Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Maybe Oblivion, Maybe Not

I've had a long long day, and I've had a couple of glasses of wine, so I don't want to take on anything complicated. But I was reading The Times over dinner, and I got all engrossed in the story about the Large Hadron Collider. And by the way, since I have a teenager's sense of humor, I can't forget that an earlier Times story on the web had a brief typo calling it the "Large Hardon Collider." How funny is that?

You may have heard that the Large Hadron Collider, when it gets going, has some small chance of creating certain effects that will end the universe. Some people are worried. So: how small is small? And what chances are tolerable?

The Times' Science guy Dennis Overbye tells us there is some disagreement about how to present the relevant information. Some physicists are wary; some think publishing objective facts is the only way to go.

About an earlier collider controversy, Overbye says,

"One report put the odds of a strangelet disaster at less than one in 50 million, less than a chance of winning some lottery jackpots."

So I'm reading that and I'm, like, what? "Less than a chance of winning some lottery jackpots"? This is meant to convey "small"? First of all, it's hardly reassuring to think of it this way, since we all know that somebody wins the lottery. So, um, some universe is going to get destroyed, but it may not be ours? Odds are small that it will be ours?

Then there's this:

"Besides, the random nature of quantum physics means that there is always a minuscule, but nonzero, chance of anything occurring, including that the new collider could spit out man-eating dragons."

Um, "man-eating dragons"? Very reassuring guys! Maybe hiring a PR firm would not be out of line, after all.

No comments: