Friday, October 17, 2008

Delusional

Before we begin this vivisection of the comments in this post, I’d like to quote a real physicist (I’m a Physical Chemist, and you note I’m not making original claims about the science here – I’m qualified to interpret the arguments of real nuclear physicist, but it would take years of additional study for me to become one) on what it takes to actually be a physicist. Although I will note that this holds true for all other disciplines of science as well:

Let's be blunt: if you want to even start to call yourself a nuclear physicist -- and by this I mean someone who actually understands what is known fundamental forces well enough to make meaningful predictions as to what they might do in unfortunate circumstances -- you might want to actually have authored a paper in the subject.

Wagner is throwing mud at the wall of credentials, hoping something with his name on it will stick. That is not how a real physicist behaves.

And here we come to the psychology of the individual. I spent a good 12 years of my life teaching and interacting with budding scientists, and I’ve come to recognize the particular archetype that we’re dealing with, here.

Most non-jocks and non-populars segregate out early in middle or high school. The largest remaining social segment is the geek pool, where many try to fit in. This collection of misfits generally has some pretty pathological norms because of the shared experience of rejection. Michael Suileabhain-Wilson ably described many of these peccadilloes in The Five Geek Social Fallacies.

But within the geek group there are the true nerds, and then the also-rans. Within the professional geek group, which includes scientists, engineers, computer programmers, mathematicians, and the like, an exclusionary hierarchy definitely emerges, and professional standards and exams serve as the means whereby slackers and non-hackers can be excluded from the group. It is at this stage that the pseudo-geek, the less talented ones, get their first taste of rejection from the geek group.

I’d venture to guess that no geek is truly unintelligent, but when swimming in a pool enriched in real genii, it is possible for a borderline geek to get an inferiority complex and start acting weird. The engineer “DW”, whom I blogged about when discussing the Young Earth Creationists, is such an example. Although DW was rather intelligent, he was not nearly as intelligent as he thought he was, and going from being a big fish in the High School pond to a little fish (with some real, bona fide genii in the class) at a world class engineering school made him act the way he did, and irritate the piss out of the rest of us.

Others, less intelligent that DW, found solace in geek-like activities such as chess and math games – but success in those endeavors did not necessarily mean success in the classroom or laboratory, and the more time spent on and talking about non-major activities, the more one began to suspect that the geek in question was hiding academic deficiencies. I knew one such individual in graduate school, who spent much time fiddling with bits of code and talking about his Amiga. Most of us chemists were competent but not excellent programmers and computer jocks, so talking with him gave the impression of wide ranging intelligence. My wife took a class with him, and was shocked to find out she did better than him by a whole letter grade. Then I had the same experience. He was a good, but not great, chemist on paper exams. He hid this by constantly talking about stuff we knew something about, but not as much as he did. When the rubber hit the road, though, he was barely average. He eventually flunked out of the thesis part of graduate school because he was not even a good chemist in the lab.

Geek Social Fallacy #1 keeps unfortunates pseudo-geeks in the geek social circle until the end of the undergraduate degree or the end of the required classes in graduate school. Then the slackers and non-hackers get shucked like a corn husk once the real graduate study part of graduate school begins. In many cases this second rejection episode turns their psychology pathological.

Wagner is such a personality.

Let’s first examine his claims that dance around being a scientist, without ever actually hitting the mark that Dr. Steinberg outlined in that quote above.

First, getting 80 / 80 on the CBEST, which is an “objective test” unlike the ones in graduate school. Some physicists and mathematicians are good calculators, others have problems adding 3 digit numbers with consistent accuracy. The ability to calculate (and especially the ability to calculate quickly) and the ability to conceptualize complex functions and hence do higher math are only weakly correlated. I would not go so far to say that they are orthogonal skills, but certainly the correlation coefficient is less than 0.3. Since this is one area where Wagner got a “win”, he keeps coming back to an irrelevant measure.

