Anti-science is a high price to pay

YOU may not have noticed, but the world didn’t end. How disappointed some of our media outlets must be.

The scientists working at the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland (one of whose leading members, incidentally, is Professor Brian Cox, who played keyboards on D-Ream’s “Things Can Only Get Better” – true story) are pioneers – determined, gifted and imaginative. They deserve nothing but our admiration.

And what do they get? Ridiculous, superstitious rubbish about black holes and the end of the world, coverage that would be an insult to the intelligence of a labrador. Analysis of this remarkable scientific triumph has been about as sophisticated as arguing against photography on the basis that the camera steals the soul of its subject.

On the other hand, most people at least seem to know something of what’s going on at Cern, so perhaps this ignorant anti-science coverage has achieved something. But what a pity that in order to provoke public interest in important scientific experiments we have to explain the concept in terms of a Hollywood disaster movie script.

PS – I’m scheduling this post for publication tomorrow morning, so if the world does actually end before then, you’ll never read this. But if you are reading this, then it didn’t and I was right. So there.

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9 Comments

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9 responses to “Anti-science is a high price to pay

  1. Johnny Norfolk

    Tom. I am glad about this and agree with you about the black hole rubbish, its probably the same global warming people. But.

    What are we going to achieve from this very expensive project. what are its goals. I just cannot find out. Is it to make some sort of super weapon. What are its applications. like all these thing its never explained to us.

  2. I’m glad you raised this point, Johnny, and I should have mentioned it in my post. The main purpose behind the LHC is (deep breath) knowledge for its own sake. Hard to swallow in this cost-driven age, I know, but thank goodness someone’s still doing it!

  3. Tom

    Spot on in every way. Knowledge for its own sake is a worthy endeavour, but the funny thing about knowledge for its own sake is that it has an odd habit of spinning off extremely useful inventions that nobody expected.

    New projects with new science tend to concentrate great minds together, and pose challenges hitherto not experienced. New challenges eventually mean new solutions. The origins of MRI did not come from studying how to improve medical imaging, nor for that matter did X-ray imaging.

    The ground work on quantum mechanics was a key part of creating transistors, but when Schrödinger, Bohr, Heisenberg, Planck and friends sat down they were not thinking “how do we make the equipment required to watch YouTube videos?”

    Of course, the need to share vast quantities of data with scientists across the world in previous incarnations of CERN established the world-wide web, and this was given to the public for free. I’ll happily contend that although CERN was not founded to establish a method for people to ‘facebook’ one another, the fact that we got the most useful and liberating communicating method since movable type more than justifies the cost, past and present, of CERN.

    And that’s if you couldn’t care less about the science, which would be a shame, because it’s truly fascinating.

  4. Harry T.

    They haven’t yet entered the particle collision phase which would precipitate a black hole. All they’ve done is guide particles round. Anyway, even if a black hole was created it would take 3 billion years to swallow 1 gram of matter as described here.

  5. Auntie Flo'

    But, Tom, science is and always has been the stuff of a Hollywood disaster movie.

    A great fan of Stephen Hawking and science, I nevertheless find the blind worship of allegedly intellectually superior science and the, equally allegedly, superior scientific elite as worrying and mindless as worship of mindless religion.

    The history of science shows it developing through a series of flawed and crisis prone ruling paradigms produced by equally flawed scientists.

    Every so often a paradigm shift occurs which exposes the massive contradictions of the ruling paradigm and establishes a new one, declaring:”this time we’ve got it right”.

    That’s what Hawking is getting at in Brief History of Time.

    Science never does, of course, get it right. All it can do is approximate and dream like the rest of us – and too often the dreams of science become the stuff of nightmares for humanity:

    Hiroshima, Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, chemical weapons, nuclear bombs, cluster bombs, climate change, technological abuse of our data and lives, thalidomide.

    These are just a few of the nightmare products of good old ‘superior’ science – and good old ‘superior politicians too.

    Given the countless scientific and political disasters that we, the great unwashed outside of your scientific and political bubbles, have been forced to endure by the ‘superior’ intelligence of the scientific and political elite, what is really astonishing is not our healthy sceptism, but that you still expect us to trust you.

  6. This project is also a wonderful example of un-market forces at work for all our benefit. There’s no real goal apart from knowledge and it’s funded co-operatively. True there’s some healthy competition between some of the teams anxious to claim discoveries for their own team and such competition is a fine spur to human endeavour. But “the market” doesn’t work for everything; life’s not that simple….

  7. Harry T.

    When people moan about the cost of these things I have a look at the Department Of Work & Pensions Budget. Tends to put things in perspective!

  8. BillyBoy

    What’s also sad (or great depending on your point of view) is that a 5 min YouTube rap video explains what the LHC is all about better than most ‘explanations’ in the MSM.

    Worth a watch… these guys show get an award for ‘communication of science’… and it has subtitles 🙂

    3 million views and counting…

  9. lloyd

    The same can be said about the rubbish published about mankind destroying the atmosphere and how if we reduce CO2 it will cure global warning. And don’t tell me that 78% of scientists believe it to be true. A few years ago, well many actually, the same percentage of scientist claimed the world was flat and probably some politicians still do.

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