Accelerator Disaster Scenarios, the Unabomber, and Scientific Risks
The possibility that experiments at high-energy accelerators could create new forms of matter that would ultimately destroy the Earth has been considered several times in the past quarter century. One consequence of the earliest of these disaster scenarios was that the authors of a 1993 article in Physics Today who reviewed the experiments that had been carried out at the Bevalac at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory were placed on the FBI’s Unabomber watch list. Later, concerns that experiments at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider at Brookhaven National Laboratory might create mini black holes or nuggets of stable strange quark matter resulted in a flurry of articles in the popular press. I discuss this history, as well as Richard A. Posner’s provocative analysis and recommendations on how to deal with such scientific risks. I conclude that better communication between scientists and nonscientists would serve to assuage unreasonable fears and focus attention on truly serious potential threats to humankind.
Keywords:Wladek Swiatecki Subal Das Gupta Gary D.Westfall Theodore J. Kaczynski Frank Wilczek John Marburger III Richard A. Posner Bevalac Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) Large Hadron Collider (LHC) Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory Brookhaven National Laboratory CERN Unabomber Federal Bureau of Investigation nuclear physics accelerators abnormal nuclear matter density isomer black hole strange quark matter scientific risks
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