Field of Science

Interdisciplinary fumble

Interdisciplinary science is a great thing. Collaborations between researchers in different fields often result in stupendous findings, as well as when researchers move from one field to another. For example when they have a whole career behind them, and turn their focus elsewhere after late in life:
Dr. Lloyd B. Lueptow is an emeritus professor of Sociology, University of Akron. His research focused on gender differences, conducting two major longitudinal studies of 5600 and 4000 respondents over some 30 years, concluding that the persisting gender differences in the face of substantial social change were more likely due to evolutionary than to sociocultural factors. Since retirement he has continued to study the literature on evolution and human behavior. In the past year he has focused on web postings, articles and books on the issue of xxxxxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxxxxx xx xxxxxxx xxxxxxxxx, in an attempt to determine where the reality lay.
However, some moves are just a tad insane. Yes, it is imaginable that some very, very bright person could switch fields to something entirely new and intellectually demanding late in life, after having worked in social science for half a lifetime.

So what did Lueptow turn his attention to? catastrophic possibilities at particle colliders.

I mean, seriously. You cannot expect to understand the intricacies of particle physics without a serious amount of logged flight hours, so to speak. That's just the nature of the discipline. Physics is hard.

Had Lueptow written an article that Lawrence Krauss hadn't seen fit to rebut, then this would not be worth the read, but Lueptow has used his experience in social science to conclude that
For now, it seems obvious that the LHC [Large Hadron Collider] experiments should be delayed or stopped while the risk/cost-benefit equation is sorted out in debates the public can comprehend. The only acceptable risk is zero when the cost is the possible destruction of planet Earth. As Ord, Hillerbrand and Sandberg note, “If these fears are justified, these experiments pose a risk to humanity that can be avoided by simply not turning on the experiment.” Similarly, as Leggett concluded, of the 15 potential catastrophes facing the Earth, this one is the easiest to prevent. Just say no.
So Krauss had to respond to the nonsense:
LLOYD B. LUEPTOW’S ARTICLE on the “Large Hadron Collider and the Threats of Catastrophe” clearly illustrates how science is different than sociology. The author seems to think that by doing a literature search and quoting every possible source and every possible viewpoint that he will get closer to scientific truth. However, that is simply not how science works. One doesn’t do a democratic weighting of the literature. Rather, in science one applies logic (usually mathematical in form) to ideas that are constrained by experiment and observation. Nature, not a majority vote, determines what is false and what is not.


Lueptow misrepresents misplaced concerns of a few individuals with real controversy within the scientific community … the same misconception that has clouded public understanding of evolutionary biology and global warming. To my knowledge, no credible expert has expressed concern about the LHC.


The Tevatron at Fermilab is already operating at energies within a factor of 5 of the LHC, and we are still around. This provides additional evidence that a catastrophe at the LHC is unlikely.
The discussion of strangelets is irrelevant. The scientific community examined this possibility before the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider at Brookhaven turned on, and decided there was no danger, and years after it did turn on, we are still here.
I am fully ready to err on the side of caution, if there is reasonable suspicion that an experiment can wreck havoc. But in the case of the LHC there isn't.

In evolution such encroachment is very common: Software engineers, denstists, ophthalmologists, physicists, chemists, and, of course, professional creationists have seen fit to tell us how we're doing it wrong. Not to say that I am against contributions from anywhere, of course, but some level of understanding of the field is necessary when doing so. Please?


  1. "The only acceptable risk is zero when the cost is the possible destruction of planet Earth."

    Hmmm, null hypothesis anyone?

    There is a non-zero chance that Lueptow's article will enrage an LHC-loving God, who will destroy the entire planet in a fit of Noachian rage. Since the only acceptable risk is zero when the cost is the possible destruction of planet Earth, it seems clear to em that Lueptow should have refrained from writing his article.

    "while the risk/cost-benefit equation is sorted out in debates the public can comprehend."

    Ah, so this "cross-disciplinary fumble" was actually his transition from sociology to comedy. I see now...

  2. "while the risk/cost-benefit equation is sorted out in debates the public can comprehend."

    Yeah, that'll be the day.


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