“Doomsday fears spark lawsuit”

by Walter Olson on March 29, 2008

“The builders of the world’s biggest particle collider are being sued in federal court over fears that the experiment might create globe-gobbling black holes or never-before-seen strains of matter that would destroy the planet. … The Large Hadron Collider, or LHC, is due for startup later this year at CERN’s headquarters on the French-Swiss border.” Among the concerns of critics who are suing in federal court in Hawaii: “Could quarks recombine into ‘strangelets’ that would turn the whole Earth into one big lump of exotic matter?” (Alan Boyle, CosmicLog, MSNBC, Mar. 27; Dennis Overbye, “Asking a Judge to Save the World, and Maybe a Whole Lot More”, New York Times, Mar. 29).

More: Sundries Shack (“For goodness sake, one of the plaintiffs calls himself an ‘author and researcher on time travel’”); Adler @ Volokh. The liberal site Lawyers, Guns & Money, perhaps serving in this instance as a Strange Attractor, attracts a commenter who seems to agree with the lawsuit-filers that it’s better to be safe than sorry — the Precautionary Principle lives! And from our comments, links to the complaint, Ted on jurisdiction, and thoughts on the effectiveness of litigation in obtaining free publicity.


1 Richard Nieporent 03.29.08 at 11:17 am

They are not the only nuts who file lawsuits to save the world.

2 Larry Sheldon 03.29.08 at 12:36 pm

I have made this comment elsewhere.

IANAL, but isn’t “personal jurisdiction” an issue?

3 ohwilleke 03.29.08 at 2:49 pm

Amazing. Right out of the book “Blasphemy” by Doug Preston.

4 VMS 03.29.08 at 11:05 pm

For $350 anyone can file a federal lawsuit. The district court will give short shrift to this case.

The case fails on jurisdiction, standing, as well as substantively.

The plaintiffs are seeking a TRO, preliminary injunction and permanent injunction. Their lawsuit does not allege jurisdiction of the federal court, although diversity jurisdiction may be implied from the pleadings.


They may have a problem with likelihood of success on the merits. Their expert in all likelihood will be Dauberted out if it gets that far.


This does not appear to be an “overlawyered” case since the plaintiffs are proceedign pro se.

5 Alastair 03.30.08 at 5:56 am

Ok wow…this is so tarded I need to say something now just HOW bored do you have to be to think up the situation that led to the people making a lawsuit….I have YET to be bored enough I have thought of anything NEAR as riciulous!! People’s Imagination and stupidity amaze me and this coming from a Novice writer….

6 Ted 03.30.08 at 8:32 am

Larry: Jurisdiction is an issue (and CERN likely will not show up to defend itself), but the plaintiffs are also suing U.S. federal agencies that are supposedly critical to the process going forward. They’ve lost two previous suits against smaller particle accelerators.

VMS: The pro se is an attorney.

Separately, why some scientists shouldn’t talk to some reporters:

Dr. Arkani-Hamed said concerning worries about the death of the Earth or universe, “Neither has any merit.” He pointed out that because of the dice-throwing nature of quantum physics, there was some probability of almost anything happening. There is some minuscule probability, he said, “the Large Hadron Collider might make dragons that might eat us up.”

Left out: Arkani-Hamed was talking about a possibility so small that the experiment could be run a million times a second between now and a billion years from now, and still not generate “dragons that might eat us up”. Unfortunately, the English language word “miniscule” doesn’t quite capture that quantum mathematical concept. It would be better if scientists discussing absurd possibilities used actually absurd (and equally unlikely) possibilities like “a Welsh-speaking replica of Frank Sinatra in a blue tuxedo.”

7 VMS 03.30.08 at 10:53 am

The motive to sue may not always be guided by the possibility of winning. Where else but federal court can $350 buy so much publicity and place Frick and Frack on the international radar screen? A column inch buried in the back of the NY Times could easily have cost that much; they however, received a whole article devoted to their cause.

Query–Are the chances of these jokers winning an injunction (or anything in their lawsuit)greater than, less than or equal to the probability of the LHC producing a stew of stable, negatively charged strangelets, magnetic monopoles, and/or runaway black holes that will consume existence as we know it? What happens if someone at the US Attorney’s office drops the Summons and Complaint behind the water cooler and the government fails to answer? Will the court issue a default judgment under these circumstances?

Ted: Brookhaven’s relativistic heavy ion collider (RHIC)is not a “smaller” partical accelerator; it is different. It is smaller in terms of the ring diameter (2.4 vs. 17 miles)and total energy, but it accelerates larger particles, and has a different purpose. Gold ions are much larger than protons. (Apples and oranges).

Brookhaven already commissioned a report to address Mr. Wagner’s nonsense. http://www.bnl.gov/rhic/docs/rhicreport.pdf. See p. 19 and endnote 27.

Also, Dr. Arkani-Hamed spells minuscule correctly (as I learned it), but you chose the more hip spelling (miniscule). “Miniscule” seems to be the latest fad in spelling.

8 markm 03.31.08 at 8:32 am

The simple explanation of why this can’t be taken seriously scientifically:

1) Anything that could happen in the collider would have happened many, many times in the early universe, when matter was dense and hot.

2) Some cosmic rays are much more energetic than the collider can manage, so the universe is still running natural experiments at the same and higher energies.

If anything universe-destroying was within our capabilities, the universe would have destroyed itself long ago.

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