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The New Anti-Science Assault on US Schools February 14, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Education, Religion, Right Wing, Science and Technology.
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Published on Sunday, February 12, 2012 by The Guardian/UK

In a disturbing trend, anti-evolution campaigners are combining with climate change deniers to undermine public education
by  Katherine Stewart

You might have thought it was all over after the 2005 decision by the US district court of Middle Pennsylvania (pdf), which ruled in the case of the Dover Area schools that teaching intelligent design is unconstitutional. You might have guessed that they wouldn’t come back after the 1987 US supreme court decision in Edwards v Aguillard, which deemed the teaching of creationism in Louisiana schools unconstitutional. Or maybe you figured that the opponents of evolution had their Waterloo in the 1925 Scopes “monkey” trial in Tennessee.

They are back. There are six bills aimed at undermining the teaching of evolution before state legislatures this year: two each in New Hampshire and Missouri, one each in Indiana and Oklahoma. And it’s only February.Charles Darwin, circa 1854: 12 February, his birthday, is marked by International Darwin Day. (photo: Corbis)

For the most part, the authors of these bills are singing a song we’ve heard before. Jerry Bergevin, the Republican sponsor of one of the New Hampshire bills, says of evolution that “It’s a worldview and it’s godless.” He blames the teaching of evolution for Nazism and Columbine. Josh Brecheen, the sponsor of the Oklahoma bill, wants to stop the teaching of “the religion of evolution.” These legislators, and their colleagues in Missouri and Indiana, trot out the hoary line that evolution is “just a theory” and that real science means saying that every point of view is just as good as any other.

Most of these bills aren’t likely to get anywhere. The Indiana bill, which specifically proposes the teaching of “creation science”, so obviously falls foul of the supreme court’s 1987 ruling that it’s hard to imagine it getting out of committee. The same could be said for the Missouri bill, which calls for the “equal treatment” of “biological evolution and biological intelligent design”.

Still, it’s worth asking: why is this happening now? Well, in part, it’s just that anti-evolution bills are an indicator of the theological temperature in state houses, and there is no question that the temperature has been rising. New Hampshire, Indiana, Oklahoma, and Missouri turned deeper shades of red in the 2010 elections, as did the US Congress.

But there are a couple of new twists that make this same-old story more interesting than usual. One has to do with the temperature in a less metaphorical sense. The Oklahoma bill isn’t properly speaking just an “anti-evolution” bill; it is just as opposed to the “theory” of “global warming”. A bill pending in Tennessee likewise targets “global warming” alongside “biological evolution”. These and other bills aim their rhetoric at “scientific controversies” in plural, and one of the New Hampshire bills does not even bother to specify which controversies it has in mind.

The convergence here is, to some degree, cultural. It just so happens that the people who don’t like evolution are often the same ones who don’t want to hear about climate change. It is also the case that the rhetoric of the two struggles is remarkably similar – everything is a “theory”, and we should “teach the controversy”. But we also cannot overlook the fact is that there is a lot more money at stake in the climate science debate than in the evolution wars. Match those resources with the passions aroused by evolution, and we may have a new force to be reckoned with in the classroom.

The other significant twist has to do with the fact that the new anti-evolution – make that anti-science – bills are emerging in the context of the most vigorous assault on public education in recent history. In Oklahoma, for example, while Senator Brecheen fights the forces of evolution and materialism, the funding for schools is being cut, educational attainments are falling, and conservative leaders are agitating for school voucher systems, which, in the name of “choice”, would divert money from public schools to private schools – many of them religious. The sponsor of Indiana’s anti-science bill, Dennis Kruse, who happens to be chairman of the Senate education committee, is also fighting the two battles at once.

The Heartland Institute – which has received funding in the past from oil companies and is a leading source of climate science skepticism – also lobbies strongly for school vouchers and other forms of “school transformation” that are broadly aimed at undermining the current public school system. The Discovery Institute – a leading voice for intelligent design – has indicated its support of exactly the same “school reform” initiatives.

If you can’t shut down the science, the new science-deniers appear to be saying, you should shut down the schools. It would be a shame if they succeeded in replacing the teaching of science with indoctrination. It would be worse if they were to close the public school house doors altogether.

© Guardian News and Media Limited 2012


Katherine Stewart

Katherine Stewart is a journalist and author. She has written for the New York Times, Reuters and Marie Claire, and her new book is The Good News Club: The Christian Right’s Stealth Assault on America’s Children (2012)



New Hampshire’s New Scopes Trial January 7, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Education, Religion, Right Wing, Science and Technology.
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Saturday 7 January 2012
by: Staff, Diatribe Media                 | Report

New Hampshire took an early lead this year in the effort to dumb down school students and erode the separation of church and state in the education system by introducing two anti-evolution bills to its state legislature (h/t Mother Jones). The two laws are the first of their kind in the state since the late 90’s. According to the National Center for Science Education, House Bill 1149 would:

“[r]equire evolution to be taught in the public schools of this state as a theory, including the theorists’ political and ideological viewpoints and their position on the concept of atheism.”

House Bill 1457 would:

“[r]equire science teachers to instruct pupils that proper scientific inquire [sic] results from not committing to any one theory or hypothesis, no matter how firmly it appears to be established, and that scientific and technological innovations based on new evidence can challenge accepted scientific theories or modes.”

State Representative Jerry Bergevin, who introduced HB 1149, believes such legislation is necessary because he thinks evolution is tied to Nazis, communists, and the shooters in the 1999 Columbine massacre. According to Bergevin, the political and ideological views of Darwin and other believers and evolutionary scientists, along with their positions on atheism, must be taught to students as well. The New Hampshire Republican told the Concord Monitor:

“I want the full portrait of evolution and the people who came up with the ideas to be presented. It’s a worldview and it’s godless. Atheism has been tried in various societies, and they’ve been pretty criminal domestically and internationally. The Soviet Union, Cuba, the Nazis, China today: they don’t respect human rights.”

He added “As a general court we should be concerned with criminal ideas like this and how we are teaching it. . . . Columbine, remember that? They were believers in evolution. That’s evidence right there.”

Rep Gary Hopper, who introduced HB1457 said that “science is a creative process, not an absolute thing” and he wants creationism taught in classes “so that kids understand that science doesn’t really have all the answers. They are just guessing.”

The most troubling and ridiculous part of the comments from the legislators introducing these bills is not only the anti science nature of them, but the idea that atheism is on par with murder, totalitarianism, and other “criminal ideas.” The idea that the lack of faith in God by an individual is somehow a violation of human rights shows just how little these Representatives understand of both atheism and human rights. (Full disclosure – I am not an atheist. I have my own faith and religious beliefs and hold them closely and don’t evangelize or prosthelytize)

In a country which touts itself as being the freeist in the world in respect to practicing religion, a representative has no ground to call another person’s spiritual beliefs “criminal.” Furthermore, if anything in the United States violates human rights, it’s the fact that our prison system is out of control, or that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have killed thousands of innocent civilians, or that our President signed legislation making indefinite detention for Americans a real possibility. It’s simply incredible that these elected representatives can turn a blind eye to real human rights violations while inventing others.

To boot, both Hooper and Bergevin seem to completely misunderstand what teaching evolution involves. The belief that species evolve and change over time does not necessarily invalidate the idea that God exists. Charles Darwin once said that man “can be an ardent Theist and an evolutionist.” Even the Catholic Church accepts evolution, with the caveat that God played a role. Bergevin’s idea that a belief in evolution makes murderers implies that plenty of his own faithful friends in Christendom should be treated as criminals.

Seven other states saw similar proposals in 2011, and thankfully, all of them were defeated. The bills in New Hampshire should be pretty quickly and easily defeated, according to the National Center for Science Education. Executive Director Eugenie Scott told the Monitor:

“Evolutionary scientists are Democrats and Republicans, Libertarians and Greens and everything. Similarly, their religious views are all over the map, too. . . . If you replace atheism in the bill with Protestantism, or Catholicism, or Judaism or any other view, it’s clear to see it’s not going to pass legal muster.”

While that’s good news, it’s still troubling to even see this debate on the floors of legislative houses in this day and age. If America is to get out of the mess it’s currently in, its legislators need to start tackling present problems, rather than rehash debates settled long ago.

Presators and Robots at War September 19, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Pakistan, Science and Technology, War.
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Roger’s note: read about your tax dollars at work to provide deadly war games for young marines on the PlayStation killing machines.  Since virtually every country in the world has terrorists within and since the US is at war with terrorism, it can “legally” in the name of self-defense bombard at will.  And unmanned predators may be coming soon to a police station near you!

// by Christian Caryl, http://www.opednews.com/Quicklink/Predators-and-Robots-at-Wa-in-General_News-110919-829.html

Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the
Twenty-first Century

by P.W. Singer
499 pp., $17.00 (paper)
Predator: The Remote-Control Air War over Iraq and Afghanistan: A
Pilot’s Story

by Lieutenant Colonel Matt J. Martin with Charles W.
Zenith, 310 pp., $28.00

caryl_01-092911.jpgMax Becherer/Polaris

The US Air Force’s 62nd Expeditionary Reconnaissance
Squadron launching an unmanned Predator drone with laser-guided Hellfire
missiles mounted on its wings, Kandahar Air Field, Afghanistan, November 2009

Drones are in the headlines. We read daily about strikes against terrorist
targets in the tribal areas of Pakistan using unmanned aerial vehicles
(UAVs)—remote-controlled aircraft equipped with elaborate sensors and sometimes
weapons as well. Earlier this summer the US sent
Predator drones into action against militants in Somalia, and plans are
reportedly afoot to put the CIA in charge of a drone
offensive against al-Qaeda operatives in Yemen. NATO has
dispatched UAVs to Libya. State-of-the-art stealth drones cased the house where
Osama bin Laden was living before US Navy seals staged
their now famous raid. And in a speech a few weeks ago, White House
counterterrorism chief John Brennan made it clear that drones will continue to
figure prominently in the Obama administration’s counterterrorism strategy. On
August 22, a CIA drone killed the number-two al-Qaeda
leader in the mountains of Pakistan.

