If you like me are frustrated by people moaning about the Large Hadron Collider destroying the world it might be useful to point out to the doomsayers that this whole controversy isn’t anything new. We went through this all before ten years ago just before the RHIC (Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider) was switched on. Well the RHIC was switched on and reliable sources tell me that the world still exists. The BBC still has an article on the RHIC hoopla which you can read here. The controversy goes back even further than that, in 1995 Fermilab was picketed over similar nonsense. This is one dumb but resilent meme.
Unfortunately for many I don’t think a rational counter argument is going to work. The reason being is that the fear of the LHC isn’t based on an objection to it’s safety in the first place. I see their fear as a Lovecraftian “things man was not meant to know” phobia. A common theme in Lovecraft’s fiction was exploration (ie read change) leads to disaster. The intrepid explorers realize far too late for their own good that they were better off in the dusty old familiar world.
That fear might seem irrational but there is an internal consistency to it. Science has undoubtedly brought about change. If you’re someone who is enthusiastic about, and comfortable with progress then you’re probably enthusiastic about the LHC. If you’re someone who waxes nostalgic for the Victorian era then being suspicious and downright hostile to the LHC is perfectly consistent with your worldview (although ironicaly the Victorians would have loved the LHC). Such people aren’t going to be reassured by arguments testifying to the LHCs safety because their objections aren’t really about the safety of particle physics experiments in the first place.
The best antidote to fear is not to attack the “false objection” but to address the real underlying objection. Since the real objection is a fear of change you’ll have your work cut out for you. But it can’t hurt to be a good cheerleader for science and the benefits of technological progress in general. Not only is it more effective (by addressing the real objection) than the Richard Dawkins scowleyfaced “I’m going to tell you why you’re wrong” approach it’s alot more fun. In that vein here’s a man, Brian Cox, with a serious case of infectious enthusiasm talking about the Large Hadron Collider at TED.
A Space 1999 castmember discusses LHC safety