P.S.: And don’t worry. This is not really going to happen (in Italian).
Archive for CERN
… but were afraid to ask.
Hat tip to Dorigo, for pointing out in his blog the video above, an LHC rap shoot on location at CERN. At least from a first view the text is way more accurate and to the point than most divulgative articles about the machine and experiments in recent newspapers (no sweat, you may say, but still…).
In case you’re still curious (and still don’t dare to ask), I’d like to mention this public information site about LHC, including an LHC blog (watch out for news) and webcams (you can even have a look at what’s going on in the Atlas control room).
As many will know, Angels & Demons is a rather appalling, if highly successful, book by Dan Brown.
Director Ron Howard is presently working on the movie version of the novel, following up on his previous rendition of another bestseller by Brown, The Da Vinci Code. Tom Hanks will be starring in the movie, in the role of professor Robert Langdon, which he had covered in the previous one as well.
I learned today that the Vatican had denied access to its premises for the shooting, as it had previously done for the Da Vinci Code, on account that the movie “offends common religious feelings”.
As you may know, the novel start with a murder of a physicist taking place at CERN and the theft of an absurd amount of anti-matter in order to set-up an unlikely anti-matter bomb. The process of anti-matter production, the physics involved and the laboratory itself are also described in a rather ludicrous manner. Such that CERN felt obliged to rectify a few questions in one of its public web pages.
I was wondering if the movie plan was requiring some shooting at the CERN site, so I had a look and discovered that it was indeed so. And, guess what, not only CERN management apparently had already granted access to the site, but CERN physicists had helped to get some physics issues straight in the script.
I have still some reserve about the likely result, but this is not the main point. What is worth noticing is the different behavior of CERN and the catholic church administrators.
It could well be that in the novel the church has been treated in a worse way than science or CERN had been. Or they are more easily offended. Or less tolerant. Or again, could be that science is less vulnerable than religion to what adds up to a fair amount of essentially innocuous bullshit wrapped around a cleverly devised plot.
And could be that this has something to do with science being based on facts and logic rather than faith. Up to you to decide.
For me, I’m rather happy to be on the side of Angels, this time. Or are we the Demons?
The world only needs 30 billion dollars a year to eradicate hunger. FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf today appealed to world leaders for such an effort in order to re-launch agriculture and avert future threats of conflicts over food.
This reminded me of a discussion I had last week, during a visit of local politicians to CERN installations. During the discussion, a kind lady made a comment I must have heard a number of times:
“What you’re doing here is fascinating, but when I think about the amount of money needed to realize all that, I wonder whether it could not be used for a better task. You know, with all the people dying of hunger in the third world…”
Yes, I’ve asked myself the same question, a few times. And yes, I have given myself answers. But I won’t provide these to you. I’ll just tell you some facts, some of which I just checked up today:
- The annual budget of CERN is about 1 billion dollar per year.
- The total cost of the LHC is estimated to about 6 billion dollars.
- The direct official cost of the Iraq war to the US administration is 845 billion dollars up to date. In a recent book, the Nobel laureate Stiglitz had evaluated the total cost to the US economy to 3000 billion dollars. A very conservative estimate, he claims.
When somebody ask a physicist today about what practical use one can make of the potential discoveries of an experiment like LHC, there’s only one possible answer: “We don’t know (yet)”. The same answer Faraday apparently gave to Gladstone, then British minister of finances, who was asking him about the practical use of electricity. “But I guess one day the government would put a tax on it.” , he added.
We indeed know a bit more about the practical uses of electricity today. I guess I don’t need to remind you what the practical use of a bomber is.
I hope the information I provided can help somebody to decide whether the money invested in fundamental science is a good value for money or not. Everyone, of course, will have his own opinion. I think I’ll stick to mine.
Last Saturday and Sunday CERN had opened its doors, giving to the general public a chance to visit the laboratory, and especially the underground areas, where the access will be limited after the LHC startup.
Therefore, like many other people in CERN, I have devoted the last week-end to the Open Day 2008.
