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CERN’s LHC: Black Holes Welcome, Regardless

Denials of danger depend on obsolete cosmic ray argument peddled shamelessly by top physicists

Treating the public as children, with swift change of ground if challenged

Could it be that safety arguments have all but expired, but no one cares that Earth could go pfft!?

Lisa Randall tenured theoretical physicist at Harvard and author of Warped Passages is not afraid of the LHC - in fact, she explained to Charlie Rose on March 30 what physicists hope and dream it will reveal  Like all well informed supporters of progress in science for the benefit of humanity we normally trust and celebrate the highly intelligent, benignly motivated and often extremely personable (Brian Greene, Lisa Randall, Brian Cox) physicists who lead the charge to uncover the truth at the core of physical reality as we know it.

From long experience in uncovering the truths found at the core of human nature, however, at least as exhibited by leading scientists in fields vexed by a mismatch between their claims and their published literature (HIV/AIDS and cancer, for example), we are sorry to see signs of public irresponsibility in the actions of the 3000 or more fine men and women in charge of the LHC and its pioneering research.

To be more specific, to ward off public scrutiny and the danger that the LHC might be put on hiatus while its safety is independently reviewed, top physicists, we have found, habitually reply to public safety concerns by quoting an argument which they know not to be true – for when challenged, they immediately admit it.

The well known argument we have in mind is what was helpfully labeled “Cosmic Ray 1” by Brian Greene, famed string theorist and popular author, when we asked him at Philoctetes about the safety of the LHC two years ago at the session on Mathematics and Beauty on November 14, 2009. (The Philoctetes Center is a distinguished platform for discussion of creativity and the imagination in Manhattan). “Do you mean Cosmic Ray 1, ” he asked, “or Cosmic Ray 2?”

What’s wrong with Cosmic Ray 1?

Cosmic Ray 1 is simply the idea that cosmic rays of subatomic particles generated by supernovae have been whizzing at the Earth for aeons and if their impact on any particles they encounter had created planetivorous black holes we wouldn’t be here to talk about it. This implies therefore that there won’t be any such danger from similar collisions within the Large Hadron Collider.

Unfortunately this overlooks a very simple difference between conditions of such collisions in Nature and those inside the Large Hadron Collider. The first will give rise to particles which will fly away at speeds far in excess of the escape velocity of the Earth, so even if they include mBHs (mini Black Holes) or other fearsome entities they won’t linger to do any damage here. In the collider, however, the collisions between protons or lead ions are head on, like those of cars when one crosses the divider on a highway and smashes into another. So the debris may well be ejected at speeds well below terrestial escape velocity (25,000 mph) all the way down to nil, and thus any tiny black holes, strangelets etc will linger to cause whatever havoc they might be capable of.

In fact, this problem with the logic of Cosmic Ray 1 was noticed as early as 2003 by the celebrated British astrophysicist Sir Martin Rees in his doomwarning book “Our Final Hour: A Scientist’s Warning: How Terror, Error and Environmental Disaster Threaten Humankind’s Future In This Century–On Earth and Beyond”.

In other words, despite lay defenders of the LHC in Web discussions jumping to quote it as the decisive rebuttal to conCERN about the LHC, the argument has been dead at the starting gate for a decade.

The three card monte physicists play

Columbia string theorist and World Science Festival founder Brian Greene, Lisa Randall's classmate at Stuyvesant High School, has no fear of the LHC either, although he admits that the reason he gave the readers of his Op Ed in the New York Times why he was sure it was safe has been obsolete for a decade

But this drawback has not stopped Greene and others cheerfully telling the public that they can forget any worries about micro Black Holes being generated by the LHC on this basis. In his Op Ed piece for the New York Times on September 11, 2008 The Origins of the Universe: A Crash Course Green wrote:

The collider’s workings are straightforward: at full power, trillions of protons will be injected into the otherwise empty track and set racing in opposite directions at speeds exceeding 99.999999 percent of the speed of light — fast enough so that every second the protons will cycle the entire track more than 11,000 times and engage in more than half a billion head-on collisions.

And why wasn’t this effort to penetrate to the very edge of speed and the conditions at the beginning of the universe dangerous? Why? Cosmic Ray 1, of course!:

Micro Black Holes

Now for the possibility that’s generated the fuss.

Recent work in string theory has suggested that the collider might produce black holes, providing physicists with a spectacular opportunity to study them in a laboratory.

The common conception is that black holes are fantastically massive astrophysical bodies with enormous gravitational fields. But in reality, a black hole can have any mass. Take an orange and squeeze it to a sufficiently small size (about a billionth of a billionth of a billionth of a meter across) and you’d have a black hole — with the mass of an orange.

Physicists have realized that the collider’s proton-proton collisions might momentarily pack so much energy into such a small volume that exceedingly tiny black holes may form — black holes even lighter than the one theoretically created by the orange, but black holes nevertheless.

Why might one worry that this would be a problem? Because black holes have a reputation for rapacity. If a black hole is produced under Geneva, might it swallow Switzerland and continue on a ravenous rampage until the earth is devoured?

It’s a reasonable question with a definite answer: no.

Work that made Stephen Hawking famous establishes that tiny black holes would disintegrate in a minuscule fraction of a second, long enough for physicists to reap the benefits of having produced them, but short enough to avoid their wreaking any havoc.

Even so, some have worried further that maybe Dr. Hawking was wrong and such black holes don’t disintegrate. Are we willing to bet the fate of the planet on an untested insight? And that question takes us to the crux of the matter: the collisions at the Large Hadron Collider have never before occurred under laboratory settings, but they’ve been taking place throughout the universe — even here on earth — for billions of years.

Cosmic rays — particles wafting through space — constantly rain down on the earth, the other planets and the wealth of stars scattered throughout the galaxy, with energies far in excess of those attainable by the Large Hadron Collider. And since these more powerful collisions haven’t resulted in astrophysical calamities, the collider’s comparatively tame collisions most assuredly won’t either.

So if the Cosmic Ray 1 argument is wrong, it reduces Greene by his own admission to betting the fate of the planet and the entire human race on an untested insight of the renowned Stephen Hawking, which is something of a responsibility for the wheelchair bound physics genius, especially since he has been wrong about major cosmological matters before, by his own admission.

