[Update:- NB: This was an April Fool joke. -cvj]
Some breaking news for a change. I’ve only heard snippets of this and so I’ll update later with more as I get it. That silliness that was in the news about two physicists pursuing a lawsuit against the Large Hadron Collider has suddenly become serious. (Image right: the CMS detector at the LHC, taken by Valerio Mezzanotti – from a NYT article about the LHC last year.)
Recall that the issue was that there would be the possibility of the experiment creating mini black holes that could gobble up the earth and that the CERN scientists have not done enough to demonstrate that this was not a safety issue. Of course, and has already been said in several places (see e.g., Phil’s general level post about the physics and the case here), this is utterly ill-conceived and in any case certainly not the way to go about things, but it seems that the legal route can be quite damaging for science, in the right hands.
What seems to have happened is this. Since the suit was filed in Hawaii, it falls under US Federal jurisdiction, and has been taken up as an emergency issue before the Supreme Court. Somehow the litigants got a hearing on this with the help of powerful friends who have what can only be thought of as another example of the anti-science agenda we’ve a lot of in various branches of the government in recent years.
The upshot is that the Supreme Court has announced today that they are requiring all US involvement in the experiment to cease immediately. This is of course extremely damaging to the LHC’s time-line for beginning to do physics any time soon. As usual, there’s a lot of legal language associated with their decision, and I’ll spare you the details, but the key deciding vote has been attributed to Justice Thomas, who argued in his summary statement that the entire LHC physics program is:
… fundamentally unconstitutional, in that there should be no preferred channels in the p-p scattering matrix for the creation of black holes, or holes of any particular hue. As such, any continued use of Federal funds to perform such physics experiments is to be discontinued forthwith…
Does the Supreme Court have a science advisor!? It’s unbelievable to me that this wonderful experiment that we’ve all be waiting for over almost two decades could all be scuppered (can it really go on without US involvement?) due such a huge misunderstanding of some basic physics terms that leads to confusion with a conservative Supreme Court Justice’s views on a separate subject. Such a deliberate confusion of politics, legal wrangling, and basic science marks, to my mind, the beginning of a truly bleak period for fundamental research in the USA. I’d be interested to hear what you think of this in the comments.
This is still relatively new information coming in, and so I’ll update you with more as I learn it. If anyone has links to this story online, please paste them into the comments.