A very well-read journalist today

A very well-read journalist today told me that Our Final Hour: A Scientist’s Warning: How Terror, Error, and Environmental Disaster Threaten Humankind’s Future In This Century–On Earth and Beyond by Martin J. Rees, a superbly smart Cambridge professor, is making the rounds of political and economic circles. I read the review in this Sunday’s New York Times and the book seems so profoundly bleak and odd that I need to just quote from the Times reviewer, Dennis Overbye. Mr. Rees is certainly worried about global warming, WMD, and the threat of biological disaster, but it’s the scientitically mind-numbing ones that bother me most. Oy, my heart sinks as I write but this is important (all quotes are from NYT):
‘Engineering advances could lead to the creation of intelligent self-reproducing nanoparticles that could eat us and every other living thing on Earth, reducing the biosphere to what Eric Drexler, one of the pioneers of nanotechnology, calls ”gray goo” — the subject of a recent thriller, ”Prey,” by Michael Crichton.’
‘Certain physics experiments might be even more catastrophic, Rees reports. In principle they could disturb space-time itself, causing the laws of physics to twitch into a new form, like water suddenly freezing to ice, destroying our atoms and everything else. Since we lack a ”battle-tested” theory of what happens at very, very cold temperatures, he says, we would have been right to be worried when a metal bar — part of an apparatus to detect gravitational waves, ripples of space-time predicted by Einstein’s general theory of relativity — was recently cooled to near absolute zero, making it what Peter Michelson of Stanford University called ”the coldest large object in the universe.”’
‘MORE recently, physicists at Brookhaven National Laboratory calculated the odds that a planned experiment, in which atomic nuclei would be accelerated to collide at high speeds, might cause all the matter in the earth to collapse into exotic dense particles called ”strangelets,” extinguishing life, among other things. The risk came out to about one in 50 million. That sounds good, and the experiments commenced without tragedy, but Rees takes no comfort in that, pointing out that the results of the calculation can also be expressed as saying that 120 people might be expected to die from the experiments. Not even the most ambitious physicist would advocate accepting such a price for scientific knowledge.’