This is exactly analogous to my erstwhile graduate schoolmate talking about coding on his Amiga for problems that were not required in class. When it came to actually writing code to simulate the diffusion of electrolytes around an electrode for Electrochemistry class, well, he had to ask me for help. Wagner’s admitted he didn’t do as well on a test that measured calculus ability, but that was because they were asking how to teach physics, not how to do it. That’s a subject matter test, not a philosophy of education test. Suuuuure, Wagner, we believe you. And my ex-schoolmate’s ability to create games on his Amiga gave him the ability to simulate voltammetry. Not.

There is a term in physics – necessary, but not sufficient. Oh yes there is. How does performance on a standardized test qualify one to actually be a scientist? Only in the sense that published scientists necessarily did have to pass such tests in order to enroll in their degree programs. I mean, I passed my black belt test, but that does not make me Benny "The Jet" Urquidez. On the other hand, success on a speed calculating test is not even necessary to do high level science, evidenced by the fact that such sections appear on the CBEST and the ASVAB, but not in the GRE or GRE Physics subject matter tests.

Second, when confronted with the fact that it is apparent that the math test he’s been touting all over the net is a non sequitur, Wagner goes on the offensive against the entire system of graduate education the world over:

Now, as I understand it, you have not passed any objective examinations since your college days. Your 'orals' given by your buddy professors are not fully objective. Written objective examinations, such as the two I took, can be examined over and over, year after year, because they are objective.

Oh yes. Standardized tests are reproducible, which is not the same as being objective. IQ test scores are reproducibly rising due to education programs shifting over time to curricula that “teach the test”. Standardized tests serve as a first-pass filter. They strain out the complete non-hackers. Every holder of a B.Sc. in mathematical science can remember working on problem sets that took days, even weeks to figure out. Those problems can not be included in a timed exam, and yet are the very problems that separate the average geek from the exceptional one.

So, after the GRE (yet another “objective exam I have not heard any claims from Wagner about), how are the budding graduate geeks further sieved against incompetence? With graduate classes, containing the sort of “objective” exams that Wagner claims are superior to oral exams. In most cases two years of such classes. The kind of classes Wagner was not able to pass even one of in the Berkeley physics program. Those graduate exams make undergraduate finals look like middle school algebra tests. They are often “take-home” exams to give adequate time to do the problems, and as such contain problems completely unlike the ones in the books (although based on the same material), and require extensive thought. This kind of exam is getting closer to the kind of work a real scientist does, and is exactly why I asked Wagner if he’d ever passed one. You have to pass more than one to be a real, working scientist, and especially to call yourself a nuclear physicist.

After this come the oral exams. And guess what, Walter? Those are not really exams, they are quality control devices and plagiarism detectors. The “exam” from working on a single, difficult problem for 4 years or more is the peer-reviewed paper, as Dr. Steinberg pointed out. That is how real scientists are measured, and that is how graduate students are measured. It is almost impossible to obtain a Ph.D. these days without publications, and the peer review exposes any flaws in your arguments by subjecting it to criticism from potential rivals. It is only after publishing that the oral exams are taken. Their sole purpose is make sure that the work was done by the student and not the professor. The exam can ask about anything, not just what’s on the study syllabus for some test. I was asked to re-derive equations in my defense that weren’t even in the thesis document, they were just peripherally related. Reproducible? No way, different professors nitpick at different things. Objective? You betcha, because if I did not know the details of my own thesis material it would have become readily, painfully apparent.

So now we have a claim that timed calculation tests make one as smart as a nuclear physicist, and that being as smart as one makes you one. I think even the non-scientists reading this see the flaws in that logic. This is the logic of the also-ran, the slacker, the non-hacker who could not even get an undergraduate degree in physics. The geek who can’t handle rejection from the group. The sad thing is that a B.Sc. in Biology from Berkeley is nothing to sneeze at. It’s just that Physics sits on top of the difficulty heap in the hierarchy of science, and Wagner wants into that club so bad he can taste it. So bad he’ll claim to be in it under oath:

I am a nuclear physicist with extensive training in the field. I obtained my undergraduate degree in 1972 at Berkeley, California in the biological sciences with a physics minor, and graduate degree in 1978 in Sacramento, California in law.

