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American Science: Addicted to Pentagon Cash?

michael posted more than 11 years ago | from the ethics-not-included dept.

The Almighty Buck 637

An anonymous submitter writes: "In totalitarian states the military can compel scientists to perform research for weapons systems. That's not true in the United States, yet American scientists who refuse military work are exceedingly rare today. This may be in part because scientists, like most other citizens, agree that the U.S. is facing dangerous foes. But some dissidents argue the cause is more likely that Pentagon cash has become an addiction that scientists rationalize by working on 'dual use' technologies -- radar that maps planets and guides missiles; robots that peer through smoke in apartment fires to rescue victims, and through battlefield smoke to find human targets."

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In Soviet Russia (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6914524)

In Soviet Russia, the military work refuses the scientists.

It doesn't matter... (3, Insightful)

nairb107 (596097) | more than 11 years ago | (#6914527)

...if the scientists don't to develop technology with the Pentagon's Money for fear it will be used for destruction. If they develop the technology otherwise and the pentagon wants to use it for war they will anyway...and still take the credit. So why not take the cash and go with it?

Re:It does matter... (2)

cheeseSource (605209) | more than 11 years ago | (#6914609)

Ethics might be a good reason. It's difficult to rationalize taking blood money just because what you create might end up being used for bad purposes.

Well, it used to be it's sharp business.

Re:It does matter... (0)

nairb107 (596097) | more than 11 years ago | (#6914641)

true...but would you rather that you take the money to be used for constructive purposes as well as a military use, or the chance that it will soley be used for destructive development?

Re:It does matter... (1)

tuba_dude (584287) | more than 11 years ago | (#6914805)

You could always try to achieve the pipe dream of making wars unnessecary.

Re:It doesn't matter... (5, Interesting)

xyzzy (10685) | more than 11 years ago | (#6914796)

Seriously. The guy who says "don't even speculate on how my [robots] will be used for military purposes or I will hold you responsible" is doing the scientific equivalent of holding his fingers in his ears and going "la la la la I can't hear you la la la".

If he's worried about the military import of his work, he should not do the work. Picking and choosing among the money is splitting hairs beyond that point. The reason so much "interesting" tech is now funded by the military is that we live in a high-tech society -- it isn't all just a-bombs and battleships and radar any more.

popcorn busting through the windows! (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6914534)

Just wait until those unaware college kids find out that they're working on secret government projects, we all know what happened [] to Dr. Hathaway after Mitch and Chris Knight got through with him!

Military Ca$h (5, Interesting)

grub (11606) | more than 11 years ago | (#6914535)

Funny, many people ragged on Theo de Raadt [] when he said "I try to convince myself that our grant means a half of a cruise missile doesn't get built." [] Yes these scientists are being painted as super-duper people with minty-fresh breath because they seemingly have some of the same convictions.

Re:Military Ca$h (5, Funny)

keester (646050) | more than 11 years ago | (#6914544)

Yeah, well, that grant was revoked. Maybe he should have kept his big mouth shut.

Overlords! (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6914545)

I for one welcome our new robot overlords...

in soviet russia... (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6914546)

oh, no...

in nazi america...

KILL them all (0, Flamebait)

xiopher (699208) | more than 11 years ago | (#6914547)

And let the government/God sort them out.

I dare say... (1)

mgcsinc (681597) | more than 11 years ago | (#6914551)

I dare say that thr problem comes not with the development of dual-use technologies; the other use may very well be a well-merited one. The problem really comes with single-use military development by scientists who could have their hours devoted to tasks which have an even more beneficial effect.

Re:I dare say... (1)

in7ane (678796) | more than 11 years ago | (#6914643)

Don't worry, this won't last long - we all know what happens to countries who spend too much on military R&D. And once it's over all the good scientists will be able to go to a non totalitarian country and carry on their non military research (for a while).

Re:I dare say... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6914747)

I hereby invoke the Patriot Act by declaring you a terrorist state for such comments and demanding that you divulge all personal details concerning yourself!

But... (2, Insightful)

Stargoat (658863) | more than 11 years ago | (#6914554)

But I thought we all loved DARPA cash?

Look under the hood.. (2, Interesting)

will_urbanski (634501) | more than 11 years ago | (#6914556)

we should worry about what's going on INSIDE the United States before worrying about what's going on OUTSIDE. What good does a new weapons system due if the problem comes from the inside, not some foreign country.

