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    Science: The Next 9/11
    By Sascha Vongehr | September 10th 2011 01:37 AM | 8 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Sascha

    Dr. Sascha Vongehr [风洒沙] studied phil/math/chem/phys in Germany, obtained a BSc in theoretical physics (electro-mag) & MSc (stringtheory)...

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    Mark, a graduate student in bio-engineering with a history of depression, registers for a scientific conference on evolution, which attracts no suspicion at all; why should it. He takes potassium ferrocyanide, a yellow salt easily available in gardening supply stores, and boils it with automotive battery acid. Over a few weeks, Mark distills a few liters of highly toxic prussic acid, enough to kill thousands.

    He fills the liquid into bottles wrapped in a non-flammable explosive powder he made from acetone in his dissertation supervisor’s lab, working the night shifts. Arrived at the conference hall, Mark packs them in those on conferences ubiquitous trade-fair tote bags, one at each emergency exit. As the key note speaker addresses the audience, half an hour into the talk, the ‘unimaginable’ happens.

    9/11 has been exploited endlessly for cutting basic rights and freedoms, invading countries, and maiming, torturing, and killing countless innocent people. 9/11 stands for boundless hypocrisy. All this becomes especially ridiculous in the light of the fact that 9/11 was perfectly predictable and predicted, and indeed all these ‘unbelievable’ incidences that ‘nobody could possibly have imagined’, like say the Columbine High School massacre, are perfectly well imagined and expected. The only problem is that most people and media do not want to hear anything before brown has already hit the fan. Indeed, if you forecast such an event publicly, you may be charged with proposing such acts rather than warning your fellow human beings of imminent danger.

    Let us nevertheless learn the lesson and imagine the next such ‘unimaginable’ happening that is basically as scheduled to happen as the castration of the world trade center phallus symbol was. Predicted here on Science 2.0, so let us call it Science 9/11:

    Expect an attack on a scientific conference (like Strings 2014 or one on Climate change, say) that will leave several hundred dead participants. The perpetrator will be scientifically educated and likely employ cutting edge technology of bio-/nano-technological/chemical nature, and/or sheer cunning and meticulous planning (structural architectural knowledge, logistics, 9/11-style) to elevate the body count into unprecedented heights.

    Why? Many parallels with 9/11, but in a nutshell: Because open your eyes for crying out loud!

    Precedents

    Already in 1966, there was Charles Whitman killing quite a number of people on a university campus, but it was not a trend then and it was not directed against science or education per se. In recent times, a trend for violent incidences thus aimed can be discerned, at least in its beginnings. We have loners taking out their dissertation supervisors; we have seen whole university departments attacked, lecturers and students killed like in the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre:

    “first attack after entering Norris occurred in an advanced hydrology engineering class taught by Professor G. V. Loganathan in room 206. Cho first shot and killed the professor, then continued shooting, killing nine of the 13 students in the room …” Wikipedia on the Virginia Tech massacre


    ‘Unabombers’ (university and airline) like Ted Kaczynski give a role model for, just as one example, neo-Luddites like those who destroy GMO labs. Do not expect there to be a slow, gradual trend. These precedents are like the pipe bombs that went off every now and then here and there before the Oklahoma City bombing by Timothy McVeigh using a truck bomb. The internet makes all these accessible, and you can bet your first born that plenty of disturbed souls are out there putting it all together just like Timothy did.


    Media demand casualty numbers, science can deliver

    It is of course a general trend; the Fort Hood shooting also tried to maximize body bag volume. The more general issue here is attacks by scientifically educated people on educationally/scientifically relevant targets with quite well thought through and meticulously prepared actions perusing technological means and a rational mind set. The synergy of the hunger for casualty numbers combining with the trend toward violent incidences in educational, research, and academic institutions should be obvious: Science allows to really push the limits – that is after all the most important reason for why governments push science, namely to enhance their military. Science is excellent at killing people, and with that, I do not just mean scientific means or novel inventions, but the scientific mind set.