Fortunately for Wagner, there is no legal definition of “nuclear physicist” which can be used to charge him with perjury. But by any scientist’s definition, he is not one (See Dr. Steinberg above). Deep down, he has to know that no real scientist takes this seriously.

I know he knows it because he then goes on to claim that his experience as a Radiation Safety Officer further bolsters his claim to be a nuclear physicist:

Essentially, my job was to look for and root-out the safety flaws overlooked by scientific researchers as it pertained to nuclear physics, as a protection not only for the researcher’s own health, but for the visitors and population at large.

I call bullshit, Walter. Why? Because, aside from investigators overseeing the administration of clinical trials, there are no "scientific researchers" as a normal human being defines the term, at the VA. And those clinical trialists certainly do not do any research "as it pertained to nuclear physics". They use radiomedicine, tried and true techniques far from the cutting edge of nuclear physics. The responsibilities of a Radiation Safety Officer have nothing to do with the calculations of risk at CERN. Proof? You want proof that the paragraph in that lawsuit about Wagner's responsibilities at the VA was an exaggeration?

Well, lucky for us we live in the age of the internet, where Wagner's very job description is advertised:

HEALTH PHYSICIST (Radiation Safety Officer)

The Department of Veterans Affairs New Jersey Healthcare System is seeking a full-time Radiation Safety Officer for our Imaging Service and Radiation Safety Program, which includes Radiation Oncology, Diagnostic Radiology, Nuclear medicine and research divisions.

The VA NJHCS is a consolidated facility comprised of two main campuses, one in East Orange and the other in Lyons, New Jersey.

SUMMARY OF THE POSITION:

The Radiation Safety Officer is responsible for investigating all overexposures, accidents, spills, losses, thefts, unauthorized receipts, uses, transfers, disposals, miss-administrations, and other deviations from approved radiation safety practice and implementing corrective actions as necessary. The RSO is also responsible for implementing, or causing to be implemented, all written policies and procedures related to radiation safety under the direction of the Medical Center Director, his delegates and the Radiation Safety Committee. Additional duties of the position include: Training of personnel, maintaining all pertinent records and permits, managing waste disposal for all users of radioactivity at the medical center


QUALIFICATION REQUIREMENTS:

· All applicants must be U.S. Citizens

· Bachelor’s Degree in Natural Science that includes at least 30 semester hours in health physics, engineering, radiological science, chemistry, physics, biology, mathematics, and/or calculus.

· Experience as an RSO strongly desired.

· Certification as a health physicist by the American Board of Health Physics is strongly desired.

· Satisfy State and Federal regulations for RSO qualification in accordance with the National Health Physics Program for designation on an NRC permit.


Uh huh. Does that look like the job description of a nuclear physicist to you? Me neither. Now, let's take a look at the CVs of some people I found by googling "Berkeley particle physics", because I wanted to show how far from the mark Wagner's "credentials" are from those of real scientists in this very field who were in some way associated with his very school:

Chris Quigg

Joanne D Cohn

C. B. Thorn

Daniel T. Larson

Stephen D.H. Hsu

Joshua Simon Bloom

Go on, click on those links. See how many list even things like National Merit Scholarships, to say nothing of standardized test scores. Some mention Phi Beta Kappa, because that is something you earn through more than the effort put into a single test, and science CVs are all about the honors, publications and accolades you earn from years of hard work. Now go on, do your own google search. Most CVs of Academics are on the web. Match them up against Wagner. Now go to Google Scholar. Look up Wagner's publication record. Go ahead, do it again. Oh, I forgot, Wagner wuz robbed. Of his one and only publication.

Sorry Wagner. I know of Professor Price by reputation. He's a class act, and he's been in the National Academy since the 70s. He would not get 45 Ph.D. students and 44 post-docs by screwing people out of their publication rights. That happens once, and the world gets out. No more grad students for the good professor. Once again, I call bullshit. Once again, Wagner = non-hacker.

