A RISK OF DESTRUCTION OF THE EARTH?


An upcoming physics experiment may destroy the earth. Recent physics
suggests that particle colliders under construction (for example, at CERN)
may produce mini black holes. Some string theorists predict that colliders
will be "black hole factories." They also expect these black holes to
dissipate via Hawking radiation. But Hawking radiation has never been
tested. It may not work. If black holes do not dissipate they could swallow
the earth.

What should be done with this risk? We should be very careful. Unfortunately
we are not. A Cassandra complex is at work. Cassandra predicted the fall of
Troy but was not heard. The same is happening with this issue. The public is
apathetic. The physicists involved are nice enough people, but it is hard
for them to give up a machine on which they have spent millions over low
probability concerns.

Of the various threats to the human race, this is the most preventable. If
enough citizens complain, governments will pull the plug.

The machine promises very nice physics. Is it worth the risk? The issue
needs intelligent debate, by citizens as well as physicists. Citizens can
participate. The math of Hawking radiation is complex, but the essential
point is not. Hawking radiation is a model that may or may not correspond to
reality. Without experiential evidence we can not rely on it one hundred
percent.


Other protective considerations also are uncertain. For more information and
references see http://www.risk-evaluation-forum.org/


The issue needs debate. We ask readers to debate it.

ãCopyright 2003 by James Blodgett

Reprinted with permission, all rights reserved subject to fair use