A Weapon of Mass Destruction is Growing in the Middle East

Mike Swetnam

The title will lead many to think that I am talking about Iran and its nuclear aspirations. Unfortunately, I think there is a more dangerous weapon than a nuclear bomb growing in the Middle East and it is growing in a country that we attacked because we thought it had weapons of mass destruction when it did not! Today, I think that Iraq does have a weapon of mass destruction.

Iraq has become home to ISIS, which bases its claims of legitimacy on the Koran. ISIS is a modern version of an Islamic Caliphate. Government based on religion. I claim this is a WMD, Weapon of Mass Destruction, that will spread like a biological weapon, kill indiscriminately like a chemical weapon, and be as lethal as a nuclear weapon.

A weapon against free thinking, secular civilizations. An ideology that is far more destructive then biological, chemical, or nuclear weapons.

We invaded ten years ago because we thought Iraq had WMD and we were wrong. Today Iraq has WMD, an Islamic Caliphate, and we sit by passively, making only token efforts of resistance, while this WMD grows and attacks the West.

Friday saw attacks in several Western countries that resulted in hundreds dead. All inspired by ISIS, the new WMD of the 21st century. Who in the world would sponsor or support such a movement of hate, destruction, and subjugation? Iran, who is by the way only months away from deployable, useable, real nuclear weapons! How long until ISIS has nuclear weapons to go with its evil words? I can not imagine a more apocalyptic WMD than ISIS in Iraq supported by Iran with nuclear weapons!

Yes, there are WMD in the Middle East.

Almost 70 years ago, a destructive ideology evolved in Europe, the Mediterranean, and Japan. It was an ideology that said some people are superior to others because of their race, religion, and their place in society. In Germany and Italy, it was the Jewish people who were called inferior and must be exterminated to keep the human race clean. In Japan, people were divided into those whose breeding made them superior and those who were not worth being called human. These ideologies led to a massive world war where 60 million people died.

Throughout the 1930’s, the USA stood back and watched the growth of this insidious ideology. We did not enter the conflict until very late in the war.

Will we wait while this new WMD, the ISIS-Islamic Caliphate, this new Hitler, consumes more of the world? Or will we stand for the secular freedoms that make the USA what it is: the world’s shining light of hope and freedom.

Many historical scholars have noted that the USA acted almost too late in 1941 to stop Hitler, Mussolini, and Hirohito from taking over the world. Will we wait too long this time?

What Secular Government Really Means

Mike Swetnam

This Friday was marked by a seminal and controversial Supreme Court ruling. The court ruled that no state can define marriage based on sex. In other words, it is against the US Constitution to discriminate against same sex marriage. No state can define marriage in a way that biases or discriminates against one or both sexes.

This Friday was also marked with several terror attacks where dozens died. These attacks were encouraged, if not sponsored, by ISIS and Al Qaeda. They were attacks against Western countries because these societies do not govern their populations based on the teachings and rules of Islam. ISIS says that if we do not convert and live they way their religion says, we should die.

The Sunday talk shows are full of pundits making demagoguery statements on one side or the other about the Supreme Court ruling while mostly ignoring the Friday terror attacks. Few noted the ironic connection between these events. The US Supreme Court endorses personal freedom from religious definitions of marriage while ISIS sponsors terror to promote an theocratic/religious state.

Those against the ruling claim that the court invented law or that the court ruled against the wishes of the people in states where marriage was defined as between a man and a woman. They mostly claim that this discriminates against those whose religion defines marriage as such. I remember similar arguments in the 1960’s against laws and court rulings that allowed all Americans to go to the same schools regardless of race. It made it illegal to refuse service to any American: black, white, or in between.

Those for the ruling see the issue as one of pure rights. The right to marry who you want. The right to not be discriminated against because you love someone.

The one thing that has defined the United States since the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock is our unwavering adherence to secularism. We have refused, from the very beginning, to base our government, governance, or policy on religion. Saying that marriage is such and such because that is the way my religion defines it is EXACTLY the same as ISIS saying woman must wear veils in public or adulterers must be stoned to death because their religion says so. Secular governments, of which the USA is the prime example, do not base their laws or policy on their religion or faith.

In the USA, we strongly believe that no one should EVER be discriminated against because of race, creed, color, or sex. To tell someone they cannot do something like get married because they are not a man and a woman is discriminatory. Just as discriminatory as telling someone they cannot marry a black American, or cannot join the military because they are female, etc. Or to attack and kill anyone who does not believe in Islam.