So Wagner looks like a preening idiot even to the non-delusional layman at this point. He does not care. This isn't the first time he's called a non-issue a "safety problem" to stroke his own ego. All he cares about is his standing with people like jtankers. Because his is a world class ego tied to a minor-league intellect, and keeping this little gravy train going is his only claim to fame. This is the ego that drives the pseudo-geek rejected by professional geekdom. And I'd never have even gotten into this fray if he wasn't costing me money via the courts, and if his idiocy hadn't earned death threats for a real, Nobel-winning scientist. But he is and it did.

Let me be clear. In this day and age of specialization, it is close to impossible for a layman to be on the cutting edge of science. The low-hanging fruit is gone. Edison would be a minor researcher in some industrial lab today. And in Academia, publications rule the day.

Wagner is going to trot out the old "the entire physics community has a grudge against me and I'm never going to get published in a peer-reviewed journal" tripe. Heh. Unfortunately for him there now exists Xarchiv. You can publish on Xarchiv without peer review, and should your genius be such that it does not need peer review, that will be self-evident. Even kooks and budding kooks such as Plaga and Werbos publish stuff on Xarchiv. It gets ignored (in the case of Werbos) or knocked down (in the case of Plaga), but it's there. Where' Wagner's opus? The same place his credentials reside.

And so to recap: today all physicists have undergraduate and / or graduate degrees in physics. Wagner is a slacker and a non-hacker who never managed to get an undergraduate degree in Physics. Physicists publish papers. Wagner talks about passing a test aimed at school teachers. Physicists publish papers. Wagner talks about objective” testing. Physicists publish papers. Wagner’s friends talk about his chess prowess (DW was a great chess player, BTW – and I still beat the pants off him in chemistry). Physicists publish peer-reviewed papers. Wagner talks about suggesting that concrete be poured over nuclear waste in a secret, temporary storage site to prevent terrorist attacks.* Getting Wagner on-topic is like nailing jello to a wall. Because there is nothing there but ego.

*A site that could be protected easily with a no-fly zone, as are all nuclear plants in the US. It’s likely that his colleagues laughed not because of the remote possibility of terrorist attack (and in pre-9/11 days, a ground-based infiltration was more likely, and possibly still is) but because sealing the waste without proper treatment and precautions would lead to dangerous gas formation and possible vessel bursting, as almost happened at Hanford before the stirrers were installed.

[Update - for all those who care, I'm a Leo. Shows, doesn't it? :D]

10 comments:

Jim Wright said...

keeping this little gravy train going is his only claim to fame

And that's it, right there, John. That's it in total. Without the LHC "controversy" he invented, he would be absolutely nothing but another garden variety loser with an internet connection - instead of the Conspiracy Nut he is today.

Exceptionally well written post, John, thanks.

Anne C. said...

Thanks, John. That was a perfect summation.

"A Day in the Life of a Jumped Up Hall Monitor"

CW said...

Go Gators! You have one of my undergrad professors (Dr. Thorn) on your list...

Random Michelle K said...

No way John.

My Dad is a Leo, and you're totally nothing like him.

I mean, you don't even have a BEARD!

You guys also have a stronger stomach than I. I'm done with pig wrestling.

James Blodgett said...

The Wagner material is ad hominem. At times that may be a valid form of argument. Here it totally obscures the more important issue of whether the Large Hadron Collider is safe.

