Torches, Pitchforks and Mobs are Fashionable Once More

A 2008 article in the <i>Daily Mail</i> predicted, “For maybe a month there would be no sign that life was about to come to an abrupt and nasty end for all living things on Earth.” As the first British newspaper-tabloid to sell one million copies a day, <i>Daily Mail</i> is exactly what you’d imagine it to be like. Geared towards a low-middle class target market, it aims to sensationalize and scare. Like Justin Bieber, it would be funny if so many people didn’t take it seriously.

“Cities would be levelled, the oceans would rise and [sic] wash in a series of mega-tsunamis that would attack the world's coasts, killing millions.” The article also states that “Molten lava would wash over the land and the seas would start to boil,” remaining unclear about whether the seas would boil before or after the mega-tsunamis, and what affects this would have on their size, but I digress.

These biblical horrors stem from worries over the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), a project conducted by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN). The project’s goal is to smash particles at high speeds to re-create the conditions of the Big Bang. It will likely prove to be the greatest science experiment of our time – as with any high-profile event, objectors come with the territory.

Located in a 27 km long underground tunnel on the border between France and Switzerland, the LHC hopes to answer vital questions of our universe, the most interesting being the existence of extra dimensions, the nature of dark matter, and the question of anti-matter. It’s literally the biggest science experiment ever conducted by the human race. You may have read about it in that Dan Brown book, although we at the <i>Capilano Courier</i> do not condone the reading of Dan Brown (unless you want to <i>feel</i> smart).

Critics of the LHC, however, worry that the potential value of the experiment is not worth the risk that it poses. Thankfully, these critics have claims more substantial than the speculation from sensationalized news stories.

“I think the negative outcome is huge compared to the potential positive outcome,” says Walter Wagner, the man behind the Citizens Against the Large Hadron Collider movement and a former nuclear safety officer. “This is something that has a risk associated with it and it’s a decision that the people at CERN have made for everyone on the planet.”

Wagner argues that the general public should have a say in whether or not the LHC project continues to full power, where it has the possibility of creating black holes or strangelets – “exotic phenomena” that Wagner believes would be devastating for the planet Earth.
In March of 2008, Wagner filed a lawsuit in the United States, hoping to delay the LHC until safety could be reassessed. The claim was dismissed, as the judge ruled that he failed to show “a credible threat of harm.”

Scientists at CERN say Wagner’s claims are not a possibility, and several members of the scientific community expressed their derision of his actions. Blogger Eric VanNewkirk went as far as classifying Wagner in a group of people who “like physics but really don’t understand it” and famed physicist Michio Kaku explained on <i>The Circuit</i> that “it could create mini-black holes but it’s not going to eat up the Earth.”

“The energy of these black holes wouldn’t even light up a light bulb. Second of all, the Earth gets hit with them all the time. The Earth gets bombarded with particles much more energetic than anything that a puny Large Hadron Collider can do.”

Although Wagner’s opposition has been largely met with flippancy from the scientific community and CERN scientists (Wagner attributes this to CERN not wanting “to acknowledge the truth publicly, [because] it would end [their] funding”), the battle Wagner is fighting is undeniably well-intentioned. Some people may be annoyed by his caution, but it is valuable in a time when human ambition is striving for greater, unknown heights.

Armed Against the Faith Base

Another type of opposition standing in the face of scientific progress contains little to no value. This attack is more subliminal, and can be examined by looking at two scatological-based fossils from the dark age. It’s as if that doctor from <i>Jurassic Park</i> had found the DNA of some medieval peasants (work with me here) and was releasing it into our world. Now these archaic ideas are re-emerging in our society.

These two fossils of thinking are faith healing and homeopathy, and unlike Wagner, who seeks media coverage and puts his opinion in public, these ideas hide in moldy darkness, avoiding the spotlight so their ideas cannot be seen in the light – seen for what they are.

Faith healing is perhaps the most gruesome example of scientific ignorance available in the modern age. It would all have a happy ending if practitioners applied their belief solely upon themselves, but faith healing has been responsible for deaths of people too young or dependant to have their own say.

In 1998, Dr. Seth Asser performed a study on 172 reported deaths of infants and children from 1975 to 1995 whose parents had chosen to pray instead of seek medical help. The report states that “140 children would have had a 90 per cent chance of surviving if they had been treated medically.”

I had earlier arranged an interview with Antionette Rhoden, the pastor of the Word of Faith Healing Ministry. After agreeing upon a time to talk, I was greeted by her answering machine for the next several days. The only time my call was answered was by a man who asked what I wanted and then hung up one me.

Faith healers presumably dislike the spotlight because it examines practices that if scrutinized, are shown to be undeniably fraudulent.

Although faith healing is most often practiced by fringe groups such as Pastor Rhoden’s ministry, another type of medical quackery has a much more mainstream following.

Homeopathy is a form of alternative medicine that, sadly, is widely practiced. In England, homeopathy receives taxpayer funding from the National Health Service and here in BC, the British Columbia Society of Homeopaths (BCSH) is petitioning the government to designate homeopathy under the Health Professions Act.

A standard practice of homeopathy is to prescribe “remedies” to alleviate patient symptoms. This may sound reasonable, but in homeopathy, the more diluted a substance is, the higher homeopaths designate its potency. For example, an original sample of a pure ingredient would be in the ratio of 1:1. Homeopaths typically dilute their substances to the ratio of 1:100^30, which, as Richard Dawkins points out in his documentary <i>The Enemies of Reason</i>, would require one to drink a body of water the size of the ocean to ingest a single particle of the original ingredient.

Like Pastor Rhoden, the BCSH did not return my request to be interviewed.
Homeopathy and faith healing have no scientific evidence to back their effectiveness, and are serious assaults against the benefits of science and the benefits they create. As biologist and Nobel Prize winner Jacques Monod said, “Armed with all the powers, enjoying all the wealth they owe to science, our societies are still trying to practice and to teach systems of values already destroyed at the roots by that very science.”

Contrast this with Wagner’s opposition to the LHC, and we see a vast difference. While it can be argued that both are a distraction to the improvement of humanity through science, Wagner’s intention is goodwill. “I’m not getting any money in respect to [protesting the LHC],” he says.
The same cannot be said about homeopaths and faith healers, both of whom charge for their services. (Pastor Rhoden charges $20 for tickets for a variety of events, such as prayer breakfasts and mission concerts, not to mention money she collects from lessons where she teaches students how to “heal.”) I would hope that if Wagner were conclusively proved wrong, he would end his protest. However, even though both homeopathy and faith healing have been conclusively proven wrong since the advent of modern medicine, both continue to misinform and lie to people.

We need people like Wagner. As the Gulf oil-spill has taught us, it is better to follow safety precautions to the letter than to be free of their encumbrances. We do not need people like Pastor Rhoden, homeopaths, or anyone else that chips away at the foundations of science with the ignorance of archaic beliefs.

//Mac Fairbairn
Opinions Editor

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© 2011 The Capilano Courier. phone: 604.984.4949 fax: 604.984.1787 email: editor@capilanocourier.com