In fact on Saturday I was guiding people around the CLIC test facility, whose commissioning is an essential part of my job. On Sunday my contribution was less direct (if not less tiring), since I was taking care
of my two-year old son all day, while my wife was acting as a guide to the CMS experiment underground installation, where she works, and giving a talk about CERN in a nearby village.
Today I was sent an e-mail, like the other 1500 or so volunteers, with the official numbers for the Open Day participation:
On Saturday, 5 April: 23,000 visitors to the various sites, of which 11,000 to the tunnel and underground caverns.
On Sunday, 6 April: 53,000 visitors to the various sites, including 20,000 to the underground areas.
Indeed, many visitors had to patiently wait for their turn, sometimes for a few hours. And some had to be sent to different, less busy, locations. In spite of that apparently most of them went away deeply satisfied from the visit.
What can I say? I think I should feel privileged to be among the few – with the possible exception of employees of the Louvre museum – who work in a place where other people are willing to suffer hours of queue just to have a quick look around.
P.S.: And nobody asked me anything about black holes, either.
I have to confess you one thing. I am lazy. Really lazy. Everybody who knows me well enough can confirm. And, being lazy, I tend to postpone things. So, when I saw this article on the New York Times, I thought I should write a post on it. Only, since at the time I was busy, I postponed. Then, when I actually had the time, I delayed it again. Then I discovered that half the blogs in my blogroll had already posted about it. And, on top of that, in reality, I had already talked about the matter in this post, before the New York Times article was published. So, I decided to give it up. Even if, indeed, working at CERN and being the only blogger not writing about it was quite a shame. But, what the hell, why waste time on it, when there wasn’t much I could possibly add to dozens of other posts? (Did I tell you that I’m lazy, by chance?)
However, today I come across an aspect of the matter that I thought deserved a small effort. But you would have to wait until the end of the post to know it. Before that, I want just give you the useful pieces of information I wanted to publish in the first place.
No, the earth will not go down the drain of a black hole generated in the LHC. There are lots of reasons why it won’t happen. But the more basic one, and the easier to understand, is that particle collisions like the ones that will be obtained in the LHC (if we’ll make it work, which is another matter altogether…) are happening all the time around us, and had happened since quite some time already. Cosmic rays (in fact particles) with energies reaching values much higher than the LHC could ever dream to obtain, collide every day with protons and nuclei both on earth and other planets. The only reason to build LHC instead of studying these same events is this: Cosmic ray collisions have the somewhat irritating habit of happening all over the place, and not nicely pile up in a detector just to please a bunch of impatient physicists. Dirty little scoundrels that they are – the particles, I mean. Anyway, since the earth, the moon and other planets are still in their place since quite some time, we are safe (well, from this danger at least). Black holes, if ever they are created in particle collisions, either evaporate fast and nicely as this guy Hawking predicted, or interact so weakly as to pose no real threat.
I would add another useful bit of info as well. A short biography of Dr. Wagner, apparently written by himself as a host of this radio show:
Walter Wagner graduated UC Berkeley with a Minor in Physics, and a Major in Biology. Later, he discovered a novel particle in a balloon-borne cosmic ray detector, initially identified as a magnetic monopole. Though its identity remains uncertain, it is definitely not within the standard repertoire of known particles. After a three-year break from science to attend law school, Dr. Wagner resumed work in Physics and Biology at the US Veterans Administration Medical Center in San Francisco, working in Nuclear Medicine and Health Physics. He then embarked on teaching Science and Mathematics, from grade school to college. Dr. Wagner developed a botanical garden in Hawaii, and continues involvement with several professional associations, including Health Physics Society and Society of Nuclear Medicine.
So, a biologist, a physicist and a lawyer. I indeed have no problem to believe the world could be saved by a physicist. Or even, stretching a bit the imagination, by a biologist. But nobody can make me believe that the world could possibly be saved by a lawyer.
What about the peculiar aspect I mentioned at the beginning – you didn’t forget about it, right?
Well, the fact is that the good old New York Times, thanks to an unfortunate misspelling, had involuntarily given birth to a new category of porn, as documented for instance here (nice WordPress theme, by the way).