Before the recent LSAG report, safety claims for colliders were sadly lacking. Before startup of RHIC at Brookhaven in 2000, collider advocates (and a widely touted safety report) claimed that black hole production required energy beyond the reach of any collider. Shortly afterward many physics papers appeared in peer-reviewed journals, based on new string theory, predicting black hole creation at colliders. A CERN safety report in 2003 anticipated black hole production, but said that black holes would dissipate via Hawking radiation. Shortly afterward physics papers appeared in peer-reviewed journals that questioned the fundamental theory behind Hawking radiation. An analogy between colliders and cosmic rays was also supposed to demonstrate safety, but that analogy had holes when applied to Earth. The later LSAG report admitted those holes and had to go beyond Earth to consider the effect of cosmic rays on neutron stars and white dwarf stars. The LSAG report is fairly good, but both Rössler and Plaga have offered somewhat speculative models which show how it might be wrong, and Toby Ord presented at the Future of Humanity Conference at Oxford saying that the probability that current physics is wrong is higher than the very low probabilities sometimes calculated using existing physics.

One of the good things that Walter Wagner and his associates have done is to pressure collider advocates to do these studies. Even if there turns out not to be a problem, it is a good thing they checked. My only concern is whether they checked well enough. The safety of Earth is not a matter that should be subject to spin doctoring.

I will present at the Society for Risk Analysis Annual Meeting in December and will call for changes in the precautionary principle and in the protocol for environmental assessments. The reason such changes are needed is because of the tendency we see here to Swift-Boat anyone who blows any kind of whistle, as Walter Wagner has.

vince said...

Before I respond to some of the points made by Mr. Blodgett, let me introduce him. He is on the advisory board of the the Lifeboat Foundation. Their mission statement in part states "...is a nonprofit nongovernmental organization dedicated to encouraging scientific advancements while helping humanity survive existential risks and possible misuse of increasingly powerful technologies, including genetic engineering, nanotechnology, and robotics/AI, as we move towards a technological singularity." According to his bio page on that site, Mr. Blodgett has an M.A. in sociology, an M.B.A., and an M.S. in statistics.

The Wagner material is ad hominem. At times that may be a valid form of argument. Here it totally obscures the more important issue of whether the Large Hadron Collider is safe.

I strongly disagree. When you make claims about your credentials to bolster an argument you're making, then those credentials are valid targets. Wagner has continually made false claims concerning his expertise, and is either unable or unwilling to answer such simple questions as "where did you get your law degree" and "when and where did you practice law." His claims of a paper published in Scientific American is also false - what happened is that there was an exchange of letters between Wagner and theoretical physicist and Nobel laureate Frank Wilczek in response to an article. And Wagner's claims as to what he did as a Radiation Safety Officer have been shown to be false.

If you are going to start making claims about safety in a technical area, you had better be able to show you have expertise in that are. Mr. Wagner doesn't. Period. And if you lie about your credentials, then your credibility when you start making claims in an area where you've lied is zero. Period.

Before startup of RHIC at Brookhaven in 2000, collider advocates (and a widely touted safety report) claimed that black hole production required energy beyond the reach of any collider. Shortly afterward many physics papers appeared in peer-reviewed journals, based on new string theory, predicting black hole creation at colliders.

What was the name of the report, and who produced it? Can you give a link? Who wrote the papers you describe? Where were they published? Apparently these views are no longer mainstream. Why should we still consider these papers all this time later?

A CERN safety report in 2003 anticipated black hole production, but said that black holes would dissipate via Hawking radiation. Shortly afterward physics papers appeared in peer-reviewed journals that questioned the fundamental theory behind Hawking radiation.

Again, who wrote the papers you describe? Where were they published? You can't just make a blanket statement that such papers exist and have anyone take your word for it. You don't need to list every paper, but a partial list is necessary before the statement can be taken at face value, and to allow anyone who desires to examine the source material for themselves.

The LSAG report is fairly good, but both Rössler and Plaga have offered somewhat speculative models which show how it might be wrong...

Rössler argues that based on his reinterpretation of the Schwarzschild metric, Black Holes don't emit Hawking radiation and will exist forever. Therefore, if black holes were produced at the LHC, they would represent a serious danger because they wouldn't decay, but exist eternally and would have sufficient time to gradually devour their environment. I think this scenario has been sufficiently refuted by Domenico Giulini and Hermann Nicolai and others.

