"God Machine" Critics to U.N.: Experiment an Affront to Human Rights

With the CERN particle physics lab due to start shooting particles around its Large Hadron Collider (LHC) again this month, and the first particle collisions expected in December, anti-LHC campaigners are on the warpath again. A new group calling itself the Committee on CERN Experimental Dangers (ConCERNed) will submit a complaint on 3 November in the next few days (see note after jump) to the human rights committee of the United Nations calling for work with the LHC to be stopped because it threatens life on Earth and so violates the complainants human rights.

Some physicists have suggested that the extreme high energy of the collisions that will take place in the LHC could create postulated entities including mini-black holes and strangelets. Critics say that the tiny black holes could swallow up the Earth or that strangelets could convert all matter in to strange matter. But leading physicists who have studied the matter say that well-established principles all but guarantee that neither catastrophe would occur. The black holes would quickly decay back into the particles that collided to create them. To pull in positively charged nuclei, stranglets would have and maintain a negative electric charge even as they gobble up the nuclei, which would violate conservation of charge.

CERN has commissioned several safety reviews, employing internal and external scientists, and found the risks to be so small as to be not worth more delay. The main argument in these reviews has been that collisions of similar energies happen daily in the upper atmosphere as cosmic rays slam into atoms in the air and, so far, Earth has survived unscathed.

ConCERNed and similar groups argue that since such review committees are convened by CERN, and staffed with particles physicists who have devoted their careers to the results of the LHC's experiments, there is a conflict of interest. They are calling for a halt to CERN's work and for a truly independent panel, involving ethicists and risk analysis experts, to be assembled. Earlier attempts to stop the LHC, in the U.S. District Court in Hawaii and the European Court of Human Rights, have failed, but in the coming weeks particle physicists will be keeping an eye on the U.N.'s human rights committee.


(Nov. 4 note: conCERNed's press release had said 3 November, but they now say they will submit it in the next few days.)