Monday, March 31, 2008

Great Response to Hot Zone's Last Post

Courtesy of Scott Adams, writer of Dilbert:

One of the reasons I like my job is that the worst mistake I can make is to offend someone, and I enjoy that too. I would never want to be a NASA engineer, for example, knowing that one wrong calculation lands the Space Shuttle on the Sun. And I really, really, really, wouldn’t want to be one of the engineers working on the Large Hadron Collider, no matter how sure I was that it was safe. There’s always that little chance of annihilating the universe, and it’s exactly the sort of mistake I would make.

On the plus side, no one would say, “I told you so.” I guess that would take some of the sting out of it.

I don’t know how you ever get comfortable with any level of risk of destroying the universe. If you were to do an expected value calculation, multiplying the tiny risk times the potential cost, it would still come out infinitely expensive.

And who exactly ran the numbers to decide it wasn’t that risky? After all, the whole point of the Large Hadron Collider is to create conditions that are not predictable. If someone already predicted what would happen using nothing but his laptop and Excel, and determined it was safe, I don’t think we’re getting our $8 billion worth.

I can’t see the management of this project spending $8 billion, realizing it was a huge boner, and then holding a press conference suggesting it be turned into a parking garage. I’ll bet a lot of people in that position would take at least a 5% risk of incinerating the galaxy versus incinerating their own careers. I know I would.

If the lawsuit succeeds, imagine trying to get another job with that project failure on your resume.

Interviewer: “So, you spent $8 billion dollars trying to build a machine that would either discover something cool or destroy the universe. Is it fair to say you are not a people person?”

1 comment:

hot zone said...

First thing first. You have to stop quoting entire articles.

That response is a complete mischaracterization of the LHC. The whole point of the LHC is NOT to create unpredictable conditions. In fact that is the complete opposite of its purpose.

The point of science is to come up with a theory that makes predictions. If we are bashing things together randomly and getting unpredictable results that has no value to the scientific community.

There are primarily two classes of physicists, experimental and theoretical. Many theoretical physicists have spent a lot of time coming up with complicated theories involving lots of math. It is the job of the experimental physicists to test these theories. The LHC was made to test their theories to search for things like the Higgs Boson, etc. Chances are the LHC will confirm a lot of what the physicists thought. Perhaps the physicists will have to make small adjustments to their theories. The physicists aren't blindly throwing things together. They are following their theories.

The LHC is just a continuation of long line of particle accelerators. This is an international collaboration done with lots of outside consultants. The math showing the safety was done way before any construction was started let alone any funding was requested from the multiple governments.

This is why Scott Adams is a humorist and not a scientist. Lang do have any, you know, valid criticisms against the points I arranged in the original post?

Care to make a little wager Lang? I'll be you a six pack of the beer of your choice if the world ends and if it doesn't you buy me a single beer. Pretty good odds. I'm giving you 6 to 1.