Yes, I’ve read Plaga’s paper “On the potential catastrophic risk from metastable quantum-black holes produced at particle colliders.” But Steven Giddings and Michelangelo Mangano pretty much demolished his arguement. Essentially, they note that Plaga is considering a warped extra dimensional scenario. In these models, there’s a regime in which you can use the four dimensional quantities and laws, and a regime in which the phenomenology is described by the five dimensional laws. Giddings and Mangano point out that Plaga is applying four-dimensional formula where they don’t apply, obtaining an incorrectly high result.

...and Toby Ord presented at the Future of Humanity Conference at Oxford saying that the probability that current physics is wrong is higher than the very low probabilities sometimes calculated using existing physics.

Mr. Ord is a Research Associate at the Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, University of Oxford. He has numerous degrees in computer science and philosophy, and his areas of specialization include normative ethics, practical ethics, and the philosophy of computation. None of this makes him qualified to assign probabilities as to whether current physics is wrong. And how, exactly, do you determine whether or not any portion of a scientific theory is probable or not, much less assign a numerical value to that probability?

The safety of Earth is not a matter that should be subject to spin doctoring.

I agree. But when a question of safety occurs, those who assert that there is a safety issue need to have at least some expertise in the field where they are making the claim, must make credible and evidential arguments, and must themselves be credible. I don't see that here, especially with regards to Mr. Wagner.

John the Scientist said...

Toby Ord presented at the Future of Humanity Conference at Oxford saying that the probability that current physics is wrong is higher than the very low probabilities sometimes calculated using existing physics.

Probably everything we "know" today is wrong in some sense. But did the fact that Newtonian mechanics is wrong in the General Relativity sense prevent us from using it to calculate the trajectories for the Moon landing? Before you start using vague aphorisms and general, but useless (in the predictive sense) philosophical observations, please give me numbers. As my advisor used to say, science without numbers is religion. What is the exact probability of being wrong with the forces we understand pretty well in the LHC? Give me numbers, and we'll assess the risk. Otherwise, we're talking religion, and silly, New Age, Luddite religion at that. As much as I beat on Plaga, at least he came up with something resembling a scientific argument. Wagner's got nothing except pointing to Rossler (who's also been proved to be a crank) and Plaga, and saying "what he said".

Wagner is using flawed "research" to make his arguments and asking his belief in said "research" to be taken seriously. When asked "why the hell should we believe you?", he makes up credentials. It is those fantasy credentials and that line of reasoning that open him up to ad hominem attack.

When Wagner publishes a proof for his doubts grounded in mathematical, physical theory in Xarchiv (which does not require peer review), then he might have a claim to be taken seriously.

One of the good things that Walter Wagner and his associates have done is to pressure collider advocates to do these studies. Even if there turns out not to be a problem, it is a good thing they checked.

No he pulled the same stunt with CERN as he did at Brookhaven. What he did here was force CERN to spend perfectly good money on nonsense that had already been addressed in the US. This is not whistleblowing, it's the definition of insanity - doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. He forced productive scientists to do something idiotic. That's power, of a sort, which is what he's after.


I will present at the Society for Risk Analysis Annual Meeting in December and will call for changes in the precautionary principle and in the protocol for environmental assessments.

What changes, exactly. What's the probability cutoff? You publish the mathematical basis of your work on Xarchiv right now and I might take you seriously. Otherwise, you're making vague assertions that can be not be tested or disproven. That's not science. It's Henny Pennyism.

Since I doubt you'll put your money where your mouth is on Xarchiv, believe me, I'll be watching the notes form that meeting to see what you come up with.

Anonymous said...

maybe Mr. Blodgett has been only (in some way) influenced by Wagner, as well as Mr Ord, and both had no idea the type of Fraud that Wagner really is, dont believe me, check this out:

http://shouldersofgiantmidgets.blogspot.com/2008/10/return-of-radiation-man.html

I invite you Mr Blodgett to read this

James Blodgett said...