Most of us have probably heard by now how extraordinary this technology is.
Many of the UAV strikes in South Asia are actually
orchestrated by operators sitting at consoles in the United States. US Air Force Colonel Matt Martin gives a unique first-person
account of the strange split consciousness of this new type of warfare in his
book Predator. Even as his body occupies a seat in a control room in
Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, his mind is far removed, following a suspicious
SUV down a desert road in Iraq or tailing Taliban
fighters along a mountain ridge in Afghanistan. “I was already starting to refer
to the Predator and myself as ‘I,’ even though the airplane was thousands of
miles away,” Martin notes ruefully.

Notifying Marines on the ground that he’s arriving on the scene in
Afghanistan, he has to remind himself that he’s not actually arriving
anywhere—he’s still in his seat on the base. “Although it was only shortly after
noon in Nevada,” he writes, “I got the yawns just looking at all that snow and
darkness” on the ground outside Kabul. He can hardly be blamed for the
confusion. The eerie acuity of vision afforded by the Predator’s multiple
high-powered video cameras enables him to watch as the objects of his interest
light up cigarettes, go to the bathroom, or engage in amorous adventures with
animals on the other side of the world, never suspecting that they are under
observation as they do.

Even though home and wife are just a few minutes’ drive down the road from
his battle station, the peculiar detachment of drone warfare does not
necessarily insulate Martin from his actions. Predator attacks are
extraordinarily precise, but the violence of war can never be fully tamed, and
the most gripping scenes in the book document Martin’s emotions on the occasions
when innocent civilians wander under his crosshairs in the seconds just before
his Hellfire missile arrives on target. Allied bomber pilots in World War II killed millions of civilians but rarely had occasion to
experience the results on the ground. Drone operators work with far greater
accuracy, but the irony of the technology is that its operators can see their
accidental victims—two little boys and their shattered bikes, in one especially
heartrending case Martin describes—in excruciating detail. Small wonder that
studies by the military have shown that UAV operators
sometimes end up suffering the same degree of combat stress as other

And yet the US military does little to discourage the
notion that this peculiar brand of long-distance warfare has a great deal in
common with the video-gaming culture in which many young UAV operators have grown up. As one military robotics
researcher tells Peter Singer, the author of Wired for War, “We modeled
the controller after the PlayStation because that’s what these eighteen-,
nineteen-year-old Marines have been playing with pretty much all of their
lives.” And by now, of course, we also have video games that incorporate drones:
technology imitating life that imitates technology.

Drones are not remarkable because of their weaponry. There is
nothing especially unusual about the missiles they carry, and even the largest
models are relatively lightly armed. They are not fast or nimble. What makes
them powerful is their ability to see and think. Most of the bigger drones now
operated by the US military can take off, land, and fly
by themselves. The operators can program a destination or a desired patrol area
and then concentrate on the details of the mission while the aircraft takes care
of everything else. Packed with sensors and sophisticated video technology, UAVs
can see through clouds or in the dark. They can loiter for hours or even days
over a target—just the sort of thing that bores human pilots to tears. Of
course, the most significant fact about drones is precisely that they do not
have pilots. In the unlikely event that a UAV is shot
down, its operator can get up from his or her console and walk away.

So far, so good. But there are also quite a few things about drones that you
might not have heard yet. Most Americans are probably unaware, for example, that
the US Air Force now trains more UAV operators each year than traditional pilots. (Indeed, the
Air Force insists on referring to drones as “remotely piloted aircraft” in order
to dispel any suspicions that it is moving out of the business of putting humans
into the air.) As I write this, the US aerospace
industry has for all practical purposes ceased research and development work on
manned aircraft. All the projects now on the drawing board revolve around
pilotless vehicles. Meanwhile, law enforcement agencies around the country
eagerly await the moment when they can start operating their own UAVs. The
Federal Aviation Administration is considering rules that will allow police
departments to start using them within the next few years (perhaps as early as
2014). Soon, much sooner than you realize, your speeding tickets will be issued
electronically to your cell phone from a drone hovering somewhere over the
interstate. The US Customs Service has already used UAVs
to sneak up on drug-smuggling boats that easily evade noisier conventional

Robots that fly get most of the attention. In fact, though, UAVs represent
only one small part of the action in military robotics. As Singer recently told
me, there are already more robots operating on the ground (15,000) than in the
air (7,000). The US Army uses its mechanical warriors to
find and disarm roadside bombs, survey the battlefield, or shoot down incoming
artillery shells. Though these land-based robots may seem a bit more primitive
than their airborne cousins, they are catching up quickly. The models in
development include the bizarre BigDog, an eerily zoomorphic quadruped designed
to help soldiers carry heavy loads over difficult terrain, and BEAR, a vaguely humanoid machine on caterpillar tracks that
can lift loads of up to 500 pounds.

The US Navy is experimenting with machines of its
own. It recently unveiled a robot jet ski designed to sniff out attackers who
might try to sneak up on US ships underwater. The Navy
has developed harmless-looking (and environmentally friendly) sailboats packed
with high-tech surveillance gear that can pilot themselves around the world, if
need be. Robot submersibles, too, are in the works. Unconstrained by the
life-support requirements of manned submarines, these automated spies could
spend months on underwater patrol, parking themselves at the bottom of enemy
harbors and observing everything that goes in or out. So battery life becomes
the main constraint. Some scientists are trying to solve it by enabling the
underwater drone to feed off organic matter lying on the sea floor (known as a
“mud battery”).

So far none of these water-borne robots seem to be carrying torpedoes. The
army, however, is already experimenting with robots that can shoot. In his book,
Singer describes SWORDS, a tracked vehicle equipped with
a suite of cameras that see farther than the human eye even while covering
multiple angles. The machine can be armed with a 50-caliber machine gun or a
variety of other weapons. The SWORDS zoom camera and its
weapon can be perfectly synchronized, and the machine makes for a much more
stable platform than a soft, breathing, frightened human body lying prone in the
midst of a battlefield. Singer writes:

In an early test of its guns, the robot hit the bull’s-eye of a
target seventy out of seventy tries. In a test of its rockets, it hit the target
sixty-two out of sixty-two times. In a test of its antitank rockets, it hit the
target sixteen out of sixteen times. A former navy sniper summed up its
“pinpoint precision” as “nasty.” …Since it is a precisely timed machine pulling
the trigger, the “one shot” mode means that any weapon, even a machine gun, can
be turned into a sniper rifle.

Singer described this system two years ago. In the feverish world of military
robotics, 2009 already feels like a distant era, so we can only surmise how far
SWORDS has progressed since then. Researchers are now
testing UAVs that mimic hummingbirds or seagulls; one model under development
can fit on a pencil eraser. There is much speculation about linking small drones
or robots together into “swarms”—clouds or crowds of machines that would share
their intelligence, like a hive mind, and have the capability to converge
instantly on identified targets. This might seem like science fiction, but it is
probably not that far away. At ETH in Zurich,
Switzerland’s equivalent of MIT, engineers have linked
miniature quadrocopters (drones equipped with four sets of rotors for maximum
maneuverability) into small networks that can deftly toss balls back and forth
to each other without any human commands.

The technology transfixes. The capabilities are seductive; so,
too, is the lure of seeming invulnerability. The Taliban has no air force. Its
foot soldiers do not have night vision or the ability to see through overcast
skies, but they can sometimes hear the drones circling in the sky above. David
Rohde, the New York Times correspondent who was held captive by the
Taliban for seven months in 2009, described in his account of the experience
what it is like to be on the ground while Predators and Reapers are on the
prowl. “Two deafening explosions shook the walls of the compound where the
Taliban held us hostage,” he writes. “My guards and I dived to the floor as
chunks of dirt hurtled through the window.” A missile fired by a US drone has obliterated two cars a few hundred yards

It was March 25, and for months the drones had been a terrifying
presence. Remotely piloted, propeller-driven airplanes, they could easily be
heard as they circled overhead for hours. To the naked eye, they were small dots
in the sky. But their missiles had a range of several miles. We knew we could be
immolated without warning….

Later, I learned that one guard called for me to be taken to the
site of the attack and ritually beheaded as a video camera captured the moment.
The chief guard overruled him.2

This particular strike, it turns out, has killed seven militants, zero
civilians. Most of the attacks are remarkably precise, as Rohde writes. Yet this
is almost beside the point: “The Taliban were able to garner recruits in their
aftermath,” he writes, “by exaggerating the number of civilian casualties.”

His point is borne out by a recent study conducted by Peter Bergen and
Katherine Tiedemann, two analysts at the New America Foundation in Washington
who have been tracking drone strikes in the tribal areas of Pakistan ever since
the US began conducting attacks there in June 2004.
Though reliable information from that part of the world is extremely hard to
come by—the story of Rohde’s kidnapping explains why foreign journalists tend to
steer clear of the area—Bergen and Tiedemann have carefully analyzed media
reports for the details of each attack. While acknowledging the difficulties of
obtaining reliable data (and the wildly divergent information issued by American
and Pakistani official sources), they conclude that the attacks have grown
steadily more accurate. According to Bergen and Tiedemann, “During the first two
years of the Obama administration, around 85 percent of those reported killed by
drone strikes were militants; under the Bush administration, it was closer to 60
percent.”3 At the same time the authors
note that the strikes have probably been far less successful than US officials claim at killing militant leaders. Most of the
dead, Bergen and Tiedemann conclude, are likely rank-and-file fighters. (A newer
study by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism in London arrives at a somewhat
higher overall civilian casualty rate.)