A sop to the public

This brazen use of an argument which has already been exploded as a sop to the public is standard practice among leading physicists, as it happens. We have found it is shamelessly produced at every event where conCERN is expressed.

For example, just before being instructed by Professor Greene at Philoctetes (on November 14 2009 Sat) we had encountered two other very distinguished young physicist-astronomers, Gregory Gabadadze and David Hogg, at their own New York University, just after they had briefed a very large packed hall on the wonders of black holes and other galactic phenomena in a lecture (on September 29, 2009), labeled Hubble Trouble: The Expanding Universe and the Dark Energy Enigma. Both gave extensive replies to us and a small group of attentive listeners after their lectures, when we raised the topic of CERN’s dangers, dismissing them on the basis of Cosmic Ray 1.

David Hogg held forth gladly for several minutes as a group of listeners gathered round us at the post lecture reception, along these lines, until when he finished we asked gently if it was not true that that rationale had been debunked. Without a moment’s hesitation he acknowledged that indeed it had already been exploded, and without any sign of embarrassment went on smartly to invoke a quite different reassurance (what Brian Greene called “Cosmic Ray 2”, to be explained below) which has lately become almost as questionable.

Michael Tuts too

Michael Tuts of Columbia and US ATLAS Operations Program Manager at CERN is yet another physicist who could be cast in the remake of 2012, but let's hope his dismissal of danger doesn't bring it on in real lifeThe pattern of fobbing off public doubt by invoking a spurious rationale – in the manner of parents reassuring a child that everything will be alright as the plane heads for a dicey winter landing amid less than perfect visibility, if any at all – seems to be standard. Only the other week the handsome Columbia physicist Michael Tuts spoke at the Guggenheim. Tuts has an important role at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider. As the US ATLAS Operations Program Manager he is the titular head of a pack of 400 scientists who are helping to spend $40 million a year in US tax dollars running the world’s greatest “scientific instrument”, as he calls it.

When the Guggenheim Work and Process series invited him to explain all to their arts audience recently, an unusual double header resulted. On a Sunday evening, he explained the Standard Model and the next evening (Feb 7 Mon, which we attended in the front row) he explained to his second packed house the exciting prospect that the LHC might complete the Standard Model by finding the Higgs boson, the final piece of the theoretical jigsaw, not to mention confirming the possibility of additional dimensions and bringing gravity into the fold to pair it with quantum physics for the ultimate “theory of everything”.

We were lucky enough to get to ask the last question. “Given the stature of at least one of the critics of the safety review of the LHC, isn’t there at least a tiny risk of major catastrophe in its operation at peak energies?” Needless to say, Dr Tuts confidently reassured us that there wasn’t, and the chief reason he produced upfront was none other than …. Cosmic Ray 1! And the meeting broke up.

Since there were then refreshments in the Guggenheim museum ground floor, however, where Tuts was surrounded by admirers, we were able to follow up by asking him there whether Cosmic Ray 1 had not been busted long ago by Martin Rees in 2003, if not earlier. To which he replied with admirable frankness, Yes, indeed, and he then proceeded to expound Cosmic Ray 2, that the existence of neutron stars and white dwarfs served the same purpose, to show that cosmic rays flying at heavenly bodies did not generate black holes to eat them up.

Why do they do it?

So we do have a pattern here. The only safety argument physicists use in public until it is challenged is Cosmic Ray 1, and they know it is invalid. Since Cosmic Ray 2 is their fall back position, it is now the sole safety argument they still have for stating that any black holes that are generated will not consume the planet. Why don’t they tell the truth, and state the neutron-white dwarf rationale straight off? Could it be because that justification is crumbling also?

We suspect that this may the case, because the Cosmic Ray 2 argument is indeed crumbling, for different reasons. But since this post is already too long for comfort, we will go over that ground in a later installment, which will deal with the risk of the LHC creating strangelets, which might turn our planet into a small asteroid of strange matter.

Let us simply end here by noting that CERN physicists are so determined to avoid interference from outside with their marvelous project that they use every propaganda tool they can to allay doubt and evade having to account for themselves.

Including asking us to bet on a horse that is dead at the starting gate, and they know it.

3 Responses to “CERN’s LHC: Black Holes Welcome, Regardless”

  1. Truthseeker Says:

    Otto Rossler, polymath professor at the celebrated University of Tubingen (home of philosopher Martin Heidegger), chaos theorist (Rossler attractor) founder of endophysics, and author of over 300 published papers including ones on Black Holes) has posted a complaint on Lifeboat (http://lifeboat.com/blog/2011/04/if-no-single-scientist-openly-contradicts-my-results-why-no-public-debate) that his well credentialed papers warning of danger at the LHC have not been acknowledged at CERN, let alone replied to. This has drawn several answers, some of which are not as respectful of his claims as they should be, and involve the usual (and sometimes, though not always, quite justified) assumption that the dominant institution in the field can be treated as a trustworthy authority when it defends what it is up to, and all one needs to do when faced with an outsider however expert who objects to its statements is repeat whatever the established organization states, as if it were bound to be true, because authoritative, as if the outsider were by definition thereby proved wrong and should shut up, since he obviously hasn’t heard correctly what the institution has to say, or if he has, hasn’t considered it fully and has no answer to it, even though he has placed his public reputation on the line.

    Thus the uninformed dispense with the need to think for themselves, and enjoy the gratifying feeling of being inside the castle, rather than outside it, as they lick the boots of the monarch.

    Since, predictably, one of the naysayers, an astronomy enthusiast from Down Under, quotes Cosmic Ray 1 as suggesting (to him) that what Rossler says is “bollocks”, we hereby append the exchange and the correction we made for the benefit of those who wish to debate up to date rather than obsolete considerations in avoiding the death of the planet, now scheduled for later this year after a “Day of Judgment” on May 21, according to ads plastering the sides of buses and bus stops and subway walls in New York City.

