The Truth Is In There

According to a widely disseminated story (see this) the Large Hadron Collider broke only hours after it started operations last week. This is an atrocity and an example of something seriously, endemically wrong with science more generally.

Why is the fact that the LHC broke right away an atrocity? Well, actually, that it broke is not the atrocity. The atrocity is that you are only hearing about it now, a week after the fanfare linked to the startup. There are only three possible explanations for this:

1) They forgot to mention it . Slipped their minds. Oops, sorry, I guess I didn’t think you’d think it important. And so on;

2) CERN has made the transition from a publicly funded international effort with a great deal of openness and self acclaim to a secret project of the type we might expect to see run by the American Bush Administration or some other such less than reputable entity; or

3) The explanation, that is entirely unacceptable, that I offer here, as a hypothesis.

There’s a word for what I’m going to talk about here, but a lot of you have asked me to not use this word any more. Naturally, I would always ignore such requests, but in this case since I want you to read this post I’ll comply. You can fill in the blanks.

I’m guessing that the LHC breakdown was not announced because it looked bad. All the work, all the run-up, all the fanfare, then the thing konks out on day one. However, from an engineering and scientific point of view, to be honest, I’m rather surprised that it did not konk out on hour one.

The LHC is the largest, most complex, difficult to bla bla bla science project ever bla bla bla. Which we get. And which causes us to not be surprised if the thing breaks down a shitload of times before getting their first long-term run. Press and public who do not get that simply need to be edumacated. It is not appropriate to bend the truth to match the moronosity of the audience when it comes to big huge expensive touted-through-the-roof science project. No.

And that makes the failure to announce the breakdown an atrocity. You see: The LHC is a machine that is designed to seek a particular truth. This truth hidden in very small things, (and thus) in very high energy places. True, this may be a quantum mechanical truth, and thus a truth resting on probabilities, but it is still scientific truth.

Not marketing truth. Not the ‘truth’ of frami… oops, sorry.

The hubris. It hurts. That these scientists think that they can and should do this is wrong and, frankly, scary. I for one do not believe that the LHC is going to make little black holes that would eventually suck the earth into themselves. But I’ll tell you this: The reason that I know that this is not going to happen is not because any scientist ever explained this to me. I asked for such explanations, and I got bullshit, I got incomprehensible formulas, I got insults, I got “a we’re very smart and this is what we believe” and I got hubris. Then, I went and looked into the science and figured it out for myself. I had to do that because the science community that is linked to or interested in this project seems often to act with a misguided sense of self importance, and an insulting belief that others cannot possibly comprehend what they are talking about on any level. And now, we see evidence that this same community seems to feel that actual truth about actual complexity about actual complex things is something we should not be allowed to share in.

Yet it should be seen as their job to help the rest of humanity understand these things. Or, well, don’t bother funding it, if you ask me.

Imagine yourself a judge. LHC is in the dock. The charge: “The machine is not safe.” The Defense: “We are safe. We can’t explain why to you because you won’t get it, but we would never lie.” I believe that the decision to keep secret the breakdown of part of the LHC on day one would be sufficient evidence to disregard this defense (the part about “we would not lie”) and hold the defendant over for trial. With bail to be set rather high.

And that argument only refers to the political and social credibility of the project. What about the scientific credibility? Is this machine being operated by bureaucrats? By the marketing department? By fra….. ooops..???

This is a problem that really is endemic to science. We see everywhere the assertion that science (or this or that science, or most commonly “ego” as anthropologists would say) is unbiased and objective, non political and honest, truth seeking and untruth slaying. But when real questions are asked of science and scientists, these assertions are not relevant. Addressing the questions is relevant. I am not a fan of science studies. Some of the craziest people, saying the most offensive and embarassingly wrong things, are science studies people. But you can see what motivates them when you look at the clubby, defensive, self aggrandizing and self serving rhetoric we see on the surface.

And this sort of thing which I am this morning so annoyed at is not restricted to framers. (Sorry, had to mention it once.) Framing just takes this to a new “scientific” level. No, it is endemic. There are many topics that one can raise and ask questions about where the primary and often only response you will get from the related scientific community is pretty much the same: “Shut up, we know what we are doing.”

They are looking for a better name for the Large Hadron Collider. How about the Large Hubris Club?


  1. #1 Mondo
    September 20, 2008

    WTF. Seriously.

  2. #2 Vivian
    September 20, 2008

    That new name sounds good to me.

