Botanist sues to stop CERN hurling Earth into parallel universe
Hawaiian in lawsuit against particle billiards rig
A lawsuit has been filed in Hawaii in an attempt to hold up the start of operations by the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) atom-smasher on the French-Swiss border.
A colourful American botanist, teacher, former biologist and sometime physicist says (in outline) that the LHC may rip a hole in the fabric of the space-time continuum and so destroy the Earth. He wants the US government to act now and delay the LHC's startup while a new safety review is carried out.
Walter L Wagner and his fellow Hawaiian Luis Sancho, according to a report on MSNBC, filed suit in the Hawaii federal court last Friday. The men are worried about one of several planet-busting physicists' nightmares being unleashed in the LHC's bowels deep beneath the Franco-Swiss countryside. (According to Wagner's website, as of publication, the LHC is located "near Generva, Switzerland".)
Firstly Wagner is concerned that careless atom boffins might slip up and create a miniature black hole. This would then suck in surrounding mass, gaining unstoppably in size and power in a runaway process until it had engulfed the entire Earth and packed it down inside its swelling, unescapable event horizon.
Some physicists have theorised that black holes might act as spacewarp wormhole portals into alternate universes, or something. Summarising, it appears that the boffins at the LHC - should one of them clumsily spill his tea on the controls, for instance - could easily catapult the entire world through a rift in the very fabric of space-time, into another universe which could be entirely hostile to life as we know it. (Eg, essential processes such as fermentation of alcohol, TV, pizza delivery, gravity etc might simply not work; or there could be a parallel Earth ruled by an evil victorious Nazi empire with space battlecruisers and so forth.)
That would be bad: but even if the LHC guys manage to avoid it, there are other ways in which their meddling might destroy the world.
A particularly violent game of proton billiards, for instance, of the very sort the LHC's superpowered seven trillion electron-volt atomic cues are designed to play, might lead to all sorts of trouble. Quarks might get mixed up into "negatively-charged strangelets" which would turn everything else they touched into strangelets as well. The Earth, and then perhaps the entire universe, could be turned into a fearful strangelet soup; or perhaps custard.
A related worry is that overly vigorous particle-punishing tomfoolery at the LHC could produce "magnetic monopoles", which are dicey freaks of nature. Monopoles could trigger a runaway reaction not unlike the quark-strangelet scenario, in which everything gets changed into something else. This could lead to a turn-up for the books, in which the Moon remained made of moon but the Earth was abruptly converted into cheese.
Curiously, Wagner has claimed in the past that he has already personally discovered a magnetic monopole, though in that case it didn't destroy the Earth. Appearing last year on paranormal-matters talkshow Coast to Coast ("America's most fascinating overnight radio program") alongside a time-machine professor, Wagner gave a potted bio in which he says he "discovered a novel particle in a balloon-borne cosmic ray detector, initially identified as a magnetic monopole".
Wagner is, in fact, an expert in many fields. In his first degree at Berkeley he majored in biology and minored in physics. He then attended law school for three years, and later worked in nuclear medicine and health physics before becoming a grade-school teacher. He also founded the World Botanical Gardens in Umauma, Hawaii, and is now embroiled in a bitter legal battle with the Gardens board. According to the Hawaii Tribune-Herald (free registration required), he and his wife were indicted last month by a grand jury on counts of identity theft and attempted theft relating to an alleged attempt to obtain $340,000 from the gardens company.
Wagner contends that the couple were owed the cash, having worked for free at the gardens for years. Having been let go, they then sued the company for back pay.
But the company says the pair failed to notify the directors of the action, with Wagner instead serving the papers on his wife as company treasurer - even though she no longer was. The board says that Wagner then appeared in court as a company officer. He was thus able to gain a default judgement in his own lawsuit's favour, all without the knowledge of the Gardens board. It is also alleged that phony promissory notes were drawn up in an attempt to obtain cash from the company.
Wagner told the Tribune-Herald: "The records show we were in fact owed this money. That case is still in civil court. I also have four sworn affidavits that the promissory notes were not phony."
As for his worries regarding the LHC, it all seems fair enough to us. The LHC is to be run by CERN, the Euro nuclear-physics outfit famous for letting its boffins meddle with things best left alone. Tim Berners-Lee, for instance, invented the web while he was supposed to be playing particle pool at CERN. God knows what other horrors could be unleashed now that those crazy boffins have an even more powerful proton-bothering rig at their disposal.
The boffinry community, however, pooh-pooh Wagner's fears. They say that teeny black holes might be created but would vanish right away. They also say that the strangelet-custard conversion and monopole transmutation threats, if they were viable, should have occurred already due to cosmic-ray impacts in the upper atmosphere.
Wagner pooh-poohs the cosmic-ray pooh-pooh, though. On his site, he says "the existing 'cosmic ray argument' has been proven falacious... no existing proof of safety is currently available".
You simply can't argue with that. ®