    ==================================
    LIFEBOAT.Com

    Apr 13, 2011
    If No Single Scientist Openly Contradicts My Results: Why No Public Debate?
    \
    Posted by Otto E. Rössler in categories: existential risks, particle physics

    I am both the warner and the only reporter – a strange situation to be in. My scientific results prove that the currently running LHC experiment is going to shrink the earth to 2 cm in perhaps 5 years’ time with a probability of 8 percent if continued. They stay un-disproved for 3 years but no one takes notice. What is the explanation?

    If my results were nonsense, some scientist would have taken the trouble to dismantle them publicly under her or his own name so I could respond and an open consensus – if need be that to disagree – could form as befits both science and the dignity of the public.

    The fact that CERN currently continues in defiance of a Cologne court’s request to first admit a scientific safety conference is equally baffling, since again the public appears to have the right to know.

    While CERN keeps a low profile, a well-equipped blog owned by a member of CERN’s sister institution, DESY, substitutes refutation by ad-hominem assaults to influence the media. Although experienced hatred is better than no response at all, this response throws a scant light on CERN’s science.

    Why not demonstrate to the world why the gothic-R theorem and the Telemach theorem and the miniquasar theorem and the immunity of neutron stars theorem are false? A single one out of them, if disproved, will instantaneously transform me into CERN’s best ally as CERN well knows. Never was there a more manifest fear of the truth, it appears.

    My last hope are the current victims of the technological hubris of another nuclear machine. They alone have nothing to lose by speaking the truth. Maybe one of them feels that a small amount of their remaining lifetime is worth investing to safeguard the lives of those dearest to them? For it is only contrition before heaven that can save us all,

    Prof. Otto E. Rossler, chaos researcher, University of Tubingen, Germany (For J.O.R., April 13, 2011)

    12 comments
    12
    Comments so far

    Dr. Goulu on April 13, 2011 3:53 am
    Your scientific results don’t prove anything. In science, only experiments can prove a theory. So you want to prevent experiments that may show your theory is correct ?!!? Quite a unique situation in scientific history…

    It’s not the job of scientists in CERN or anywhere to contradict your theory. Their job is to verify their own theory. Your job is to bring an experimental evidence of yours. If it’s positive and non destructive, then you will become the Saviour of the World, the Eternal Hero and the first Physics + Peace Nobel Prize ever.

    Otherwise, if the LHC shows that you are wrong, you’ll shut up forever ok ? I promise I will shut up forever if you are right

    Otto E. Rössler on April 13, 2011 4:12 am
    Sweet positivism in the middle of the night – but thank you cordially for it.

    Anthony L on April 13, 2011 10:51 pm
    Professor, you have my utmost respect and the respect of all socially responsible people for your request to CERN to pull themselves together and stop this unending advance into the unknown results of ever increasing beam energies, regardless of their understandable fears that the whole enterprise might be put on hold, or even canceled like the rather larger US one.

    The plain fact is that you and others – eg Plaga – have raised legitimate concerns given the fact that no one at CERN or anywhere else really has any certain idea what this adventure will yield. Moreover, every single safety argument they have advanced in the past has eventually been retired as inadequate or in error, either disproved or open to serious challenge. Physicists have no right to fob off concerned members of the public with their specious argument that the aeons of cosmic ray impact upon the Earth prove the LHC is safe – where the conditions are different, and momentum may be conserved by the production of slow moving mBlackHoles and other debris after collision.

    To peddle this obsolete argument brazenly (as several have done to me when challenged in public discussion here in New York City) is sheer hypocrisy and demeaning to the physics community as a whole. The retreat to neutron stars and white dwarf stars already looks open to enough objections that it probably won’t stand for long either, so the truth is no one has any good reasoning to show that the risk is non existent.

    We simply don’t know what the products will be, as everyone cheerfully admits from Brian Greene to Brian Cox to CERN itself. Therefore it is impossible to estimate the chances of any one danger, and impossible to say it is small.

    Even if the whole affair merely demonstrates that physics theory is not yet good enough on other side, either to justify safety or to justify expecting catastrophe, we still need to properly assess the possibilities in a public review by responsible parties who are not committed to the project in terms of their career or their other interests. At the very least, some safety provisions might be implemented, other than the current slow ratcheting up.

    CERN are completely irresponsible toward the public to evade this simple proposition, and they are quite wrong to ignore your protests. The situation is being analyzed at length on http://www.scienceguardian. com and I hope you will agree with what we write there and correct any errors of fact.

    Anthony L on April 13, 2011 10:59 pm
    Erratum: The above should read “prove that the LHC is safe”, of course.

    Otto E. Rössler on April 14, 2011 2:05 am
    http://www.newaidsreview.org/
    Thank you for this most interesting responsible response.

    Anthony L on April 14, 2011 8:22 am
    Thank you, Dr Rossler, also, let’s hope you receive a responsible response from CERN itself very soon, as this absurdity has gone on long enough, especially as we now have the additional conjecture that the Higgs is none other than the inflaton. But cynics will fear that the juggernaut locomotion of a 3000 physicist strong system with a committee for a head and career interest for fuel is impossible to pause.

    (The url is properly http://www.scienceguardian.com, please note).

    Otto E. Rossler on April 14, 2011 8:40 am
    Dear Anthony: Your giving me hope to “receive a sensible response from CERN itself very soon” is a bright light on the horizon perhaps not just for me. Take care, Otto

    Steve Nerlich on May 8, 2011 2:47 am
    Meaning no disrespect – this does sound like a load of old bollocks. The general idea that the LHC is going to destroy the Earth was given the scrutiny it deserved and found completely implausible. Cosmic rays hitting the atmosphere have orders of magnitude more energy and do not cause planet-swallowing black holes when they collide with it.

    Otto E. Rossler on May 8, 2011 5:04 am
    Dear Mr. Nerlich:
    Thank you for reminding the world that CERN claims cosmic rays likewise generate mini-blck holes – even more massive ones – which would pass right through the earth if uncharged. Accordiung to CERN, the maximally dense neutron stars would be liable to being eaten inside out – but they still exist. This argument is correct except for the “minor” omission that neutron stars are immune to being eaten inside out owing to ther frictionless superfluid cores. Inside the latter black holes cannot grow. This quantum result, known to CERN in time, was suppressed in their safety report. It would be nice to learn how come. Thank you for your helpful letter.

