Story Tools: PRINT | Text Size: S M L XL | REPORT TYPO | SEND YOUR FEEDBACK

Black hole conspiracies

by Paul Jay, CBC News online

As the man credited with inventing the web, Tim Berners-Lee knows a few things about knowledge and how it is shared and disseminated. He also knows more than most about the Large Hadron Collider, since it was while working at a CERN-run Swiss laboratory that he first developed the system of online links called Hypertext Transfer Protocol.

And he tells the BBC, he's a bit freaked out at the amount of misinformation about the LHC, particularly the talk that a black hole created in the particle collider would destroy the Earth.

"On the web the thinking of cults can spread very rapidly and suddenly a cult which was 12 people who had some deep personal issues suddenly find a formula which is very believable," he said. "A sort of conspiracy theory of sorts and which you can imagine spreading to thousands of people and being deeply damaging."

Berners-Lee's solution, as told to the BBC, is to develop a new system that would label some websites as more trustworthy than others. But to some extent, search algorithms like Google's do just that - giving extra weight to websites that are popular, and so presumably more trustworthy.

It got me thinking about my own articles on the LHC, particularly the reader reaction to the mere mention of the black hole conspiracies. Most of the reaction from science-savvy readers can be summed up as "why on Earth are you giving these theories the time of day?"

One answer is that, in the course of an average week, I get asked about the LHC about a dozen times, and in each case, they are asking: "Is the world coming to an end?" I'm not talking about scientists here, but rather everyday people who stopped taking science after high school: my wife, my in-laws, the person who cuts my hair, old university friends ... in each case, I patiently explain what I know, based on my own research and the words from scientists working in the field. And most people come away satisfied with the explanation.

To not explain, to simply brush off the comments as misinformed, is what allows the conspiracy theories Berners-Lee is talking about to prosper.

Allowing everyone a voice in scientific debate, even those voices we think of as misinformed, may not be the best way to inform the masses about how the world works. But there is value in the process; for what these forums may do is point us to the areas of education where maybe there is work to be done.

« Previous Post | Main | Next Post »

This discussion is now Open. Submit your Comment.

Comments

Stephan Unrau

What is the explanation that satisfied those who stopped talking science after high school? I like science, but imagine a day where an experiment goes wrong in nanotechnology, particle physics, bio weapons, or genetics. When doing high level experiments, there is little chance we accidentally destroy a fundamental part of the universe. Doing low level experiments, unsure of the outcome, we risk creating or destroying an unknown fabric. For example, the ozone layer, cancer, DDT, plastics, electromagnetic radiation, all were experiments at low levels that caused damage and we still don't know the true effect. The atomic bomb, although intentional, is a good example of what can happen. I have read why the LHC will not destroy the world or create a black hole that will swallow up the earth, and the explanation is that the LHC will not do anything that is not already done by the universe. Although the hypothesis does state they are wishing to confirm or deny the existence of a hypothetical particle and to witness the disintegration of a black hole by radiation. I am fairly sure the LHC will not destroy the earth with the current plan of experiments. Yet we all know pharmaceutical companies releasing a new drug that is unlikely to cause any extreme harm. In other words: they are not really sure, just really curious. I value the work being done, but can hardly agree that regular people who suspect potential problems are 'conspirators’ and the terminology is inappropriate. Extreme caution should be taken with any experiment of this nature, and I believe the appropriate studies have been taken for this first series of tests at the LHC. The common perception that it may be dangerous is not a cause for discrimination, as it is an animal trait responsible for our survival. Scientists so sure of the outcome being safe are inexperienced with life's unexpected turns. Marie Curie would agree. The LHC is scary due to the potential for harm, now and in the future.

Posted September 18, 2008 11:25 AM

Claudio

Windsor

Just goes to show how powerful the internet really is eh? A little misinformation can do quite a bit of damage, or at least a fair bit of disservice to a given cause.

