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A Politically Correct Book About Nanotechnology Disarms the West

Friday, 13 February 2004 12:00 AM

I discussed its two authors with nanotechnologists. Mark A. Ratner (the father) is a very well-regarded scientist. But his son Dan, who figures as the first author, ahead of his father, has done his father a disservice: The book represents the worst case of “political correctness,” is light on science, bloated on arrogance and concentrates on trivia.

The book jacket says above the title: “New Weapons for New Wars.” What? Do the Ratners refer to China’s possible molecular nano war on the United States? Good heavens! How can anyone think of such absolutely impossible horrors?

When the Chinese “president” came to Paris on Jan. 26 for a four-day visit, the Eiffel Tower was “lit up in red for the occasion.” Do you understand the symbolism? China is red (Vivat!), and a quarter of French voters voted for Communism even after Khrushchev had exposed Stalin as “our Hitler, only worse.”

Don’t worry about the Ratners’ political correctness – the title of the blurb on the flap of the jacket of their book makes it clear: “How Nanotechnology Will Transform the War on Terror.” Meant by “new wars” is “the war on terror,” which is very PC, and, indeed, “the war on terror” is an official term and slogan.

But when writing a book claimed to be scientific, the two authors ought to have asked themselves what this term or slogan they use exactly means.

Terror is an attack by one person or a gang, motivated not by greed, jealousy, revenge, etc., as “common crime” is, but by political, religious or ideological motives.

However, in terms of police detection, it is even more difficult to apprehend terrorists than common criminals. That terrorist who sent out letters containing anthrax in 2001 has not been apprehended as of 2004.

The wars launched by ideological dictatorships of the 20th century were global-scale terrorist acts, but it has become customary to call them by a neutral word: wars. That polite convention dispensed with the need in the democratic West in 1938 to think of Hitler as a global-scale terrorist whose victims would be not 3,000, as on Sept. 11 in New York and Washington, D.C., but dozens of millions.

This PC convention delivers the Ratners from the need to discuss the role of nanotechnology in “new wars,” that is, in global-scale terrorism.

Well, there is no doubt that in the detection and apprehension of individual terrorists and terrorist gangs, nanotechnology will make its contribution though the Ratners are too cocksure about it in the spirit of the PC “war on terror” to be won by “Homeland Security” via nanotechnology.

If those who lived in the mid-19th century had been told that ere long it would be possible to install a tiny microphone wherever a suspect lives or suspects congregate, they would have predicted that common crime and terrorism in the conventional sense of the word would be over. But the number of common murders in the United States exceeds a thousand each month, and in Iraq American soldiers are being killed with deliberate inexorable regularity.

But what about global-scale terrorism, called by such respectful names as the Second World War? On p. 14 of “Nanotechnology ...” there begins a chapter entitled “What Nanotechnology Is Not.” You see, there are ignoramuses in our midst who imagine (contrary to the Ratners) that nanotechnology may be not only beneficial (as in the detection and apprehension of terrorists and terrorist gangs), but also destructive, as in weapons for global-scale terrorism, politely called “war” or “world war.”

The first paragraph of this chapter reads:

“There are a few common misconceptions about what nanotechnology is. For the most part, these misconceptions arise from the portrayal of nanotechnology in science fiction, and they have become so fixed in the public attention that they distract from the genuine promise of the nanoscale. The first of these misconceptions is the concept of molecular assemblers.”

The concept of molecular assemblers was introduced in 1986 by Eric Drexler, a scientist of genius, the founder of nanotechnology, as enunciated in his seminal study of 1986, subtitled “The Coming Era of Nanotechnology.”

The Ratners demonstrate outstanding insolence by attributing his concept to “science fiction.” Incidentally, by his sci-fi piece, published in the 19th century about the use of microorganisms as weapons, Wells contributed more to science, scientific prediction and foresight than do the two authors by their “Nanotechnology ....” Project 863, founded in China in 1986, originally concentrated on genetic engineering, apart from six other fields. Wells was a man of genius in his field, while Dan Ratner is an amazingly insolent mediocrity.

But for the Ratners, “science fiction” is not Wells, but “thrillers,” hackwork for entertainment, the opposite of science.