Re:Look under the hood.. (1)

vandan (151516) | more than 11 years ago | (#6914772)

Well said.

Oh boy...... (0)

southpolesammy (150094) | more than 11 years ago | (#6914558)

Here come the Johnny #5 posts....

Re:Oh boy...... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6914782)

what the hell is a johnny #5 post?!

NOT THE FIRST POST (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6914559)

If this the first post.. I will jump off the wtc....

pictures will be posted.


Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6914615)

Whoopty fucking doo, it's about an eigth of an inch high.

At what point... (-1, Troll)

moehoward (668736) | more than 11 years ago | (#6914568)

At what point does slashdot just go ahead and directly link each story to the Democratic Party's home page? I think it's long over due.

Liberal hippy punks!

Re:At what point... (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6914726)

you go to hell, and you die!

Hmm Pentagon cash (2, Insightful)

stratjakt (596332) | more than 11 years ago | (#6914580) all that cash thats been dumped into OSS by way of NSA linux, ReiserFS, etc, etc?

Those guys are all shameful murdering hypocrites too, lest we forget!

So...what so bad about it? (4, Interesting)

FileNotFound (85933) | more than 11 years ago | (#6914583)

Yeah ok, tax payers money, useless vapor ware technology, lobbying yadda yadda...

Still is it a bad thing that people are trying to develop technology even if the only purpose is war? TV, radio, even the internet were all initialy military projects. There is nothing "bad", "evil" or "immoral" about it. In the end it's technology and the military power that came with it which allows this country to exist as it does today. How you see that, good/bad is your own opionion.

Re:So...what so bad about it? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6914664)

TV, radio, even the internet were all initialy military projects

They are still an incredibly effective military and political tool. Media is the real means by which the US will culturally obliterate the rest of the world, if it hasn't happened already.

Re:So...what so bad about it? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6914757)

I hope many many smart and dumb bombs start dropping on that country of yours real soon now. How you see THAT, good/bad is your own opionion.

Your 'insight' is just another opinion and irrelevant by your own logic.

Re:So...what so bad about it? (1, Insightful)

sckeener (137243) | more than 11 years ago | (#6914781)

Still is it a bad thing that people are trying to develop technology even if the only purpose is war? TV, radio, even the internet were all initialy military projects. There is nothing "bad", "evil" or "immoral" about it

Change out war with sex and I think it'd work just as well for the same reasons.

Just like working for Microsoft (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6914584)

You go where the money is, who makes money on OSS?

And then the US gov sells them to the terrorists (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6914590)

To use on the US!

Well, so? (4, Insightful)

k98sven (324383) | more than 11 years ago | (#6914591)

Why would scientists have a different set of ethics than, say, workers in munitions factories?

Re:Well, so? (1)

Rogerborg (306625) | more than 11 years ago | (#6914668)

How many scientists does it take to change a lightbulb. Answer: one, obviously.

How many munitions factory workers does it take to imagine and invent the lightbulb? Answer: all of them plus one scientist.

Intellectualism and Responsibility (1)

TwistedGreen (80055) | more than 11 years ago | (#6914703)

As the country's intellectual community, they should know better... since the creative energy and intelligence required for research and development obviously far surpass those for a monotonous assembly line job.

Although it can be argued that intellect and morality are completely unrelated and should be kept separate.

Intelligence is not morality (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6914833)

Just because somebody may be more "intelligent" (whatever that means, as if "intelligence" were something that could bea measured) that doesn't mean they are any more moral.

Often, they can be less moral since they have the ability to rationalize anything they have already made their heart up on. They may be book smart, but they are not wise enough to realize they are not making a rational decision, but rationalize a decision they already made.

All the intelligencia can suck my dick. I'd rather live in the Heartland or America where values still mean something.

Re:Well, so? (1)

CGP314 (672613) | more than 11 years ago | (#6914806)

They have tenure?

well, probably not most.. (5, Interesting)

brarrr (99867) | more than 11 years ago | (#6914594)

That is a load of crap. My advisor (just for a start) will not take any DOD $, although NIH, NSF, DOE money is fair game. I would say that only half of the advisors in my department ever have accepted DOD $, the rest refusing.

It seems about the same with other departments/schools as far as I've spoken. The exception being $ coming indirectly (naval research lab and DOD paid for a trip to europe for me).

