The War on Garage Science

...among other things.

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. From the outside, company headquarters – at the end of a dirt road high in the Sandia Mountains east of Albuquerque – looks like any other ranch house in New Mexico, with three dogs, a barbecue, and an SUV in the driveway. But not every suburban household boasts its own particle accelerator. A stroll through the backyard reveals what looks like a giant Van de Graaff generator with a pipe spiraling out of it, marked with CAUTION: RADIATION signs. A sticker on the SUV reads POWERED BY HYDROGEN, while another sign by the front gate warns, TRESPASSERS WILL BE USED FOR SCIENCE EXPERIMENTS/blockquote>

From a Wired Story: Don't Try This at Home: Garage chemistry used to be a rite of passage for geeky kids. But in their search for terrorist cells and meth labs, authorities are making a federal case out of DIY science.

This is bad for innovation, as the article makes plenty clear:

“To criminalize the necessary materials of discovery is one of the worst things you can do in a free society,” says Shawn Carlson, a 1999 MacArthur fellow and founder of the Society for Amateur Scientists. “The Mr. Coffee machine that every Texas legislator has near his desk has three violations of the law built into it: a filter funnel, a Pyrex beaker, and a heating element. The laws against meth should be the deterrent to making it – not criminalizing activities that train young people to appreciate science.”

When I was in high school, I got in trouble for taking home a small amount of nitric acid from a chem lab experiment (perhaps 20 ml). I was questioned on whether I was going to use it to make bombs (not that 20 ml of nitric acid makes much of a bomb!), and I insisted (falsely) that I just wanted to dissolve things. Nowadays, it seems, the consequences would be much more severe.

I've said this before, and I'll say it again, for those few who may still be in denial about who is victimized by the growing police state and it's reactionary nannying policies. Most of the people at risk for being harmed are not terrorists, criminals, or evil-doers. They are your friends and neighbors, and productive, upstanding (if eccentric) members of society such as myself, who are far more numerous. If all of the consensual, harmless things I've done in my life were proven in a court of law, I'd be put behind bars for decades.

It's easy to dismiss libertarians as hating the state and its agents because of a petty anti-authoritarian bias, because of greed, because they are too enamored of theory, or because of a selfish desire not to help provide for the common good. And I admit to all of those motivations. But I also hate the state because it thinks that I should be thrown in jail for my hobbies, and I only walk free because it hasn't caught me yet.

That is not so easy to dismiss.

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Patri's last point about the

Patri's last point about the state is a good one. The state has already declared many of us its enemies and has sworn to commit violence against us as soon as it finds the opportunity. I'd say that justifies reciprocal hostility.

So if you didn't want to

So if you didn't want to dissolve stuff, then what did you want to do with that nitric acid?

Are you sure they were just

Are you sure they were just going after him for selling stuff that could be used for making explosives and not for talking in a radio interview about how he reverse engineered the Roswell UFO at Area S4 when he worked for Los Alamos?

Actually, I'm sure it's just a coincidence because if they really wanted to they could have disappeared him long ago, though doing that too soon after the radio interview might have lent a little too much credence to his claims.

I find it somewhat odd that Wired either didn't pick up on that or knew about it and didn't mention it.

(Note: I am in *no way* trying to discredit Lazar - the UFO connection will come out sooner or later anyway and I think it's interesting)

This problem is only going

This problem is only going to keep growing. Meth labs are one thing; a hobbyist virus capable of killing a significant fraction of humanity is another.

I don't know how to solve this, beyond pointing to David Brin's Transparent Society idea and fervently praying that all the details work out satisfactorily.

Make explosives in minute

Make explosives in minute quantities. Which one might call bombs, but it seemed imprudent to do so at the time.

Remember, we're all

Remember, we're all criminals. It's impossible to live in America, or any modern nation-state, without running afoul of one of the myriad laws you're required (but unable to) know about. Ergo, it should be pretty clear that almost any actions can be justified on these, or other grounds.

:furious: The smiley says it all.

The problem is that diseases

The problem is that diseases are parasites, dependent on their hosts. Which means they have a huge genetic incentive not to be deadly (or at least “too” deadly).