    Ed Sweet on May 8, 2011 7:11 am
    Professor,

    If mini-black holes are produced by cosmic ray collisions, and do not evaporate, there should ba a background of fast moving black holes in the universe, as cosmic rays hit stars over the years…what effects would they have?

    AnthonyL on May 16, 2011 9:50 am
    Professor, you have our sympathy for the discouraging reception you receive on Web threads such as this one, when people who are under researched on the topic write facile rejections of your important public global alert as if you were unfamiliar with an obsolete safety argument, which is the only one they have heard of. They claim “no disrespect”, but what respect is there when they contradict someone with more expertise on the basis of what the safety alert “sounds like” to them?

    Just to correct the record, Steve, the familiar safety argument that cosmic rays have been hitting the earth for eons and caused no problem was contradicted by collider defenders themselves in 1999, and featured in Martin Rees’s book published in the US as Our Final Hour in 2003 by Basic (Perseus). If you like, you can read the details at ScienceGuardian.com where we are running over this discussion for those who would like to catch up with what is really being said and written, and not merely media reports. The idea you produce as showing Rossler’s doubts are “bollocks” is known as Cosmic Ray 1, and any informed physicist of any stature will confirm, if you ask him or her personally, as we have done several times in public, that it is this Cosmic Ray 1 rationale which is bollocks. not Rossler’s objections.

    The basic principle is that of conservation of momentum. If the cosmic rays that strike the planet have produced mBHs or any other dangerous debris, those particles have flown off into space at colossal speed and therefore have done none of the damage they could have done if they had lingered here.

    On the other hand, protons and other particles collided at the LHCat ever increasing energies are expected to produce mBHs and possibly even strangelets and on the same principle that two trains colliding head on will yield debris which will not be traveling as fast as the trains were, the LHC collisions will also produce debris which will stay on or in the Earth, because it will be traveling at less than escape velocity, with some possibly even stationery.

    If you read the CERN safety reports of 2008 carefully, you will see very quiet admissions of this kind too, at least in the public version. It is important to read exactly what CERN has been saying, since admissions of this kind are kept quiet and may even be omitted from its reports (this one was from the guides issued for the benefit of scientists), for the simple reason that physicists are very wary of having a spanner poked into their gigantic microscope, having lost the battle for the even bigger collider in the US in the 90s.

    And given the level of public ignorance on the topic, who can blame them. But there is still no excuse for misleading the public by peddling this sop to public concern which has been obsolete for over 12 years. Professional scientists should at least tell the truth in public.

    AnthonyL on May 16, 2011 9:54 am
    Apologies for the typos. It is Martin Rees, and it should be “protons AND other particles”. There is no means of editing posts on this page, unfortunately.

  2. Truthseeker Says:

    The exchange with Professor Rossler ran on some more at Lifeboat, as follows:

    Otto E. Rossler on May 17, 2011 2:36 am
    Thank you, dear Mr. AnthonyL. I appreciate this encouragement. At the same time I should add that all I am asking for is to be relieved of my hopefully false results. To give an example: my second major result is the “unchargedness” (universal lack of charge) of black holes. The profession so far believes that this cannot be owing to the venerable Gauss-Stokes theorem of the 19th century. For if because of the latter a fraction of the ultrafast natural cousins of the hoped-for artificial black holes from CERN is charged (so the third “hair” on the “pate” of a black hole in the terminology of name-giver John Wheeler is not cut off), the fact of earth still existing proves that CERN is innocuous. I will then retract my warnings. Unfortunately, my Telemach theorem cuts-off the 3rd hair (so that only the first and the second, mass and angular momentum) remain. Telemach stays unchallenged to the best of my knowledge.

    My colleague, Hermann Nicolai, made it clear to me in March 2009 that this is the essential point in his opinion, which is well taken. I have asked him ever since to come up with a counter-proof to my lack-of-charge result in defense of Gauss-Stokes. He refuses to reply. I hope he will forgive me my mentioning his name in public. My excuse for doing so is that if he is right, he no doubt will appreciate the opportunity to demonstrate to the world the weakness of my position as a warner and simultaneously rehabilitate CERN. Conversely, if no answer comes from his part, the public will realize that the question is indeed maximally interesting scientifically – and perhaps not just scientifically. This interest of the planet justifies my going public, I hope: Dear Mr. Nicolai, please forgive me!

    AnthonyL on May 18, 2011 12:33 pm
    Professor, it seems to any reasonable person that if scientists theorize as to the safety of the collider experiments, as they escalate to ever more excruciating levels, and these theoretical analyses are taken seriously, then unrefuted theory which gives pause to charging ahead without review and careful consideration of the possibilities should be taken equally seriously.

    One should also mention that group think has always proved to be a bad basis for scientific conclusions, as the typical Nobel prize often reminds us. All major scientific breakthroughs and progress replace the previous accepted paradigm, which is always the basis for group think, and which therefore indicates that group think is unreliable (unless it represents a general summing up of determinedly individual thinking, which is rarely the case).

    Dire catastrophe typically seems extremely unlikely to to those aboard the Titanic, or as a fire starts threatening a crowded disco, and lives are often lost to this psychology, as people tend to feel safe in a crowd, and only the individuals really respond quickly.

    It is rather disappointing to see that large crowds of physicist are no better than other groups of humans, as in this case, especially when they have formed an institution, as in this case, and are subject to the same myopic complacency. They fancy themselves more intelligent than the average member of the public, and they are in a narrow sense. But they seem to be subject to the same sheepish psychological paralysis of their normally acute perceptions as any other large group of humans.

    Anyone such as yourself challenging the orthodoxy of what amounts to the high Church of physics must be prepared to nail their paper to the church door, and possibly be burned at the stake for it. At the very least you should be spared the reflex smugness of those who reply to your concerns on Web threads with their triumphant quotation of out of date replies to your concerns. That is not too much to ask.

    We are merely asking for respect for your ideas and your courage in making them public, and we also ask for similar respect from your colleagues.

    (Correction: in the previous comment photons should read protons, of course).

