CERN is getting ready to start operating the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). A couple of guys have sued in Hawaii (for lack of funds) to stop it. They have been depicted as kooks and they certainly are not renowned scientists. But even though I am a technology optimist, I believe they have a point.
Most of the coverage has focused on scientists disagreeing on the likelihood of various disastrous outcomes which involve the complete destruction of earth (creation of a stable black hole, emergence of a strangelet). While there is disagreement on probabilities there is agreement on the basic fact that there is a probability distribution which in the tail includes the destruction of Earth. But nobody seems to be asking the upside question. What can we really learn from this that is meaningful to the people on Earth? Compared to the problems we are facing with regard to pollution, disease, poverty, I believe the answer is - next to nothing. Yes we will learn something new almost certainly, but of no reasonable term impact on life.
So this is a sucker’s bet - small upside with the potential for a huge downside. We just spent some time making sure that our portfolio companies were not taking such bets with their cash - trying to squeeze out a point of interest but putting the whole principal at risk. It’s upsetting to see scientists take such a bet not with a bunch of cash but with all of our lives.