I have no fears at all concerning the experiments being performed at the LHC, any more than I fear a killer asteroid catastrophically slamming into the earth. Statistically speaking, in either case the chance of the Earth being obliterated is NOT zero, but the chances of it happening is very remote and I am okay with that. At least with the LHC we have some semblance of control, and the men and women in charge of the experiments are extremely educated individuals. While its true that it is not entirely known what results these experiments will yield, these scientists have made a very educated guess at what the expected outcome will be. In other words, they are not stumbling eyes-closed in the dark.

I'm going to show my geekiness hear a bit but I remember a quote from the 4th Star Trek movie. Said McCoy to Spock: "Jim feels more confident in your guesses than most other people's facts."

Posted September 20, 2008 09:27 AM

Jean

Detroit

The Large Hadron Collider experiment is of wrong doing, the scientist are playing with our world and any thing can go wrong, look the hackers of young teenagers got into there computers. So any one else can' this is an invitation for the terrorists. I feel that Bush has done great damage to the united states and he should of stop this action of what the scientist have done. Bush is suppose to be a Christian. Well he isn't one and he surely is playing the part of God in so many ways.

Posted September 21, 2008 07:43 AM

Theresa Thistle

Ontario

My first reaction is...How dare Tim Berners-Lee think he can decide, for us all, what's conspiracy and what isn't. How dare anyone! I am NOT a child. I do not need cencorship. I, and I alone, will decide what's crap and what isn't. Who the hell are you to tell me I can't view, read, listen, or talk about anything I damn well please? Get over yourself! Worldwide offline laws recognized by most countries such as child porn or promoting violence, copyright laws, commiting fraud, etc. should also apply online. But that's the extent of it. We don't burn books in my country. We are free to express our views providing they don't promote violence or hatred towards a group. But I am free to write about the fact I may find someone to be a mook. I am free to proclaim the moon is made from cheese and to promote said view. That's freedom. Someone give Mr. Tim a shake.

Posted September 22, 2008 01:52 AM

« Previous Post | Main | Next Post »

Post a Comment

Disclaimer:

Note: By submitting your comments you acknowledge that CBC has the right to reproduce, broadcast and publicize those comments or any part thereof in any manner whatsoever. Please note that due to the volume of e-mails we receive, not all comments will be published, and those that are published will not be edited. But all will be carefully read, considered and appreciated.

Note: Due to volume there will be a delay before your comment is processed. Your comment will go through even if you leave this page immediately afterwards.

Privacy Policy | Submissions Policy

Story Tools: PRINT | Text Size: S M L XL | REPORT TYPO | SEND YOUR FEEDBACK

World »

Ismaaiyl Brinsley, NYC police shooter, had troubled past, criminal record video
The gunman who fatally ambushed two New York City police officers in their squad car had a long criminal record, a hatred for police and the government, and an apparent history of mental instability that included an attempt to hang himself a year ago, police said Sunday.
Pakistan school attack arrests made, officials say video
Pakistan's interior minister says authorities have made arrests in the case of the Taliban school attack that killed 148 in the northwestern city of Peshawar.
Marco Antonio Parilla Jr. arrested in killing of Florida police officer
Police in Florida have arrested 23-year-old Marco Antonio Parilla Jr. on suspicion of first-degree murder after a police officer was shot and killed while on duty Sunday.
more »

Canada »

Updated Man arrested after girl, 6, found beaten on Paul First Nation
RCMP have arrested a man after an attack left a six-year-old girl lying naked and severely injured in the snow on a reserve west of Edmonton.
Amaria Diljohn's loved ones gather at vigil in Scarborough
The friends and family of a Toronto teenager who was struck and killed by a TTC bus have gathered in Scarborough to hold a candlelight vigil in her memory.
Westjet pilots vote in favour of new contract
Westjet says the deal includes improved pay and scheduling, which it says places the pilots among the highest paid in Canada's airline industry.
more »

Politics »

Elwin Hermanson says wheat quality not down since end of monopoly
The chief commissioner of the Canadian Grain Commission says there's no evidence that the quality of Canadian wheat exports has decreased since the dismantling of the Canadian Wheat Board's marketing monopoly in 2012.
Marijuana still preferred drug in Canadian army, while cocaine gains ground
Marijuana remains the drug of choice for members of the Canadian army, based on the Force's latest blind drug testing report that also found cocaine is gaining popularity among some members.
Danielle Smith defends floor crossing as 'a victory' for Wildrose Party video audio
Danielle Smith is defending her decision to cross the floor to the Progressive Conservatives, calling it a 'victory; for the Wildrose Party, in an interview on CBC Radio's The House.
more »

Health »

Sorry - we can't find that page
 
CBC.ca

Sorry, we can't find the page you requested.

