Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Why scientists would love to create a black hole

When Science Goes Wrong
by Simon LeVay
Sheer bravura could account for the vulcanologists who were killed climbing into the crater of an about-to-erupt volcano. Imperfect information and a TV weatherman’s vanity led to misreporting on a hurricane that killed 18 Britons in 1987. Bad geological advice, combined with design changes made by an engineer with a God-like reputation, built a dam in the wrong place in 1920s California. That pounds-to-Newtons mistake that doomed the Mars Climate Orbiter? Faulty software that someone should have caught, but didn’t. The Houston Crime Lab’s errors in DNA testing wrongfully imprisoned a rape suspect for nearly five years, but lab reforms and the work of Innocence Network lawyers give this cautionary tale a moderately happy ending. Research on human subjects provides LeVay with some grim examples: brain surgery using fetal tissue to “cure” Parkinson’s disease; a gene-therapy experiment that killed a teenager with a genetic metabolic disorder; and a 1939 study that tried to determine whether people could be induced to stutter by telling normal children they had symptoms and should try to stop. There is little question that these cases flagrantly violated ethical considerations, primarily because the designers fervently believed their hypotheses and employed questionable methods in order to be “proved” right. In only a few instances does the author suspect coverup or deliberate intent: the horrible story of the release of anthrax spores in a Russian biological warfare factory; the alleged tampering with readouts to show production of a transuranium element; and the unresolved case of a runaway nuclear reaction that killed three scientists. LeVay’s epilogue notes that oversight and regulation have helped, but reminds us that research involves risk-taking

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yes, a black hole could be a good thing to have, although really small ones evaporate very quickly. However, if you had one big enough to last a while, you could throw charged particles into it to hold it stationary against a gravitational field, then throw junk into it and get practically unlimited energy from the radiation from the accelerating junk falling into it. Also, stuff that goes into a black hole doesn't come out again. Reactor waste, dirty diapers, old National Geographics; all permanently gone.
Of course, if it got away from its charge-confinement device, it could eat the earth. It would fall into orbit around the center of the earth, eating everything in its path. At first, the hole it made would be tiny, but as it absorbed more and more mass with each pass, it would make a bigger and bigger hole, until it absorbed the whole planet. That's why it's best to create them far away, like in the asteroid belt.