A video concurrently published to YouTube and the Facebook page “Stranger Than Fiction News” on 11 August 2016 (titled “MURDER AT CERN – DISTURBING HUMAN SACRIFICE VIDEO SURFACES”) purportedly depicting an human sacrifice carried out by researchers at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN).
The video included commentary from a narrator who stated that the facility was secured and open only to individuals with proper security clearances, that the person filming the video obfuscated his or her involvement with the “sacrifice” in order to deliberately “leak” the footage, and that the grainy violence at the end of the clip appeared to be authentic:
The rumor predictably and rapidly made its way to conspiracy peddlers and social media groups devoted to promulgating similar rumors, and the “evidence” presented in the video relating to the CERN facility led some social media users to wonder whether there was any chance the clip was real as described. It didn’t help that CERN and its Large Hadron Collider (LHC, the largest and most powerful particle collider in the world) are conspiracy magnets of a sort, having previously prompted falsehoods suggesting scientists working at the facility caused earthquakes or inadvertently opened up “UFO portals,” Nor did the media’s propensity for publishing CERN headlines light on facts but heavy on question marks and doomsday scuttlebutt do much more than amplify perpetually circulating worries about the research facility.
Over the years CERN and the LHC have been the subject of claims the accelerator could “spawn” black holes, “trigger a catastrophic chain reaction in the very fabric of space and time itself which would rip apart the entire universe” (in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights), just generally “kill us all,” dangerously unveil the existence of multiverses, summon the anti-Christ, or open a “portal to hell.” An article about the “hell” claim delves into why CERN is often the subject of terrifying rumors, despite a notable dearth of black holes or hell portals amidst ongoing research:
Doomsday theorists frequently blame international labs like CERN for putting the world in danger … Conspiracy theories flourish when a government organization is involved in an event that the general public can’t quite comprehend, like the 1969 lunar landing, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy or scientific discoveries at places like CERN.
“Any time there is a situation where there is a lack of information,” said Dr. Viren Swami, psychologist at Anglia Ruskin University in the United Kingdom, “people are much more likely to explain that with a conspiracy theory.”
The most recent apocalyptic scare demonstrated Swami’s theory in action … Major news outlets did not cover the doomsday theory involving CERN, so a published press release would only worry CERN’s 1.25 million Twitter followers and 500,000 Facebook followers.
CERN needed to target the places where the theory was most popular while constructing their response. The September [2015 apocalypse] theory “was huge on social media but it was only on social media,” said Arnaud Marsollier, CERN’s press chief. “If we had published something it would have been buzz for sure.”
Although CERN did not promote its news releases on social media, a quick Google search of “Sept. 23 CERN” puts the press release the top of the results. Would-be theorists can analyze the science and purpose of CERN on their own with an easily digestible list of facts, without feeling forced to take a side on whether or not the world will end.
Ultimately, Sept. 23 came and went, the world did not end, and scientists continued their work at CERN … But CERN will probably always have to deal with conspiracy theories, Marsollier said. “The end of the world is announced every year.”
Nonetheless, rumors about CERN similar to the “human sacrifice” video likely proliferate in part due to fear and confusion over the purpose of CERN’s research and the existence of the LHC. Particle physics isn’t a topic that most non-physicists easily grasp, although CERN has attempted to addressed more than a decade of fearmongering about their activities in the Media and Press Relations section of their web site. Some details “revealed” in the human sacrifice video about the latest rumor also aren’t secrets at all, and CERN’s social media FAQ page takes a crack at alleviating fears surrounding the facility. In one answer, CERN confirmed the presence of a statue of Shiva honoring a relationship with India that dates back half a century:
The Shiva statue was a gift from India to celebrate its association with CERN, which started in the 1960’s and remains strong today. In the Hindu religion, Lord Shiva practiced Nataraj dance which symbolises Shakti, or life force. This deity was chosen by the Indian government because of a metaphor that was drawn between the cosmic dance of the Nataraj and the modern study of the ‘cosmic dance’ of subatomic particles. India is one of CERN’s observer states, along with the USA, Russia and Japan. CERN is a multicultural organisation that welcomes scientists from more than 100 countries and 680 institutions. The Shiva statue is only one of the many statues and art pieces at CERN.
Another apparent recent addition to the FAQ addresses the video specifically, contradicts claims of absolute facility lockdown, and discourages such pranks:
I have seen a video of a strange ritual at CERN, is it real?
No, this video is a work of fiction. CERN fills up with visitors over summer, with users from across the world who come to CERN as part of their work, and some of whom occasionally let their sense of humour go too far, and that is what has happened on this occasion. CERN does not condone this kind of spoof.
A spokesperson for CERN also told us that the video was a prank that appeared on the internet for the first time in August 2016, and added with respect to rumors and imaginative theories about the facility:
The type of fundamental research performed at CERN brings together a large global community of physics from more than 60 countries and 500 institutions (for example, in the United States alone there are 1700 physics from 7 national laboratories and 94 US universities who are part of the Large Hadron Collider research program.)
This fundamental research pushes the boundaries of knowledge and is helping us better understand the fundamental principles of physics and the evolution of matter in the universe. Because the research pushes into unknown scientific territory, some theoretical physics think that LHC research might reveal previously unknown properties of nature, such as the existence of microscopic extra dimensions or particles that don’t interact with ordinary matter (called “dark sector” particles).
The research performed at CERN captures the imagination of theorists, scientists, students, artists and creative thinkers, which is why CERN has been featured in books like ‘[Angels] and Demons’ by Dan Brown and in artistic installations around the world. These imaginative and creative works inspired by the scientific research are works of fiction generated to capture the reader/view’s sense of wonder and should not be confused with the actual scientific research
CERN’s grounds are flooded with international visitors during the summer, many of whom are aware of entrenched conspiracy theories and who opt to make light of the rumors. Of all the circulating CERN or LHC conspiracies, the “human sacrifice” video rates perhaps the lowest on a scale of plausibility.
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