  1. Please check the URL in the address bar, or ...
  2. Use the navigation links at left to explore our site, or ...
  3. Enter a term in the Quick Search box at top, or ...
  4. Visit our site map page

In a few moments, you will be taken to our site map page, which will help you find what you looking for.

more »

Arts & Entertainment»

Sony Pictures hacking: Obama to wait, 'review the findings' on North Korea video
The United States is reviewing whether to put North Korea back onto its list of state sponsors of terrorism, President Barack Obama said as the U.S. decides how to respond to the cyberattack on Sony Pictures Entertainment that law enforcement has blamed on the communist nation.
P.K. Subban blackface in Théâtre du Rideau Vert play deemed offensive by some video
The use of blackface to portray P.K. Subban in a satirical play has left a bad taste in the mouths of members of Montreal's black artistic community and a longtime theatre reviewer.
Elton John, David Furnish convert civil partnership into marriage video
Elton John and his partner David Furnish have tied the knot for a second time, following the legalization of same-sex marriage in Britain.
more »

Technology & Science »

Sony Pictures hacking: Obama to wait, 'review the findings' on North Korea video
The United States is reviewing whether to put North Korea back onto its list of state sponsors of terrorism, President Barack Obama said as the U.S. decides how to respond to the cyberattack on Sony Pictures Entertainment that law enforcement has blamed on the communist nation.
'Huff and puff' technology questioned after leak at CNRL Wolf Lake site
Greenpeace is raising concerns about the technology an Alberta oilsands operation uses to extract crude, following a second leak at a Canadian Natural Resources facility.
Ancient clay seals may shed light on biblical kings, government
Impressions from ancient clay seals found at a small site in Israel east of Gaza are signs of government in an area thought to be entirely rural during the 10th century B.C., says Mississippi State University archaeologist James W. Hardin.
more »

Money »

House prices inch up, oil slides more & BlackBerry's throwback: BUSINESS WEEK WRAP video
From house prices ticking ever higher, to crude oil's slide that seems like it will never end, it was a busy week in financial news. The CBC's Jacqueline Hansen gets you caught up in her weekly video recap.
Sony Pictures hacking: Obama to wait, 'review the findings' on North Korea video
The United States is reviewing whether to put North Korea back onto its list of state sponsors of terrorism, President Barack Obama said as the U.S. decides how to respond to the cyberattack on Sony Pictures Entertainment that law enforcement has blamed on the communist nation.
Elwin Hermanson says wheat quality not down since end of monopoly
The chief commissioner of the Canadian Grain Commission says there's no evidence that the quality of Canadian wheat exports has decreased since the dismantling of the Canadian Wheat Board's marketing monopoly in 2012.
more »

Consumer Life »

Sorry - we can't find that page
 
CBC.ca

Sorry, we can't find the page you requested.

  1. Please check the URL in the address bar, or ...
  2. Use the navigation links at left to explore our site, or ...
  3. Enter a term in the Quick Search box at top, or ...
  4. Visit our site map page

In a few moments, you will be taken to our site map page, which will help you find what you looking for.

more »

Sports »

[an error occurred while processing this directive]
Recap Raptors soar to victory over struggling Knicks
Lou Williams and Kyle Lowry each scored 22 points, and the Toronto Raptors beat the New York Knicks 118-108 on Sunday for their sixth consecutive win.
NFL ROUNDUP Cowboys end 4-year playoff drought
A roundup of all the action on Sunday in Week 16 in the NFL.
NFL: Must-see moments from Week 16
As a busy day of football continues to unfold, here are some must-see moments from Week 16 in the NFL.
more »

Diversions »

[an error occurred while processing this directive]
more »