  3. #3 Onkel Bob
    September 20, 2008

    I like the categories this post is filed under – especially troll bait. It’s interesting that biologists try to get to the underlying facts by sifting the available data through successive screens. Physicists like to throw the stuff at the wall and see what pieces come loose :^)
    I am especially annoyed at this meme that space exploration brings all these side benefits, so this money pit will do the same. I’m all for basic science research and believe we are currently underfunding that endeavor. However, when curiosity driven projects drain all the available monetary resources then behave as these people did, it undermines public confidence. The Economist did a survey comparing the attitudes of the general public in Britain and the U.S.. Among their findings, where the majority of British respondents mostly or fully trusted academics, the majority of Americans were generally distrustful of the same group.

  4. #4 rpenner
    September 20, 2008

    Well, if you studied the LHC project for any time, you would quickly learn that scheduling delays (bottom-up) abound and press releases (top-down) don’t go hand-in-hand. The transformer had them halted for a week, but the wiring failure which caused 100 magnets to heat up and caused loss of vacuum conditions will delay them for months.

  5. #5 yogi-one
    September 20, 2008

    “…the science community that is linked to or interested in this project seems often to act with a misguided sense of self importance, and an insulting belief that others cannot possibly comprehend what they are talking about on any level. And now, we see evidence that this same community seems to feel that actual truth about actual complexity about actual complex things is something we should not be allowed to share in.”

    Oh, then it IS just like the Bushies! Explanation 2) fully applies.

    It doesn’t take a scientist to figure out that this kind of behavior is NOT helping the public reputation of the scientific community, does it?

    Get a clue, idiots!

  6. #6 JL
    September 20, 2008

    TRUTH = 1 / MONEY

  7. #7 nadeshiko
    September 20, 2008

    oh, please.

  8. #8 Andrew
    September 20, 2008

    “Oh please” what? To whom do you refer, man?

  9. #9 dkw
    September 20, 2008

    I don’t know who you talked to about your questions, but as a scientist in academia, I’ve never not been able to find a scientist who wouldn’t sit down with me and answer all my questions.

    Don’t you have some physicist friends at your university who you could talk to? I’d be very surprised if one of the faculty members there wouldn’t indulge you at all.

    I’m most concerned about your statement including the phrase “I got incomprehensible formulas”. Maybe they weren’t trying to avoid your questions or give you “bullshit” responses. This is how physicists speak. This is their language. Formulas are the answers to their questions.

    Maybe, as a chemist (a synthetic inorganic chemist, with no real deep understanding of physics except the calculus and physical chemistry courses I’ve taken) I speak a little more of their language than you do, and that’s why it didn’t seem so difficult for me to get answers to the questions I had. Or maybe I know more friendly, patient physicists than you do.

    Do evolutionary biologists go out of their way to explain some of the nuances of molecular evolution to those without any knowledge of biology (let alone molecular biology and related fields)? Some do. But from the blogosphere it’s plain to see that many disregard such people as too ignorant to understand these complex ideas.

    Overall though, I agree with your point about the coverup. It shouldn’t have happened. But you paint physicists with a pretty damn broad hubris brush that I feel is a little unwarrented.

    The problem is that these questions come up. Someone will ask “what about black holes?” The public latches on without any knowledge of the theory (or lack thereof) behind it, but then demand a fully detailed answer to it. When the scientists respond with the actual theory combating the original question, the public cries “ivory tower”, “unintelligible math”, “incomprehensible formula”, etc.

  10. #10 greg laden
    September 20, 2008

    DKW: Yes, I’m painting with too broad a brush, here I admit, but the paint is real!

  11. #11 kdon
    September 20, 2008

    “I’m painting with too broad a brush, here I admit, but the paint is real!”

    If I read the “broad brush” analogy correctly, the analogue to the the truth isn’t “the paint” but what’s put to canvas.

  12. #12 greg laden
    September 20, 2008

    kdon: You hare crossing metaphors! The brushing is about the polemic, not the hubris.

  13. #13 John
    September 20, 2008

    As a physicist who has often asked questions of evolutionary biologists I can say that hubris is not limited to physicists. I have gotten the same “we know what we are talking about” response, and answers which assume a level of knowledge I don’t have (what I consider the equivalent of “incomprehensible formulas”) when asking questions regarding biology (especially when I ask them to defend against a creationist attack that I myself don’t have the background to defend). I don’t take offense at this and simply ask them to stop, tell them what me knowledge level is, and ask if they can explain it from there. The yes/no answer to that obviously depends on how much time we want to spend on the discussion, we are each busy people after all and we are not about to exchange knowldege which is the equivalent of a 1st-year-grad-level course in physics/biology. (Fortunately my biologist wife is more patient with me.)