But if black holes could in theory be generated in LHC, I’m not quite sure I want to know what can be the outcome of a Large Hardon Collider.
PS: The image on top was linked in a comment on one of the blogs in my blogroll, actually in conjunction with the LHC black hole business. What is actually depicted there, where I did find it and which ones among the blogs I link have dealt with this matter is left as an exercise to the interested reader.
Disappointingly, prompted by the unfortunate nickname of the Higgs boson (the God particle), the interviewer drove immediately the discussion towards religion. Therefore I missed the opportunity of knowing what kind of scientific output a leading scientist like Weinberg is expecting from our last big toy. I could however learn that Weinberg shares something else than the 1979 Nobel prize in physics with Sheldon Glashow: A hefty sense of humor, as shown in the brief excerpt below.
At some point will it be possible to find proof that God or the Ultimate Designer does not exist?
I don’t think that we can ever prove that God does not exist. But if he does exist it might be possible to prove it.
It might be?
Well, if God did exist and suddenly made himself known by sending thunderbolts to all the people who don’t believe in him [Laughs], that would be pretty strong evidence that he exists.
Do you think he would send you one?
He hasn’t so far.
I had also found very interesting the following passage:
…People who expect to find evidence of divine action in nature, in the origin of the universe or in the laws that govern matter, are probably going to be disappointed.
Are they also going to be disappointed about our position in nature, our purpose?
We don’t see any purpose dictated to human beings in nature. Human life does have a purpose, but it is a purpose that we invent for ourselves. It takes a certain act of courage to look at nature, not see any plan for human beings in there and yet go on and live good lives, love each other, create beautiful things, explore the universe. All these take more courage without having some divine plan that we discover, but one that we rather create for ourselves.
Well, I haven’t learned anything new about the LHC physics, but I don’t feel like I’ve completely wasted my time.
P.S.: Back to lighter matter, fresh from today xkcd, alternative uses of LHC:
I thought I was through with all this story after the previous post.
But I was surprised; looks like some people never understand when it’s time to stop.
So, she did it again. Gabriella Carlucci answered to Glashow’s letter. I thought it wasn’t really worth to comment on that, but since I’ve noticed of late quite some crowd accessing this blog, evidently interested in the matter, I thought I would owe you one last post. For Italian readers who are here looking for updates, I report them to here, or there, for a pretty complete outline.
For English-oriented readers, I profit from a translation kindly provided by our dear GC herself, which is reported below (I also could not resist to add a few comments – I swear these will be the last ones):
“Dear Prof. Glashow
Regretfully, your letter to President Prodi did not address any of the questions I raised in my previous letter: you only badly insulted me.”
Well, he only addressed the questions he was qualified to answer – could you spot a difference there with someone else ? – First: he never opposed Maiani for a job at CERN, nor did he ever cast doubt on his scientific competence, as SHE had stated in her first letter. Second: he confirmed, as an expert in the field, the relevant role played by Maiani and other Italian colleagues in high energy physics, violently questioned in Carlucci’s letter. The insults, I imagine, are referred to expressions like “slanderous letter, falsely claims , utterly invidious and untrue allegations, etc…”, contained in the Nobel laureate letter. You can judge yourself if this is insulting. If you find it so, then have a look again at her original attack on Maiani, and take a few minutes to ponder.
“I wish to inform you that the statements contained in that letter have been taken from Nature, from Lettere al Nuovo Cimento and from Italian newspapers. These statements have never been gainsaid.”
Here she looks a bit confused. Which statements ? Let’s progress in order: she never wrote statements TAKEN from Nature or Nuovo Cimento. Nature duly reported the criticism Maiani was receiving while director at CERN. And ten days later it hosted an interview to Maiani, in which he replied to the critics. So, the “statements” reported – and not endorsed – by Nature, had been gainsaid – opposed, denied, contradicted – already by Maiani himself. One year later (Dec. 2002), Nature was writing: “The closure of the Large Electron–Positron collider (LEP) in 2000 was the toughest and most controversial decision made by the current director general, Luciano Maiani, given the apparent signatures of the long-sought Higgs boson from the LEP detectors. Subsequent analysis has shown those signatures to be less suggestive than was originally thought.” Meaning, he had taken the right decision, like everybody in the field now recognize. The “Lettere al Nuovo Cimento” paper is a scientific document, titled: ”Is the 3104 MeV vector meson the psi_c or the Wo ?”. This statement indeed had not been gainsaid – nice sound this word, is it? -, but answered: it was indeed the psi_c (the charm).