Though such statistics are remarkable when measured against the history of
warfare, they are, of course, little consolation to the families of those
innocent bystanders who have been killed along with the jihadis. And, as Bergen
and Tiedemann rightly note, the precision of the killing is only one small part
of the story. Polls show, just as Rohde suspected, that Pakistanis
overwhelmingly believe that most of those who die in the attacks are civilians—a
perception that is undoubtedly aggravated by the impunity with which the drones
stage their raids on Pakistani territory. Dennis Blair, director of national
intelligence from 2009 to 2010, recently made a similar observation in The
New York Times
: “Our reliance on high-tech strikes that pose no risk to our
soldiers is bitterly resented in a country that cannot duplicate such feats of
warfare without cost to its own troops.” (While the Pakistani government
publicly expresses its disapproval of the strikes, in private Pakistani leaders
have provided intelligence and logistical support for the campaign—a fact that
they are eager to conceal from the public.) The number of terrorist attacks in
Pakistan has risen sharply as the drone campaign has accelerated. Bergen and
Tiedemann conclude that the broader political effects of the UAV campaign may well cancel out some of its tactical

One remedy they propose is to take control of the drone program away from the
CIA, which currently runs the campaign in the tribal
areas, and transfer it to the military.4
This offers several advantages. In contrast to the CIA,
which denies the very existence of the program and accordingly reveals nothing
about the criteria by which it chooses its targets, the US Department of Defense can at least be held publicly
accountable for its conduct and is much more likely to respond to pressure to
keep its use of UAVs within the bounds of international law. This cannot be said
of the CIA’s use of drones for the purposes of “targeted
killing”—particularly given that the strikes are being secretly conducted
against targets in Pakistan, a country with which the United States is not at
war, under ill-defined and murky circumstances.

The legal issues involved are complex. Philip Alston, an expert in
international law appointed by the United Nations to examine the question,
asserted in a report that, “Outside the context of armed conflict, the use of
drones for targeted killing is almost never likely to be legal.”5 The trick, of course, is how we define “armed conflict”
in an age of non-state-affiliated terrorist and insurgent groups operating from
places where the writ of a central government does not extend. International
law, some experts say, gives the US the right to protect
its forces in Afghanistan against attacks staged by al-Qaeda and its allies in
the tribal areas—while whether the drone strikes violate Pakistani sovereignty
depends largely on agreements we have with the Pakistani government, a point
that remains somewhat mysterious.

The Obama administration might help matters by providing an explanation of
the legal rationale for the program. But so far it has declined to do so, aside
from a brief statement by a leading State Department legal adviser that cited
the internationally recognized right to self-defense.6 In this respect it is only to be welcomed that scholars
around the world are engaged in an active debate about the legal implications of
the drone campaigns. Given that more than forty countries around the world are
now experimenting with military robots of their own, the United States cannot
rest on the assumption that it will retain a monopoly over this technology
forever. The day when US forces are attacked by a
drone—perhaps even one operated by a terrorist—is not far away.

Many of the recent books on UAVs predictably dwell on the
technical specs and astonishing capabilities of these new weapons systems.
Singer provides us with plenty of the same, but the great virtue of his book is
precisely that he also devotes space to the broader questions raised by the
breakneck expansion of military robotics. As he writes, the US government is using drones to conduct a military campaign
against the sovereign state of Pakistan. Yet no one in Congress has ever pressed
the President for any sort of legal declaration of hostilities—for the simple
reason that the lives of American military personnel are not at stake when the
Predators set off on their missions.

In fact, as Singer shows, the ethical and legal implications of the new
technology already go far beyond the relatively circumscribed issue of targeted
killing. Military robots are on their way to developing considerable autonomy.
As noted earlier, UAVs can already take off, land, and fly themselves without
human intervention. Targeting is still the exclusive preserve of the human
operator—but how long will this remain the case? As sensors become more powerful
and diverse, the amount of data gathered by the machines is increasing
exponentially, and soon the volume and velocity of information will far exceed
the controller’s capacity to process it all in real time, meaning that more and
more decision-making will be left to the robot.

A move is already underway toward systems that allow a single operator to
handle multiple drones simultaneously, and this, too, will tend to push the
technology toward greater autonomy. We are not far from the day when it will
become manifest that our mechanical warriors are better at protecting the lives
of our troops than any human soldier, and once that happens the pressure to let
robots take the shot will be very hard to resist. Pentagon officials who have
been interviewed on the subject predictably insist that the decision to kill
will never be ceded to a machine. That is reassuring. Still, this is an easy
thing to say at a point when robots are not yet in the position to take the
initiative against the enemy on a battlefield. Soon, much sooner than most of us
realize, they will be able to do just that.

We have only just begun to explore what this means. Singer quotes Marc
Garlasco, a recognized expert on the law of war at Human Rights Watch. “This new
technology creates pressure points for international law,” Garlasco says. “You
will be trying to apply international law written for the Second World War to
Star Trek technology.” Singer continues:

Another fundamental premise of the human rights group, and for
broader international law, is that soldiers in the field and the leaders who
direct them must be held accountable for any violations of the laws of war.
Unmanned systems, though, muddy the waters surrounding war crimes. “War crimes
need both a violation and intent,” says Garlasco. “A machine has no
capacity to want to kill civilians, it has no desires…. If they are incapable of
intent, are they incapable of war crimes?” And if the machine is not
responsible, who does the group seek to hold accountable, and where exactly do
they draw the line? “Who do we go after, the manufacturer, the software
engineer, the buyer, the user?”

Later Singer notes that the US has consistently
applied an expanded right of self-defense for its aircraft operating in
conflicts around the world. When an enemy radar “lights up” a US plane, the pilot has the right to fire first without
waiting to be attacked. All fine and good. But then imagine that the aircraft
involved is not a plane but a UAV:

If an unmanned plane flying near the border of another nation is
fired on, does it have the right to fire back at that nation’s missile sites and
the humans behind them, even in peacetime? What about the expanded
interpretation, the right to respond to hostile intent, where the drone is just
targeted by radar? Is the mere threat enough for the drone to fire first at the
humans below?

The answers depend on how wide the “self” in self-defense is

It turns out, Singer explains, that the US Air Force
currently operates according to the principle that a pilotless aircraft, as an
entity representing the people who sent it on its mission, “has the same rights
as if a person were inside it,” and that this “interpretation of robot rights is
official policy for unmanned reconnaissance flights over the Persian Gulf.” But
the situation is evolving rapidly. The next generation of military robots is
likely to have a high degree of operational independence without yet achieving
the kind of intelligent self-awareness that entails responsibility. Luckily
there is already something of a legal precedent for handling similar situations.
“As odd as it sounds,” Singer writes, “pet law might then be a useful resource
in figuring out how to assess the accountability of autonomous systems.”

This is a particularly thought-provoking conclusion given that the
researchers now working on military robots seem especially eager to ransack the
biological world for elegant solutions to the design problems that have to be
overcome. There is a snake-shaped robot that can rear itself up in the grass
when it wants to scan its surroundings. Tiny surveillance robots scuttle up
walls like bugs, and robot flyers flap their wings. The Navy is testing
submersibles that swim like fish. Researchers in the UK
have developed a robot whose sensors mimic rat whiskers—since so far no engineer
has managed to come up with a sensor system that is better at navigating in
total darkness.

Whether we like it or not, war has often been a powerful goad to
technological innovation. Now technology is on the verge of supplanting the
human soldier altogether—with consequences that can only be guessed. The
question in the case of military robotics, even at this relatively early stage,
is the extent to which we will manage to retain control over the process.
Whether we are ready or not, the answer will soon be clear.

—August 30, 2011

1 See Scott Lindlaw, “Remote-Control Warriors Suffer War Stress,” Associated
Press, August 7, 2008.

2 “A Drone Strike and Dwindling Hope,” Part Four of “Held by the Taliban,”
The New York Times , October 20, 2009.

3 Peter Bergen and Katherine Tiedemann, “Washington’s Phantom War: The
Effects of the US Drone Program in Pakistan,” Foreign Affairs ,
July/August 2011.

4 The CIA operates its drones from control stations in or around its
headquarters in Langley, Virginia. It is likely that many of the operators are
actually civilian contractors.

5 Philip Alston, “Report of the Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary
or Arbitrary Executions,” United Nations, Human Rights Council, May 28, 2010.
See also David Kretzmer, “Targeted Killing of Suspected Terrorists:
Exra-Judicial Executions or Legitimate Means of Defence?” The European
Journal of International Law
, Vol. 16, No. 2 (2005).

6 Harold Koh, the legal adviser to the State Department, devoted a few brief
remarks to the subject in a speech last year, available at http://www.state.gov/s/l/

  1. 1See Scott Lindlaw, “Remote-Control Warriors Suffer War Stress,” Associated
    Press, August 7, 2008.
  2. 2″A Drone Strike and Dwindling Hope,” Part Four of “Held by the Taliban,”
    The New York Times , October 20, 2009.
  3. 3Peter Bergen and Katherine Tiedemann, “Washington’s Phantom War: The Effects
    of the US Drone Program in Pakistan,” Foreign Affairs , July/August
  4. 4The CIA operates its drones from control stations in or around its
    headquarters in Langley, Virginia. It is likely that many of the operators are
    actually civilian contractors.
  5. 5Philip Alston, “Report of the Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or
    Arbitrary Executions,” United Nations, Human Rights Council, May 28, 2010. See
    also David Kretzmer, “Targeted Killing of Suspected Terrorists: Exra-Judicial
    Executions or Legitimate Means of Defence?” The European Journal of
    International Law
    , Vol. 16, No. 2 (2005).
  6. 6Harold Koh, the legal adviser to the State Department, devoted a few brief
    remarks to the subject in a speech last year, available at http://www.state.gov/s/l/

Dawkins’ “The God Delusion:” a Must Read September 17, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in About God, About Religion, Religion, Science and Technology.

Roger Hollander, September 17, 2011

I am re-reading Richard Dawkins’ “The God Delusion,” one of the most important reads for me in the past years.  If you are a fan of science and reason over ignorance and prejudice, you will love Dawkins.  He is a world-class scientist (evolutionary biologist), but his prose is both literate and replete with humor, and his scientific explanations are for the most part understandable for the lay person.  A quotation he attributes to Fred Hoyle almost says it all.  When Hoyle refused to give an educated opinion to an interviewer who asked him to speculate about life on other planets, the interviewer asked him for his gut feeling.  Hoyle replied that he tries not to think with his gut.