I posted a piece here saying the following briefly. “Vince” asked for references. The following piece lists references.
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It is assumed here that Walter Wagner’s concern about colliders was a bad thing. I am writing to suggest that it was a good thing, and that Wagner had good reasons for concern.
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I should note that I did not get involved in the collider issue because of Wagner.
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The issue is not that colliders WILL destroy the world, but that there is a small chance that they might do so. A small chance that earth might be destroyed is not a good thing. We want good safety factors. Collider advocates have proposed several safety factors, but rapidly developing physics has raised questions about all but the most recent.
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In 1999 Wagner suggested, in a letter to the editor published in Scientific American, that the upcoming Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider at Brookhaven might make black holes. His own math, he said, made that seem unlikely, but he thought that others should carefully check this out. In a response to Wagner’s letter, published in the same issue, Frank Wilczeck agreed that black holes were impossible and said that strangelets were of greater concern, but then said that strangelets were impossible also. This exchange started a media flap. Brookhaven responded to the flap with a safety study by physicists involved in the project. This study said that black hole production required energy beyond the reach of any collider, and that a collection of strangelets would be electrically positive on its surface and not attract normal matter. [1] These “safety factors” sounded definitive, and put an end to the media flap.
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Within months, developing physics eroded the “safety factor” that colliders could not make black holes. In a new development in physics, unrelated to the collider flap, several string theorists began publishing papers, based on new theory, predicting that colliders would make black holes. [2] [3]
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In 2000, the Brookhaven collider was started without incident. Dr. John H. Marburger, Director of Brookhaven, who commissioned the study that put out the flap, was appointed Science Advisor to President Bush, and tasked with defending controversial Bush administration scientific policies.
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CERN had an even larger collider in the works, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). In 2003, CERN published a safety report. [4] This report anticipated black hole production, touting the great science that could be done if black holes were available for study. Black hole production would be safe, the report said, because they would dissipate instantly in a burst of Hawking radiation. [5]
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At about the same time, and unrelated to the collider controversy, physicists published papers questioning the fundamental theory behind Hawking radiation, a radiation that has never been seen. [6] [7]
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Another safety factor mentioned by both studies was the claim that a collection of strangelets would be electrically positive on their surface and not attract normal matter. In 2006, a paper was published predicting that a collection of strangelets would be electrically negative on their surface. [8]
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Another safety factor was the claim that an analogy between colliders and cosmic rays demonstrated collider safety. However, collider opponents pointed out ways in which the two were not analogous.
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Finally, I think because of the erosion of safety factors, because of pressure from collider opponents, and because of some contact between the two sides, CERN was persuaded to do another safety study. [9] Collider advocates tout the fact that they did three studies, who could ask for more? Actually, the three studies were a sign of weakness. The second two were necessary because safety factors confidently asserted by the first two eroded. This raises questions about whether physics in this area is stable enough to produce definitive safety factors.
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Michelangelo Mangano of CERN was a lead participant in the third study. In my opinion, he did a good job, carefully exploring many of the concerns of collider opponents. In an associated paper, Giddings and Mangano agreed that the cosmic ray analogy was not definitive when applied to earth, and so extended it to neutron stars and white dwarf stars. [10] This may save the analogy, but it also validates the claim of collider opponents that the analogy was not definitive as originally proposed. The third study is not totally definitive since scientists have proposed somewhat speculative theories that may yet again invalidate its safety factors. [11] [12]
