Mar 27, 2010

Critical Request to CERN Council and Member States on LHC Risks

Posted by in categories: complex systems, cosmology, engineering, ethics, existential risks, particle physics, policy

Experts regard safety report on Big Bang Machine as insufficient and one-dimensional

International critics of the high energy experiments planned to start soon at the particle accelerator LHC at CERN in Geneva have submitted a request to the Ministers of Science of the CERN member states and to the delegates to the CERN Council, the supreme controlling body of CERN.

The paper states that several risk scenarios (that have to be described as global or existential risks) cannot currently be excluded. Under present conditions, the critics have to speak out against an operation of the LHC.

The submission includes assessments from expertises in the fields markedly missing from the physicist-only LSAG safety report — those of risk assessment, law, ethics and statistics. Further weight is added because these experts are all university-level experts – from Griffith University, the University of North Dakota and Oxford University respectively. In particular, it is criticised that CERN’s official safety report lacks independence – all its authors have a prior interest in the LHC running and that the report uses physicist-only authors, when modern risk-assessment guidelines recommend risk experts and ethicists as well.

As a precondition of safety, the request calls for a neutral and multi-disciplinary risk assessment and additional astrophysical experiments – Earth based and in the atmosphere – for a better empirical verification of the alleged comparability of particle collisions under the extreme artificial conditions of the LHC experiment and relatively rare natural high energy particle collisions: “Far from copying nature, the LHC focuses on rare and extreme events in a physical set up which has never occurred before in the history of the planet. Nature does not set up LHC experiments.”

Even under greatly improved circumstances concerning safety as proposed above, big jumps in energy increase, as presently planned by a factor of three compared to present records, without carefully analyzing previous results before each increase of energy, should principally be avoided.

The concise “Request to CERN Council and Member States on LHC Risks” (Pdf with hyperlinks to the described studies) by several critical groups, supported by well known critics of the planned experiments:…5;2010.pdf

The answer received by now does not consider these arguments and studies but only repeats again that from the side of the operators everything appears sufficient, agreed by a Nobel Price winner in physics. LHC restart and record collisions by factor 3 are presently scheduled for March 30, 2010.

Official detailed and well understandable paper and communication with many scientific sources by ‘ConCERNed International’ and ‘LHC Kritik’:…ed-int.pdf

More info:


Comments — comments are now closed.

  1. ken wilson says:

    if there are respected scientists concerned about unknowns –will international courts or the united nations request further proof of the accellerator’s safety?

  2. LHC Kritik says:

    Hello Ken,

    until today, international courts have not taken any action, basically because of jurisdiction problems. The UNESCO, having observer status at CERN and granting CERN extra-territoriality and far-reaching legal immunity was contacted by critics. The short answer included the estimation that the CERN safety report is reliable and that the UNESCO would not like to interfere in ongoing lawsuits. Isn’t that a strange excuse?

    Regarding – for example — the two documents mentioned in the article above, one might think the critics have already won the debate and that it is perfectly clear that a neutral risk assessment and further empirical astrophysical experiments are needed. But nothing happens. Not even a step by step start up of the LHC is planned. Journalists don’t follow the risk debate in detail and frequently portray criticism related to the gigantean collider as irrational fear. The ones holding the political responsibility for the planned experiments, the CERN member states and also the UNESCO, refuse to study and to comment on the critical summaries (including dozens of scientific references) submitted to them.

    Typically it is mentioned that the best experts are at CERN and that they all agree on the safety of the LHC. But the physicists don’t carry the political responsibility and have got particular interests naturally. They might accept a higher risk than any other social group on the planet. (Further, especially experts tend to consider their techniques to be safe because according to their daily experience they seem to be controllable and they are convinced about their benefits. At least to them personally, the benefit is obvious and predominates safety concerns. There are too many examples in history.)

    It is not a usual conspiracy with hidden agents.
    It is a perfect diffusion of responsibility.