I have reviewed “The God Delusion” elsewhere on this blog (https://rogerhollander.wordpress.com/category/current-posts/a-rogers-original-essays/about-religion/), here I will just give you a taste of some of the many little gems you will find in this outstanding work.

I begin with this quote from a United States Senator:

“There is no position on which people are so immovable as their religious beliefs.  There is no more powerful ally one can claim in a debate than Jesus Christ, or God, or Allah, or whatever one calls the supreme being.  But like any powerful weapon, the use of God’s name on one’s behalf should be used sparingly.  The religious factions that are growing throughout our land are not using their religious clout with wisdom.  They are trying to force government leaders into following their position 100 per cent.  If you disagree with these religious groups  on a particular moral issue, they complain, they threaten you with a loss of money or votes or both.  I am frankly sick and tired of the political preachers across this country telling me as a citizen that if I want to be a moral person  must belive in A, B, C or D.  Just who do they think they are?  And I am even more angry as a legislator who must endure the threats of every religious group who thinks it has some God-granted right to control my vote on every roll call in the Senate.  I am warning them today: I will fight them every step of the way if they try to dictate their moral convictions to all Americans … “

At the end of this essay I will give you the name of the Senator who make this statement.  Take a guess.

Here are the mottos of the two major divisions in Christianity:

“There is another form of temptation, even more fraught with danger.  This is the disease of curiosity.  It is this which drives us to try and discover the secrets of nature, those secrets which are beyond our understanding, which can avail us nothing and which man should not wish to learn.”  St. Augustine

“Reason is the greatest enemy that faith has; it never comes to the aid of spiritual things, but more frequently than not struggles against the Divine Word, treating with contempt all that emanates from God … Whoever wants to be a Christian should tear the eyes out of his reason.”  Martin Luther

As for humor:

In Northern Ireland: “Yes but are you a Catholic atheist or a Protestant atheist?”

Citing a comedian: “All religions are the same.  Religion is guilt, with different holidays.”

You will learn from Dawkins a lot about Darwin and natural selection.  You will watch him obliterate the arguments of the so-called “creationists” and the weasels who try to disguise creationism as “intelligent design.”  He will make you think twice if you think that agnosticism makes more sense than atheism; and he will show you the distinction between the notion of a God Creator who continues to intervene in creation, and what he refers to “Einsteinian religion,” the awe inspired by knowledge of the amazing universe we inhabit.

And he has an answer for you if you argue that you have a religious belief in God but not the kind of ridiculous belief in a God with a beard in the Sky and a literal interpretation of the Bible.  The answer is that you can call yourself religious or Christian, but the overwhelming majority of those who call themselves Christian (or Jewish or Muslim) do believe in that Personal God who created it all and continues to communicate with us and intervene where He chooses (and not to intervene where He chooses not (Pope John Paul II, when he suffered an assassination attempt in Rome, attributed his survival  to intervention of Our Lady of Fatima: “a maternal hand guided the bullet.”  Watkins wonders why she didn’t guide the bullet to miss him entirely, and he speaks up for giving credit to the surgeons who operated for six hours to save him.  He also wonders why the Lady of Fatima, and whether the Ladies of Guadalupe, Medjugorje, Akita, Zeitoun and Garabandal were too busy at the time to lend a hand).

Now here is the name of the Senator who is responsible for the quote complaining about the pressures from organized religion.  You were wrong if you guessed a liberal like Ted Kennedy or Al Franken.  The answer is: Barry Goldwater, and he ended the quote as follows: “… I will fight them every step of the way if they try to dictate their moral convictions to all Americans in the name of conservatism.” (emphasis added).

And, oh yes, my favorite one liner of them all: “Blasphemy is a victemless crime.”












Why the Anti-Science Creationist Movement Is So Dangerous September 13, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Religion, Right Wing, Science and Technology, Uncategorized.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
They want to wipe out all the findings of hundreds of years of scientific investigation and have taken to schools, the courts and political leaders to get things done.


September 8, 2011 |  

AlterNet / By Adam Lee


A few weeks ago, Jon Huntsman torpedoed his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination by making the following announcement: “To be clear. I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy.”

It’s a pathetic commentary on the anti-intellectualism rampant in American politics that this is newsworthy. A major-party candidate announces that he doesn’t deny a foundational theory of modern science! In fact, given the political atmosphere in the Republican party, it’s not just newsworthy but a daring act: polls have shown that almost 70 percent of Republicans deny evolution.

Huntsman is clearly trying to position himself as the moderate candidate. But while that strategy might play well in the general election, it won’t do him any good unless he can get the Republican nomination. And to win that nomination, he has to get past a huge obstacle: a solid bloc of Republican primary voters who are emphatically anti-science. This isn’t an exaggeration for polemical effect; it’s the plain truth. The modern Republican party has made a fervent rejection of scientific consensus its defining attribute — both on evolution and climate change, as well as in other fields — and Huntsman’s refusal to submit to party orthodoxy is likely a fatal blow to his chances.

But opposition to climate change is something new in the Republican platform. As recently as a few years ago, both Mitt Romney and John McCain supported cap-and-trade laws, and Newt Gingrich appeared in pro-environment ads with Nancy Pelosi. The party’s rejection of climate science is fairly new, and probably comes from its increasing dependence on campaign cash from dirty-energy barons like the Koch brothers.

By contrast, the Republican party’s denial of evolution is much older and more grassroots in nature, dating at least to when the national parties traded places during the civil-rights era. The conservative South, in addition to its other charming qualities, has a long history of passing laws hostile to science, from Tennessee’s Butler Act, the 1925 law prohibiting the teaching of evolution that led to the Scopes trial, to Louisiana’s 1981 Balanced Treatment Act, which decreed that “creation science” had to be given an equal share of classroom time.

But while fundamentalists have always been hostile to evolution, the modern creationist movement got its start in the 1960s, primarily due to the influence of an evangelical author named Henry Morris. Morris’ 1964 book The Genesis Flood argued, among other things, that Noah’s flood happened just as the Bible describes it — in other words, it was reasonable to believe that eight people could care for a floating zoo containing at least two members of every species on Earth.

Imagine trying to run the entire Bronx Zoo with just eight employees. Now consider that Noah’s leaky tub, by even the most forgiving estimates, would have to have had far more kinds of animals (including dinosaurs, which creationists believe existed simultaneously with humans, a la the Flintstones). Imagine how much feeding, watering, and manure-carrying that would be. Imagine all this frenetic activity taking place in the cramped, dark, foul-smelling confines of a wooden boat, with predators and prey side-by-side in narrow pens, during the most violent and catastrophic storm in the history of the planet, with an absolute requirement that not a single animal get sick or die. Now try not to laugh too hard at the people who seriously believe all this really happened.

As already mentioned, the creationist movement’s original strategy revolved around getting friendly state legislatures to decree that their ideas had to be taught in public schools, regardless of scientific merit or lack thereof. This strategy hasn’t fared well in court: aside from a Pyrrhic victory in the Scopes trial, judges have repeatedly recognized this for the obvious violation of separation of church and state that it is. And each time they lost, the creationist movement responded the same way: like a snake shedding its skin, they rebranded themselves with a new name, then tried again with the same ideas. “Creation science” became “scientific creationism,” which became “abrupt-appearance theory,” and so on. The currently preferred nomenclature is “intelligent design” (which is totally constitutional and not at all religious, because we’re not saying who we think the intelligent designer is — nudge nudge, wink wink!). But even this watered-down creationism met with defeat in Dover, Pennsylvania in 2005, when a judge appointed by George W. Bush handed down a resounding ruling that teaching intelligent design in public school is unconstitutional.

It remains to be seen how they’ll rebrand themselves next, though we can be confident their basic strategy won’t change. One of the most hilarious parts of the Dover case was evidence showing that, after a court ruling which made it illegal to teach creationism in public schools, the authors of a creationist textbook did a find-and-replace to change “creationism” to “intelligent design” and “creationists” to “design proponents.” At one point, someone mistyped and left a transitional fossil in an early draft: a paragraph that referred to “cdesign proponentsists.”

But while creationists keep bumbling on the legal front, they’ve had more success in the cultural arena, by infiltrating the public schools with creationist teachers who flout the law and preach their religious beliefs in class. There are some notable and egregious examples, such as David Paskiewicz, the New Jersey high school teacher who advocated creationism in class, in addition to telling a Muslim student she belonged in hell. There’s also John Freshwater, a creationist science teacher who was fired for breaking school rules about proselytizing in the classroom. Among other things, he allegedly used a Tesla coil to burn a cross onto a student’s arm!

And it’s not just the teachers, either. Creationist churches are training students at all educational levels to refuse to learn about any science their religion rejects, as in this story: 

The last question on the test Mr. Campbell passed out a week later asked students to explain two forms of evidence supporting evolutionary change and natural selection.”I refuse to answer,” Bryce wrote. “I don’t believe in this.” 

Although there are different kinds of creationists, the most fervent and most influential are the so-called young-earth creationists, who believe the world and every species on it is about 6,000 years old. The young-earth creationists, or YECs for short, believe the universe was created in seven 24-hour days, that there was a literal Garden of Eden, a literal Adam and Eve, and a literal talking snake just as the Book of Genesis describes.

To anyone who has even the most passing acquaintance with real science, these myths are on the same level as believing in a literal wolf who blew down the houses of literal pigs. Anyone who knows anything about genetics can see the impossibility of a healthy species arising from a single breeding pair. A population starting from such a tiny gene pool just wouldn’t have enough genetic diversity to adapt to environmental changes — not to mention the obvious problem of inbreeding depression, where sex between close relatives results in a far greater likelihood of the offspring inheriting the same rare and harmful mutations from both parents. (For fun, ask a creationist to explain about how they believe the prohibition on incest didn’t apply in the beginning. After all, once Adam and Eve had sons and daughters, where was the next generation of human beings going to come from?)

