Monday, September 22, 2008

CERN and Conspiracy Theories

If you so want to believe in conspiracy theories that you thought the CERN Large Hadron Collider was a sinister plot to blow up the universe, then you won't be calmed by the news that it is broken.

"Well, er, obviously, you know, they can't tell us what they really saw when they switched on the beam, because it would freak out BOTH the religious lobby AND the science lobby. So they are, like, just pretending that it's broken."

So instead of the scientists getting the hadrons to whizz around in circles, it would be pleasing to imagine that some exotic hadrons are getting scientists to run in panic-circles at high speeds.

Conspiracy theory is often an attempt to impose an artificial elegance on otherwise meaningless events. If the LHC is broken, what does that really mean?

Among other things, of course, CERN bears some responsibility for the World Wide Web. Tim Berners-Lee, who used to work at CERN, is upset that the Internet is now turning against CERN and circulating wild and unscientific rumours about the possibility of disaster [Warning sounded on web's future, BBC News 15 September 2008]. On my Software Industry blog, I compare quashing Rumour on the Internet with one of the Twelve Labours of Hercules.

Namit Chaturvedi suggests that the rumours are a cheap publicity stunt, and the anti-LHC protestors are actually on CERN's payroll. Problem with this theory is that the timing doesn't fit - most of the publicity (and hype) predated the rumours. I prefer the theory that people are circulating the rumours purely to annoy Tim Berners-Lee.


And finally. I searched for CERN on the BBC News Website to find sources for this post, and I got the following results.

Hadron Collider forced to halt
The Large Hadron Collider at Cern is out of action, a week after its launch, when magnets fail as helium leaks into the tunnel.
» 85% relevance | 19/09/2008 | similar stories
Fading giant brought back to life
National Trust volunteers work to restore the Cerne Abbas Giant's famous outline.
» 83% relevance | 16/09/2008 | similar stories

Interesting juxtaposition, huh? Try and make a conspiracy theory out of that, I dare you.

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