    Otto E. Rossler on May 19, 2011 7:14 am
    Dear AnthonyL:

    Thank you for your refreshingly sad remarks.

    I would add that the lay public and the media ought to be able to see the fact that no one in the physics establishment comes forward with her or his counter-proof, so that people could see where the scientific dis-sensus lies. For strangely, there really is no dissensus, only allegations of dissensus that are never substantiated and have no name or quotation behind them.

    I today learned the technical term “Self-protection Argument” from Rudolf Uebbing, which refers to the fact that all CERN physicists claim they would not agree to the experiment themselves if they were not sure that their own families are not put in danger thereby.

    I found this ingenious. The fact had been encountered by me before but I had overlooked its deep significance. Such loyalty, if it cannot be accompanied by factual evidence that the individual can and does reproduce on the spot, is a very strange phenomenon indeed. Do you have an explanation? It looks like collective madness to me, but I am of course partisan here and most likely subject to the very same blindness with the opposite sign.

    But any third person could make sure that the truth is put on the table, could she not?

    AnthonyL on May 19, 2011 11:03 pm
    Professor, you (and your friend) have put your finger on the basic problem driving the defensive politics of large systems of human cooperation with a shared goal, whether BP, Philip Morris, government departments, CERN, or scientific fields based on a false paradigm, such as HIV/AIDS, and cancer. This is the problem that we have been dealing with at scienceguardian.com for seven years in many areas.

    The cognitive dissonance introduced by the conflict between group goals (maintaining a system’s efficiency, forward momentum, profits etc) and individual goals (preserving the health of self and family, if not society at large) is removed in the individual by removing the conflicting logic and facts from consciousness, ie there is simply a brain phenomenon where denial prfecludes problem material from view.

    The good physicists and others at CERN are personally unaware of the existence or validity of safety doubts, since their minds do not contemplate such material consciously, let alone openmindedly, but shelve it out of sight of their own reasoning as cognitive dissonance requires.

    The brain itself tends to interpret incoming data before its reaches consciousness, research has found, and sufficiently threatening heresy is decoded as invalid before it even reaches consciousness.

    Clearly your friend’s point is a good one, and logically valid. Ceteris paribus, intelligent physicists would not risk sacrificing the lives of their wives and children on the altar of finding the Higgs boson, if they allowed themselves to become aware that there is any such risk. But they don’t. They are not fully conscious of their own denial.

    That’s the way the human mind works, it seems. All ideas are colored by emotion because the brain is continually informed by the body, research has now shown, so there is really no brain-emotion barrier, as there is a blood-brain barrier, and the entire nervous system is involved in formulating ideas. So even the best physicists in the world are not emotionally equipped to be disinterested in viewing the theory you present to them. Only another individual outside the system who does not automatically share its goals and the need to deny problems will be able to read your paper with balanced attention. That is the explanation of your experience of a strange absence of response from your expert colleagues, let alone CERN.

    You should not be surprised to find that even the best minds will start saying remarkably foolish things when you confront them with the possibility of putting a spanner in the works of the LHC. They are only operating with half their marbles in play!

    The phenomenon is seen in all fields. Ask any Nobel winner, and he or she will complain bitterly of the inattention and stupid rejections that dogged their early efforts.

    That is why humans involved in major risk activities amid conflicting interests must always be monitored by independent reviewers who do not share the group goals. That is why your call for review is not being answered, even by your friendly colleagues, and certainly not by anybody at CERN.

    Forgive this long explanation but I am writing for the benefot of any readers of this thread who are unaware of this phenomenon which I am sure as a lively and polymath thinker for your entire career you must have recognized yourself as soon as I mentioned it, but for the fact you are unwilling to accept that your smart and honest peers are subject to it!

    AnthonyL on May 19, 2011 11:17 pm
    Errata – Sorry about the typos – should be “precludes problem material” para 1 and last para “benefit of any readers”.

    Otto E. Rössler on May 20, 2011 5:18 am
    Dear Anthony:

    Very interesting.

    Let me add that I am not unwilling to accept that my colleagues do not respond at all. With the help of your words, I can say that I understand and accept this as something innocent and unavoidable, but not as something that the world needs to be living with as long as it still goes on.

    You have shown the world that an outside inspector is always needed. You are one of these outside inspectors. Can you not muster others? Any journalist ought to be in the same position. It would be stupid if we lost our all-encompassing planet, including its past and the bible, for inadvertent lack of awareness of what is going on. Only because no outside supervisor is on duty.

    You are my first independent reviewer. And not just mine.

    AnthonyL on May 20, 2011 1:20 pm
    Professor, you are, as I surmised, very aware of the essential problem, and only too right in calling for independent review, even from journalists (which we are trying to provide at eg the latest post at scienceguardian.com – CERN’s LHC: Black Holes Welcome, Regardless, at http://www.scienceguardian.com/blog/cern-ii-2011.htm), but alas, journalists are subject to much the same exclusion strategy as independent minded scientists, sorry to say.

    For example, reading your papers we understand (correct us if we are wrong) that you demonstrated in your first paper in 2008 that it would take an infinite time for anything eg a positive charge to travel from the core of a black hole to its horizon of gravitational influence, and therefore the idea of a positively charged black hole safely dissipating via Hawking radiation was a non starter. Hermann Nicolai, charged by CERN with responding to this theoretical depth charge exploded under the good ship Safety Arguments of CERN Regarding the LHC (please excuse the lurid metaphor), seemed to acknowledge that your logic was quite acceptable, but maintained that your paper’s numbers were not consistent with cosmological data. In 2009 you published a revised paper in which the necessary adjustments had been made, whereupon you were met and have since been met with a significant silence, suggesting to interested observers that there is so far no good reply to your analysis, and that motivation to acknowledge this is lacking. We rule out the possibility that you are so far off base that the paper is unworthy of reply, because your esteemed colleague Nicolai’s initial reaction showed he thought it was respectable, at least in his expert view, even though CERN might wish otherwise.