Likewise, the geologic record shows that the Earth has an enormously long and intricate history. Preserved in the rock record, we see evidence of continents drifting and colliding, thrusting up mountain ranges that are then slowly worn down by erosion; glaciers advancing and retreating, carving and scouring the landscape; sedimentary rock layers slowly built up by eons of deposition, then cut into deep canyons by rivers or metamorphosed by heat and pressure; the same land becoming shallow sea, swamp, forest, plain, desert and back to sea again, as sea levels rise and fall over the ages. This grand tapestry stands in stark contrast to the creationists’ cartoonish view of geology, in which Noah’s flood was the only geological event of significance to happen in the planet’s brief history. Geologists knew well before Charles Darwin that there was no evidence for a global flood, and modern scientists can add the evidence of radiometric dating, which shows the precise ages of ancient rocks and artifacts and proves that they’re far older than the creationist worldview permits.

And then there’s the direct evidence for evolution, in all its sprawling grandeur. We know evolution is true from genetic studies which show that all species share deep similarities at the genetic level. In fact, by charting which species’ genomes share the same one-off mutations, we can build evolutionary trees which show the patterns of relationship between species and allow us to estimate when they branched from each other. This nested hierarchy, the pattern produced by descent with modification, binds all living and extinct species together in an unbreakable web of heredity and kinship, every bit as real as the one that connects you to your ancestors and your living relatives.

We know evolution is true from transitional fossils which preserve snapshots of evolutionary change, such as the bird-like feathered dinosaurs; the therapsids that are intermediate between reptiles and mammals; the primitive whales with legs that are ancestors of today’s cetaceans; and in our own family lineage, the humanlike hominids that show how modern Homo sapiens arose from more ape-like ancestors. (Hilariously, the creationists all agree that there are no transitional fossils and that all fossil hominid species are either fully human or fully ape — but they can’t agree on which is which, exactly as we’d expect from true intermediates.)

We know evolution is true from the kludges, hacks, and jury-rigs we find in the anatomy of living things, including us — evidence not of a wise and forward-looking designer, but of a slow, mindless, tinkering process of change, a “blind watchmaker” as Richard Dawkins famously termed it. From the useless goosebumps we get when cold or frightened, to the backward-wired human retina, to the babies occasionally born with vestigial tails, human bodies bear the indelible stamp of our species’ history.

The creationists are forced to deny all this and much more besides. That’s not a figure of speech: major creationist organizations and religious colleges require their faculty to sign statements promising to reject any evidence that contradicts their worldview. The official statement of faith of the group Answers in Genesis, for example, requires members to affirm that “No apparent, perceived or claimed evidence in any field, including history and chronology, can be valid if it contradicts the Scriptural record.” And when people affiliated with these groups do express doubt or flirt with unorthodoxy, retribution is invariably swift and harsh.

But as laughable as the creationists’ beliefs are, the creationist movement is no joke. They want to wipe out all the findings of hundreds of years of scientific investigation, erase everything we’ve learned about the vast and majestic history of the universe, and replace it with a cartoon version that grotesquely magnifies our own importance, treating human beings as the crowning glory of creation and diminishing the immensity of the universe to a tiny stage crafted only so that the Bible’s small stories could play out on it.

Why does this matter so much to them? It’s not just an arcane scientific debate: in their minds, only Christianity can produce virtue, and Christianity can be true only if evolution is false. It follows that they believe – and they’ve said that they believe — that evolution underlies every moral problem they see in the world, from drug use to pornography to people voting Democratic. Tom DeLay infamously blamed the Columbine school shootings on the teaching of evolution, stating that “our school systems teach the children that they are nothing but glorified apes who are evolutionized out of some primordial soup.”

The larger lesson to be drawn from this is that the religious right isn’t just targeting the theory of evolution. By their own words, they can’t be. They believe that a person’s morality is completely determined by their factual beliefs — that being a good person depends on believing the right things about the origin of the universe. And since they believe that all truths worth knowing have already been revealed in the Bible, it follows that science is at best unnecessary and at worst a fatal deception that leads people away from salvation. Why, then, do we need science at all?

To those who hold the creationist worldview, everything has been going downhill since the Enlightenment. The willingness of people to think for themselves, to question authority, to investigate the world for truth – they see all this as a disastrous trend, one that only takes us farther from their ideal vision of a medieval, theocratic state. They seek nothing less than to turn back the clock of progress by several centuries, abolish the rational, reality-based view of the world, and return to the superstitious mindset in which blind faith is the answer to every problem. And, again, these are the people who’ve completely captured one of America’s two major parties. What kind of havoc will result if they gain political power again?


What the latest antimatter breakthrough means August 17, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Science and Technology.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
1 comment so far
Monday, Aug  8, 2011 17:01 ET

CERN scientists isolated a few of these particles for about 1000 seconds. Here’s why that matters

By David Wroe, GlobalPost

AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus
The globe of the European Organization for Nuclear Research, CERN, is illuminated outside Geneva, Switzerland, early morning Tuesday, March 30, 2010.

GENEVA, Switzerland — In the antimatter department at CERN, the world’s biggest science facility, a picture hangs on the wall showing the filmmaker Ron Howard surrounded by beaming scientists.

Howard’s adaptation of the Dan Brown novel Angels & Demons centers around a secret society that steals a small quantity of antimatter from CERN and hides it in the Vatican.

The book and the film’s scientific accuracy was limited to the convenient plot point that, when brought together, antimatter and matter annihilate one another in a terrific burst of energy, just enough, in this case, to wipe out Vatican City.

Now to reality: scientists at CERN announced recently that they had managed to create, isolate and hold a small quantity of antimatter for over 16 minutes — the longest by far that had been achieved.

So far so frightening? Not exactly. The Vatican can rest easy, explains Joel Fajans, a physicist from the ALPHA project, which made the breakthrough. There are fundamental reasons why an antimatter bomb will never be made.

The purpose of creating and holding antimatter, rather, is to study this strange twin of matter in the hope of solving one of the great riddles surrounding the creation of the universe — and thereby explain why we are here at all.

Basic laws of physics postulate that matter and antimatter should have been created in equal quantities in the Big Bang and gone on to cancelled each other out, leaving behind only energy. That means no stars, no planets, no people.

Instead, for reasons physicists can only guess at, matter gained a slight advantage over antimatter in the fiery moments after the Big Bang. A fraction of a percent of matter survived the mutual destruction and went on to form the galaxies, stars and planets.

But why should nature be so arbitrary as to choose one over the other? Why are we here at all? And, given that we are, why are we not made of antimatter instead?

“People are confounded by this. The question of what happened to antimatter is one of the grand challenges of physics,” Fajans told a GlobalPost reporter on a visit to CERN, located just outside Geneva near Switzerland’s border with France. “It is astounding, and it’s also embarrassing, that no one knows why this is the case.

“Matter and antimatter annihilate one another … We shouldn’t be here. But we are here. There is clearly an excess of matter … which means something is likely wrong with the theory of the Big Bang.”

The laws of physics say that matter and antimatter are exactly the same, only with reversed charges. Matter, which makes up everything around us, contains positively charged protons and negatively charged electrons. Antimatter contains the opposite, negatively charged protons (called anti-protons) and positive electrons (called positrons.)

Other than that, they should be the same, at least theoretically. If the ALPHA team’s investigations prove that they are actually different, antimatter will be in violation of one of physics’ most cherished laws, the charge, parity and time, or CPT, theorem.

CPT basically says that processes in physics should turn out the same even when you flip the charges, turn everything inside out and run it backwards. Put another way, CPT gives the universe a nice, harmonious symmetry. If antimatter contradicts it, other theories may unravel.

“As soon as you open a little crack, your imagination and ability to discover can run wild. Any difference will open up possibilities.

“It would show that there is some bigger, as yet unknown, set of laws. It would truly be the proverbial Big Deal.”

Fajans, an animated 53-year-old MIT graduate and tenured professor at the University of California, Berkeley, spends about half of his time at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research. His workplace is a massive warehouse in the middle of which sits a bewildering array of machinery. It is here that Fajans and the ALPHA team managed to trap 309 anti-hydrogen atoms for up to 1,000 seconds, or just over 16 minutes, an achievement they announced in June’s edition of Nature Physics.

People have been creating antimatter for decades. Indeed it occurs naturally, albeit rarely. If you eat a banana, for instance, some of the potassium will emit positrons as it decays in your body. Sodium also emits positrons and, by combining these with antiprotons created in a CERN particle accelerator (and then slowed down in a proton decelerator), they can make anti-hydrogen atoms.

Last year, the ALPHA team became the first scientists to trap anti-hydrogen, though only for a split second. Even this was a remarkable feat given antimatter is instantly annihilated when it touches anything, even air.

“Basically we had to make a bottle with no sides,” Fajans explained, referring to the web of magnetic and electric beams that held the atoms in suspension in a perfect vacuum.

By trapping anti-hydrogen for 16 minutes, the scientists are getting closer to being able to hold it in a state of calm and actually study it closely.

One method is to look at the effects of gravity. There is a theory, albeit an unlikely one, that antimatter will “fall upwards.” But first the ALPHA collaboration will look at the spectral qualities of antimatter — that is, does it glow the same color as ordinary matter when blasted by microwaves or light? This might reveal differences in the basic structure of antimatter.

Sadly none of this will provide an unlimited energy source of the kind that drives the Enterprise in Star Trek nor, happily, the kind that makes the bomb in Angels & Demons. The energy economics are unfeasible, Fajans explains. It takes far more energy to create antimatter than we can ever get out of it — a fact of physics that won’t change.

On the bright side, positrons are already used in medical diagnostics, in positron emission tomography, known as PET scans. Antimatter might also prove useful in the treatment of cancer by annihilating tumors without damaging surrounding tissue.

But most of the work is being done in the name of pure discovery. Fajans expects it will take another five to ten years before scientists have solid answers about antimatter, though he and his team plan to start experimenting on it this year.

As it happens, he is cautious about the prospects of finding anything unusual. The current laws of physics are built on a very solid foundation and revolutions don’t come that often.