We should not discriminate against those who believe marriage is between a man and a woman and it is now illegal for them to discriminate against those who have different beliefs. We should not act like ISIS and AQ, attacking those who do not believe as we do.

Further, the United States stands for rational governance based on reason and the good of all versus the good of a few. We stand for science. We stand for laws and policy that demonstrate the good of all of us. Our laws and our policies are meant to be as non-intrusive as possible while guaranteeing that each person’s belief is respected and preserved if possible. At the Institute, we call that rational policy instead of belief-driven policy.

The United States stands for free thought as much as free religion. It stands for freedom to live the way you want, believe what you want, and now marry who you want!

These are the things ISIS and Al Queda fight against.

On Friday, the Supreme Court made the best statement the USA can make to ISIS. We told them that we do not believe in government by religion. We should take a moment to be proud, but then we should echo this message of secularism to all people in the world. These are the principles that will defeat the growing threats we see in Iraq.

Dylann Roof is a Terrorist, and We Could Have Caught It

Charles Mueller

Dylann Roof, the 21-year-old Caucasian male who gunned down nine innocent African-American churchgoers on Wednesday night, is a terrorist. This person is not crazy, he is a terrorist. This crime was about hate, it was meant to invoke fear into the people of the United States, and it has succeeded. Despite the obviousness that this was an act of terror, this horrible stain on United States’ history is being touted by the mainstream media as being just another unfortunate “mass shooting” and considered a hate crime. His actions speak to bigger problem than an act of intolerance. Dylann Roof is an American terrorist, and until we chose to recognize this for what it is, the problem is only going to repeat itself.

America is built on tolerance of religions and has become a beacon of hope for people around the world. Allowing these types of actions to perpetuate as hate crimes hurts the American people. His actions are very different than the unfortunate lone-wolf situations at Sandy Hook, MA, Virginia Tech, and Aurora, CO. These actors were not there to scare or harm a specific population. They did not care who was in the room; everyone was going to suffer. Dylann Roof targeted a population of people that he thought did not deserve to live.

Let’s take it from the top. On Wednesday night, Dylann Roof walked into the Emanuel A.M.E Church in Charleston, SC. He sat in the back of the church for about an hour and refused to engage with those there. Then he got up, pulled out his gun, and told the room of people that he was going to “shoot all of you”. When Tywanza Sanders tried to calmly talk him out of violence saying that, “You don’t have to do this”, Dylann Roof responded by saying, “Yes. You are raping our women and taking over the country.” He then proceeded to murder innocent people in cold-blood and left one woman alive so she could tell the world what happened. Dylann Roof was a well-known racist among the people who knew him. He hated African-Americans. The terrorist had on his Facebook page a picture of himself wearing the flags of the apartheid-era South Africa, and of Rhodesia. His roommate Dalton Tyler reported that Dylann Roof had been “planning something like that for 6 months” and noted, “He said he wanted to start a civil war.” He is known to be an extremist. His actions are clearly a case of domestic terrorism intended to intimidate a civilian population. His actions were calculated. How is this coward not a terrorist? This is more than just a hate-crime; this is state-fostered terrorism.

It is an abomination that people are refusing to call this what it is: terrorizing a population. The mainstream media has downplayed the reality and severity of this attack. When two people who supported the Muslim faith planned to attack the venue of a provocative cartoon contest in Texas, the media and government had no problem calling that plot a do-it-yourself terror plot inspired by ISIS. All over the news you saw headlines about the “Texas Terror Plot”. After a racist white coward gunned down nine-innocent African-Americans the media referred to this as “tragedy” and a “mass murder”. One mainstream media outlet even tried to spin this as a war on Christianity and declared that in response to this we should consider arming our churches with guns so they could defend themselves. The news comedian Jon Stewart spoke without a hint of jokes and called this out. This was a terrorist attack plain and simple. This was not a crazy person killing people. This was a terrorist attacking the people of the United States.

By refusing to call this terrorism, it means we will not be taking the necessary precautions to defend the people of the United States against these kinds of terrorist acts. Instead of simply focusing on lone-wolves inspired by ISIS, we should be using the tools we have to defend our national security to find the lone-wolves inspired by the other extremist groups like the KKK. Why is one form of terrorism something we can turn a blind eye too and another form something we will go to war over?

We have technology and the capabilities to identify terrorists who attack our nation. We could have identified Dylann Roof before this happened and possibly intervened had we monitored his actions as we do with other potential terrorists. By refusing to classify these types of acts as acts of terror we will continue to let potential terrorists roam free and will remain surprised when they finally go “crazy” and kill innocent Americans. A terrorist is anybody willing to kill in order to promote his or her cause. There is absolutely no question that Dylann Roof is a terrorist and calling him anything else is only going to make the rest of the world question the legitimacy of our fight against terrorism.

