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.


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



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



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


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


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


World »

Donations pour into Planned Parenthood thanks to Mike Pence
Donations to Planned Parenthood surged in the month since the U.S. election as supporters of the health care and abortion provider try to make a point — many of them making their donations in the name of incoming vice-president Mike Pence.
Analysis It may be 'foolish' to ignore Trump's tweets, even when they look like 'fluff'
Everything the U.S. president-elect does, says and writes now matters. Unless it doesn't, say media critics, amid a debate over whether the world can afford to tune out tweets by Donald Trump.
Nearly 150 patients evacuated from east Aleppo
Nearly 150 civilians, most disabled or in need of urgent medical care, are evacuated from a hospital in Aleppo's Old City, the first major evacuation from the eastern sector.
more »

Canada »

Exclusive Identities of 2 Quebec men who fought in Syria revealed
A group of young Quebecers secretly joined the thousands of foreigners in Syria to fight against the Bashar al-Assad regime and are now suspected of committing terrorist acts. An investigation by Radio-Canada's Enquête has uncovered their identities.
CBC Investigates Fake job, fake education, fake residency: 15 clients of fraudulent immigration scheme deported
Fifteen former clients of an imprisoned B.C. immigration consultant have been deported to China. And the failed appeals by two women who fought to remain in Canada provide a rare glimpse into the illegal tactics used to carry out what has been labelled as the biggest immigration scam in B.C. history.
$1B RCMP overtime bill proof of 'exhausted and depressed' members, retirees say
According to documents obtained by CBC News, the RCMP has paid more than $1 billion of overtime since 2009 to its members. Recently retired officers say they experienced burnout and stress, with long shifts and few days off.
more »

Politics »

New Rona Ambrose calls on Trudeau to 'park' electoral reform
The interim leader of the Conservative Party has two simple words for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau when it comes to electoral reform: park it.
Updated Black rights activist Viola Desmond to be 1st Canadian woman on $10 bill video
Civil rights activist Viola Desmond will be the first Canadian woman to appear on the country's $10 bill.
Airbus chosen to build Canada's new search planes, ending 12-year procurement odyssey video
The Liberal government has chosen the Airbus C-295 transport as Canada's next fixed-wing search-and-rescue plane, in a two-step procurement process that will cost taxpayers $4.7 billion over the next two decades.
more »

Health »

Sorry - we can't find that page

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»

Rolling Stone's Mick Jagger welcomes birth of 8th child
Mick Jagger's representatives say the rock legend and Rolling Stones frontman has welcomed the birth of his eighth child with girlfriend Melanie Hamrick.
Video Syrian refugee kids choir performs at the House of Commons video
A year ago these Syrian children had just arrived in Canada, hoping to be welcomed in a new country far from home. Today they sang songs about hope and peace in the House of Commons.
Lady Gaga discusses PTSD diagnosis in open letter
Lady Gaga is opening up further on her struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder in an open letter, writing that it's 'a daily effort' to stay calm during normal everyday activities, including 'leaving the house or being touched by strangers who simply want to share their enthusiasm' for her music.
more »

Technology & Science »

Feathered dinosaur tail found trapped in amber
Scientists have discovered a unique find: a tail feather of 99-million-year-old dinosaur.
It's already happening: Hundreds of animals, plants locally extinct due to climate change
It may be tempting to take comfort in the idea that the big changes related to climate change will happen decades from now. But a new study from the University of Arizona has found that local extinctions related to global warming have occurred in half of species studied.
6.5-magnitude quake rolls through northern California town
Shock waves from a 6.5 magnitude earthquake that struck off the north coast of California this morning rolled through a nearby coastal town like waves under a boat, residents say.
more »

Money »

New NHL's Vegas Golden Knights denied trademark
The National Hockey League says it won't reconsider the name or logo of its newest club, the Vegas Golden Knights, which has been denied a trademark request by U.S. authorities.
Hatchimals: this year's Christmas blockbuster toy — and a Canadian innovation
Spin Master is the Canadian toy company behind this year's international Christmas craze, Hatchimals. Although little-known outside business circles, the company is a Canadian success story now worth $3.5 billion.
Re/Max sees average national house price rising 2% next year
Re/Max sees the average national house price rising by two per cent in 2017, led by big projected gains in real estate prices in the Hamilton, the Greater Toronto Area and Kitchener-Waterloo.
more »

Consumer Life »

Sorry - we can't find that page

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]
Live Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final video
Catch all of the live now from France now as Canadian figure skaters in every discipline compete at the Grand Prix of Figure Skating's Final event.
Preview Figure skating's best battle at Grand Prix Final video
This week's Grand Prix Final is the only chance to see all of figure skating's top athletes in the same place before the world championships in March. For Canadian fans, it's also proof that the sport is back on track in this country.
Profile Mikael Kingsbury has one thing left to do
At only 24 years old, Mikael Kingsbury is already the winningest men's moguls skier in history. He's won the World Cup season five years running, and owns two world championships. But there's one more title left to win, and it may be the biggest of all.
more »

Diversions »

[an error occurred while processing this directive]
more »