    “Almost two hours after the first killings, Cho appeared at a nearby post office and mailed a package of writings and video recordings to NBC News; the package was postmarked 9:01 a.m. He then walked to Norris Hall. In a backpack, he carried several chains, locks, a hammer, a knife, two guns, nineteen 10- and 15-round magazines, and almost 400 rounds of ammunition.” Wikipedia on the Virginia Tech massacre

    Anders Behring Breivik killed 77 people in July when he detonated a bomb in the Norwegian capital Oslo and embarked on a shooting spree at a left wing youth camp on Utøya island. He planned for a long time and shows no regret. This is what Science9/11 will be probably like, too, namely meticulously planned for a year, a smiling guy proud of it, complete with blog, book, and twitter account updates perhaps.


    First chaining the doors shut, starting a shooting spree on an island – you got to give them partial credit for those. Here you see the new fashion that will without a doubt be one-upped many times, and a disgruntled scientist will be extremely good at this game of one-upmanship. Cho was merely an English major at a technical university – be glad he wasn’t a physicist. This is generally the type of perpetrator that we will see more of: Highly educated, rational mind set, well planning, successfully taking out a large number of people because that is what the world is hungry for.

    Ever more potential perpetrators

    The WTC attackers were an educated bunch, and this is a clear trend in what is called “terrorism” today. Today, so called terrorists are often at least engineers, especially those that attack scientific targets. Ted Kaczynski was mathematician. Science is not only their means to kill, it is their area of interest in the first place, so no wonder they may have issues they want to address inside the scientific juggernaut and academia.


    The irony is, such potential perpetrators are precisely what science itself produces at an increasing rate. We pump out huge numbers of PhD’s, so many, most of them can never find a place in academia, but they are nevertheless told that academia is their destiny. Science indoctrinates armies of people with lofty aims about furthering society and world peace, then teaches them all they need to know to kill people by the bundle, then later reveals to them that the reality of science is little else but a super competitive cut-throat rat race that spits you out like a piece of garbage if you actually try and uphold the ideals painted on its façade.


    Once you are spit out, science calls you a sore loser for not having achieved one of the coveted places in the hierarchy and adds insult to injury. An injured animal is a dangerous animal, an insulted human is worse.


    Scientists are increasingly targeted, the internet helps

    Let me spare you with the blah blah that you can fill in yourself about attacks on climate science, medical/genetic research, or other increasingly politicized fields, you know, all that predictable “look how pursued we progressives are” a PZ would write if he wanted to elaborate a similar point. Let us go straight to what you may not have heard about yet, say the recent appearance of web pages like Nürnberg 2.0, a site listing scientists, jurists, journalists, sociologists, and suchlike who according to the site are responsible for the Islamization of the West. The name “Nürnberg” of course relates this to the post-WW2 Nuremberg tribunal in which many death penalties have been dealt out.

    Prof. K.J. Bade, University of Osnabrück, on an internet black list for the crime of having an opinion on social issues.


    Make no mistake: such lists call for nothing less than assassination. The internet is the source of inspiration today. Anders Behring Breivik was inspired by “Gates of Vienna”, a blog by the pseudonym Fjordman (real name: Peder Nøstvold Jensen). There is plenty of anti-scientific writing on the internet and people interested in science read it and become extremely polarized about all kinds of issues, not just global warming. Following some discussions in certain forums, I would not be surprised about somebody taking out a conference on gravitational or quantum physics either.

    The more science becomes and behaves like a religion, the more it will be targeted by the religious, too, and since science is just a job and career for the many rather than the pursuit of the few, many religious are working inside the apparatus that they fundamentally reject.


    Public perception changed dramatically: Arrogant Power instead of enlightenment

    Especially most Westerners of course vehemently deny this, but it is otherwise well known: modern so called “terrorism” does not start to become what it is before the attacked system is not perceived as some sort of tyranny-like occupation force.


    Science today is a major pillar of power and moreover in itself a huge machine, evolved to support and participate in the new world order. Scientific communities like the String Theory community are widely viewed as having usurped good science and actively holding back science rather than promoting it, and this is after all not entirely untrue. The elites in any field, say when we hear yet again about a “consensus among respected climate/vaccine/etc researchers”, are basically self-selected, self-interested entities, evolutionary players. It is not just appearance that they are in callous disregard of fair play; that is how they became what they are in that highly competitive environment – those that are not players are selected out early on.