    And I would disagree that a 1-week delay in announcing the LHC problem is obvious evidence of a cover-up or attempt to delay possible embarrassment. As an experimental physicist who has worked on big projects including scientists at all levels (PIs to undergrads to press officers) 1-week is quite minimal in getting this sort if information out to the science community (let alone the lay public). When a machine stops working the first thing you do is break out the voltmeter and oscilloscope, and check the software too. The answer isn’t always obvious and can take several days of trouble-shooting work by many people before you conclude that it is not going to be a simple fix (at which point is is clearly time to inform the higher-up folks). My first reaction is not going to be to call the press folks, or even the lab director, since we’re too busy actually trying to fix things. (And we’d all look pretty silly if we went all the way up the chain of command to find out the problem was just the equivalent of the TV being unplugged.) For such a large complicated machine as the LHC, a 1-week delay on this sort of thing actually sounds pretty reasonable. Expecting notice on a much smaller timescale is not realistic.

    Consider the original problems with the Hubble Space Telescope optics. It was 2 months between launch and the announcement that there was a focus problem. In fact the announcement was made (June 21, 1990) exactly 1-week after it became clear that images (~ June 14, 1990) were not meeting the expected specifications. (I’m not sure if there was clear evidence before that.)

    Some might say that this is evidence the HST folks were showing the same sort of hubris Greg suggests the LHC folks are guilty of. I’d say that 1-week is a reasonable compromise between making sure you confirm there is a problem, and keeping the public in the loop.

  14. #14 Greg laden
    September 20, 2008

    Shouldn’t that guy’s post be greyed out if he’s Greg? Testing, testing…

  15. #15 Dan J
    September 20, 2008

    Shouldn’t that guy’s post be greyed out if he’s Greg? Testing, testing…

    I think whether or not Greg’s posts are rendered in dark gray depends on how he logs in to post.

    As to the larger issue, yes, I think this delay in reporting paints the LHC group in a very bad light. It may, in fact, be an issue of those at the top keeping tight-lipped about it, but I would think someone at the bottom would have let the secret out quite early.

    As someone who has only a rudimentary knowledge of particle physics (and chemistry, and anthropology, etc.), I wouldn’t expect to be able to ask an eminent physicist about the details of why the LHC won’t be making lots of baby black holes. I would, however, expect to get at least a basic explanation from someone who teaches physics at a university.

    Could the problems of those not wishing to give an easily understood answer, or an answer at all, be related to whether or not they teach, and at what level they teach? For their own students, they would be aware of the students’ current level of understanding. What about the general public? How much does it have to be “dumbed down” for John Q. Public to understand it? Maybe we should get Professor Hawking to write a book about the LHC. I certainly enjoyed his other books, but I don’t think I’d be able to understand most of his technical papers.

  16. #16 travc
    September 21, 2008

    I’m with the “not a real coverup” argument. They wanted to see what went wrong and get an estimate on how long it would take to fix before doing a full-blown press release. Understandable, but a missed opportunity IMO.

    The ‘teaching moment’ of the breakdown could have been played well. Something along the lines of:
    It broke when x-y-z happened and we are figuring out why and how to fix it. This is a really complicated and difficult project, which is one of the big reasons it is so cool! We are learning a lot, including some really practical things, by just getting the experiment setup and working.

    The particle physics results will be really neat and perhaps profound, but the experiment which is building and conducting the experiment is even cooler from my POV (not a physicist).

    As for the poor explanations (mostly boiling down to ‘trust me’) for why no Earth eating black holes… I chalk that up to mostly to the press and a few very annoying high-profile guys like Kaku (that guy should never be put in front of a camera IMO). Did anyone hear deGrasse Tyson on the topic? I imagine that he would have given a much more satisfying if still very superficial answer.

    PS: Non-secret secret… many particle physicists have issues conceptualizing what they ‘understand’. Which means they don’t actually understand it IMO. I used to work for a quantum physicist who really does conceptually understand his work and can explain the general ideas it to almost anyone with quite basic math. So this isn’t just a biologist dissing physicists… though I do enjoy that ๐Ÿ˜‰

  17. #17 Armchair Dissident
    September 21, 2008

    Perhaps a more likely option #5: the notoriously incompetent press just plain didn’t notice that it had failed, and – when they discovered that it wasn’t working properly – assumed that there had been a cover-up because they hadn’t bothered to monitor the publicly available information. CERN didn’t bother to launch a full-scale press conference simply because the LHC was being tested, and it was expected to fail in various ways.

