Wednesday, January 30, 2013

#401: Walter Wagner

A.k.a. Radiation Man

Walter Wagner, who has a BA with a minor in physics (he is a self-proclaimed “nuclear scientist”, but no – he is not a physicist but a former radiation safety officer), is the driving force behind Citizens Against the Large Hadron Collider, an organization devoted to stopping the Large Hadron Collider because it is a doomsday machine that could easily mean the end of the world: “There is a real possibility of creating destructive theoretical anomalies such as miniature black holes, strangelets and deSitter space transitions. These events have the potential to fundamentally alter matter and destroy our planet,” says Wagner. The claim is false, but at least it secured Wagner an honorable place among Foreign Policy’s “Ten Worst Predictions of 2008”. Due to the perceived danger of the LHC, Wagner (and one Luis Sancho) originally tried to use a lawsuit to stop the LHC from being activated. He filed that lawsuit in Hawaii. The case was dismissed on the grounds that the named US defendants weren't able to be sued because the statute of limitations had run out (funding was provided years before the project was started), and that the court had no jurisdiction over the project in Switzerland. Wagner had previously attempted to sue the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) at Brookhaven National Laboratory in 2000 on the basis that the RHIC could create strangelets and black holes that would spawn the end of the world as well.

But why does he think there is a danger associated wth these Colliders? Well, Wagner’s grasp of physics and probability theory is pretty weak. Remember that the idea is that LHC could create a microscopic black hole which would swallow the entire earth. What, according to Wagner, is the probability of this happening (never mind that any serious scientist says it couldn’t – good non-technical explanation here)? He claims it is 50%. Why? Because either it could happen, or it couldn't – therefore, there's a 50% chance of it happening. Which is not how probabilities work. For some reason he shows up in the comments here to explain his position – and his presentation of his own credentials should raise some red flags on its own.

Wagner used to be at the forefront of the battle to save the world from uranium tiles, and fought a tireless, lonely battle with his Geiger counter in California, trying to stir up as much noise as possible (cute, sympathetic article here); hence his nickname, for he earned himself a solid reputation as the local crank even back then.

For a comprehensive archive on Wagner’s antics, go here.

Diagnosis: Delightfully cranky crackpot who should be thanked for responsibly assuming the position of resident crackpot of all LHC-related discussions. Harmless.

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