Technology Review Fail

So Technology Review published a summary of an arxiv article arguing for mass quantization in black holes. Looks like an ultraviolet catastrophe argument, which is fascinating in itself. But first, I have to address this journalistic clusterfuck:

Of course, the question of this kind of black hole production at the LHC once again raises the thorny question of whether the safety assurances we've been given about these experiments are valid.

No, it means the exact opposite. The article is prompted by the absence of black holes in experimental products. The implications of the model are that black holes are harder for the LHC to create.

We've looked at the arguments before. One important question is whether state-of-the-art theoretical physics is up to the task of making a trustworthy prediction that the LHC is safe.

Today's paper makes clear that our understanding of micro black hole physics is rapidly changing. So it would be entirely reasonable to ask on what basis physicists are able to make safety assurances.


This is a debate that particle physicists are strangely reluctant to engage in, having ignored most of the questions marks over safety.

Physicists are not reluctant to engage. We've given you the answer over and over again, apparently without effect. LHC collisions are 7 tera-electron volts. Cosmic rays, which hit the earth constantly, are 100 exa-electron volts. That's EIGHT ORDERS OF MAGNITUDE bigger.

To give you some scale here, if a cosmic ray hitting our atmosphere is equivalent to a Ford Excursion slamming into a solid concrete slab at 60MPH, the LHC is roughly a paperclip tossed at the wall. If car crashes like that happened every minute with no ill effects, would you really expect the paperclip to end the world? Absolutely not; to suggest otherwise is senseless fearmongering. To ignore the wealth of experimental and theoretical arguments published by CERN and independent reviewers on collider safety is just plain lazy.

And the rich frosting on this intellectual spongecake?

(Let's put aside for a moment the question of whether particle physicists are in any position to make safety assessments in the first place, given that they have the most to gain from running these experiments.)

Who else would you suggest we ask about particle safety? Would you refuse to trust a vehicle's airbag system with your life because it was evaluated by automotive engineers? Avoid bridges and buildings because they were designed by structural engineers? Shall we demand that spacecraft safety be signed off on by a panel of MBAs or English professors? In every project involving the quantitative projection of risk to human lives, we place our trust, quite sensibly, in people who dedicate themselves to understanding the matter at hand. It's great to have people double-checking, but to make a claim about a complex system without understanding how it works is, quite simply, bullshit.

Personally, I'm holding out for the day when editors fact-check the articles in MIT publications.

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