    Remember the old adage: never ascribe to conspiracy that which can adequately explained by stupidity.

  18. #18 greg laden
    September 21, 2008

    John: You make a lot of good points, but I don’t think anyone is asking the with the VOM his/her opinion on what to do about public relations!

    To the False Greg Laden: Shouldn’t that guy’s post be greyed out if he’s Greg? Testing, testing…

    You’re doin’ it wrong. And so am I when I use my laptop from certain IP locations and don’t bother signing in and stuff. If you see a non-dark grey me it means I’ve gone fishing or something.

    travc: I agree about the explanation thing.

  19. #19 andy
    September 21, 2008

    Regarding all this “you wouldn’t understand this because you have no expertise in this area” stuff, maybe read Asimov’s Sucker Bait

    As for whether this is an outrage (atrocity is a word I reserve for things which bring great harm to large numbers of people, e.g. genocide, which delaying an announcement that a physics experiment has gone wrong gets nowhere close to), perhaps they were waiting to get a detailed assessment of what went wrong. There’s not much value in saying something’s gone wrong if you can’t tell people what it is.

    In addition, can you think how the “Earth is doomed!” lobby would react to a report along the lines of “the LHC has gone wrong, but we can’t tell you what’s happened yet because we’re still doing the analysis”… there’s a possibility that the people at the LHC are thoroughly sick to death of all this doom-mongering and didn’t want to fuel the fires any more, which means you could argue that the delay in the announcement was in some way beneficial…

  20. #20 Dustman
    September 21, 2008

    “The reason that I know that this is not going to happen is not because any scientist ever explained this to me. I asked for such explanations, and I got bullshit, I got incomprehensible formulas, I got insults, I got “a we’re very smart and this is what we believe” and I got hubris. Then, I went and looked into the science and figured it out for myself.”

    who are these sinister strawmen, greg?
    not the same guys who wrote the science you “looked into” presumably.
    keeping the lhc a secret and never having any press releases would be a conspiracy.
    i’m with Armchair Dissident: never underestimate the power of incompetence

  21. #21 greg laden
    September 21, 2008

    You would have to be looking hard to find an explicit conspiracy theory in my post. But I know some people see conspiracy theories everywhere … ๐Ÿ™‚

    And yes, Dustman, that is my point. What does hearing that the machine started up the very second it starts up (quite literally) followed by hearing that it broke down a week after it broke down tell the doomsday fear mongers? What does it give them?

    I’m not concerned that anyone is tired of the bullshit. If you decide to take a walk in the rain, don’t get mad at the rain drops.

    Andy: Straw men? There are no straw men. Look at what has been written on this blog, elsewhere on the internet. That almost no one can explain it really is pretty obvious.

    And, as a science communicator and teacher (in life science) of many years, (invoking experience, not authority. Please don’t give me that argument, and yes, this is a warning) I have decided that nothing is too complicated to explain at some level … at a level where the explainee is reasonably confident, comfortable, has experienced real learning, is not misinformed, and while more questions may arise, those questions come along with some sense of direction. It may be that this can’t be done here, but I don’t believe that at all.

  22. #22 zwirko
    September 21, 2008

    Are you sure this incident wasn’t reported for a week? It happened on Friday and was reported on the tv, radio and web news outlets on the Saturday. Less than 24 hrs.

  23. #23 greg laden
    September 21, 2008

    zwirko: What exactly do you mean when you say Friday? We have one of those every week, and this is an event that has played out over nearly two of those weeks.

    The most recent news posting from LHC is now 12 days old. About 10 days ago, the first double beam (which is what you need to have to get data) started up. Apparently, a few hours later something broke which caused the shutdown of the machine. As it turns out, this is going to cause a month or so delay in restart.

    This event of about 9 days ago became known to the rest of us about 2 days ago when reporters noticed the humming had stopped or whatever and started asking questions. So no, there was not a 24 hour response, but rather, a week long delay.