The only place from which indeed Carlucci literally TOOK her statements was an Italian newspaper, Libero. Which, guess what, was later obliged to publish a denial.
“Today I am writing to ask you a very simple question: if Prof. Maiani and his colleagues are – as you pointed out – “stellar luminaries”, how come they have not received the Nobel Prize yet? This is surprising, also knowing that Italian particle physicists (and particularly those based in Rome) are among the best funded in the world, both in absolute terms and with respect to the other branches of Physics.”
The first sentence is so ludicrous it’s not really worth commenting it. Parisi himself (?) had done it in a reply to Carlucci, and I think he had been unbelievably polite. As one would be to a small child asking a similar question, I imagine. The second sentence I found more interesting – and worrying – in its double assumption that money can buy a Nobel prize, and that in Italy too much funds are devoted to fundamental research.
“I hope you will be so kind to reply to the points I raised without further insulting me.”
It looks like in Carlucci’s language, to insult is equivalent to disagree. I wonder from whom she could have learned such an attitude…
“And I also urge you not to lie:”
Coming from an expert. In detecting lies, of course, what were you thinking about ?
“I could easily surprise you.”
No, please, don’t. Not again!
P.S. To protect me from being insulted any further, Enzo Boschi wrote a note (in Italian) on this whole issue. Could you please comment on it?”
In the Italian original, the last phrase reads:”Mi faccia avere i suoi commenti”, i.e., “Let me have your comments!”. Had anybody inadvertently hit the “politeness-on” short-cut key in her automatic translator ?
“It is evident that you can read Italian.”
That’s why she’s writing him in English. Logical, isn’t it ?
P.S.: While I was writing, I’ve discovered there’s another one besides Parisi who has really a lot of patience. Sheldon Glashow:
Dear Sra Carlucci,
Despite your earlier comments and whatever your sources may be, the fact is that I have never questioned Prof. Maiani’s stature as a superb and accomplished researcher. I am outraged that you have tarnished my own reputation by such a false and invidious allegation. It is true that several Italian theorists (including Maiani) are deserving of Nobel Prizes, but there are far more such candidates than Prizes. Recall that world-renowned physics luminaries such as Edward Witten, Stephen Hawking, Yoichiro Nambu, among many others, are not Nobel Laureates.
Whether (or not) Italian physicists have won Nobel Prizes, and whether (or not) they are well funded, they have made exceptional contributions to physics, at least as many as any other European nation.
Italy should be very proud of its many scientific heroes, and not malign them.
Sheldon Lee Glashow
UPDATE (March 3rd):
I know, I know, I swore I would not comment on this story again, but apparently it’s becoming the fable of the web, and since it’s evolving still and people are still accessing this blog for information, I find appropriate to give an update.
The case start to have some resonance outside the web. There has been another article on Libero (pdf version here), this time citing Carlucci and Boschi and basically repeating the attack. Espresso, Micromega and Repubblica (can’t find links yet) are also giving space to the case. And Gabriella Carlucci herself replies with a letter to Repubblica (pdf here) and had posted in her blog a series of documents that in her intention should support the accusations. Again, is rather unfortunate, but these documents only demonstrate that she had not read them. Among the many comments (all negatives, must be a sort of a record) appeared there, I point your attention to the replies of Giorgio Parisi and Alvaro de Rujula. You should know who the first one is if you have followed the matter. The second is probably the most reputed spanish physicist. He works at CERN, and had been involved by Carlucci who opened one of her documents with an e-mail written by him. I report below some excerpts from the reply. I apologize for the hasty translation from Italian (yes, De Rujula knows it pretty well – I think I spotted only a couple of errors in his long reply, much less than the average Carlucci score):
“The fact that my mail was not ad-personam (meaning, it wasn’t a critic to Maiani as director) appears evident from the content of the same mail”
“My mail does not mention Maiani. Contrary to that, my intention was to try to give maximum support to Maiani in his extremely difficult attempt to maintain CERN at the very good level of funding it used to have in the past.”
