05 September 2008

The end of the world is not nigh

This blog has a bit of a theme. The end of the world is not much to do with medicine. But it is important. Especially if it is next week. And there are parallels with medical issues. The public get concerned about all sorts of scientific things they cannot understand. If doctors were to say that the public do not understand medical scientific issues they would be accused of being patronising. But Dr Grumble is quite happy to say that he does not grasp the issues that have been raised about the black holes that are being created on our doorstep at CERN. It is not something that somebody with just an A level in Physics can understand. And most people don't have even an A Level in Physics. This comes down to trust. The public en masse do not always trust doctors as a group of scientific experts. The difficulty comes especially when most doctors are reassuring but a maverick doctor or two raise concerns about something. Often the press whip up the concerns of the mavericks even though their views may be two standard deviations away from the views of the average doctor.

Actually Dr Grumble is surprised that the public are not clamouring for the CERN experiment to stop. There are maverick scientists predicting that we are doomed. But the press don't really seem to be whipping up this concern too much. And there are so far no human stories of a little girl being sucked into a black hole as there apparently were with the autistic children having had MMR (along, of course, with all the non-autistic children). The press and public figures can cause enormous damage and frequently do.

What these things boil down to is trust. We have to trust the very small community of people who can understand theoretical physics (pdf). We have to trust that the world is not going to come to an end as a result of these weird freaky scientists doing an experiment. Even though they plainly do not understant what they are doing. After all if they understood it they would not need to do an experiment would they? How can we trust people who, just like doctors, do not completely understand what they are doing?

Dr Grumble does trust them. He is not having sleepless nights. But he is rather surprised that the rest of society also seems to trust them when, quite often, large chunks of intelligent society do not seem to accept the consensus view of doctors.

Dr Grumble predicts that most of us will be here next week. If we are not he will give you £10 million in compensation. That's fair. CERN should have made a similar offer to reassure us all.

1 comment:

cbtish said...

It was easy to find a story about a little girl being sucked into a black hole: The Little Girl by Judith L. Bailey.

But I'm more interested in the £10 million. Come next week, how will I know whether we have been sucked into a black hole or not?