A Call for Change: Embracing the Diversity of Sentience

Charles Mueller

The downfall of humanity could very well be our inability to recognize that we are, in fact, all supposed to be different. This flaw in the cultural ideologies that permeate every society around the globe forces the vast majority of us to fear and demonize our differences rather than embrace them. It is the cause for all of our wars, all of the violence, and all of the hate we’ve seen and continue to see every day. In reality though, there is no us vs. them, or this group or that. There is no bell curve of intelligent souls. Until we recognize this fundamental truth, we will continue to experience the pain and suffering that casual discrimination begets. If we want a better future, we need to start by having a bigger conversation with ourselves and with each other about accepting that everyone should be different.

There is another reason that starting this conversation is important. There are thousands of brilliant minds working extremely hard everyday to develop a computational model of human intelligence that is commonly referred to as artificial intelligence, or AI. Artificial intelligence is kind of a misnomer because there is really no such thing as “artificial” intelligence: there is only intelligence. Intelligence is a trait of any sentient being regardless of whether this greater awareness depends on biological or electromagnetic phenomena. As the great minds working to create sentient life from computers get closer to their goal, the conversation that continues to dominate the media is about how we are going to deal with them and if these new intelligent beings are going to take over the world. This is the wrong conversation. When the human race finally does come into contact with another sentient intelligence, we need to embrace it for being what it is and not worry about how to control what it will become. Our first conversation needs to be one that rises above discrimination and accepts that all sentient intelligence is supposed to be different and the only thing we have in common is that we are aware, that we are in a sense alive.

It is unclear when exactly humanity will have this conversation with another sentient intelligence and who will be present when it occurs. There are some that believe another sentient intelligence will simply emerge as S&T reaches new bounds and others that think were only years away from creating it in a lab. The uncertainty about how and when this conversation will take place means that we will almost certainly not be prepared for it when it happens. If we want to make sure our first conversation with another sentient intelligence sets the right precedent for that future relationship, then we need a culture change that values differences. If we can instill the notion around the world that intelligent beings are supposed to be different and that we are not supposed to think or act the same now, then we won’t have to worry about having the right plan in place for when another sentient being makes contact with humanity.

Let’s start a bigger conversation today. Let’s see each other for who we are and embrace it. Let’s bring out the true human potential by recognizing we are all different and that is what makes us the same.

We’re All Special

Jennifer Buss

You are special. You are one of a kind. No one else is just like you. Just like no two snowflakes are the same, you are unique. We hear these cliché statements all the time, yet we all try to be just like everyone else. We should cherish our individuality. It’s time we start recognizing the whole truth in these statements, and not just to make ourselves feel good. Each of us has a very different personality, unique physical identifiers, and even more microscopic diversity within our bodies. Humans (and all life forms) have such diversity such that no two are exactly the same. Each person has different life experiences that play into their personality and perception on reality.

The genetic diversity evidence alone indicates that every human is unique based on not only their DNA sequence, but also the environment that they encounter from birth. Every experience of our lives thus changes our bodies and minds in ways that are quantifiable. As we develop, our brains form their own networks and pathways so that identical twins don’t even have the same brain structure. It is because of their unique experience in life that makes identical twins different human beings. The anatomical differences in their brains are just one of many key factors that make identical twins, well, not identical. We should cherish this difference! The individuality is what we are proud of, not being the same as everyone else.

These differences are what make us people, and make us special. In the medical world, we are hardly treated as individuals. Rather, we are treated as a demographic of people. My heart rate, blood pressure, etc. are probably not the same for all people of my demographic, and I should not be treated according to that average. I should be treated according to my own averages. But doctors from the very beginning follow growth charts for infants and parents feel their child needs to meet the standard criteria to be accepted in society. My intellect does not need to be “on par” with any certain group of people – I have a certain knowledge base from the experiences I have had in my life. The life experiences I try to communicate with other people are probably not thoroughly understood because other people don’t have all the same experiences as me to know how I felt or what I was thinking. Even when I share my feelings and emotions with someone else, it’s incomplete because they don’t have all the background that I have to fully grasp where I am coming from.

Each of us has a unique set of experiences and emotions and knowledge and biology to make us who we are. We should be proud of our individuality and be recognized for being one person, not part of the group. Each of us should be judged against ourselves, not compared to other people.