From the first slanderous paragraph of the chapter, the Ratners flow into the next paragraph – about Eric Drexler: “Let’s start by examining molecular assemblers.” Not mentioning a single book of his, the Ratners reinforce the impression that this scientist of genius, who founded nanotechnology in 1986, is just part and parcel of “sci-fi.”

His guilt is his insistence that, apart from all its benefits (which he described in his seminal study of 1986), nanotechnology may lead to the development of weapons of unprecedented global-scale destruction, and this is not politically correct.

Hence, the Ratners argue on the next four pages that these weapons “are either impossible or are at best in our far distant future, and it’s worth looking at a few of them in order to read sci-fi without nightmares.”

Their demonstration is simplicity itself. Thus, on pp. 16-17 the Ratners imagine (why not?) that a molecular assembler has no power source, communications or control circuitry, and then declare in triumph that with no power source, communications channel or control circuitry, molecular assemblers cannot function. How true! The Ratners have exposed a figment of their own imagination.

In the preface to his second seminal study, “Nanosystems,” Eric Drexler wrote (p. XVIII):

“Research in molecular technology requires a design perspective because it aims to describe workable systems. It is easy to describe unworkable systems, and criticisms of a critic’s own bad design have on occasion been presented as if they were criticisms of molecular nanotechnology as a whole.”

Curiously, the Ratners say not that molecular nanoweapons are impossible in principle, but that they are possible only “in our distant future.” But the time frame of a scientific result depends on the level, scope and intensity of the research, which depends on the scale of government funding, for private investors will not fund the development of weapons bringing survival, not profit.

If Drexler’s Foresight Institute had become a molecular nanotech Manhattan Project in 1986, and had been funded by the government accordingly, molecular nanoweapons, necessary for nano retaliation and for the development of defense against them, could have emerged years ago. Without U.S. government funding, they may not emerge in the United States at all, despite all the fairy tales about “black” nanotech Manhattan Projects, and China may nano-annihilate the United States with impunity or enforce its unconditional surrender.

The Ratners meant to demonstrate that molecular nanoweapons “are either impossible or are at best in our distant future.” Some German and American scientists demonstrated honestly and more competently that nuclear weapons were impossible in our near future. No one in Germany could vouch to Hitler that nuclear weapons “are possible in our near future.”

In the United States, skepticism was so great that the Manhattan Project did not come into its own until 1942 – and even then it did for fear that Hitler’s Germany, at war with the United States, might develop nuclear weapons ahead of the United States.

The Ratners’ demonstration is unscientific in principle. Science predicts scientific results via hypotheses and probabilities, not via absolute certainties. Einstein did not say in his letter to Roosevelt that the emergence of nuclear weapons in Germany, before it had been defeated, was an absolute certainty.

Nor has Drexler said that the emergence of molecular nanoweapons in China is an absolute certainty “in the near future,” such as two, three or four years.

Now, the Ratners meant to demonstrate that the non-emergence of molecular nano weapons (except in “our distant future”) is an absolute certainty, which only sci-fi can dispute. Their opinion is not hypothetical or probabilistic, but dogmatic, absolute and conformist (politically correct as of today).

But apart from being scientifically illiterate, the Ratners’ “demonstration” is illiterate politically.

Their declaration is like the declaration that a fire is absolutely impossible in a building because there are no children inside playing with matches near jerrycans of gasoline. But what if? The entire firefighting is based on “what if,” and not on “demonstrations” that a fire is absolutely impossible.

The U.S. Manhattan Project was based on the question “What if nuclear weapons are possible in our near future, and Hitler develops them ahead of us?” What if molecular nanoweapons are possible and the dictators of China develop them ahead of us?

Will the Ratners in the last seconds of nano annihilation of the United States shout that Drexler was right after all, and the American people are being annihilated as in sci-fi and contrary to the two authors’ four-page demonstration that this is absolutely impossible in our near future?

For information about the Center for the Survival of Western Democracy, Inc., including how you can help, please e-mail me at

The link to my book online is www.levnavrozov.com. You can also request our

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I discussed its two authors with nanotechnologists.Mark A. Ratner (the father) is a very well-regarded scientist.But his son Dan, who figures as the first author, ahead of his father, has done his father a disservice: The book represents the worst case of "political...
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Friday, 13 February 2004 12:00 AM
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