    The public does no longer see the trustworthy father figures in the white lab coats, the ones that brought us to the moon, which is what science mostly looked like still in the 1980s. People are not that naïve anymore, and with science trying to weight in on issues that are threatening the survival of the human species, trust is not just about whether smoking is good for you.


    But the real danger is arrogance, which is the lesson that the US refuses to learn, is incapable of learning from 9/11. Arrogance is what creates the hate necessary to fly a plane into a building. And science is going down the same road. The modest scientist, reflective, deeply concerned whether he might not be wrong, is long gone, replaced by a “we are the best and can solve everything” crowd that messes up everything via unintended consequences.


    So called “skeptics” who ridicule rather than explain, which reveals their confidence in having a large backing, in that the world now belongs to them, the science geeks, are just a tiny aspect. It is what the public can openly see, like the ridiculous self-glorification in popular science writings, where biologists and especially physicists prove how utterly naïve and totally ignorant they are about philosophical questions. Those that have already somewhat experienced science from the inside, know that this is not just the bad apples but the very culture, for example the extreme arrogance with which anything critical or even just original is dealt with via so called “peer” review.


    Like the “World Trade Center” was a display of pride and arrogance, objectified contempt for the victims of modern, economic imperialism, so scientific conferences for example have long stopped to be about exchange of ideas, which in the internet age obviously occurs much more efficiently in other ways.


    Scientific conferences are displays of power where the establishment in a scientific field reinforces the hierarchy. Novices attend in order to hopefully make their way up the ladder. They are where the brotherhood colludes, ruminating over wine and cheese about how the other conference in some more exotic place last month was even finer than the present meeting, and how the next one should obviously trump that.

    Many readers especially here on Science 2.0 will not agree with this at all, but that does not matter at all, because it is sufficient if many perceive it this way, and I for one have attended plenty of conferences and can confirm that it is not far from the truth. There are plenty of people who see it exactly this way, and that is enough.


    In the article on the WTC, I wrote: “Why was this perception allowed to arise in the first place? The answer is the extra stupidity that comes with pride. A more modest society would have never let it come to such a monstrous insult in the first place, with or without knowledge of psychology.” This is applicable to proud establishment science today.


    Some scientists now even hold that there never was a “climate gate”, but the soul of climate gate grows stronger. Science refuses to learn from it; career scientists only scrambled to defend the status quo without allowing any asking about what the callous behavior of established scientists and the evolved machine of science, say publish-or-perish, is doing to the wider perception of science in the long term.


    Where do you find the establishment in any field together in one spot? On their conference of course!

    Because we can

    Everybody must of course state falsehoods on the customs and immigration forms that the stewardess hands you if you fly into the US for example. The funniest thing that I as a scientist have to lie about is whether I have any knowledge about explosives, poisons, weapons, etc. We study chemistry, physics, biology, medicine, and so on. Do I know how to make all kinds of explosives and poisons, how to kill a human, many humans if I wanted to? Of course I do, that is darn obvious.

    Expect that somebody disgruntled and even just a quarter as knowledgeable about science and technology as I am will single handedly kill extremely many people, after which we will hear again the usual BS about how it was totally unexpected. Every single one of you has had fantasies about shooting whoever it is that you really hated that moment. To let your imagination go a little further than most is what scientists are trained and paid for.

    I started this article giving a taste of the kind of scenario that I foresee, here using chemistry, but the possibilities are endless:

    Somebody may take potassium ferricyanide (K3[Fe(CN)6]), a red crystalline material used for many applications like wool dying, or potassium ferrocyanide (K4[Fe(CN)6]•3H2O]), a yellow salt easily available in gardening supply stores, and simply distill them with readily available acids. Over a few weeks, one can distill enough hydrogen cyanide (HCN) to kill Indian peak hour trainloads of people.