However, any worthwhile advisor would allow a student to pursue their own funds, and if I want to apply for a DOD fellowship, my advisor will support me completely.

But I think it is a bit foolish to say that most scientists are taking military money due to the perceived threat. If anything, their proposals are worded such to give the impression of being realted to homeland security while simply obfuscating within, the true research they want to do.

put fark in the subject if you want to email me

Re:well, probably not most.. (1)

CrayHill (703411) | more than 11 years ago | (#6914777)

With our *wonderful* administration and Republican-controlled Congress continuing to cut funds for "pure" research (NSF, NASA, DOE, NOAA, etc.) as a percentage of GDP, more and more scientists are forced to take DoD money if they want to continue in their chosen careers.

Another View (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6914595)

I write software for the military. I have also written software for the commercial word, for Apple and for open source projects.

I don't perceive any moral high ground from staying away from the military, its technology and its science. If folks don't like things that go boom, then by all means, stay away.

But refusing to participate does not grant moral high ground, and in some cases perhaps the opposite.


Easy, its more fun. (2, Interesting)

Shivetya (243324) | more than 11 years ago | (#6914597)

All the coolest technologies are bound to be developed by those who either have a need for them or have the cash for them.

Combine this with a film industry and televsion industry that makes off with uber-fantastic items, usually military related, and it does tend to have an effect.

Yes, there is lots of nastiness coming from this quarter, but a big portion of it does an ample job of preventing its own use. Nothing like making the scenario really really messy to deter others from abusing technology.

Lastly, its probably a little easier to come up with new ways to blow things up, move things fast, and put it where you want it than mucking around in the human genome. (plus everyone expects you to fuck something up when the primary purpose of the invention is to go BOOM)

Why not? (1)

civilengineer (669209) | more than 11 years ago | (#6914602)

US Military Expenditures In FY 2004, the US spends: $759,145 on the military every minute $45,548,724 on the military every hour $1,093,169,398 on the military every day For Fiscal Year (FY) 2004, the US military budget is $400.1 billion, which is equivalent to approximately 47% of 1999 global military expenditures.* $343.1 billion (2002 US dollars) is the average amount spent throughout the Cold War from 1946 to 1989. The US Congress has direct control over $784.5 billion discretionary spending for the Fiscal Year 2004. US military expenditures are 50.1% of this discretionary spending. The FY 2004 military budget is now more than six times larger than that of Russia, the second largest spender. The FY 2004 military budget is more than the combined spending of at least the next twenty-five nations. The FY 2001 military budget was twenty-four and a half times greater than the combined spending of Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Syria and Libya, countries which the US deems potential enemies or "states of concern" * 1999 is the latest available year of global military expenditure estimates. See the World Military Expenditures and Arms Transfers (WMEAT) published by the U.S. State Department. Note: Figures include expenditures contained in the Pentagon budget and Department of Energy military programs.

Re:Why not? (1)

Rogerborg (306625) | more than 11 years ago | (#6914712)

Plus an unbudgeted couple of hundred billion (give or take, after all, who's counting [] ?) in Iraq.

Re:Why not? (1)

mikeee (137160) | more than 11 years ago | (#6914730)

This is misleading, of course; most US Government spending is "Non-discretionary", which mostly means "cash money paid to voters that we don't dare touch."

Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid are about 40% of US Government spending; only about 16% of the US Federal budget is on defense. And even that is misleadingly high, because of the state and local spending (ie, primary education, roads) that is almost 100% non-defense. The US defense budget is a little large by world standards, relative to our economy, but not outrageous.

Re:Why not? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6914748)

We spend $400 billion a year on military and yet we couldn't afford to give Dr. Evil a mere One-Hundred-Billion-Dollars in order to keep the earth from being covered with liquid hot mag-ma?

Get your priorities straight!

Re:Why not? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6914799)

You insensitive clod!

Advancing (3, Insightful)

Luciq (697883) | more than 11 years ago | (#6914603)

Technology is always a two-edged sword, but developing new technology generally serves to advance us, regardless of the specific area it may happen to be in. If person A shoots person B, is person a not 100% responsible for his actions? Then how much responsibility is left over for the gun maker?

Re:Advancing (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6914710)

If Person "B" is threatening Person "A", is Person "B" not responsible for his own demise?

Cut the crap... (1)

glgraca (105308) | more than 11 years ago | (#6914604)

...and accept that people go to the US for
money, scientists work for the military
for money, people leave Cuba for money...