But physics is by nature iconoclastic. Take the neighbouring Large Hadron Collider, the world’s biggest and most famous scientific experiment, which is hunting for the Higgs Boson, the so-called God Particle (a term physicists, not surprisingly, loathe.) Physicists need the Higgs Boson to exist in order to confirm their overarching theories. But it would be more interesting if it turned out not to exist, Fajans said.

“The fun starts when theories are broken,” he said, somewhat mischievously. “The LHC is on a campaign to find the Higgs Boson. They’ll probably find it, but it would be much more interesting if they didn’t.”

The First Lady and The Monsanto-Washington Unification Process Vs. Our Human Rights July 25, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Agriculture, Environment, Human Rights, Science and Technology.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
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Roger’s note:  the tone of this ariticle is sarcastic; this may offend some reader, and, if so, I am sorry; but what is a thousand times more offensive is what the article reveals.

Lenore Daniels, www.opednews.com,  July 24, 2008

The effect is again a magical and hypnotic one–the projection of images which convey irresistible unity, harmony of contradictions. Thus the loved and fear Father, the spender of life, generates the H-bomb for the annihilation of life; “science-military’ joins the efforts to reduce anxiety and suffering with the job of creating anxiety and suffering.

Herbert Marcuse, One-Dimensional Man



Monsanto has great respect for all of us, little people, and for Mother Earth, the source of all its (Monsanto’s) material wealth. But Monsanto would like to remind the world that however much those activists transgressors in Brazil condemn its connection to the use of dioxin in a current project to defoliate the rain forest or however much those Vietnam Vets agitators shout about the long-term harmful effects of Agent Orange, Monsanto is a new humanitarian enterprise, working with struggling farmers on behalf of the poor and starving children of the world. Monsanto, along with the cooperative government of the U.S. and other Western nations, envisions a future filled with healthy and happy humans.


Chuckle. Chuckle.


We have great respect for the U.S. soldiers sent to war and all those affected by the Vietnam conflict. All sides share in the pain from this difficult time in our history. One of the legacies of that war is Agent Orange, where questions remain nearly 40 years later.


By way of background, the U.S. military used Agent Orange from 1961 to 1971 to save the lives of U.S. and allied soldiers by defoliating dense vegetation in the Vietnamese jungles and therefore reducing the chances of ambush.


As the war began and intensified, the U.S. government used its authority under the Defense Production Act to issue contracts to seven major chemical companies to obtain Agent Orange and other herbicides for use by U.S. and allied troops in Vietnam. The government specified the chemical composition of Agent Orange and when, where and how the material was to be used in the field, including application rates. Agent Orange was one of 15 herbicides used for military purposes during the Vietnam War and the most commonly applied. It received its name because of the orange band around containers of the material”


There have been a number of lawsuits. Monsanto and the six other chemical manufacturers reached agreement with U.S. veterans in a class action lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York in 1984 that involved millions of U.S. veterans and their families. There was not a finding of fault. It was settled by the parties rather than undertake a lengthy and complicated trial. The $180 million in funds that were part of the agreement were distributed according to a plan developed in part by U.S. District Judge Jack B. Weinstein”


[There have been other lawsuits since 2009 but]”


Monsanto is now primarily a seed and agricultural products company.


We believe that the adverse consequences alleged to have arisen out of the Vietnam War, including the use of Agent Orange, should be resolved by the governments that were involved. (Monsanto.com)


((“The Agent Orange produced by Monsanto had dioxin levels many times higher than that produced by Dow Chemicals, the other major supplier of Agent Orange to Vietnam,”   “The Legacy of Agent Orange” at Corp Watch.com.))


(((Monsanto produced “some of the most toxic substances ever created,” according to an investigative report entitled, “Harvest of Fear,” published at Vanity Fair, May 2008.)))


You are now ordered to forget those images of children with skin burned and bloodied; babies with two heads and one eye, deformed and missing limbs–forget them! Whatever happened in the past was unintentional.   We were ordered by your government to do it! If harm was done when Monsanto was the Monsanto we are not now, sorry! Contact your government and scream until you pass out! We are “dedicated to a better place for future generations.”

In the “imagined future,” one in which we have “foreknowledge” and “mystically share in,” that “dark place” of the Orwellian realm (1984), Monsanto assures us that information is available, accessible, and understandable,” (Monsanto.com).

Infringe on Monsanto’s patents of genetically modified food or transgress its seed laws and its “shadowy army” of private investigators and agents–“secretly” videotaping and photographing wrong doers, and infiltrating “community meetings”–will   to “get you” (“Harvest of Fear”). Farmers know Monsanto as the “seed police,” the “Gestapo” of the Heartland.


We are witnessing the criminalization of producing and consuming healthy food.


Here is what the telescreen preaches to us: the U.S. Empire has detected a problem. The results of studies are in and obesity is that problem. Citizens of the U.S. of A. are obese! The littlest of the little people, the children, are “too fat.” They indulge in “fatty foods.” The children along with their parents are irresponsible.


The first Black First Lady enters the picture. The mother of two well-feed children, except for the occasional treat of French fries, is in search of obese children. In a timely manner, Michelle Obama launches her “Let’s Move” program, later in that same year (2010), she announces that she “wants to take her campaign to reduce childhood obesity to a bigger audience: the global one.”


Everyone applauds! Cameras follow the First Lady as she flies from one end of the country to the other, promoting the consumption of greens, carrots, apples, and strawberries, (and indulging occasionally in a side dish of French fries).


Monsanto has the future of our children on its horizon–and it would seem Mrs. Obama does too!


The International Journal of Biological Science issued its findings, too, and it found a problem, too, with 3 genetically modified corn varieties produced by the new, supposedly non-lethal Monsanto. In fact, this study found the problem to be with the giant Monsanto! “80 percent of all corn grown in the U.S. had been genetically modified by Monsanto.” Three strains of corn tested caused serious problems in the liver (organichealthadvisor.com) and this is just one example of the risk Monsanto’s food products pose for the current and future generations of children. Agriculture Society reports that the Institute for Responsible Technology found the following health issues arising from consuming GMO foods:



Immune system problems

Accelerated aging

Faulty insulin regulation

Development of pathogenic bacteria in the digestive tract

Changes in other major organs


The International Journal of Biological Science report concludes: This is a “huge problem.” (And let us not forget–health insurance is another problem in the heartland of the U.S. Empire!).


Any word from the First Lady about Monsanto, GMOs, health risks for eating just about anything, including veggies and fruits?


Do not look to Monsanto to give up either!


Monsanto is a master shape-shifter like so many we can think of today operating at the headquarters imperial power in Washington D.C. In fact, you might find more Monsanto shape-shifters in Washington than anywhere else.   That is because the First Lady’s husband, President Barrack Obama and Monsanto want to ensure the longevity of the corporation.


Here is President Barrack Obama shuffling Monsanto food executives and research scientists from the boardroom and labs to the global reaches of the U.S. Empire faster than his wife, the First Lady, can fly to her next lecture on “obesity.”. Former Monsanto executives occupy leadership positions in the Department of Agriculture.



In “Farming–Why Obama’s Government is George Wallace, Monsanto is the KKK, and We Are All Black Children” (Opednews.com),   Linn Cohen Cole writes about Monsanto’s “rural cleansing” campaign.   Oh, Monsanto is everywhere! The First Lady should not miss omnipotent beings in the halls of the White House, in Congress, certainly not at the Department of Agriculture and not at the Supreme Court where Justice Clarence Thomas, another former Monsanto employee, loves his Monsanto more than he does our current and future generation of children.


Since Thomas’ appointment, writes Cole, the court has ruled in favor of genetically altered organisms and, in addition, has upheld laws protecting Monsanto’s “intellectual property rights.” As a result, Monsanto’s “rural cleansing” campaign is chasing farmers off their lands, from one end of the country to the other, while contaminating nature with its genetically engineered products. This is all good, for Clarence, and apparently the White House and the First Lady, too, flying, to and from, above it all!


Cole argues that these rulings are in “violation of our civil rights.” Here is a “”justice,'” Cole continues, destroying “previously taken for granted and thus undefined civil and human rights around nature.” We can generalize about “agriculture” and “commodities” or “profits””but “the profound truth that this is about life or death and our civil rights to live” is left out of the argument.


And you would think Thomas, Mr. Obama, and Mrs. Obama should know all about the civil right to live! But here is the 21st Century is Thomas, loyal corporate man, Barrack Obama, organizer of the Monsanto-Washington unification process, and Mrs. Obama saving our children’s lives from the ravages of obesity!


Mrs. Obama giving us images of Black obese children and then Brown obese children and then obese white children careful not to give us images of parents working 2 or 3 jobs, if they are working at all, and children, then, who are left to eat potato chips and candy, genetically engineered corn-based products for breakfast, lunch, and sometimes even dinner while watching television commercials featuring genetically fattened chicken. Where are the urban, migrant poor and the working class children to establish a garden like the one Mrs. Obama tenders at the White House? (Ah, “urban cleansing”! They have done that already!).


Unintentional, you think? Corporate and government indifference is deadly!


Monsanto’s food products not only contribute to “obesity” in children (and adults as well), but also contributes to the rise in diabetes, cancer, and heart disease (Cole).


Talk about insanity–on a grand level!


But let me reiterate! The installation of Clarence Thomas as an administer of justice and Barrack Obama as a Commander-in-Chief (or is that Chef?) at the helm of the U.S. Empire represents strategic steps, salvos, intended to kill anything human or natural! (So much for the end of the Agent Orange era!). Rights are rendered to corporations these dark days. You can only imagine the light in our future,


Returning to Cole–the author, like so many of us non-important, little people, recognizes from here below, that Monsanto is practicing a form of “discrimination,” where “one group is using corrupt means to discriminate against a defined segment of the population–all of us who wish to live.”


