Daily Show correspondent John Oliver at CERN (credit: Matthew Searle)
By Michael Banks
One of my favourite political satire shows is the US programme The Daily Show starring Jon Stewart.
So when Daily Show correspondent John Oliver went to the CERN particle-physics lab near Geneva to do a piece on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), I couldn’t wait to see their take on it.
The six minute piece aired on the 30 April edition of the show (you can watch it here, and it didn’t disappoint.
The first person Oliver met was “the pioneering particle physicist” John Ellis, who, according to Oliver, was “clearly an evil genius up to something.”
“Nobody with expertise in physics or astrophysics thinks there is the slightest risk of any danger,” says Ellis, after Oliver asks him what is the likelihood that the LHC will destroy the world.
Cue Walter Wagner, a high-school physics teacher, who infamously filed a federal lawsuit in the US District Court in Honolulu last year to prevent the LHC from starting up. He told Oliver there is a one in two chance that the LHC will destroy the world.
The funniest part is when Oliver asks Wagner to give more details about the “50/50” chance of survival.
“Well, if you have something that can happen and something that won’t necessarily happen, it’s going to either happen or it’s not going to happen, and so the best guess is 1 or 2,” says Wagner. To which Oliver says to a slightly bemused looking Wagner, “I am not sure that’s how probability works Walter.”
Richard Breedon, a particle physicist at CERN, falls into a similar trap laid by Oliver. As they stand in the CMS cavern Oliver asks how safe is the collider.
“This place is perfectly safe,” says Breedon confidently. “So why are we wearing hard hats,” Oliver quips. The taken aback Breedon stumbles and then answers, “it is safe for safety” – “checkmate”, says a voiceover from Oliver.
The segment ends with Wagner and Oliver in a bunker where Oliver says they may as well try and breed if the world is about to end and they are the only two people left. “It’s worth a shot”, says Oliver, “there is a 50% chance it might work.”