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I think that Mangano did a good job. He reduced my personal subjective estimate of the risk by an order of magnitude or two. Considering that the risk is a risk to earth, it is legitimate to ask whether that is good enough. However, the point here is a defense of Wagner. I think I have demonstrated that, during most of the time that Wagner was involved with the issue, “safety factors” proposed by collider advocates were inadequate. Later studies had to find new safety factors. Pointing out that safety factors are inadequate is a positive service.
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As a parable, consider a ride with a reckless bush pilot. As you get in the airplane for a flight over tough country, you ask, “have you completed the checklist?” “Another bureaucrat!” he grumps, then grabs a clipboard and pointedly circles the plane, looking at every tire and checking the dipstick in every oil reservoir. “See, nothing wrong!” he exclaims as he guns the plane down the runway. The philosophical question: is the plane safer now? In fact, there was nothing wrong. However, I would much rather fly after the checklist is completed. Running the checklist was a good thing. The subjective probability of trouble is lower.
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Estimates of the probability of collider disaster have ranged from 0.75 to 10^-40. Considering that the physics enabling disaster is rather speculative, I think that 0.75 is too high. Considering that physics is in flux, that physics contains several speculative theories enabling disaster, and that several safety factors evaporated, I think that 10^-40 is too low. As a very rough guesstimate, consider that the subjective probability of disaster may have been 1/10,000 before the Mangano report, and 1/100,000 afterward. It is standard decision theory to compute expected value, that is, to multiply the probability of something times what is gained or lost if that probability is actualized. In this case the prospective loss is the entire population of earth, 6.5 billion lives, to say nothing of the lives of those yet unborn. Using this standard calculation, the expected value in lives lost in the first case is 1/10,000 x 6,500,000,000 lives = 650,000 lives, and in the second case 65,000 lives. This means that from point of view of the bush pilot parable, in expected value terms, the Mangano report might be thought to have changed subjective probabilities in a way worth saving 650,000-65,0000 = 585,000 lives. Few heroes of legend have saved more lives than that. Of course, there were not exactly 585,000 lives saved, but in a before-the- fact calculation, this is the value of the postulated reduction in the probability of disaster. The Mangano report would not have been done without pressure from Wagner and other collider opponents. I submit that Wagner’s efforts were a good thing, and that he had good reasons for making those efforts.
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References:
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[1] J.-P. Blaizot, J. Iliopoulos, J. Madsen, G.G. Ross, P. Sonderegger, and H.-J. Specht, "Study Of Potentially Dangerous Events During Heavy-Ion Collisions At The LHC: Report Of The LHC Safety Study Group" CERN, 2003
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[2] Steven Giddings and Scott Thomas, "High energy colliders as black hole factories: the end of short-distance physics," Physical Review D 65(5) (2002) 056010.
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[3] Savas Dimopoulos and Greg Landsberg, "Black holes at the Large Hadron Collider," Physical Review Letters, 87(16) 161602, (2001).
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[4]J.-P. Blaizot, J. Iliopoulos, J. Madsen, G.G. Ross, P. Sonderegger, and H.-J. Specht, "Study Of Potentially Dangerous Events During Heavy-Ion Collisions At The LHC: Report Of The LHC Safety Study Group" CERN, 2003
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[5] Ibid, pg 12. “Thermal processes” in this context means Hawking radiation.
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[6] Adam D. Helfer, "Do black holes radiate?" Reports on Progress in Physics. Vol. 66 No. 6 (2003) pp. 943-1008.
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[7] William G. Unruh and Ralf Schützhold, "On the Universality of the Hawking Effect," Physics Review D 71(2005) 024028.
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[8] G. X. Peng, X. J. Wen, Y. D. Chen, New solutions for the color-Favor locked strangelets Physics Letters B 633 (2006) 314-318.
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[9] John Ellis, Gian Giudice, Michelangelo Mangano, Igor Tkachev, and Urs Wiedemann, (Large Hadron Collider Safety Assessment Group(LSAG)) "Review of the Safety of LHC Collisions," CERN June 2008.
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[10] Steven B. Giddings and Michelangelo L. Mangano, "Astrophysical implications of hypothetical stable TeV-scale black holes, Physical Review D, 78, 035009 (2008)
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[11] Otto. E. Rössler, "Abraham-Solution to Schwarzschild Metric Implies That CERN Miniblack Holes Pose a Planetary Risk"Get PDF version
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[12] Rainer Plaga, "On the potential catastrophic risk from metastable quantum black holes produced at particle colliders," arXiv 08081415v1, Aug 10, 2008.

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