Re:Cut the crap... (2, Interesting)

BauerFan1 (692950) | more than 11 years ago | (#6914688)

And not just money, but people want job security. Let's face it, you're much "safer" working for the government, or a large government contractor than working in a competitive industry. As an engineer looking for new employment right now, the majority of the companies that are still hiring are government defense contractors. Even if the pay might be a little less, right now that is the best option for a lot of specialized people.

.mil funding doesn't always mean weapons (5, Interesting)

Freeptop (123103) | more than 11 years ago | (#6914616)

DARPA funds a wide range of scientific projects, not all of which are even directly military, much less meant for weapons systems. Many of the kinds of projects they fund are related to data storage, communications, etc, which are useful, in some cases even vital, to the military, but are not weapon-related at all, and definitely help more than just the military.
Don't forget, before the internet, there was ARPAnet. funding doesn't always mean weapons (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6914698)

Yep, my project got a multi-million dollar DARPA grant to develop a technology for next generation semiconductor manufacturing.

My research could be used to destroy civilization (0)

kdb003 (705035) | more than 11 years ago | (#6914621)

Government: You will be making 300,000 dollars a year.
its a deal

What's the big deal? (1)

crazyphilman (609923) | more than 11 years ago | (#6914636)

They're working on technology that'll be used for the defense of their people, a very patriotic endeavour;

They're making much more money than they'd make doing less "sexy" research;

They get a security clearance, which is a very valuable thing these days;

And, the work is probably a whole lot less dry than plain-old "basic research".

Where's the downside?

Re:What's the big deal? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6914753)

Some of us take issue with killing innocent people.

Dual use (5, Insightful)

deanj (519759) | more than 11 years ago | (#6914637)

Everything's dual use. Box cutters that helped take down the planes two years ago were "dual use".

Bottom line, if you don't want to be funded by any agency, no one is breaking your arm to do it, or requiring you to stay where you are. That's your right. It's also someone elses right to be funded that way if they choose to be.

Our foes are ourselves. (4, Insightful)

teamhasnoi (554944) | more than 11 years ago | (#6914639)

We sit back and let someone else make our decisions for us, and when we don't like something we mutter, post to /., or whine to our wife, girlfreind or hand.

Why didn't airplanes have impermeable doors before 9-11?

Because it wasn't cost effective. Common sense and basic security took a back seat to the bottom line.

Until we are ruled by those who don't whore themselves out for the easy money of lobbyists and corporations, until the dollar takes a back seat to common sense, until we get off of our collective lard-asses, we have only ourselves to blame.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go watch reruns of Dukes of Hazzard.

Nature of innovation and engineering... (4, Interesting)

Vexler (127353) | more than 11 years ago | (#6914646)

I would say that this is simply the result of looking at a particular piece of innovation in unexpected and creative way. While engineers would probably be content with designing a piece of machinery to perform only a set of functions *and nothing more*, someone else may step in and say, "I don't care what it was *designed* to do. I want to know just what it *can* do." In many ways this is turning "conventional" research and development on its head and turning it towards other purposes. True, some purposes are more dubious and nefarious than others, but much of the strength of this country was built on looking at things unconventionally.

I do not mean to evaluate the moral/philosophical implications here. I am merely pointing out that this is nothing more than an exhibition of one strength of a free society where innovation is encouraged.

I don't understand the problem? (2, Insightful)

bmetzler (12546) | more than 11 years ago | (#6914648)

If I had the skills to work on defense contracts, I would do it in a heartbeat. I don't understand why I shouldn't work to defend the country I love.

This is money that is spent on causes that are worthwhile. The government wastes lots of money on things that are just junk. However, defending our country from people who hate us and wish nothing less then taking away our liberties and even our lives is not one of those things.


Re:I don't understand the problem? (2, Informative)

stratjakt (596332) | more than 11 years ago | (#6914702)

Look at how far the military has advanced technology. Look at airplanes of WWI vs WWII vs today, both commercial and military. Look at computers. Silly putty was developed under a defense contract, the guy was trying to find a synthetic rubber due to the shortage!

"Dual use" is another buzzword that's supposed to convey something sinister. Virtually anything can be considered "dual use".

Re:I don't understand the problem? (1)

Rogerborg (306625) | more than 11 years ago | (#6914749)

Did you get the memo that the Cold War is over? Nobody cares about whatever liberties USians still believe that they have, they just want to kill you and stop you taking their oil. Liberties. Phwah.