“The few times I was in disagreement with Maiani, I went and told him why. Sometimes I managed to convince him, sometimes I was convinced by him, as it is normal. But, he always listened to me. I never needed to raise a “popular front” against his person. Synthesizing, I don’t see where the mail could be interpreted as a critic to Maiani. How can one think Maiani did not have my same intentions ? He had, poor lad, the problem to manage a budget which had been approved with a funding a little lower than needed. And I’m saying ‘a little’. Let’s look in any other place how much is the difference between projected budgets and what had been eventually spent. Only a few laboratories, institutions and projects are able like CERN to make relatively accurate estimates of the costs, avoiding thus to go hopelessly in the red”
“Theoretical physicists make hypothesis, which is part of their job. The vast majority of such hypothesis are not true, nature is judging which ones are not. The hypothesis advanced by Maiani and his co-workers on the interpretation of the J/Psi particle was not true. A week after the discovery of that particle, half a dozen of different interpretations appeared on Physical Review Letters. All not true safe one, which happened, by chance, to be co-authored by me together with Glashow, just in case the reader would doubt whether I know what I am talking about. Among the false ones, there was one by Cheng Ning Yang, Nobel laureate for physics. Nobody thought about saying that such untrue interpretations had harmed the reputation of American or Chinese physics (Yang, for instance, is Chinese-American. The other ‘bad-ones’ of this story were mainly Americans). The greatest physicists in history did publish wrong results.”
“Even if my mail would have been highly critical and directed against Maiani in particular, it would not have been anything extraordinary. What is extraordinary is the effort done by the few ‘researchers’ who directly or indirectly are working to fill up with junk On. Sra. Carlucci’s blog. After weeks of work, they still didn’t manage to find anything convincing against Maiani! What had the Italians done in order to deserve all this? I don’t think it is a biblical curse, even if it looks like one.”
I really don’t understand what on earth is pushing On. Sra. Carlucci to become the best joke-of-the year, in Italy and possibly elsewhere. But, maybe, she is giving us a small hint in her post, when she says: “I publish here the documents appeared in Nature, in which (sic) one corroborates all [I have said]. Documents that were on purpose taken away from the web.“
So, there is a conspiration. Most likely a communist one. These people are hiding documents in the cyberspace, and have them reappearing at will. Just to have fun at the expense of poor On. Sra. Carlucci. Like what happened to the publications of Maiani after 1994, disappeared from the web just for the 5 minutes when On. Sra. Carlucci was making her Google Scholar search. Devilish fiends. I checked today, and all the Nature articles were already back in place (as they were last week). Very hard to catch these guys on the act, indeed.
This is a follow-up of a previous post. You could want to look here for the first part.
Well, Gabriella Carlucci, ex-TV starlet and member of the italian parliament, had done it again. He went on attacking Maiani, former CERN director, in a letter to the prime minister Prodi and other members of his government. Her arguments were taken (rather literally, apart from some additional sloppiness) by an article appeared on Libero, a right-wing newspaper. Based in its turn on an attack to Maiani appeared in a supposed website (nowhere to be found), supposedly written by a distinguished UCLA physicist, David Cline.
Rather convoluted, yes. Anyway, resuming after the dust has settled:
1) The scientific accusations contained in the site, the article and Carlucci’s letter are obviously irrelevant if not downright wrong.
2) The website had existed, but was closed down upon request of Cline, who denied in a quite outraged e-mail any connection with it.
3) You can have a look at the original content of the site, saved by somebody in pdf form, here. It has an italian and english version. The italian part is badly written and the english counterpart looks like it’s translated using babelfish. How on earth it could have been mistaken by a text written by a professor from Wisconsin (or by any person from any english speaking country, for that matter) beats my imagination.