    So why the silence? Apparently it is standard in scientific disputes between the establishment in a field and a respectable dissenter to deal with the unanswerable by ignoring it, soon followed by ostracism of the dissenter. We have in your case, a paper, acknowledged to be worthy with a reply, but that reply actually was mistaken in referring to a 1915 paper by Max Abraham, when in fact you had in mind his 1912 paper. The objections Nicolai made in regard to data fit, you took into account. Now the strategy has changed to what we used to refer to in our schooldays as “being sent to Coventry” ie no one will talk to you.

    This seems to parallel rather closely what has happened to Rainer Plaga, whose paper was first criticized by Giddings and Mangano in a way which involved them objecting to the wrong equation, and after this debacle, no further defense of CERN safety argument in the face of Plaga’s objections was attempted. Instead, he went from being Nature’s correspondent on an expert topic to someone who no longer is accepted for publication anywhere, as far as one can discern. Certainly we cannot find any recent paper by Plaga.

    We specialize at Science Guardian in how science is distorted by those at the top of a field clinging to outmoded and disproved ideas on which their high position is based. The phenomenon of silence followed by ostracism as a standard treatment of dissenters in the establishment has been seen in other areas, eg HIV/AIDS and cancer. Although this has always been the way in all academic fields, including science, we believe it has become much worse in the last fifty or sixty years because the funding for much of science has become serious politics. The gigantic sum of some $9 billion required by the LHC with its 10,000 or more scientists involved, whose careers hang on its continued operation and perhaps its results, simply makes it an extreme case.

    You ask journalists to help. But it seems that journalists have become entrapped in economic trends as restrictively as scientists. Publishers don’t finance investigative pieces in print as willingly as they did in previous eras, and in science in particular there are very few science critics among science journalists, who are simply not given the resources to do investigative work, even if they are qualified to do it.
    Any journalists who do attempt it are usually defeated by the response of the top scientists in the field, who simply tell their editors that they are wrong, and the editors know no better than to accept their authority, not having time to investigate who is correct in areas where the expertise is supposedly beyond the lay reader.

    It is therefore very difficult for journalists to come to the rescue of good scientists who are mistreated in this way. The predicament of Peter Duesberg who pointed out at early as 1987 in the most respectable journals in the field that HIV could not be the cause of “HIV/AIDS”, which merely consists of misinterpreting and mislabeling other medical problems from a variety of causes, is typical. Hundreds of articles in major newspapers and magazines and more than thirty books could not prevent the politics from defeating him both in science and in the media. Most scientists and lay people now assume he must have been wrong.

    In that case only a few hundred thousand lives were at stake. Now we have a situation where the entire planet is the gamble, and no review looks likely. All we can do is hope that in this cosmological game of Russian Roulette, the chamber which is at one end of the barrel pointed at the head of the human race does not contain the bullet.

    In other words, the safety argument of CERN essentially amounts to, Keep your fingers crossed!

    Only a proper respect for yourself, Professor, and for Plaga and other creditable commentators, can save us from this absurdity.

  3. Truthseeker Says:

    The exchange ran on a little further at Lifeboat, with some remarks anticipating our posting on the Sheer Incompetence of Lawrence Altman at the NYTimes, who wrote a story in the Science Section today on the history of HIV/AIDS, according to his limited understanding of same, handicapped as he is by sharing in perhaps the biggest mountain of confirmation bias in the history of science:

    http://lifeboat.com/blog/2011/04/if-no-single-scientist-openly-contradicts-my-results-why-no-public-debate/comment-page-1#comment-84954

    =========================================================
    Otto E. Rossler on May 21, 2011 5:33 am
    Dear AnthonyL:

    Only one factual improvement: ‘the time to leave the horizon to the outside world is infinite for any particle’ is what I would stress in accord with any good textbook (like Frolov and Novikov, Black Hole Physics 1998).

    Everything you say I understand and accept as well-researched and convincing. But journalists have one additional weapon: They can ask, “Which scientist on the planet is bold enough to tell under their own name that she or he disagrees with the potentially life-saving new result, and why so?”

    If then not a single scientist is found to defend the establishment under his or her own name, the public (and the publisher) learns a precious news which cannot possibly hurt the magazine’s status, or can it?

    For the public has a right to be informed about interesting and life-saving news, a layperson would think.

    Forgive me that I feel mightily stimulated by your kind open-laying report which ought to be distributed widely among the well-meaning. To which to my knowledge no other profession deserves better to be reckoned than the one you presented so convincingly.

    By the way: Did you watch the movie “And the Band Played on” with Matthew Modine?

    In deep respect, Otto E. Rossler

    AnthonyL on May 30, 2011 11:19 pm
    Thank you for the correction, Professor Rossler.

    Not completely sure what you mean in your comment above but you seem to be saying that if a reputable scientist disagrees with the rest of his establishment colleagues about the risks involved in a collider such as the LHC, or the global assumption (so far unproven in the literature) that HIV causes AIDS symptoms, then if no one reputable can be found to defend the established view under his or her name, the public will see the situation and come to the obvious conclusion ie that the established view is indefensible, except with politics. Is that right?

    Unfortunately, the way it usually plays out seems to be somewhat less satisfactory. What usually happens is that the reputation of the critic is undermined, and this is done by ignoring him, not allowing him to publish in journals, not supporting his funding, not inviting him to conferences, etc and by letting the fellow traveling know-nothings who get some kind of psychological release by supporting the establishment in matters they do not actually understand, to write scornful and derogatory entries on various Web threads and blogs.

    Thus everyone who matters decides that they no longer need to take the reviewer seriously, especially as more and more time passes and he receives no public support from colleagues. Any journalists who try and cover the matter impartially soon find editors will abandon the topic for more acceptable news. There is virtually no investigative journalism in the realm of scientific debate, which is treated by the public and the media as a game of numbers where the “consensus” is right (until overturned by a Nobel).

    Only if major new evidence appears which supports him can the dissenting reviewer reverse this process, and only if it is sufficiently publicized, but it is generally difficult for contrary evidence to appear and be publicized when the entire field is based on the conventional wisdom, because so-called “confirmation bias” tends to result in most people rejecting new evidence which runs counter to their fundamental beliefs, so they don’t even consider it. For example the idea that bacteria caused ulcers won the Nobel in the 90s only after a great struggle earlier to win any kind of publication at all. Ask any Nobel prizewinner and he or she will typically tell the same story.