Cole is not alone in condemning not only Monsanto but also the system that is out to destroy life, human and nature, on this planet.   Cole’s observation is one voiced by those few of us Black commentators who were critical of that mechanizing and criminalizing system and the selection of Obama (the first “Black” president) chosen by Wall Street and the corporate rulers to oversee the further progress of a One World order. But the foot soldiers of “progress,” the liberal-progressive-alternative-left media thanked the Daley Machine on LaSalle Street and obliged the Democratic Party by bracketing our warnings in double, triple parenthesis–with a warning of their own: shut up!


“Progress” is buying the double talk and eating the crap!   And we are where we are today!


Cole writes: Obama “is a black man [the George Wallace of this generation] overseeing a government that is discriminating and abusing a marginalized group.” But it is not one racial or ethnic group, or one class, or only women marginalized today. Here is a George Wallace in controlling and selling humans and the land to the Monsantos of the world, the KKK, Cole argues. All of us are the little Black children of yesterday.


All of us are the little people subject to whims of the state police and the “food” police, and labels of “terrorists” or “food” terrorists.


Cole continues:


This is not just an agricultural issue. It is a civil rights and a human rights issue–the most profound in human history since it is about the right to (normal) nature and survival itself. The totalitarian and corrupt parties discriminating against us all can only be dealt with once we see this as a single issue and come together in a civil rights movement on behalf of us all.


But do not turn your eyes away from the First Lady who, for fear of losing life as she knows it, is the savior of children one minute and is campaign cheerleader the next.   All in a day’s work–for the Big People!


For husband’s re-election, for the corporatist Party, and for corporate rulers, the First Lady reads Monsanto’s letter to transgressors and agitators, salutes and says, “I do, too.”


Catch that smile and those wonderful gowns!


No wonder Monsanto exchanged its dusty fatigues for a more formal, more “global” one of skull and bones.


Published at The Black Commentator.com, July 21, 2011

Liberals and Atheists Are Smarter: Study March 3, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Religion, Science and Technology.
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Source: AOL News

Posted: 03/02/10 5:59PM

If you believe in God and are cheating on your wife, look away.

New research from the London School of Economics suggests that liberal, atheist adults who believe in monogamy have higher IQs than their conservative, religious, philandering contemporaries.

The pattern was uncovered by Dr. Satoshi Kanazawa, an evolutionary psychologist, after analyzing data from two extensive American surveys on social attitudes and IQs in teenagers and adults.

In an article, published this month in the journal Social Psychology Quarterly, Kanazawa found that teens who identified as “not at all religious” had an average IQ of 103, while those who identified as “very religious” had an average IQ of 97, reports the Toronto Star.

The study also found that young adults who identified themselves as “very liberal” had an average IQ of 106, while those who identified themselves as “very conservative” had an average IQ of 95.

And when it comes to monogamy the study found a correlation between sexual morality and intelligence.

“As the empirical analysis … shows, more intelligent men are more likely to value monogamy and sexual exclusivity than less intelligent men,” London’s Telegraph reported Dr Kanazawa concluded in his study.

Researchers could find no clear correlation between monogamy and intelligence in women.

Dr. Kanazawa believes the link between monogamy, liberalism, atheism and IQs is based in evolutionary development. He argues that humans’ ability to deal with “evolutionary novel” situations which don’t fit into our natural tendencies towards conservatism and using religious beliefs to understand the natural phenomenon, mark a greater intelligence.

While man’s first dealings with “evolutionary novel” situations may have been the employment of logic and reasoning to deal with a flash flood or sudden fire, over time more and more of human activity has fallen into the “evolutionary novel” category. Kanazawa argues that people with a higher intelligence are better able to consider these novel elements and that a belief in liberalism and atheism show an ability to apply reason to novel events.

“Liberalism, caring about millions of total strangers and giving up money to make sure that those strangers will do well, is evolutionarily novel,” Kanazawa says.

The same is true of monogamy. Sexual exclusivity is an “evolutionary novel” quality that would have had little benefit to early man. Kanazawa argues that as promiscuity no longer confers an advantage to the modern male a decision to be monogamous shows a man’s ability to employ reason to shed an evolutionary psychology, and adopt a new model of behaviour.

“The adoption of some evolutionarily novel ideas makes some sense in terms of moving the species forward,” George Washington University leadership professor James Bailey, who was not involved in the study, told CNN . “It also makes perfect sense that more intelligent people – people with, sort of, more intellectual firepower – are likely to be the ones to do that.”

But Baily also points out that statements of atheism, liberalism and monogamy may stem for a desire to show superiority. “Unconventional” philosophies such as liberalism or atheism, says Baily, may be “ways to communicate to everyone that you’re pretty smart.”

How to respond to requests to debate creationists February 20, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Science and Technology.
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Posted on: February 18, 2009 4:15 PM, by PZ Myers, www.scienceblogs.com

A professor at the University of Vermont, Nicholas Gotelli, got an invitation to debate one of the clowns at the Discovery Institute. Here’s what they wrote.

Dear Professor Gotelli,

I saw your op-ed in the Burlington Free Press and appreciated your support of free speech at UVM. In light of that, I wonder if you would be open to finding a way to provide a campus forum for a debate about evolutionary science and intelligent design. The Discovery Institute, where I work, has a local sponsor in Burlington who is enthusiastic to find a way to make this happen. But we need a partner on campus. If not the biology department, then perhaps you can suggest an alternative.

Ben Stein may not be the best person to single-handedly represent the ID side. As you’re aware, he’s known mainly as an entertainer. A more appropriate alternative or addition might be our senior fellows David Berlinski or Stephen Meyer, respectively a mathematician and a philosopher of science. I’ll copy links to their bios below. Wherever one comes down in the Darwin debate, I think we can all agree that it is healthy for students to be exposed to different views–in precisely the spirit of inviting controversial speakers to campus, as you write in your op-ed.

I’m hoping that you would be willing to give a critique of ID at such an event, and participate in the debate in whatever role you feel comfortable with.

A good scientific backdrop to the discussion might be Dr. Meyer’s book that comes out in June from HarperCollins, “Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design.”

On the other hand, Dr. Belinski may be a good choice since he is a critic of both ID and Darwinian theory.

Would it be possible for us to talk more about this by phone sometime soon?

With best wishes,
David Klinghoffer
Discovery Institute

You’ll enjoy Dr Gotelli’s response.

Dear Dr. Klinghoffer:

Thank you for this interesting and courteous invitation to set up a debate about evolution and creationism (which includes its more recent relabeling as “intelligent design”) with a speaker from the Discovery Institute. Your invitation is quite surprising, given the sneering coverage of my recent newspaper editorial that you yourself posted on the Discovery Institute’s website:


However, this kind of two-faced dishonesty is what the scientific community has come to expect from the creationists.

Academic debate on controversial topics is fine, but those topics need to have a basis in reality. I would not invite a creationist to a debate on campus for the same reason that I would not invite an alchemist, a flat-earther, an astrologer, a psychic, or a Holocaust revisionist. These ideas have no scientific support, and that is why they have all been discarded by credible scholars. Creationism is in the same category.

Instead of spending time on public debates, why aren’t members of your institute publishing their ideas in prominent peer-reviewed journals such as Science, Nature, or the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences? If you want to be taken seriously by scientists and scholars, this is where you need to publish. Academic publishing is an intellectual free market, where ideas that have credible empirical support are carefully and thoroughly explored. Nothing could possibly be more exciting and electrifying to biology than scientific disproof of evolutionary theory or scientific proof of the existence of a god. That would be Nobel Prize winning work, and it would be eagerly published by any of the prominent mainstream journals.

“Conspiracy” is the predictable response by Ben Stein and the frustrated creationists. But conspiracy theories are a joke, because science places a high premium on intellectual honesty and on new empirical studies that overturn previously established principles. Creationism doesn’t live up to these standards, so its proponents are relegated to the sidelines, publishing in books, blogs, websites, and obscure journals that don’t maintain scientific standards.

Finally, isn’t it sort of pathetic that your large, well-funded institute must scrape around, panhandling for a seminar invitation at a little university in northern New England? Practicing scientists receive frequent invitations to speak in science departments around the world, often on controversial and novel topics. If creationists actually published some legitimate science, they would receive such invitations as well.

So, I hope you understand why I am declining your offer. I will wait patiently to read about the work of creationists in the pages of Nature and Science. But until it appears there, it isn’t science and doesn’t merit an invitation.

In closing, I do want to thank you sincerely for this invitation and for your posting on the Discovery Institute Website. As an evolutionary biologist, I can’t tell you what a badge of honor this is. My colleagues will be envious.

Sincerely yours,

Nick Gotelli

P.S. I hope you will forgive me if I do not respond to any further e-mails from you or from the Discovery Institute. This has been entertaining, but it interferes with my research and teaching.

Questioning Authority: A Rethinking of the Infamous Milgram Experiments February 13, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Science and Technology, Uncategorized.
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By Liliana Segura, AlterNet. Posted February 12, 2009.

A famous 1970s experiment was recently replicated, revealing what it takes for us to question and resist those in positions of authority.

Between 1963 and 1974, Dr. Stanley Milgram conducted a series of experiments that would become one of the most famous social psychology studies of the 20th century. His focus was how average people respond to authority, and what he revealed stunned and disturbed people the world over.

Under the pretense of an experiment on “learning” and “memory,” Milgram placed test subjects in a lab rigged with fake gadgetry, where a man in a lab coat instructed them to administer electrical shocks to a fellow test subject (actually an actor) seated in another room in “a kind of miniature electric chair.”

Participants were told they were the “teachers” in the scenario and given a list of questions with which to quiz their counterparts (the “learners”). If the respondent answered incorrectly to a question, he got an electric shock as punishment.

The shocks were light at first — 15 volts — and became stronger incrementally, until they reached 450 volts — a level labeled “Danger: Severe Shock.” The actors were never actually electrocuted, but they pretended they were. They groaned, shouted, and, as the current became stronger, begged for relief. Meanwhile, the man in the lab coat coolly told the test subjects to keep going.

To people’s horror, Milgram discovered that a solid majority of his subjects — roughly two-thirds — were willing to administer the highest levels of shock to their counterparts. This was as true among the first set of his test subjects (Yale undergrads), to subsequent “ordinary” participants as described by Milgram (“professionals, white-collar workers, unemployed persons and industrial workers”), to test subjects abroad, from Munich to South Africa. It was also as true for women as it was for men (although female subjects reported a higher degree of anxiety afterward).

For people who learned of the study, this became devastating proof, not only of human beings’ slavish compliance in the face of authority, but of our willingness to do horrible things to other people. The study has been used to explain everything from Nazi Germany to the torture at Abu Ghraib.

But what if Milgram’s obedience studies tell us something else, something just as essential, not about our obedience to authority, but what it takes for people to resist it? Now, for the first time in decades, a psychologist has replicated Milgram’s famous study (with some critical changes).

The bad news: His results are statistically identical to Milgram’s. The good news: Contrary to popular perception, the lesson it teaches us is not that human beings are a breed of latent torturers. “Actually,” says Dr. Jerry Burger, the psychologist who led the exercise, “what I think is that the real lesson of the demonstration is quite the opposite.”

Replicating Milgram: ‘I Can’t Tell You Why I Listened to Him and Kept Going’

Burger works at Santa Clara University in Santa Clara, Calif. Like many in his field, he has long been interested in Milgram.

“Everybody who works in my area has his or her own ideas about why Milgram’s participants did what they did,” he says. And many have ideas about what they would change if they did the study themselves. “I have kind of had ideas like that forever … but it’s pretty much been considered to be out of bounds for research. I think we all kind of assumed no one was every going to be able to do this study again.”

Indeed, Milgram’s obedience study was deeply controversial in its time. His deceptive methodology would later be criticized as unethical, and stiffer regulations concerning the psychological well-being of participants in such studies would follow. Thus, despite its enduring role in the popular imagination — and relevance to the events of the day — Milgram’s study would remain firmly entrenched in its time and place.

Then, in 2004, the Abu Ghraib scandal broke. In the analysis that followed, many pointed to Milgram’s findings as a way to understand what could have led otherwise-average soldiers to act so cruelly. At ABC News, producers decided they wanted to do an investigative report on this question.

“I think what they had in mind at first was some sort of journalistic stunt,” Burger recalls “… to set up the Milgram study themselves.” But ABC was advised not undertake such a project lightly. “Someone told them, ‘If you want to do some sort of exploration of obedience, you need to talk to someone who works in the field,’ ” says Burger. “Somehow my name surfaced in this conversation.”

When ABC called him, “I told them, ‘No you can’t replicate Milgram,’ but I thought it was great that they wanted to explore these questions. … I was not interested in helping them put on some kind of stunt (but), it was something that I always wanted to do. And if ABC would foot the bill …”

It took months to set up the project — recruiting and vetting participants, getting insurance, consulting lawyers, etc. When it came to conduct the experiment, Burger had implemented significant changes to Milgram’s original study. One crucial adjustment had been to establish a threshold that did not exist under Milgram. Burger calls it the “150-volt solution.”

“You can’t put people through what Milgram did,” says Burger. Revisiting descriptions of his subjects, he says, “you see that people were suffering tremendously.” They believed they were torturing people, that people were “presumably even dying on the other side of the wall.”

Thus, based on Milgram’s original data, which showed that the majority of the participants who administered 150-volt shocks to their subjects were willing to go all the way to the highest levels, Burger decided that he would stop participants at the 150-volt mark, “the point of no return.”

When the ABC special aired in January 2007, it took a predictably sensationalist approach. “A Touch of Evil” was the title, and foreboding music provided a dark backdrop.

The segment showed men and women of various ages, ethnicities and professions doing the same thing — administering what they believed were electric shocks to a person in another room.

Often the participants would be startled by the shouts behind the wall, turning to look to the man in the lab coat with nervous expressions. But at his behest, they continued, even amid protests from the actor. (“Get me out of here, I told you I had heart trouble. My heart’s starting to bother me now.”)

In the end, 70 percent of the subjects reached the 150-volt mark — a statistic basically identical to Milgram’s. Unlike in Milgram’s experiment, however, Burger told his subjects immediately after their time was up that the whole thing had been staged.

“I can’t tell you why I listened to him and kept going,” one participant told his ABC interviewer. “I should have just said no.”

In the media and the blogosphere, the response to Burger’s study has played into the notion that Milgram’s findings, as true now as they were a generation ago, point to some intrinsic capacity for evil in human beings. It was more or less summed up by one blog’s headline, which Burger noted, chuckling: “This Just In: We Still Suck.”

‘Under the Right Circumstances, People Will Act In Surprising and Unsettling Ways’

Although Milgram’s research is understood mainly through the lens of “obedience,” Burger believes that authority is actually not the definitive factor in the situation.

Just as important, if not more so, are the combination of factors that make up the scenario and which make subjects so dependent on authority. For example, despite being shown the “learner” strapped in before the experiment begins, participants are operating on relatively little information.

“They want to be a good participator, they don’t know, ‘should I stop, should I not,’ ” says Burger, “… Except there’s a person in the room that’s an expert, who knows all about the study, the equipment, etc … and he’s acting like, well, this is nothing unusual … If the only information you have is telling you that this is the right thing to do — of course you do it.”

Participants are also absolved of any real sense of personal responsibility. “I was doing my job,” is a common refrain. Burger notes, “when people don’t feel responsible, that can lead to some very unsettling behaviors.” And then, there’s the high pressure created by the limited window of time participants have to choose whether to shock their “learner.”

“Imagine if Milgram had allowed those people to take 30 minutes and think about it,” says Burger. “They don’t have time, and the experimenter doesn’t allow them time. In fact, if the person pauses, the experimenter steps in and says, ‘Please continue.’ ”

But perhaps the most important enabling factor is the fact that the volts go up in little by little.

“Milgram set this up so that people responded in small increments,” says Burger. “They didn’t start with 150 volts, they started with 15 and worked their way up … That is a very powerful way to change attitudes and behaviors.” Most people, after all, don’t start with extreme behaviors right off the bat.

“People didn’t start by drinking Jim Jones’ poison Kool-Aid,” Burger says. “They probably started by donating money, or going to a meeting … you probably see that in most examples where you’re scratching you head and saying, ‘How can they do that?’ ”

In Burger’s opinion, the significance of Milgram’s findings are widely misunderstood. “The point is not ‘look how bad people are.’ … What we fail to recognize is the power of the situation and [that] under the right circumstances, people will act in surprising and sometimes unsettling ways.”

Indeed, what these factors demonstrate is not how easily people will harm another person, but how quickly people will cede their own authority to another person when they feel isolated, pressured and powerless. The more controlled an environment, the more vulnerable a person is.

What Does It Take to Resist Authority?

Long before his most famous experiment, Stanley Milgram was interested in phenomena showing that people placed in the right situation will often do the wrong thing.

Writing in The Nation magazine in 1964 about a case in which a New York woman named Kitty Genovese was killed within earshot of 38 neighbors, none of whom intervened, Milgram wrote, “We are all certain that we would have done better.” But, he argued, it is a mistake to “infer ethical values from the actual behavior of people in concrete situations.”

“…We must ask, did the witnesses remain passive because they thought it was the right thing to do, or did they refrain from action despite what they thought or felt they should do? We cannot take it for granted that people always do what they consider right. It would be more fruitful to inquire why, in general and in this particular case, there is so marked a discrepancy between values and behavior.”

One lens through which to understand this is politics, a profession notorious for its moral corrosiveness. In his book, Conservatives Without Conscience, John Dean, Richard Nixon’s White House counsel, wrote about the Milgram experiment to explore how members of the Bush administration could be so complicit in the immoral policies of the so-called war on terror.

In a 2006 interview with Thom Hartmann, Dean explained:

“I looked at this because I was trying to understand, how do people who work at the CIA and know that they’re part of a system that is torturing people in the Eastern European secret prisons — and they’re supporting that system, they’re providing information or bringing it out of it — how they do that every day?

“How do the people who work at NSA who were turning that huge electronic apparatus of surveillance on their neighbors and their friends, where’s their conscience?

“And then I realized that this is a perfect example of the Milgram experiment at work. They’re under authority figures. What they are doing is, they’re haven’t lost their conscience — they have given their conscience to another agent, and so they feel very comfortable in doing it.” 

If Milgram’s experiment showed a sort of moral death by a thousand cuts, the decisions, compromises and rationalizations that politicians make on a daily basis from their Washington offices that seem otherwise unfathomable indeed seem easier to explain, if not justifiable. After all, unlike the participants in Milgram’s original study, who were paid $5 for their time (and notoriety), politicians in the White House or on Capitol Hill build their careers on decisions that can destroy human beings. Whether in Iraq or at Guantanamo, the suffering on the other side of those walls is real.

But Milgram has much to teach us, too, about what it takes to resist powerful governments and their destructive policies. It’s not easy, and the stakes can be high.

Writing about war resisters in The Nation in 1970, Milgram noted, “Americans who are unwilling to kill for their country are thrown into jail. And our generation learns, as every generation has, that society rewards and punishes its members not in the degree to which each fulfills the dictates of individual conscience but in the degree to which the actions are perceived by authority to serve the needs of the larger social system. It has always been so.”

But while Milgram so effectively demonstrated the challenge of defying authority, he also showed that subjects were far more likely to do it when they saw other people doing it. He wrote in The Perils of Obedience, “The rebellious action of others severely undermines authority.”

“In one variation, three teachers (two actors and a real subject) administered a test and shocks. When the two actors disobeyed the experimenter and refused to go beyond a certain shock level, 36 of 40 subjects joined their disobedient peers and refused as well.”

Put in a political context, this is perhaps the most important lesson Milgram has to teach us. The best hope people have of resisting an oppressive system is to validate their experiences alongside other people. There is no more basic antidote to authoritarianism than support, solidarity and community.

Milgram wrote, “When an individual wishes to stand in opposition to authority, he does best to find support for his position from others in his group. The mutual support provided by men for each other is the strongest bulwark we have against the excesses of authority.”