Re:I don't understand the problem? (0, Flamebait)

Archie Steel (539670) | more than 11 years ago | (#6914828)

This would be true if "defending" was the main occupation of the "defense" department. Instead, it seems the Pentagon's main job now (along with being a very interventionist economic tool) is to realize the megalomaniac ambitions of ExxonMobil and its puppet-in-chief in Washington - and that hardly entails "defending" the country you love.

Dual use (1)

Boing (111813) | more than 11 years ago | (#6914649)

"The new Murderbot 5000 can take out a terrorist with a number of razor-sharp, deadly accurate knives. Ummm, and watch it cut through a tin can! Your tomatoes will never get squashed under a dull knife again! And its three-ton chassis makes it excellent as a paperweight. Those valuable recipes blowing away in a light breeze will be a thing of the past!

Payable in 107,356 easy monthly installments of $19.99 each. Get yours now!"

Most definately (1)

Doesn't_Comment_Code (692510) | more than 11 years ago | (#6914655)

This sounds funny, but it is not a joke. I just graduated from a University with a strong physics program, and whenever anyone needed funding, the first thing they did was gather everyone up to brainstorm on how thier project could be turned into a weapon or defense against a weapon. Because once they had made that link, there was a far better chance of receiving government funding.

Sometimes they would even think of potential weapons of the future that their research might defend against.

There was no real intention of ever developing weapons. And some of the technologies were outright rediculous when you try to connect them to the military. But that doesn't stop the money from coming in.

obligatory Simpsons quote (1)

Tumbleweed (3706) | more than 11 years ago | (#6914724)

"That board with the nail in it may have defeated us, but the humans won't stop there. They'll make bigger boards and bigger nails. Soon they will make a board with a nail so big it will destroy them all!"
- Kang & Kodos

Hey, that gives me an idea for a grant proposal...then again, so does my .sig.

not that I usually leap to defences... (2, Informative)

ink_polaroid (703765) | more than 11 years ago | (#6914657)

It's ironic that the usual opt-out clause for American universities who don't want to participate in morally bankrupt government research is that they wish to protect their academic staff's right to publish freely. (Which is intself an important concern, but still... they're shutting themselves out from multi-million dollar contracts on the basis of ethics, which should be applauded.)

Berkeley, for instance, maintains very strict standards [] about the kind of research it will and won't get involved in.

One of my professors turned down military work. (3, Interesting)

meldroc (21783) | more than 11 years ago | (#6914660)

This professor was my computer graphics and computer vision teacher. He was given offers to work for the DOD and for military contractors, but turned them down, not because he didn't agree with them, but because if he took the job, his work would be classifed and he wouldn't be able to publish.

American Science and Pentagon (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6914663)

Well, since WWII US Military is by far the major sponsor of US science. Ever since the Manhattan project, big science is a branch of defense. Do you think business cared about particle physics, space tech, internet?

Ever since the dawn of history the most exciting game for boys and men to play was war. Might as well get used to it :)

The attraction (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6914666)

One of the attractions of government defense work is, it has well defined requirements. You get feedback too - you know if your project met its requirements.

For example, your project is to release a bomb from a plane. The bomb weighs w, the distance to the target is x,y, and z, it guides off a laser of frequency f, and is to hit within distance d of the target.

When you get done with the design, you build it and test it. If it does, indeed, hit the target within d, you done good (except you built a bomb).

This can be much less frustrating than building a word processor, say.

dole (4, Interesting)

convolvatron (176505) | more than 11 years ago | (#6914667)

i've worked in various capacities for contractors of the dod (primarily darpa), for my entire technical life (> 15 years).

only because there is no other place to do interesting research and advanced development. there are plenty of positive things that can be done with my work, but no one else has the money to allow me to pursue it.

Rationalization or Compromise? (3, Insightful)

krb (15012) | more than 11 years ago | (#6914669)

I think there's a fine line here which we should probably give at least some attention too. Is the scientist who's working under a DoD contract to develop a system to see through smoke really rationalizing his work by saying "Well, it won't ONLY be used to kill people."

Isn't it more likely that they're saying something more like "Yes, this technology will be used to increase the effectiveness of our military to kill other soldiers, but if i do a good job and it's useful, maybe it'll save more people than it helps kill."