    Of course, the end of the world as it is swallowed into a black hole or down a wormhole into another universe would certainly change a lot of minds, but unfortunately they would not be around to say they are sorry and apologize to those such as yourself who were proved rather dramatically right.

    It is confirmation bias which is your enemy, Professor, except among those few who are original thinkers such as yourself, and know that science proceeds towards enlightenment only by replacing the previous paradigm with something better.

    That is one reason we respect you and demand respect for your ideas. It is evidence of a distinguished mind that a thinker does not rest on his laurels and automatically support the status quo, but is able to view it critically, even later on in a career.

    Yes, we saw the film And the Band Played On. The author Randy Shilts Alas died of the very misapprehension on which the book is founded, the idea that HIV is the transmissible culprit for AIDS, despite many warnings from those in the know. Perhaps because his book depended on that very assumption he found it difficult to challenge it, or perhaps like most people he found it difficult to challenge the medical profession who were treating him. So he like so many died from the drugs that were his treatment.

    Unfortunately HIV/AIDS is a supreme example of an incorrect paradigm which has triumphed globally to the extent that every book on the topic, every conference, every textbook, every magazine piece, every movie, with very rare and rather admirable exceptions, work with all the medical and scientific journals and institutions to create one gigantic confirmation bias in the minds of experts and laymen alike that will probably endure forever, because all evidence however contrary is now reinterpreted in terms of the reigning notion.

    Similarly the bias against concern over colliders will probably defeat any critic such as yourself until something very unexpected and alarming is produced. Let’s hope it doesn’t turn out to be what you fear.

    Otto E. Rossler on May 31, 2011 2:45 am
    Dear AnthonL:

    I never got a more sympathetic and deep – and hope-deflating – support.

    There are two points of disagreement, the first important, the second a side issue (but so only in comparison).

    First: You assume on the basis of much professional experience that no influential philosopher or layman seeing what you described would wake up planet-wide. I have many young and not so young supporters who show me that the quasi-equilibrium is about to flip over. Only the time window may not suffice…

    The second point is, of course, my medical upbringing and the “one disease, one pathogen” rule. I must admit I do not know anything bout the alternative theory which you researched regarding the AIDS epidemic. I only know that non-believers in the virus have wrecked much damage – if it is true that whole countries lost a generation while others who followed the traditional medical rules did not (as I cannot judge). So you see how “ordinary” my thinking here is. And hence how hopeless my own cause must be in comparison.

    The high level of discussion that you have brought to the issue is, however, bound to have a good effect on the planet. Thank you for having forced this course.

    Otto

    AnthonyL on May 31, 2011 8:33 pm
    It is good news that young supporters have come to your side, Professor, and one certainly hopes that this pool of respect will widen sufficiently to induce greater respect and a more respectful reply than the leaders of the field have so far given you, even from the beginning, when they made casually derogatory statements eg they would not expect your paper to gain publication in a respected journal on its merit.

    We would have credited that insulting judgment more easily if it had been accompanied by a thorough and respectful line of theoretical reasoning which took issue with your assumptions and your logic on a reasoned basis which extended to reading and replying to any adjustments you made, as you have now done.

    As it is we see mostly psychology at work, the exceedingly unprofessional lack of objectivity which derives from enormous confirmation bias, and the group politics and self interest which feeds it, conscious or not.

    Since we have known many of the most distinguished and original scientists in the world in the course of our work we recognize behavior that is not practiced by the best minds.

    The true elite know that the essence of good science is to know that one may be mistaken, and one’s perceptions however clever may be skewed, and that one should always check one’s assumptions and one’s conclusions, however valid they may seem to one – especially when the public is at risk, not to mention the entire planet.

    In other words, one must always respect a critic of standing who suggests that one’s position may be flawed. That open mind is the characteristic we look for in scientists, and if it is not there, we know that they are not the very best, and therefore the public should demand they answer critics, rather than allow them to dismiss reviewers with political posturing and social sanctions as they always do if they can.

    In this case the stakes are high enough that the public has a right to demand a proper scientific debate which involves respect on both sides.

    The issue of HIV and AIDS is one where the truth is buried beneath an avalanche of disrespect and reflex dismissal of any critique of the prima facie absurd claim that HIV is the cause, as anyone can see for them selves if they trouble to read the original papers in the original journals, which few scientists do, either within or without HIV/AIDS, let alone any journalists or other members of the lay public.

    This is true despite the many ways in which the claim is prima facie absurd, and even more absurd when investigated thoroughly. Examples may be seen in today’s Science section of the New York Times, where Lawrence Altman reviews the history of the epidemic and his understanding of it. It can be found as 30 Years In, We Are Still Learning From AIDS at

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/31/health/31aids.html?_r=1

    The obvious inconsistencies and fallacies Altman maintains uncritically in the course of his account and the misfit between the facts of the epidemic as recorded in the literature and the claims of the paradigm leaders he treats as gospel will tell any alert reader all they need to know about the mismatch between paradigm and good science in this area – where deaths still run at 17,000 or more in the US despite the supposed benefits of drugs that allow you to “live with AIDS”, while the number of people who are “HIV positive” has remained more or less 1 million over the last two decades in what is supposed a “heterosexually transmissible” disease, which has never created any heterosexual epidemic here despite African and Asian experience of supposed rampant HIV/AIDS where it is entirely balanced between the sexes. (We will write up the details at http://www.scienceguardian.com shortly)

    These obvious problems are invisible to Altman however beneath the monster confirmation bias that has taken over his brain as well as countless otherwise able minds.

    In fact, it is better not to mention the HIV/AIDS theoretical problem in discussing your ostracism by your colleagues, Professor, since though it is a symptom of exactly the same psychology it is by association going to validate your treatment in the eyes of those who are subject to confirmation bias in your own area, ie almost all of your colleagues and their supporters in blogs etc. It will double the confirmation bias with which you have to contend.

