CERN : The Large Hadron Collider Safety report gives the 'all-clear'
A few weeks ago, I had a very interesting conversation (from my point of view anyway) with some concerned people focused upon the European Centre for Nuclear Research, known as CERN.
CERN has built, by international effort in which the United States is a mere observer, a large hadron collider. The aim of this device, which is so big that the tidal effect of the moon on land had to be taken into account when planning it, is to smash particles together at high speed.
By doing so, scientists--and I am not one--hope to discover or confirm insights about the leading theories of the universe. They could, for instance, confirm if multiple dimensions of gravity are wrapped up in the everyday world; if time travel on a particle level is an everyday event; and if a complex form of cosmological speculation called string theory can actually be confirmed. They also hope to confirm the existence of highly theoretical particles the existence of which is crucial to modern scientific theories.
A group of concerned Americans, among others, have been pointing to the potential dangers and to the difficulties of assessing risk in a project like this one. They fear the potential creation of strange particles, black holes, or sundry other global threats.
The concern-lobby have, in a demonstration of American extraterritoriality, attempted to use American courts that of course neither recognise nor affirm international law, to restrain CERN. To be fair, the American government now appears to recognise the potential embarrassment and is moving to argue against legal action.
It is very difficult to stop American lawyers from bringing cases, in state or federal court, couched in the language of law but actually attempting forms of political or moral regulation. The outside offence of their doing so, which most Americans of good will do not recognise, is normally compounded by two things.
One factor is that Americans tend to scream blue murder when foreign courts seek to restrain American activities, to extradite alleged criminals from America, or to even ask them to turn up in the near-certainty that their defences to libel would be accepted. The American congress have even entertained discussions of invading Holland should any of their citizens break international criminal law. In 2001-3, they acted upon these discussions by resolving that the President was empowered to do so. People in Europe don't forget this long train of behaviour.
All this at a time when the American legal system, partly because of the behaviour and arrogance of its lawyers, is recognised as one of the worst in the democratic world.
The Second factor is the demand American states and the federal government normally make on other states to comply with their dysfunctional legal system when a prosecutor wants to subject some foreign citizen to the rule of lawyers because, for example, he embarrasses their government. This has extended from threats to actual invasions in the past. Americans have done so whilst consistently ignoring vital international laws, as per here, here, here or here.
Some American Judges seem to see the problems with such a system, but most embrace or subsist within a world where tort is a form of politics. They presumably tell themselves that sometimes good things happen. For instance, it's an old established point but a good one that, when Americans wanted to restrain and make safe their nuclear industry, they turned to the courts and journalists to initiate concerns with a lawsuit over Karen Silkwood's death, not the Congress.
All well and good; but what then happens is that regulating social decisions is a matter of speculative, money based lawsuits, and reactive legislation. Those of us who complain about the silliness of health and safety inspectors should ask ourselves how we would fare in a system full of lawyers on the make who stand to profit only if they win a case and where a sued party pays its own costs even if the other side loses.
Increasingly, I wonder if Weber's views on how mad Calvinism would become when people left behind its faith and kept to its methods and mindsets aren't coming true all over Britain and the new world. There's a greater overlap between bureaucracy-driven self-righteousness, the sort of extremism that leads to neoconservative wars on evil and decadence, and Calvinism-lite, than there is between neoconservatism and judaism as far as I can tell.
Europeans tend to do things a little differently; perhaps our problems are that we are far less transparent, and that we put too much faith in Judges and experts, who often are agreed experts by both sides rather than paid, contrasting ones.
Last week, CERN produced a safety report from just such a panel of experts. It followed from many other considerations, and after scientific debate. You can read it here.
The experts, most scientists, informed observers, and those who follow the story are now essentially arguing over whether there is any further point in discussing things because of a concerned American lobby, or whether it is safe to proceed.
I respect those who wrote in before; but I think the case for turning on the LHC is now overwhelming. One of the last great scientific adventures of the passing age of oil is about to begin, and I look forward to what it reveals. Keep an eye open--amazing things are happening in the ground the Alps look down upon.