I know FoxNews does this all the time, but sometimes I accidentally click through to their site and am shocked anew by this sort of thing:

Still worried that the Large Hadron Collider will create a black hole that will destroy the Earth when it’s finally switched on this summer?

Um, well, you may have a point.

Three physicists have reexamined the math surrounding the creation of microscopic black holes in the Switzerland-based LHC, the world’s largest particle collider, and determined that they won’t simply evaporate in a millisecond as had previously been predicted.

Oh noes! No less than three physicists have proven the doomsayers were right all along? Was the entire scientific community wrong? Will the LHC kill us all?

Anyway, I was expecting that these scientists would be complete crackpots. But it’s way, way better than that!

The scientists quoted in the article don’t actually say that black holes could grow to catastrophic size and swallow the earth. In fact, they say explicitly that such an outcome “does not seem possible.”

Thank goodness FoxNews sees through their pathetic attempt at dissembling: can think of a few other things that didn’t seem possible once — the theory of continental drift, the fact that rocks fall from the sky, the notion that the Earth revolves around the sun, the idea that scientists could be horribly wrong.

I love that FoxNews’ examples all predate Darwin. What else didn’t seem possible once. . . uh, that humans could have evolved from simpler forms of life? That human activities could permanently alter the earth’s climate? That we could have a black President? Need I go on?

That’s why I think this article is beautiful in a perverse way. The journalistic template used here lets you say anything you want, and the less evidence there is for your position, the better the result. I know it’s easy to mock Fox, but this is just. . . special.


  1. #1 octopod
    January 29, 2009

    Hey, the theory of continental drift doesn’t predate Darwin at all! Wegener proposed it in 1915, and it really wasn’t widely accepted until paleomagnetism got its legs in the ’50s and the mechanics of plate tectonics were worked out.

    Just sayin’.

  2. #2 Jessica Palmer
    January 29, 2009

    I’m pretty sure that the idea that the continents had been linked at one time and then cataclysmically separated predates Wegener (and Darwin) by many years, although Wegener was indeed the one to formulate the theory of continental drift. If people recognized hundreds of years ago that the continents fit together and might have been separated, it’s hardly accurate to suggest the theory of continental drift “didn’t seem possible.” It would be more accurate to say it was extremely controversial when proposed, because the mechanism that would drive such a process was unknown.

  3. #3 llewelly
    January 29, 2009

    There are several places in Origin where Darwin fumbles badly about trying to explain evidence that animals on separate continents are related. These efforts cry out for continental drift. Yet Darwin makes no mention of any such thing. Instead he makes do with disappearing land bridges and and changes in sea level. This doesn’t mean continental drift cannot predate Darwin, but it does mean Darwin did not know of it. It would be a good idea to find someone who has expertise in the history of science, particularly of the 19th century, and ask them if the idea of moving continents predated either (or both) Darwin and Wegener. (The idea of once linked continents now separated certainly did, but in all my admittedly limited reading of 19th century science, that is always explained by disappearing land bridges and changes in sea level, as in Origin . )

  4. #4 Jessica Palmer
    January 30, 2009

    Abraham Ortelius suggested that the continents had been displaced from their previous positions in 1596. Here’s a cute little summary:

    ‘Ortelius suggested that the Americas were “torn away from Europe and Africa . . . by earthquakes and floods” and went on to say: “The vestiges of the rupture reveal themselves, if someone brings forward a map of the world and considers carefully the coasts of the three [continents].”‘

    Ortelius did not come up with the idea of continental drift as a mechanism for said displacement; that had to wait for Wegener. But the idea of moving the continents predates Darwin, although precisely how they moved was unknown (Ortelius clearly had something cataclysmic in mind). Antonio Snider-Pellegrini, a contemporary of Darwin, also proposed that previously linked continents (and related animal species found thereon) had been forcibly separated at some point in history, although not surprisingly he thought it involved the Flood.

    Incidentally, Darwin fumbles with explanations of many things in Origin. With hindsight, we can see the ideas he needed floating about during the period in which he wrote or was revising his theory – Mendel’s work is the most obvious – but the poor guy couldn’t be on top of everything.

    If any geologists or paleontologists want to jump in with more about Snider-Pellegrini etc., feel free.

  5. #5 michael5000
    January 31, 2009

    I was gonna say… but octopod beat me to it. The theory of continental drift, despite having been tinkered with in a few minority reports, was not widely accepted until after WWII. I think of it as the most weirdly recent item in the pantheon of common knowledge.

  6. #6 TomJoe
    February 2, 2009

    It seems that FOXNews has amped up their looniness over the last few weeks. I think the election finally cracked them.

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