Johnson’s article is actually about the LHC, which was in the early (and over budget) stages of construction in 2001. So the doomsday debate, which MSNBC.com’s Alan Boyle has tracked in number of blog posts over the last two years, has been garnering publicity for the collider for a long time. With that in mind, the most important question about the current cornucopia of coverage is not, is all publicity good publicity for CERN, but rather: Has the press actually helped public understanding of particle physics or just perpetuated old worries?
Fortunately, unlike black holes, a lot of light escaped from the world’s news holes over the last few days (though the best piece of writing on the subject may still be last year’s Elizabeth Kolbert’s exposé in The New Yorker). There have been many excellent features, analyses, photos, interviews, and interactive graphics. But fun time is over. One disappointing aspect of the straight news coverage of the LHC’s first beam test was that, depending on whom you read, it cost anywhere between $4 billion to $10 billion. Anyway you slice it, that’s a lot of money, and proof of two things: that CERN will have to earn its publicity from now on, and that journalists have responsibility to explain how its fancy new collider does or doesn’t pay off.