Friday, April 4, 2008

Some Law Clerk in Hawaii is Pissed


Above: The Large Hadron Collider


Imagine that you are a recent law school graduate working as a law clerk in Hawaii. (Law clerks, in case you didn't know, are the twenty year-olds that write all the opinions that federal courts put out. That's right, after all the fussing and huffing and puffing about judicial confirmations in the Senate, all those judges that go on to the bench following confirmation then go out and hire, without so much as a background check, kids in their mid-twenties who've never even had another job to write all their opinions for them.) So you're a law clerk, you've got a cushy gig in Hawaii, it pays well, the hours are good, and you get to live in Hawaii for the year. Half the cases you're in charge of deal with postal workers being pissed off at the shift supervisor at the Honolulu Post Office, and the others all deal with environmental issues.

And then one day, you walk into your office, find that your judge has been assigned a new case. Anxious to see which postal worker is suing the Postmaster General this week, you open it up... and you realize that you just got stuck with a case where some scientists in Hawaii are asking the court to step in to stop some other scientists in Switzerland from... creating a black hole that will eat our entire planet. That's a clerkship-ruiner right there.

Well, if you happen to clerk for Judge Helen Gillmore in Hawaii, your clerkship just got ruined, because Hawaiian scientists Walter Wagner and Luis Sancho just filed that very lawsuit last week, and it landed on her docket. Wagner and Sancho claim that the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), an enormous particle accelerator which is scheduled to undertake an experiment that would replicate the conditions that existed in the seconds immediately following the Big Bang. I have no idea how it would go about doing this, nor do I think that I would be able to understand any of the results of any of the experiments this thing was built to carry out. However, this intuitively seems to be a don't-try-this-at-home type of area to be mucking around in, and Sancho and Wagner's lawsuit purports to give us a couple of reasons why the LHC's experiment shouldn't be allowed to go forward, namely these:

1. The LHC could create tiny black holes that could gain strength and eventually consume everything around them, like the LHC, France, and the Mediterranean Sea.

2. The LHC could create weird particles called strangelets out of smashed quarks, and these strangelets would then turn every other particle they touched into strangelets. Again, France would be in danger, and we couldn't save it, because when we landed our troops at Omaha Beach, our troops would be turned into strangelets. And you are not supporting the troops if you are letting them get turned into theoretical subatomic particles by power-mad Swiss scientists.

3. The LHC could create other weird particles with only one magnetic pole. These would also somehow turn other matter into something horrible.

Theoretical physicist Michio Kaku thinks we don't need to worry about this stuff, and generally I am inclined to believe him, mostly because a) I read one of his books 10 years ago, which I don't remember but I recall thinking was pretty cool, and b) his face is all over ads for CUNY in the New York subway system. If Kaku thinks we aren't going to be eaten by our own black holes, then I suppose I should believe that we will be okay.

Also, I think Sancho and Wagner are forgetting the most dangerous possibility of all: what if the LHC somehow opens up a portal into hell, like what happened to the Event Horizon*? If Lawrence Fishburne isn't available to save us, what will we do then? Michio Kaku can't explain that one away.

The bottom line is that this Large Hadron Collider is trouble. I wish Sancho and Wagner well in their efforts to stave off the end of all existence via a timely intervention in the U.S. District Court for the District of Hawaii, and I am also glad that I am not the clerk assigned to that case. Who wants to write up an opinion dismissing a case that then leads to the world getting swallowed up by a tiny French black hole? Not me.

*The Event Horizon is a haunted ship in space.