    One may fill the liquid into plastic bottles packed in low yield explosives that do not ignite the highly flammable HCN, just enough to splatter the liquid into a fine mist. One may hide them in inconspicuous items, maybe in ventilation shafts or utilizing the sprinkler system, and lets it go off – imagine the perpetrator standing with breathing apparatus and super-soaker filled with more liquid poison at the main exit. The large vapor pressure and immediate fatal action of minute amounts of HCN for example would be absolutely disastrous. And again, this is just one possibility, an already well known one, one of a rapidly growing number available to people who learned to handle laboratory equipment and calculate a few formulas.


    In case you go all “Oh how could you have possibly published that here”:

    1) The stupid kill themselves during the distillation procedure.

    2) The clever ones know already – I tried this particular distillation successfully as a teenager (without access to university labs). Yes, get it in your head once and for all: people who actually know science do already know how to kill in various ways, otherwise they do not know science!

    3) If I am not at least painting one scenario, people will not take me seriously about how easy it has become for a technologically knowledgeable person to kill boat loads of people. It becomes ever easier and ever more people have the know-how. This is just one scenario of many. Wake up – technology races ahead while we are still the same vulnerable dinosaurs that we always were.


    Conclusion:

    So much more could be said, but this article is already way too lengthy for internet attention spans. So lets wrap it up concisely: When it was already clear in the 1990s that the “World Trade Center” will be destroyed, telling people did not do anything to prevent it. It just cannot, because the ones responsible for that the situation is the way it is, naturally refuse to acknowledge any aspect of it, that is part of the situation, its very nature.


    The same holds for Science 9/11. It is already too late; nobody in charge would have agreed to reshape or rename the twin towers before 9/11, let alone reshape US foreign policy, and there will be equally absolutely nothing that scientists will do to prevent Science 9/11, even if they could. They are too proud, which again is a huge part of the problem. They may perhaps increase security on conferences, but a clever person who wants to blow up such a meeting will find a way around any such cosmetic measures.

    You can only take care individually. When I was in New York in 1995, I opted against entering the towers. It did certainly not help the towers, but on that special 9/11, people like me were safe. Scientific conferences lost their usefulness; good science will be better off without them. Those feeding and taking advantage of the conference industry, this includes especially established scientists, will of course argue vehemently against such, but you are not alone in questioning their value.

    So, stay away and decrease your carbon footprint at the same time!

    Comments

    I founded and run a chemical plant. I've often thought how easy it would be for a terrorist with a brain to cause untold havoc. Just be glad most of them are too dumb to do it properly.

    Hi Sascha,
    You said: "The funniest thing that I as a scientist have to lie about is whether I have any knowledge about explosives, poisons, weapons, etc."
    I don't know why You would lie, aren't these things in encyclopedias and part and parcel of general knowledge in chemistry, physics, and electronics? If, they knew You were a scientist, with credentials (which would come up with even a rudimentary search of Your ID), they would know You were lying.

    It is a shame, the only thing more incriminating than possession of, bomb making materials, is the scientific knowledge about the materials. Better not get caught with your childhood 400 piece Sears chemistry set from the 60's today!

    "The public does no longer see the trustworthy father figures in the white lab coats, the ones that brought us to the moon, which is what science mostly looked like still in the 1980s"

    This is because many fundamentalist religious sects (such as evangelicals and Muslim extremists) actively reject science, while more moderate ones (mainline Protestantism and Catholicism) do not. Moderates are not the ones screaming that evolution is being taught in our schools, nor are they threatening to pull their children out of our schools because of it.

    You say "The more science becomes and behaves like a religion, the more it will be targeted by the religious, too, and since science is just a job and career for the many rather than the pursuit of the few, many religious are working inside the apparatus that they fundamentally reject". Science does not behave like a religion. Science is a process, a way of doing things -- observation, hypothesis, testing, etc.. But to fundamentalists of all stripes, science is looked upon as another religion, because it is a threat to theirs.

    vongehr
    Science does not behave like a religion. Science is a process, a way of doing things
    You confuse what ideally should be with the status quo. The mistrust of science nowadays has certainly absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with Muslim fundamentalists.
    Sascha,

    A friend of mine read your article and posted this on facebook:

    "He does not have to be 100% (or even 10%) correct for a critical mass to share his resentment of "arrogance" and for someone to fulfill his prediction."
    --------
    I recall an old TV program where they were exploring why there were highly educated terrorists. Their conclusion was similiar to yours: they perceived gross injustice and felt powerless to do anything about it. We now have a situation of so many people getting their doctorates only to find themselves doing work that doesn't even require a degree. Years of hard work and and the accumulation of debt for being sold a fairy tale. Something must break, I fear I agree with my friend.

    rholley
    Sascha,

    I am concerned that, although I disagree with you on many fundamentals, overall your article is only too near the mark.  After all, a squid and a shark may see things very differently, but both know a whale when they see it.  Your analysis of the people concerned in attacks on academia is quite close.

