CERN’s Large Hadron Collider is due to start smashing protons together this summer which has lead some to theorise that the end of the world is nigh. Not to worry, though: we can all sleep soundly enough, as it’s unlikely anything other than some interesting physics is going to be happening underneath France and Switzerland.
These concerns, however, have raised some interesting questions which The New York Times does a good job of compiling in their essay, Gauging a Collider’s Odds of Creating a Black Hole:
One problem is that society has never agreed on a standard of what is safe in these surreal realms when the odds of disaster might be tiny but the stakes are cosmically high. In such situations, probability estimates are often no more than “informed betting odds”.
The most basic question, “How improbable does a catastrophe have to be to justify proceeding with an experiment?” seems never to have been seriously examined.