Good arguments, bad arguments and the LHC

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Reply Fri 5 Mar, 2010 06:31 pm
Hello. I've read various reports telling non-scientists like myself why its a good idea to run the Large Hadron Collider experiments and how wrong the opponents are. Looking at the non-technical, non-scientific aspects, it seemed to me that the physicists were using many bad arguments - ad hominem arguments, straw man, etc. as well as simply name calling. I've put some thoughts on this on a website but I wonder if I've identified the fallacies correctly, or said something is a fallacy when it isn't. Would anyone like to look at the website and point out mistakes? The website is
Reply Fri 5 Mar, 2010 08:46 pm
@BrianL phil,
Well, why not look at the technical, scientific aspects? Isn't that the meat of the matter? Bad arguments can be used to support true conclusions, so it doesn't seem like enough to say that their arguments are bad.
Reply Fri 5 Mar, 2010 09:13 pm
@BrianL phil,

  • self -contradiction

There is a contradiction in the thinking of the physicists, in that they seem to be saying that
We need the LHC because we don't understand how things work at this level and we want to find out
and also
We can tell you it's safe because we know how things work at this level.
How can it be a valid argument to do this - simultaneously assert one thing and its opposite?
All arguments that contradict themselves are valid. This is because everything follow from a contradiction. That no such argument is sound is another thing. If you want to properly criticize arguments, then use the correct terminology.

If you didn't know how water behaves when heated and cooled, you could research it by looking at a sample of water. You could take its temperature and measure its density. You would notice it got more dense as its temperature dropped and you would be able to predict that it would be more dense at 21 degrees Centigrade than it was at 31 degrees. But such predictions would not be accurate when it goes below about 4 degrees. Water has unexpected properties. This is not intended as an argument by analogy - just an example of the unexpected.
Another example of the unexpected has been called 'The Pioneer Anomaly'. (You can do an internet search for this). It was/is an unexplained difference from what was expected in the path/velocity of the Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11 spacecraft.
One of my concerns is that there might be an 'LHC Anomaly'

Careful. Yes, in a sense it was 'unexpected'. People did not expect it because they did not know of it and all experiments with other chemicals and with water at degrees over 4 supported that the density would continue to behave in a linear fashion.

The analogy with LHC is not justified, that is, you have not given any reason to believe that the analogy is apt.

Quote: "This non-story is symptomatic of a larger mistrust in science, particularly in the US, which includes intelligent design amongst other things." Source: Professor Cox quoted in "Guide to the Large Hadron Collider" on the BBC website BBC News : Q&A: The LHC experiment
My comment: This mention of intelligent design is close to the use of the Straw Man fallacious argument. Concern about the safety of the LHC has absolutely nothing to do with belief in intelligent design and it is inappropriate to link the two.
Wrongly identified fallacy. It is close to a red herring, not a straw man. Even though straw man is a subcategory of red herring.

And you gave no reason to believe that the two are not linked. They probably are to some degree. There is a strong anti-scientific movement in the US and it would probably rage against anything labeled science, including the LHC.

QuoteSource: Professor Cox quoted on the Daily Telegraph website
My comment: It's difficult to know where to begin with this one.
The word "nutters" - is that an ad hominem or poisoning the well argument? Or circular reasoning (begging the question)?
Frankenstein complex - I don't understand the relevance of this.
"membership of the "Relativity is a Zionist conspiracy" Straw man argument? Guilt by association?
Mention of Nostradamus - Straw man fallacious argument, implying that opponents believe in the Nostradamus nonsense.
All of these are probably mislabeled. It doesn't seem to me that the professor is trying to or is expected to argue for the safety of the LHC. He is arguing something else. Of course, if he did try to argue for the safety of the LHC with the above, then he would make some fallacies. Trying to categorize his comments above as various fallacies seems unreasonable to me. Of course his language is harsh but he is completely right about the nutters out there.


I'm too lazy to do more. Maybe you should just read a logic textbook. I will send one per email if you PM me your email. And then familiarize yourself with the various different logical fallacies. This page is very good for that purpose.