    This is an interesting article in a quality newspaper about the social surrounding at CERN and the multinational conditions of group think:

    “CERN: The Collaboration Machine”

    The restart scheduled for March 30 is a huge jump to new record energies by factor 3 and is planned to be celebrated as a big media event. Presently it appears unlikely that anything could improve safety.
    In 2012 it is planned to shut down the LHC for extensive and costly upgrades to operate at design energies, doubling the record again.

  3. John Hunt says:

    > Far from copying nature, the LHC focuses on rare and extreme events in a physical set up which has never occurred before in the history of the planet.

    I think that it is important to determine if the LHC establishes conditions which nature has not replicated within our solar system. It does not matter so much how rare the event is. Has a high-energy particle ever struck a piece of pure copper metal on the Moon or for that matter any piece of purified metal that also exists within the LHC detector? If the answer is yes, then I find it hard to imagine how catastrophe is possible. But if it is no then there could be a problem.

    I think that a cautious step-up of LHC energies is prudent but at some threshold energy you may well create something which you could not have predicted or detected at previous energy levels. If that something causes a chain reaction then we might all be dead. So a step-up approach is good but not terribly reassuring.

    How many lives will the knowledge from the LHC save? I doubt it will be any at all. Given that universal extinction remains a possible explanation for Fermi’s Paradox, I’d really like to know for a certainty if the conditions in the LHC are different than what has happened on the Moon. I don’t trust high-energy particle physicists to admit if there are unique conditions in the LHC and then see their work and funding stop.

  4. John V. Karavitis I think that we need to hold science more accountable for the product of its research. Basic research that could put us all in danger, not necessarily the application of discoveries to products. My example is the discussion that went on before CERN was going to turn the LHR con. There was concern that a very small black hole could be produced by the accelerator. Although physicists successfully rebutted this hypothesis, nevertheless, when sailing into uncharted territory, one can never know exactly what possible disastrous results may occur. We need more accountable from scientists. John V. Karavitis

  5. I’m getting the impression that The Lifeboat Foundation is similar to The League of Nations prior to World War II. If CERN’s research is dangerous, we a need an organized and powerful political response. From what I have read, little will be gained from this research compared to the slight but possible creation of an extinction event. The world needs a new organization fast!

  6. I thank John Hunt for his reference to Fermi’s paradox — you know he is the same person who made a huge bet that the Alamogordo test blast would not ignite the atmosphere since if he lost , he would not have to pay. So he had a lot of humor and depth. And it was war-time at that which is a partial (if at all) excuse.

    Fermi’s paradox reads as reported by Marvin Misnky: “Where is everybody?”

    If humans are smart and evolution is lawful, something is amiss.

    I once offered a partial solution: The conditions for personhood acquisition are very restrictive. Humans and wolves may be the only animals who express happiness and bonding by the same innate bodily expression (laughter/smile; happy tail-wagging, greeting tail-wagging). This causes misunderstandings.

    Only in humans does this misunderstanding lead to the “suspicion of benevolence shown to him” in the toddler ragarding mom’s laughter, because unlike wolves, humans are mirror-competent and therefore can conceive of the suspicion of genuine love shown toward them and existing in and beyond the universe.

    So only few biologies would fall into the same evolutionary trap (which by the way anticipates Teilhard’s “point Omega” at which asymptotic point evolution allows benevolence as being no longer a lethal factor for the species in question).

    But this explanation of the scarcity of person-based intelligence does not answer Fermi’s challenge. For the invention of personal resoponsibilty infers a huge advantage and thus ought to be pre-dominant amongst all panets carrying higher life forms.

    You might say that the invention of evil by humanity, as an infectious disease rather than a spontaneous invention, once arisen through a fatal constellation of misunderstandings, is the reason. I hope not.

    But in our case in point, the refusal of taking lovingly stated serious arguments seriously looks like a curse indeed. It would be interesting to get more opinions on this, Mr. Hunt.