    Again, putting this in somewhat broader context: The last headlines for news reports from the LHC news page are:

    The final cool down
    Knocking on the LHC’s door
    The last piece of the ring
    Cool days ahead
    A word from Lyn Evans: a sprint to the finish
    Some LHC milestones…
    The story of a historic morning
    A red-letter day!
    Switched on!

    That sequence of headlines starts back in may. There is a pattern. Only good news! I’ve been noticing that pattern all along … it has been difficult for everyone to get up to date information about what is going on without actually being there .

    It may well be that they (CERN) are just doing what they want to do, what they’ve always planned to do (a bad job of promoting themselves, slanting all news to the positive only, never reporting problems) or it could be that this is how it is done in Europe, or it could be that the people running the most complex and expensive scientific project ever are all a bunch of morons.


    None of the explanations are satisfactory. They should really get their acts together.

  24. #24 zwirko
    September 21, 2008

    I think I’ve misread your post. I was reading about the Friday 19th September incident at the LHC just before stopping by your blog. It’s my night shift cycle at the moment – brain stops working sometimes.

  25. #25 MartinB
    September 21, 2008

    “I got incomprehensible formulas, I got insults, I got “a we’re very smart and this is what we believe” and I got hubris. Then, I went and looked into the science and figured it out for myself.”

    Wow. I mean, really big *WOW*.

    You must be the smartest guy on earth, really. They gave you a bunch of incomprehensible formulas (which implies that your knowledge of theoretical physics is not on an expert level), and then you just went and figured it out for yourself? Solved all the Feynman integrals and stuff to see what should happen? Probably did some lattice gauge theory calculations on your pocket calculator? Calculated Hawking radiation and black hole decay times and all that?

    Sorry, usually I like your blog, but this post is just over the top.

  26. #26 greg laden
    September 21, 2008

    Martin, don’t be a moron .. ๐Ÿ™‚ Of course I’m the smartest guy on earth (generally well known fact) but that does not mean I know EVERYTHING.

    But on topic: Feynman integrals are baby math, really. But this is not about Feynman integrals. I wrote a python script to address lattice guage formulas last year, but again, not too useful here.

    It is all about evaporation and size. It is actually incredibly easy to conceptualize why the black holes would not eat the earth, though one does have to trust the equations (and a hypothesis or two). But I’m pretty sure that most of the attempted explanations were from people who did not get it.

    zwirko: Right, this is a bit confusing, a confusing situation that would be easily addressed with a well done press conference (for all know such as already happened but not as of this AM). I’m not even sure if the two incidents are related.

  27. #27 MartinB
    September 21, 2008

    “Martin, don’t be a moron .. :)”

    Not more than necessary, at least ๐Ÿ˜‰

    “It is actually incredibly easy to conceptualize why the black holes would not eat the earth”

    Ah. The physicists you asked then must really have been strange for not explaining it properly. All physicists I know love nothing better than to explain physics to others. And if you consider Feynman integrals baby math, I really wonder what those incomprehensible formulas were.

    “I wrote a python script to address lattice guage formulas last year”

    Did I miss something in Lattice gauge theory? When I was working in the field (13 years ago), you needed Gigaflop-supercomputers and computing times of months to get something useful out of LGT.
    Is this some trick with perfect actions?

  28. #28 greg laden
    September 21, 2008

    Python on Linux makes a 13 year old computer look like it is standing still. Also, I worked on a demonstration script, not an actual calculation machine, if you must know.

    But anyway, this is my point. I don’t think it is that hard to explain what these tiny black holes are or why LHC can’t produce one that will last much longer than it too to produce (at human levels of rekoning, though of course time will be working differently here and there). When scientists don’t know, especially the internet troll scientists, they are likely to try blinding you with science, as the saying goes.

  29. #29 Soren
    September 21, 2008

    I understood that the Hawking radiation would make the hole evaporate in less than planck time,given the little mass of the hole.

    This made sense to me. I can’t remember where I heard it, but I didn’t try hard to get that explanation. Was that wrong, is it more complex than that?

    Wasn’t that common knowledge?

    I’m not a physicist by a long shot, but I’ve heard about Hawking radiation, I mean we’ve all heard singularity from podiobooks right? Or the Gateway series by Pohl?

    What I am saying is basically, that I did not have the experience you had Greg.

  30. #30 Soren
    September 21, 2008

    Perhaps an internet search would have helped you Greg?

    This came up as #1 one.

