Gillies addresses what CERN sees as a problem: information coming out first in blogs rather than from the CERN director through official press releases. One aspect of this is the release of information about experimental results, and Tommaso discusses this question on his blog. Unfortunately, I think CERN and the LHC are still quite a ways away from having any experimental results that need to be protected. For the rest of this year, the LHC will be getting a lot of attention from high energy physicists, but what they will be interested in is the question of how the machine is progressing towards the goal of colliding beams at a useful luminosity. For most of the history of the project, CERN’s information policy was remarkably open: the slides from presentations made before the technical committees guiding the project were posted in locations that, while not advertised, were easy to find and did not require a password to access. Anyone with a serious interest could follow along and get first-hand technically accurate information about what was happening.
Things changed rather dramatically after the accident last September 19th. Publicly accessible logbooks were edited to remove information, and public access to the websites of the technical committees was shut off:
Who ordered links to photos and some presentations to be password protected after they appeared on blogs?
[Aymar] wanted the CERN community to receive the news from him before it was made more widely available, so access to slides was temporarily restricted. People just hadn’t realized how much in the spotlight we are now.
Gillies doesn’t address the issue of why these websites have now been restricted, a policy that appears to be permanent and go beyond a “temporary” restriction. According to Chalmers:
CERN’s new director general [Rolf-Dieter Heuer] told staff on 12 January, that from now on people would hear about events first from him, not the press.
This kind of tight control of information about what is happening at the LHC seems to me to be a misguided policy. The best and most timely source of information for CERN staff about the LHC should be first-hand information from the engineers and physicists working on the project, not whatever has made its way up the chain of command and then been laundered for public consumption. Shutting off access by physicists to accurate technical information and making the DG the only source of news about what has happened at the LHC is likely to just encourage unchecked rumor.
Next week at Chamonix there will be an LHC Performance Workshop, and the slides are supposed to be publicly available here as the presenters post them over the next few days. These slides should give an accurate picture of where the project is and what a realistic proposed schedule for the rest of the year would look like. According to the Physics World interview, CERN’s plan is that “a realistic schedule will be announced” after the Chamonix workshop. Of course, by then, many people will have already have a good idea about what this schedule will be, that is, if the slides are not password-protected….