In our social circles, we are too quick to revert to being like everyone else, not an individual. It is in this social environment that we begin stereotyping and classifying groups of people that, when you really think about it, are not true at all. Each person in that group is not like any of the other people there. We could classify them hundreds of different ways so the one way that we’re choosing to classify them today is a misnomer. We’re all individuals, coming from different life experiences and knowledge sets, living in this world together.

It isn’t about me versus you, or us versus them. No one is like anyone else on this planet. We are not the same and should stop trying to categorize everyone as being just like other people. Just like mamma always said, You Are Special.

Spring Buzz

Kathy Goodson

It’s springtime in DC, which means a time for new beginnings. The birds are chirping, the flowers are blooming, and the presidential candidates are beginning to unveil themselves. It’s a perfect time to talk about science communication. Public perception of science has been hit hard lately with recent episodes of misinformation, peer-review gangs, and overall confusion. With the fresh-faced candidates on the scene, we should hope to see new mediums to revitalize the presentation of how science affects society. Every facet of our life is permeated by science and I’m excited to see their takes on how science affects the world. What stance are they taking? How does that play into the bigger picture? What will that mean for the future of the United States?

As each candidate starts to release their platforms, we should evaluate what they are communicating, how they are communicating, and to whom they are communicating. In our modern world, political figures communicate science through the foothold of political context. We should expect our leaders to practice informed decision-making. Science communication at its best is a full conversation, which is both informative and educational. The more the public knows about science, the better we can understand how, why, and what policy decisions are being made.

As we fortify our country with new technologies, preserve our environment, and make literal leaps into deep space we all have a right to be a part of the conversation. Science communication is a science in of itself. It’s a necessary tool for successful communication between scientists and non-scientists alike. I hope our future leaders will help us to be a part of this conversation. In addition, since political leaders can shape this conversation, we should challenge them to use science communication to raise our standard of science public literacy.

This spring, we have the opportunity for a new beginning, a new President, a new type of leader that is not reactionary but rather bases decisions on a strategic plan for our future. Science communication is important and I can’t wait to start having this discussion with our new leaders.

A Call For Science Representation

Charles Mueller and Jennifer Buss

The US Government spent over $300,000 taxpayer dollars to prove that hungry people are angrier than well-fed people. Of course, the government also invested taxpayer money into a research project that created a company valued at over $250 billion dollars, Google. Why are the government’s investments in science so varied in their outcomes? How does the government decide what to invest in? Do they turn to the people and ask them? The answer is no. The truth is that the government turns to a small group of experts and hopes that they make they right choices. These experts determine how to allocate taxpayer dollars in ways they deem fit. This model assumes that people are unqualified to weigh in on such decisions or simply that they don’t want to. This is hogwash. You do not `have to be a rocket scientist to understand that investing almost $1 million dollars in scientific research aimed at teaching a mountain lion to walk on a treadmill is not a good investment. People want to have a voice in science, but they do not have a vehicle to carry their voice. Let’s give people a voice by giving them a science state representative.

In a democracy, the people’s voice is supposed to be championed by an elected representative who will carry their voice to the places that matter. Science and technology (S&T) has never been more important and influential in Americans’ lives than they are today, yet our elected representatives cannot properly address important S&T policy issues because they are bogged down by other obligations; not to mention, most are not qualified to properly weigh in on S&T issues. Rather than expecting our traditional representatives to become experts on S&T policy, we should create a new voice for the people when it comes to science and elect a science representative from each state.

The National Science Foundation’s (NSF) mission is “to promote the progress of science”, amongst other things. This year, they received $6 billion dollars to do just that. Whose voices do they listen to when they decide the best way to use their $6 billion dollars to promote the progress of science? As of now, the only thing that is certain is that it is not the voice of the people. This is evident by the recent news that the NSF has been under scrutiny for funding research efforts that were not justified or in the ‘national interest’. Instead of allowing currently funded NSF researchers to peer-review grants at NSF, we could allow technically qualified elected officials to do the reviewing and make the national interest decisions. This would be giving the power back to the people.

It is time for us to decide who we want to represent our science standings to the government, rather than expect our current elected officials to have to do both. We (the people) should be choosing what science gets funded – not the scientists. It is our tax dollars at work. We should have a say, and we can elect people that will do that for us. Our current elected officials do not have the time or the expertise to address the many important science policy issues that exist today. Let’s choose people based on their credentials that will represent our wishes to allocate funds based on the state population. Let’s choose people who bring the science issues we think are important to the floor to be debated in Congress. Let’s take the first step in creating a people’s voice in science and establish a science representative from each state that would provide advising to the congress, the agencies, and create a national science agenda for the US.