    But one should point out that the Harvard researchers who condemned critical reviewers of their fond paradigm (HIV=AIDS) as having caused x number of deaths by delaying the delivery of AIDS drugs to patients in South Africa are working on the assumption that their still unproven theory is correct. Their critics would reply that on the contrary they saved x number of lives by delaying the drugs that are the actual cause of AIDS deaths, as is shown by the fact that half the people who die of “AIDS” in the US (as I say, 17,000 or more annually, according to the CDC, more according to WHO) die of drug symptoms (liver damage, etc) which are not on the list of HIV/AIDS symptoms.

    A letter to the Times making these points would have zero chance of being published, of course, unless it was from Luc Montagnier, say, who finally won the Nobel two years ago for finding HIV first in AIDS patients, though like Robert Gallo of NIH, finding it in too few instances (a third) to be the cause of their ailments. Interestingly, Montagnier has publicly acknowledged HIV may not be sufficient to cause AIDS, and that it should be easily shrugged off by any healthy person. I believe he is a fundamentally decent man and good scientist who is aware of the paradigm problem in AIDS and always trying to quietly move beyond it.

    But Professor Rossler, you may need a Nobel before you can get anyone to respond to you who is part of the media-science-medical system. I would be proud of having forced a different course, if that was so, but I am afraid that my two cents is worth nothing to your cause of gaining a respectful response to your concerns, and may even be a detriment.

    One can understand the true picture and the psychology of denial involved in resisting truth, without having any influence on the outcome. All one can offer is to write up whatever success you do have, which may be magnified by gaining media coverage.

    Let’s hope that this problem of science being distorted by power is better understood in the future and therefore counteracted in the new generation of young scientists that you have attracted. Perhaps the Internet will help in that cause.

    Robert Houston on May 31, 2011 9:52 pm
    The potential danger of black holes at the LHC is the important issue to which Prof. Rossler has alerted the world. It is totally unrelated to the merits or failings of an alternative view of AIDS. There have been many dissident views in science and medicine – some right and many wrong. To tarbrush the case against the LHC by confounding it with unpopular dissenting views of HIV/AIDS seems inappropriate and illogical.

    The title of Dr. Rossler’s article suggests that “No single scientist openly contradicts my results.” In it he writes, “If my results were nonsense, some scientist would have taken the trouble to dismantle them publicly under her or his own name so I could respond…” The article also suggests that CERN has made “no response” to his papers..

    Yet in the comments both he and AnthonyL refer to criticisms of his black hole papers by physicist Hermann Nicolai, director of the Albert Einstein Institute. Elsewhere, Dr. Rossler has indicated that Dr. Landua of CERN agreed to send his papers to several physicists for comment. Since late 2008, CERN’s public report “The Safety of the LHC” ended with two paragraphs about Dr. Rossler’s studies and gave links to three critiques by physicists Nicolai, Giulini, and Bruhn.

    As Anthony pointed out, the first critique by Nicolai confused a 1915 proposal by Max Abraham with the 1912 proposal to which Rossler’s paper had referred. The 2nd critique, by Giulini and Nicolai, referred to discrepancies with cosmological data, but these disappeared when the Rossler’s theorems were further developed in 2008-2009. The Bruhn critique amounts to a confession that Bruhn didn’t understand Rossler’s paper. The three critiques are thus flawed and inadequate, and refer to the 2007 version of Rossler’s paper. Apparently there has been no reply to his 2009 revision, which merits serious attention and is available at LHCfacts.org.

    AnthonyL on May 31, 2011 11:09 pm
    @Robert Houston, if you reread the comments exchanged above, you will see that the topic was not the right or wrongness of Professor Rossler’s theoretical paper, but the evident fact that it is not being fully and properly addressed by CERN defenders. and the reasons for this.

    As he states he is now suffering a lack of respectful response on a continuing basis, following his first accommodation of objections, some of which were quite off the mark. They are now ignoring him. So the present situation powerfully suggests that a review should be conducted by an independent expert panel to expose and weigh the claims of CERN that the LHC is safe to operate at escalating beam energies, bearing in mind the possibilities theorized not only by Rossler, but also by Rainer Plaga, and even by theorists on the staff of CERN.

    The exchange above was specifically concerned with whether confirmation bias and other psychological factors fueled by group and private interests lie behind the silence that now greets Professor Rossler’s theoretical doubts, and those of others, The situation with regard to HIV and AIDS is very relevant. Similar serious doubts about the ruling wisdom in the field, concerns explained and justified in the literature, on whether the paradigm HIV=AIDS is valid at all, exist. Their reception has for a long time been one of silence and ad hominem disparagement.

    The issue of why Rossler is now being greeted with silence, the topic of his article above, makes it very appropriate and logical to mention HIV/AIDS, therefore. The reason for mentioning it is not the merits and failings of the alternative view of AIDS, as such, but the similar enormous confirmation bias which obtains in both arenas, ruling out public debate in similar fashion. If you are unaware of this, please refer to earlier posts at Science Guardian.com which deal extensively with the problem.

    Also, you imply that Professor Rossler is misleading us by stating that his paper has received no response. Perhaps you would care to point out where Professor Rossler states this. Possibly you were misled by his phrasing. What he said in the article above is that no one has disproved his paper, or disproved any of the four major parts of his thesis which together suggest dire possibilities if the LHC is allowed to escalate without pause for further safety review.

    He then mentioned that a blog run by a member of DESY had resorted to ad hominem assaults, in place of scientific refutation, and joked that possibly this “hatred” was “better than no response at all” . But it ws clear that he meant response by the blog, not by CERN theorists.

    To suggest otherwise is to accuse the unfortunate professor of wanting to mislead us, which would be disrespectful, which I am sure is the opposite of your intention. The whole point of this comment thread is that Professor Rossler deserves every respect as a qualified and responsible debater and theoretical doubter in this arena, and should not be ignored, attacked ad hominem, or any other diversionary tactic used.

    Since you are clearly one of the very few outside observers who have respected Professor Rossler as a theorist sufficiently to read his papers with full attention, and you note that the responses so far are inadequate, your comments in support of him are a valuable addition to the cause of demanding serious attention and debate for his and other critics deep concerns with the inadequacy of CERN’s safety review.

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