wouldn't surprise me if the final destruction of the earth were to be taxpayer funded. That seems to be the most desired end of Socialist policy.
September 24, 2008 12:13 PM
Actually, isn't Paulson working on doing just that right now? :-)
September 24, 2008 1:33 PM
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