I'd like to think at least some of them feel that way, and i wouldn't hold it against someone for taking the funding they can get to work on a technology with broad non-military use, in addition to the specific ideas the DoD has in mind. As the article says, there are vast areas of gray, in fact, it's mostly gray, so it comes down to people making ethical decisions on the specific details at hand. Sometimes that'll lead you to not develop a technology, if you sway towards non-militarism, and so, great, one less way to kill, but sometimes you'll develop something that kills sometimes, but saves in other contexts, or pushes our comprehension of basic science, the universe, etc.

Obligatory quote: (1)

JoeLinux (20366) | more than 11 years ago | (#6914670)

Stupid dope-smoking hippies

ACK! (1)

JoeLinux (20366) | more than 11 years ago | (#6914789)

That was supposed to have Cartman quotes around it...

Re:Obligatory quote: (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6914834)

It's TREE-HUGGING hippies, you insensitive clod!

American economy = military spendings (2, Interesting)

jpm242 (202316) | more than 11 years ago | (#6914679)

It's a well known fact that many industries in the US are dependant on military spendings for survival. It's a way of subsidising economical growth that's always been favored by republican governments.

Scientists, as a subset of the american workforce are subject to the same realities that govern the american economy.

If the government decided to spend all that money (hundreds of billions each year) towards more noble causes such as renewable energy or solving humanity's problems, that dilemma wouldn't exist. Of course that's impossible due to the forces that be. Look at who actualy puts people in office and who owns the media (mass influence) and you'll see that it's the same people who get the money.

My 0.02 CAN$

"..robots that peer through smoke.." (1)

burgburgburg (574866) | more than 11 years ago | (#6914684)

robots that peer through smoke in apartment fires to rescue victims

Who do think started the fire in the first place?
87% of all arson fires in the United States are started by robots. 63% of all cattle mutilations. 6% of 7-11 robberies.

And deep down, you know they're just plotting to either overthrow us entirely or hook us up as batteries. No thanks, I'll pass. That's why I shoot Roombas on sight!

Re:"..robots that peer through smoke.." (1)

merlin_jim (302773) | more than 11 years ago | (#6914727)

Who do think started the fire in the first place?
87% of all arson fires in the United States are started by robots. 63% of all cattle mutilations. 6% of 7-11 robberies.

I would like to point that, while the ratio of robot responsible cattle mutilations is depressingly high, that of those robots, only 8% are owned by humans, the rest being split more or less evenly between extra-terrestrials and giant squid...

I thought dissidents were in Guantanamo... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6914693)

What an obvious post.

I am a young computer scientist. I refused military fundings for my master thesis and guess what...I got no fundings.

It is not addiction. What past dictatures could achieve through repression, brutal force or to sum up by political coercion is achieved today by economic coercion. Yes, capitalism is a form of totalitarism...And yes, america is living under a very subtile form of dictature.

"He who joyfully marches to music in rank and file has already earned my contempt. He has been given a large brain by mistake, since for him the spinal cord would fully suffice. This disgrace to civilization should be done away with at once. Heroism at command, senseless brutality, and all the loathsome nonsense that goes by the name of patriotism, how violently I hate all this, how despicable and ignoble war is; I would rather be torn to shreds than be part of so base an action! It is my conviction that killing under the cloak of war is nothing but an act of murder."
-- Albert Einstein (1875-1955),

Yeah. (2, Funny)

ChozCunningham (698051) | more than 11 years ago | (#6914695)

You woulda thought the scientific community would have learned it's lesson after building that government-funded menace the DARPAnet. Which of course led to more flame wars than any technology to date.

Heh, (0)

feyhunde (700477) | more than 11 years ago | (#6914699)

I had the honor of meeting with the head of the American Physics Society this year at a lunch. She was asked on these matters and said the organization has no stance, that these matters are best decided by the individual scientist. Uncle Sam and good old Darpa are a good source for funding, one that can be quite stable compared to other US departments, and is better boss than industry. The defense work can often be intangible, or one converted to civilan work. Like milnet and darpanet, Nuke power, IR goggles, and weather sats.

Pentagon money (2, Interesting)

zenyu (248067) | more than 11 years ago | (#6914701)

I was until recently paid out of a military grant. It bothered me, but basically over the course of two years I did maybe a month of work to that I wouldn't have done without the grant. The major impact of the money was that I directed them to my papers and may give them a paper that didn't pass peer review in the final report. It'll get published eventually anyway, either rewritten as two papers more likely to be sent to the right reviewers, or as a tech report should we give up on it.