    Its from september 1

  31. #31 greg laden
    September 21, 2008

    Soren, there are many routes to understanding, and “oh, just google it” is very rarely a satisfying post hoc explanation for anything, and the presumption that the recipient of such a comment has not heard of google or does not know about the internet is absurd. This is only made worse when the thing you’ve come up with is really a good example of what I am talking about, and, especially when the item one points to was printed a month after the discussion to which we are referring! Etc!

    Hawkings radiation is a hypothesis that would be tested by a controlled tiny black hole experiment. It is not a known phenomenon, but rather, a possibility. What is probably most important here is the size scales and the relative scales of forces that keep things apart at the subatomic level. In order for a black hole to evaporate out of existence in any reasonable amount of time, it has to have very little in it and it has to accrete virtually nothing once it is formed. If hawking radiation works, it will work very very slowly. A black hole the size of an ants head would probably grow faster than it would evaporate and eventually become quite problematic. However, it would be very difficult to create a black hole the size of an ants head.

    It turns out that black holes are likely to form at certain size scales, and it is almost impossible to imagine them forming at other size scales. The scale of the itty bitty black hole (to use the technical term) that energies like would be generated by the LHC if it worked, is literally subatomic. To put this at the scale of human-thinking, it would be like a black hole forming in a very out of the way solar system, from the point of view of the nearest solar system. the LHC tiny black hole would be very very far (in terms of its gravitational field) from the nearest subatomic particle.

    The description of hawking radiation in the cited reference is pretty far from anything I’ve ever seen before. Hawking’s effect is a quantum effect, not an energetic effect that overcomes the boundary conjdition of the black hole. You can’t overcome the boundary condition of a black hole with regular energy. Only quantum spookiness would work.

    In the reference you give, the key explanation is:

    “There is a rule in physics that says that the smaller the black hole, the quicker the evaporation. For an LHC-style black hole, estimated to be only a billionth of a billionth of a meter across (an atto-meter) the black hole would exist for a bit more than a few billion-billion-billionths of a second. It wouldn’t be around long enough to swallow any nearby matter and would pose no danger to ordinary matter.”

    so, the reason is that there is a rule in physics.


    Oh, and this does not address the very important fact that the event horizon of the black hole will be held several gazillion times farther than its own diameter form the next nearest piece of matter that it could possibly absorb almost all the time.

    Of course, a well tuned LHC type device (if it worked) could in theory smash itty bitty black holes into each other, I suppose ….

    The rest of the explanation seen here (and typically) is exacctly the opposite sort of argument that physicists use to justify the building of something like a LHC. Theoretical arm waving and indirect reference to chance observation in nature is the kind of thing that makes people say that physics is a real science and things like archaeology is not. If we really could draw firm conclusions like this (about subatomic level behavior) by looking at the stars …. which is comparability cheap …. than why bother building the LHC?

  32. #32 Notagod
    September 22, 2008

    When these types of protocol issues come up we should go to the self proclaimed source of honesty and morality, yes, those that believe in announcing early and often (no before that, yeah, before anything actually happens. Yes, and doing that OFTEN as well):

    Yes, thanks Nogagod, Chris Christ here in the beautiful first christian century with an amazing and timely announcement from the christians:
    Jebus is cominnnggg! Jebus is coming VERY SOON!!

    And two thousand years later; Say a, christians, it’s, just well, have ya got anything on that jeebus thing yet, anything at all?

    God, praise the Lord, Jebus is cominnnggg! Jebus is cooommminnggg VERY SOON!!

    So anyway..about that LHC, will the little back holes be large enough to accommodate a christian? But, surely a baby deciderator would fit?

  33. #33 Tobias
    September 22, 2008

    I would suggest that part of this current controversy is not because of “scientists” but, rather, because of SOP for engineers. I would hazard a guess that for the engineers who built and are operating the LHC, the failure on the first day’s test was simply not particularly newsworthy, since it was probably somewhat anticipated — after all, what is the point of having shakedown runs unless you expect something to break? The point of this phase of the project is to find out what is going to break, fix those things, and repeat until you have eliminated all of the inevitable flaws that have to exist in an engineering project of this size. And, if any one thinks the scientists have a tin ear when it comes to public opinion (and dealing with the bureaucrats in charge), the engineers are probably 10 times worse, since they tend to be focused only on the “machine” and not on what it is meant to do. Once the LHC is fully operational, a lot of those engineers will see their job as “done”, and move on to the next big thing — and only then will the scientists really get to work. I think people tend to forget that the LHC is, for now, still an “engineering” project, and not yet a science experiment.