Science in the public view: A good gamble

Researchers at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research in Geneva, did something gutsy but smart on March 30, writes CNET blogger Stephen Shankland: they revved the Large Hadron Collider up to a new energy level in full public view. Scientific projects by and large are hardly cloaked in secrecy. But the LHC’s run was much more exposed than your typical project: Anyone interested could watch the proceedings via webcast, and CERN sent status events over Twitter. “Unfortunately beam 2 was no good…we had to dump it…going for new injection,” read one solemn tweet. An hour and half later, though, the tone changed: “Experiment have seen collisions!!!!!!!!!!!First time in the history!!!!!!!!!!!! World record!!!!!!!!” The general public these days is hardly enthusiastic about science, Shankland writes—but live webcasts like the one on March 30 could help change that. “What the LHC did was let people watch a human interest drama,” he writes. “We got to see scientists at the facility jubilant when the LHC reached its record energy. We saw them pining that they happened to be off duty during the event rather than at the helm in one of the control centers. We saw them fretting when a problem dealt a temporary setback to the LHC run. In short, we saw emotion. Scientific results aren’t about emotion, but emotion makes people—including scientists—tick. People who don’t understand subatomic physics do understand the narrative of triumph over adversity…”

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