Wednesday, May 31, 2006
The War on Geeks 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Thanks to the longstanding "War on Drugs"' recent shift-of-focus to clandestine methamphetamine labs, science hobbyists, supply merchants, and even students are now finding themselves the target of police raids - for simple possession of laboratory equipment, even if no illegal activity has taken place. From WIRED, "Don't Try This at Home" by Steve Silberman:
The first startling thing Joy White saw out of her bedroom window was a man running toward her door with an M16. White's husband, a physicist named Bob Lazar, was already outside, awakened by their barking dogs. Suddenly police officers and men in camouflage swarmed up the path, hoisting a battering ram. "Come out with your hands up immediately, Miss White!" one of them yelled through a megaphone, while another handcuffed the physicist in his underwear. Recalling that June morning in 2003, Lazar says, "If they were expecting to find Osama bin Laden, they brought along enough guys."

The target of this operation, which involved more than two dozen police officers and federal agents, was not an international terrorist ring but the couple’s home business, United Nuclear Scientific Supplies, a mail-order outfit that serves amateur scientists, students, teachers, and law enforcement professionals.
The search was initiated by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, a federal agency best known for instigating recalls of faulty cribs and fire-prone space heaters. The CPSC’s concern with United Nuclear was not the uranium, the magnets, or the backyard accelerator. It was the chemicals – specifically sulfur, potassium perchlorate, and powdered aluminum, all of which can be used to make illegal fireworks. The agency suspected that Lazar and White were selling what amounted to kits for making M-80s, cherry bombs, and other prohibited items; such kits are banned by the CPSC under the Federal Hazardous Substances Act. [read full article]
The article goes on to detail similar police raids and investigations, and how our growing cultural fear of technology and zeal for prosecuting real or imagined drug "labs" threatens to raise a crop of kids who are neither comfortable with - nor curious about - investigating the world around them through science.

It's sad, really; somewhere in my parents' attic there are still boxes full of chemical glassware and apparatus I owned and used in science experiments as a youngster. Good thing they don't live in a state like Texas, because those dusty relics could get them into a world of trouble today.
To Bill Nye, the "Science Guy" who hosted an Emmy award-winning series on PBS in the 1990s, unreasonable fears about chemicals and home experimentation reflect a distrust of scientific expertise taking hold in society at large. "People who want to make meth will find ways to do it that don’t require an Erlenmeyer flask. But raising a generation of people who are technically incompetent is a recipe for disaster."
He's got a point. Allow this cultural mentality to "cook" for 20 or 30 years, and don't be surprised if we're outsourcing most of our technology to other countries. It's not too far of a stretch from marginalizing (and demonizing) scientific thought to America demoting itself to a technological Third World nation in the not-so-distant future.

Interesting sidenote (and I don't mention this to cast any aspersions; certainly it doesn't excuse the type of police-state action that took place here): Bob Lazar is also a well known conspiracy theorist who has published numerous books, videos, and lectures on alleged alien technology reverse engineering at the infamous "Area 51" in the Nevada desert.

[via Drug WarRant]