    I won’t touch on 9/11, since it’s still too near the anniversary.  But with the Nuremberg lot and Breivik, a lot of non-extremist people are very frustrated by the activities of organized Gutmenschen in politics and academia.  (For those that don’t read German, the link is still worth putting through Google translate or similar.)

    I recently came across the following news item from Norway:
    An Afghan convert to Christianity fears for his life after being attacked with boiling water and acid by Muslims at a centre for asylum seekers.

    “X” was targeted by fellow asylum seekers at an immigration centre in Norway after they discovered that he had converted to Christianity. He said:

    Two of the Muslim residents asked why I had not fasted during Ramadan. When I would not answer, they began to discuss the matter. One of them said that he knew I was Muslim and converted to Christianity, and that they had to engage in Jihad.

    One of them “X” while another struck him on the back of the head with a pot of boiling water, causing him to collapse on the floor. The water scalded his neck and upper back, stripping the skin away in places. A third man then entered X’s room and began to trash it.
    Norwegians and Brits, (and presumably Germans also) must be utterly fed up with a Gutmensch leadership that doesn’t have the wherewithal to stand up to such people.

    Robert H. Olley / Quondam Physics Department / University of Reading / England
    I think you've also answered the question of whether people are monsters or made into monsters - the systems that are in place, not only wound people but push them through systemic processes that stand as a target for return fire.

    How odd that your article gave me a sense of compassion for those who (would) turn to kill others.

    but only so far as to share your concern with altering the systems to reduce the number and likelihood of Blaze of Glory seekers

    truly, in an age where amateur loud opinion is deemed to be on par with educated expert opinion - and where violence has become an acceptable mechanism of protest, commentary or the final word

    Norway's shooter raised the bar once by attacking not the declared feared enemy - the outsider - but by attacking the enemy within - those deemed collaborators, facilitators, equality/diversity proponents -

    it's chillingly easier to see what you are predicting to come to pass as a matter of course and time.

    well, nothing puts your fear into perspective like seeing the logical escalation of it.

    This is nonsense. The scientific method does not influence the creation of terrorists. That's a totally unwarranted presumption. Nor does it have any agenda.

    The idea that science somehow has a hierarchy...WTF? Maybe academia, in which case the institution would be the primary entity culpable, not the methods of observation and empiricism. In fact, emergence of terrorists is an entirely indirect pathological consequence of many contributing factors. The fact that you would correlate behavior with a method of observation, which is ridiculous, while simultaneously conflating Science with an institution, is just sloppy.

    Besides, institutions necessarily involve employment, therefore, economy as well. You'd be far off better writing about the components of academia that actually do influence behavior. Really, it seems as though you are only interested in a superfluous and ill-supported critique of science. You neglect to mention variables such a employment, stress, STATISTICS...

    "It is what the public can openly see, like the ridiculous self-glorification in popular science writings, where biologists and especially physicists prove how utterly naïve and totally ignorant they are about philosophical questions." -------And this sure doesn't help. I am having trouble, now, seeing this article as anything but glaringly biased. And with a name Science 2.0...such irony.

    Generally after you make an argument for Scientism, you should support it with examples. You seem to be laboring under the notion that science, elitism, and pathology go hand in hand. You certainly limit your consequential view, aside from not even using science to establish some real merit to what you are saying.

    “I know of no society in human history that ever suffered because its people became too desirous of evidence in support of their core beliefs.” - Sam Harris.

    The unavoidable fact of the matter is that science IS reasonable, regardless of what people do. When people become wildly aberrant, it is a consequence of many complex and interacting neurological states, which are dependent upon countless variables.