It’s very hard to make a virus that both kills a significant portion of it’s victims and spreads widely and rapidly. The worse it lays you up and the faster it kills you, the less able it is to get to the next host.

True. Biotech might not be powerful enough to achieve something close to the "desired behavior" (infect just about everyone in the target population, and then kill them all simultaneously); some serious nanotech may be required as well.

So I take a David Friedman-ish view on that. Let’s start worrying about it when it’s a near-term concern and we know what we’ll have to work with.

I do agree with this sentiment; without self-rep to worry about yet, existing restrictions on garage science are excessive. I was just pointing out that the concept of having restrictions isn't invalid.

Virus delivery is a *much*

Virus delivery is a *much* harder problem than fear mongers make it sound.

Do you seriously think that ethical considerations are what has stopped us from testing and deploying biological war agents?

The problem is that diseases are parasites, dependent on their hosts. Which means they have a *huge* genetic incentive not to be deadly (or at least "too" deadly).

It's very hard to make a virus that both kills a significant portion of it's victims *and* spreads widely and rapidly. The worse it lays you up and the faster it kills you, the less able it is to get to the next host.

I don't doubt that genetic engineering will ultimately get to the point where we can create nasty killer viruses that make Ebola and HIV look like a common cold, but that time is not now or even all that soon.

I think it's going to be long enough before hobbyists can generate a biological threat on the scale of a massive terror attack (like 9/11) that we have no concept of the technology which will be available to counter such threats once it happens.

So I take a David Friedman-ish view on that. Let's start worrying about it when it's a near-term concern and we know what we'll have to work with.

I think it's an even better candidate for the "leave-it-alone" ethic than global warming, frankly. Leaving carbon emissions alone carries some risk that we don't get enough richer or find enough new technology to have a better solution 50-100 years from now than today. Because one painful known solution that would work to an extent today (lowering emissions) won't do diddly if we wait 50-100 years. OTOH, any solution to potential hobbyist bio-terrorists that we could come up with today, will work in 20-30 years just as well.

Ah, yes, explosives. One of

Ah, yes, explosives.
One of the advantages of my youth was that I could dabble in destruction with less worry about getting in trouble.

I remember one time a friend and I were making bombs using his dad's [shotgun shell] reloading powder. Of course they were loud and eventually, the local Sherrif's deputy came by (essentially the only cop in town).
When he asked what we were doing, we told him. He sternly but matter-of-factly told us that maybe that was something we shouldn't be doing inside city limits, (because of the noise!), and suggested that we take it to a field.

They were fun little bombs, all cannon fuse, gunpowder, and cardboard tube. Dangerous, sure, but we were pretty cautious.

I'm sure these days the local police might be more scittish (particularly the highway patrol), but because everyone knew everyone, I don't think so.

Naa, I just got through

Naa, I just got through childhood and as recently as 5 years ago I was building bombs and setting them off. It is a much larger town, but the cop still let it slide. He just suggested we move it further away from the highway.

[...] only walk free because

[...] only walk free because it hasn’t caught me yet. That is not so easy to dismiss. Read the whole thing. [...]

We’re all

We’re all Libertarians
Patri Friedman over at Catallarchy writes:
I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again, for those few who may still be in denial about who is victimized by the growing police state and it’s reactionary nannying policies. Most of the people at ri...

Chemistry

Chemistry Experiments
Scientists must experiment and kids will have fun! Yes, the CPSC, your local city nannycrats and the narcothugs work hard to keep you from learning chemistry, shooting off fireworks and stopping your runny nose. In spite of these ill conceived efforts ...

"I find it somewhat odd that

"I find it somewhat odd that Wired either didn’t pick up on that or knew about it and didn’t mention it.

(Note: I am in no way trying to discredit Lazar - the UFO connection will come out sooner or later anyway and I think it’s interesting)"

If it's the same Lazar, and he was a primary source for the story, that casts it in doubt. The guy is either delusional or dishonest--he's fabricated his educational history, his claims about physics and element 115 make no sense, his UFO stories are nonsense.

all i have to say

all i have to say is:furious::behead::bigcry::mad::no::bomb::dead::neutral: