What’s the harm in believing weird things? I’ll let Lucy from Skepchick’s sister site Escéptica tell you a terrifying story.
It is common knowledge that scientists are evil by nature. You just need to browse through your comic book of choice, or if your feeling adventurous you can watch an El Santo movie (a 1950s Mexican lucha libre wrestler turned superhero in a series of 50 Ed Wood-type movies where he battles everything from Dracula to the Mafia), to know that getting your Ph.D. is the first step to becoming the archenemy of a courageous superhero who is bent on ruining your plans of World domination. All right, I admit that I can sometimes let my imagination run a bit wild, but apparently I’m not the only one. In the 2007 Survey of the Public Perception of Science and Technology in Mexico carried out by the National Council for Science and Technology (CONACyT) in collaboration with the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI), 49.8% of the participants agreed with the statement that “due to their knowledge, researchers have power that renders them dangerous”, and 46.5% of them thought that “technological discoveries will sooner or later destroy the planet”.
The lack of basic scientific knowledge (approximately 35% of the participants thinks the Earth circles the Sun once a month) and the negative attitudes towards science and technology represent, in my opinion, a big obstacle to the economic development, and the health and well-being of the population of Mexico. Sometimes, however, the lack of information and incorrect perception of science go one step further, resulting in situations that could be considered ridiculous or absurd, if their consequences were not so dire. This is the case of the terrorist attacks perpetrated by an anarchist group that calls itself Individuals Tending to Savagery who, on August 8th, sent an explosive package to the director of the technology park at the Monterrey Institute of Technology (ITESM) in Mexico, Armando Herrera Corral.
The device, which contained a 20 cm-long dynamite cylinder, failed to go off properly, and only injured Herrera Corral and his colleague, Alejandro Aceves López; I stress the word only because the police estimate that the package contained enough explosive to take down part of the building, had it worked as intended. Last April and May, the same group sent similar packages to professor Óscar Camacho of the Polytechnic University of the Mexico Valley (UPVM). There’s contradictory versions about what happened then, but it appears that in one of these instances the home-made explosive device was not activated, whereas in the other one, a maintenance employee was hurt (some sources actually say that in both of these occasions the devices failed to detonate).
What did these professors do to provoke the wrath of these individuals? We can cross off our list the usual suspects, since none of them perform medical research with animals; they do not work with stem cells, nor are they looking to clone cute and fluffy sheep. In fact, Herrera Corral, Aceves López, and Camacho worked in computing, robotics, and nanotechnology, respectively. Huh?
In the blog Liberación Total, this group of savages (by their own denomination, although I have to admit this is the only point in which I agree with them completely) said the attack was in retaliation to the boost that has been given to nanotechnology, which they believe will lead to the creation of nanocyborgs that will cause the downfall of mankind…really, I’m not making this up. These are some of the most memorable quotes from their manifesto (I’ve translated them as faithfully as I can, since I don’t want to ‘discredit’ their colorful prose):
“Nanotechnology is the most advanced [field] that has existed up to this point in the history of anthropocentric progress. It consists of the complete study, the scrutiny of the manipulation and the domination of everything that is minute, invisible to the naked eye. With this, human beings have achieved the control of everything, absolutely everything from climate change to the smallest atomic molecule. Civilization not only threatens our freedom as Individuals, that of Animals, and of the Earth, but now its threat has shifted to a scale of less than a micrometer.”
Well it was about time; I was wondering when the elusive system would be blamed for the demise of humanity. But really, someone has to tell these individuals that Asimov and psychotropics do not mix.
Beyond the attacks in Mexico, the authorities mentioned that the ITS has become known for attacks to facilities and professionals dedicated to the development of artificial intelligence in other countries like Spain, France, and Chile, although I was unable to find additional information regarding these attacks.
It is difficult to overlook certain inconsistencies that this group falls into, like the fact that they use blogs and social networks to happily spread their message, yet they denounce the evils of technology as a whole, and of the internet in particular, which is the means by which the system achieves “the daily overproduction of automatons that blindly serve it in maintaining the prevailing order”. Or the fact that they use the technology they claim to hate, to make their explosive devices. I cannot help but to think that if these people knew a little bit more about science and technology, they would be capable of building more effective devices; I guess that is the silver lining.
However, regardless of how absurd this group’s rhetoric is, it is necessary to take the threat that they pose to researchers seriously, as professor Gerardo Herrera Corral, brother of one of this group’s targets, mentioned in his commentary to Nature. After all, this organization is not striving to cause minor damages to research facilities; these individuals have created a black list of scientists, particularly nanotechnologists, proclaiming that their objective is to “mutilate and even kill these scientists, researchers, professors and similar scum that are reducing the Earth to mere urban waste”. “Logically we will continue with these actions, those scientists and other technotrash shall pay the consequences of their actions, and who better to do it than savage terrorists like us?”.
Finally, I would like to go back to the survey I mentioned earlier in this post, which tells us that 91% of the participants agree that “scientific discoveries are neither good nor evil, it is the use that we give them what matters”. However, just when you think you are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel you scroll down the survey to find out that 54.8% of them also think that “scientists are ultimately responsible for any misuse of their discoveries by other people”…ok, I give up!
About the Author:
Born in Mexico, Luciana has always been into science. Showing an uncanny
ability to withstand self-inflicted pain, she has navigated the murky waters
of academic life for the last decade, fiddling with diverse topics that go from
materials, to nanotechnology, and her latest fad, biotechnology. Between
immersions into the obscure world of experimental research, this lab rat will
try to come up to the surface to catch her breath and hopefully gain some
perspective while writing for Escéptica.