Taxonomy of the Logical Fallacies
jack phil
Reply Mon 8 Mar, 2010 02:47 pm
@BrianL phil,
Well, if the things they observe differ with observation, eg from observer to observer, have they not already thrown out objectivity?

Bring on the black holes, wannabe scientists. ;P

My only complaint is the amount of credit wasted on such experiments when hitech national infrastructure would be far more beneficial at these times... that or saving NASA. Mars is far cooler than imaginary particles.
BrianL phil
Reply Wed 17 Mar, 2010 10:51 am
@jack phil,
Thanks for your various comments, especially for the longer analysis from Emil and the fallacy files link. It was the sort of thing I was looking for and I'll be making changes to the website.

But Emil, I have to disagree on some points. One is that I would need to prove the absence of a link between the intelligent design people and LHC doubters. I might conceivably be the only person who is an LHC doubter and not an intelligent design advocate but I doubt it; I think it's up to someone who alleges such a link to prove that it exists and that it is significant.

And on the 'nutters' theme: there are people who quote a Nostradamus 'prophecy' as a warning against the LHC. Clearly, these prophecies have no value at all and one makes up one's own mind about people who rely on them. But it seems just as clear to me that it's not justified to imply that because some opponents quote Nostradamus, then all opponents must believe this nonsense.

I find the professor's "Zionist conspiracy" remark quite offensive, though that's probably not something to discuss in the Philosophy Forum.
Reply Wed 17 Mar, 2010 08:18 pm
@BrianL phil,
I think there is something very instructive about the fact that 'natural philosophy' (which is what 'science' was also called in the past) has to build the world's largest machine to work out what is the nature of matter.

Matter! Just dumb stuff. The more we look at it, the stranger it seems. Now if you ask a 'natural philosopher' or scientist 'what is real' the answer you get won't even be comprehensible unless you have a higher degree in mathematical physics. And even then, the piece of the answer that you can understand is only within your area of speciality.

I find it ironic in this context that people who call themselves 'skeptics' usually mean 'we will only accept an account of reality for which there is scientific evidence.' Physics and physical cosomology are both in crisis; many physicists think string theory is a crock, and 95% of the universe seems to consist of non-baryonic matter (i.e. not made out of atoms at all.)

Lewis Carroll couldn't have written a more compelling piece of fantasy. Maybe he saw it coming.
Reply Wed 17 Mar, 2010 08:29 pm
In effect, Glashow and Lederman are arguing that after spending billions of dollars on particle accelerators, all we have to show for it is a bunch of worthless mathematics, or what Heisenberg calls using the language of mathematics to produce "a verbal description of the table of data." They want us to spend many more billions of dollars to build the SSC, a machine that is up to 112 miles in circumference and that can accelerate protons to 40 trillion electron volts of energy. They offer the slim hope that if we explore the short-lived trash at the high end of the particle spectrum at energies far beyond that of the stable particles of the everyday world, we might have some additional insight into a unified theory! The 1985 APS retirement address of the particle physicist Dr. Robert R. Wilson that I quoted in Chapter 4, and the above reply to my NSF proposal tends to indicate that the average particle physicist is opposed to a unified theory along the lines presented by Einstein and Heisenberg, and that funding of the SSC could very likely hamper the development of a realistic unified theory that would bring enormous benefits for mankind. At the 1985 APS Spring Meeting, the Nobel prize winning particle physicist Dr. Carlo Rubbia gave a talk in which he indicated a major problem in separating the data from the artifacts of machine operation. The only way to be certain of the results, was when different accelerators gave consistent data at the same energies. During the comment and question session following his talk, I asked him if the current accelerators had reached the point of diminishing returns, and he answered "Yes." So we face the prospect of spending many billions of dollars for a machine that will produce uncertain results, of marginal value, a real "white elephant." The following excerpts from the letter published in the July 1988 issue of Physics Today, [95] by Dr. John F. Waymouth of GTE that is titled "WHAT PRICE FUNDING THE SUPER COLLIDER?" brings to bear some interesting arguments on this question: . . .
The Farce of Physics

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