For the ones who didn’t bother to follow the links, I specify that all the libels involved in the matter Sheldon Glashow (photo), insinuating that he had a poor opinion of Maiani, and that he had intervened to prevent his appointment as research scientist at CERN. I report in the following the letter sent by Glashow to Prodi, and disclosed to the italian press as well:
February 14, 2008
Sr. Romano Prodi
I have been shown the contents of a slanderous letter written to you by S.ra Gabriella Carlucci, MP and dated February 7, 2008.
This letter was published in Puglia-Live and has been widely disseminated.
It falsely claims that I have questioned the scientific competence of Prof. Luciano Maiani, the recently elected President of the CNR, and had opposed his appointment at CERN.
These utterly invidious and untrue allegations were part of a more general attempt to belittle the scientific standing of Prof. Maiani.
The letter denigrates his scientific accomplishments over the years and those of his colleagues, Profs. Cabibbo, Parisi and Petronzio, whose work was claimed to have caused serious damage to the image of Italian physics worldwide. Not so!
The remarks that S.ra. Carlucci attributes to me are wholly untrue and malicious.
Prof. Maiani played a key role in our collaboration decades ago, for which he was duly recognized internationally by the awards of the highly regarded Dirac Medal and Sakurai Prize. Maiani’s many research publications have been cited well over 8000 times (not including the 3600 citations to our joint work).
I have never written, suggested or thought anything remotely disparaging about the skill and accomplishments of this stellar Italian scientist.
The more general arguments in S.ra. Carlucci’s letter are equally false, slanderous and malicious.
I, and my colleagues worldwide, have the highest regard for the many outstanding contributions of Italian theorists to particle physics, among whom Profs. Cabibbo, Petronzio and Parisi (as well as Maiani) are leading luminaries and indeed may be regarded as’ ‘heirs to Fermi.’
No event associated with their distinguished scientific careers has ever caused the slightest damage to the image of Italian physics.
In the eyes of a foreign scholar, if there is anything that can damage the image of your country’s scientific institutions, it is the vulgarity and deception of this slanderous attempt at denigration of some of your nation’s most distinguished scientists.
Sheldon L. Glashow
Foreign Member, Accademia dei Lincei
I don’t think there is a whole lot to add. He said it all, and much better than I could ever dream to do myself.
Lack of gravitas, as it is meant in this blog, has a positive meaning. The ability to keep a detached view of reality, an ironic and skeptical attitude, playfulness rather than anger.
But, there are situations in which a bit of dignity would not be misplaced. Well, sometimes.
Before that he had been president of INFN (the italian National Institute for Nuclear Physics). In 1970 he predicted the existence of the charm quark in a paper with Glashow and Iliopoulos. The particle was later discovered at SLAC and Brookhaven in 1974 and led to a Nobel for the discoverers.
Recently, he was appointed director of CNR, the italian National Research Council. However his nomination, initially unchallenged, was disputed before being formalized by some right-wing politicians. The reason, explicitly voiced, was that he had signed a letter to the rector of Rome University criticizing his invitation of the Pope Benedict XVI to give a Lectio Magistralis at the University.
However, other reasons for disapproval were given. In particular, Gabriella Carlucci, a former TV starlet and now a member of the Parliament, maintained in a debate at the Chamber of Deputies that among other things Maiani had not published any scientific paper since 1994.
As a proof, she mentioned her personal research on Google Scholar.
Gabriella Carlucci belongs to Forza Italia, Berlusconi’s party. Yes, these are the same guys that have put in place the previous director of CNR, Pistella, apparently less than 10 papers published on international journals in his whole curriculum, all of them before 1980. And yes, these are the same guys who laid off Rubbia as director of ENEA following the indications of a fake engineer, former senator for the Lega Nord…
And these are the sames that, in all likelihood, will be governing again Italy after the next elections in April.
Very little gravitas indeed. As usual in Italy, the situation is desperate but not serious.
Fortunately, I work in Switzerland and live in France.