In the immortal words of REM – “It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.”
Sometime today, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) located in Switzerland will get fired up for the first time and – possibly – will spew out a handful of microscopic black holes. This, say critics, cannot be good for us. Black holes are not the kind of export we usually expect from the land of cuckoo clocks and Toblerone, but it has certainly made people sit up and notice.
Is there a news program or breakfast show or newspaper that hasn’t covered the story of the potential end of the world as everything gets sucked inside out at the touch of a button?
Of course, the LHC will come and go and I’ll still be here to post banal observations about writing and marketing tomorrow. If you’re not convinced, get your information from Science Daily and not The Sun newspaper. (The Sun report handily provides tips on how to spend your last days eating Big Macs or trying out all the positions in the Karma Sutra – no kidding).
Capitalising on the increased interest, the general public can now follow every step of the experiment by following @HadronWatch on Twitter. And just to show not everyone is taking the threat of ultimate destruction seriously, @Warlach — otherwise known as Lachlan Hibbert-Wells — is hosting an end of the world party tonight to coincide with the first experiment.
I’m sure tomorrow’s news bulletins will talk about happy scientists clinking champagne glasses to celebrate data that means absolutely nothing to 99.9% of the viewing audience. But the doomsday scenario has been fantastic marketing for them.
Yes, science needs marketing just as everything else does. After all, how will scientists gain funding for projects if the wider society doesn’t care? How will their achievements get reported and grants get awarded if science happens in secret or relative obscurity? So the media beat-up over the end of the world did the scientists behind the LHC a huge favour by getting the project into lounge rooms and web browsers around the world.
Was the doomsday scenario reported to provide publicity or was it an eager journalist looking for an angle? “Black holes you say. That must be bad, surely. That’s my lead story.” Of course, the black holes created by the LHC are so tiny and so fleeting – they will only last a nano-nano-nanosecond – they pose no risk whatsoever. In fact, the effect the scientists will be replicating happens around us in the natural world all the time on an even bigger scale. Yup, tiny, fleeting black holes are a normal natural occurrence of cosmic waves colliding with our atmosphere and we’re still here. But the general public only knows of black holes as big whirly vortexes in space sucking in spaceships and crushing planets in film.
The threat of Armageddon has prompted law suits and death threats against the scientists, and a continual stream of tearful phone calls pleading with them to “think of the children.” People are galvanised. People are spreading the word. More importantly, people are talking about particle physics!
That’s why, intentional or not, I think the doomsday scenario is a huge marketing coup for the scientists. Death threats and law suits will disappear after ‘collision day’ but everyone will be interested in the outcome of an experiment none of us would ever have rated as worthy of our attention a few months ago. Maybe some people may even learn something.
Now all I have to do is somehow create a news story that my company poses a credible threat to world peace with its new product range and that should take care of my marketing plan for the next few months.