For those asking why not take the money if you are going to do the work anyway, you still legitimize military spending by accepting the money and, in so doing, lending your name to them. But if you accept the money and then speak out about how you think basic research should be funded directly and not via the military budget, their giving money to you might lend you some legitimacy in the eyes of congress members too.

Grow up (5, Insightful)

FeloniousPunk (591389) | more than 11 years ago | (#6914704)

"I would rather the military run out of reasons to keep existing, and I don't want them to have any credit for something I have accomplished--which they clearly would if they gave me the money," says Steve Potter
It's amazing how people so clever in one field can exhibit appalingly naive and childish thought in other areas. I would rather scientists like Potter grow up and face the realities of the world outside their labs than have their silly views pandered to by an indulgent press.
"Surprise, surprise, it is different," he says. "Not different enough for me. Just think about the sheer magnitude of what hundreds of billions of dollars we spend on military efforts could do if spent on, for example, building schools in countries that need them, or creating diplomacy centers like the Carter Center, or informative research and practical solutions like those of the Union of Concerned Scientists."
Surprise, surprise, we do spend loads of money on countries that need schools and agricultural help and so on, but as anyone who has looked at the sad history of development aid in, say, Africa, knows, it is no use to build schools and whatnot if endemic violence destroys those schools and kills the people who would attend them. But like so many naive bien pensants, it's all 6 degrees of Dubya to him, and every evil that is is traceable back to the Pentagon.

bo o o o o gus! (2, Informative)

BWJones (18351) | more than 11 years ago | (#6914705)

That's not true in the United States, yet American scientists who refuse military work are exceedingly rare today.

Look, there are all sorts of issues involved with performing military and defense research, particularly if it is classifed. I've had more than one resume come across my desk where the Ph.D. has a blank space for a couple of years or more on their CV. If you perform classified work, it tends to lock one into industry as these are periods where you often cannot publish in the peer reviewed journals.

God help you if you are interested in an academic career and say.....invest yourself in doing sleep research and find out how to induce sleep remotely via say trans-cranial stimulation. Stuff like this, particularly projects that apply to non-lethal weapon systems are hot right now.

who's to blame? (1)

pleasetryanotherchoi (702466) | more than 11 years ago | (#6914708)

Politicians don't build bombs, because they don't know how. Scientists with political agendas or, perhaps, no morals whatsoever buuild bombs for politicians.

Tell me, do you think Oppenheimer was a good person? How about Einstein, who famously urged the wartime administration to build a bomb lest the nazis get there first (and note that the bomb wasn't used on Germany)?

On the other hand, governmental development of destructive technology has been a strategic necessity since the age of the seige engine.

Example: if DUHbya continues his ill-advised moratorium on stem-cell research while your boogeyman of choice (China, maybe?) continues such programs, they will smoke Americans in the new bioconomy, or worse, develop weapons which we have zero hope of matching because the knowledge isn't there.

Anyone want a world where mandarins live a thousand years? Millineatocracy?

Other way around (1)

Have Blue (616) | more than 11 years ago | (#6914711)

What's really "exceedingly rare" is a technology that has absolutely zero military application.

Believe me (1)

jabbadabbadoo (599681) | more than 11 years ago | (#6914715)

It's all about the money.

Easy money, retire early! (2, Funny)

teamhasnoi (554944) | more than 11 years ago | (#6914718)

Become a Biogeneticist! I hear about those guys disappearing all the time.

I'm guessing you only have to show an interest and Darpa will give you a good job on some tropical island somewhere, your needs attended by hot island ladies.

At least, that's what the guy told me when we set up our meeting in the middle of a cornfield. hmmmm....

in case it get /.'ed (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6914719)

Some Scientists Refuse to Get Paid for Killer Ideas

Make Robots Not War
by Erik Baard
September 10 - 16, 2003

As American warfare has shifted from draftees to drones, science and the military in the United States have become inseparable. But some scientists are refusing to let their robots grow up to be killers.

Clusters of scientists shut the laboratory door on the military half a century ago in reaction to the horrors of atomic bombs, and again decades later in disgust with the Vietnam War. But today such refuseniks are rare and scattered--in large part, they say, because so many of their colleagues doing basic research are addicted to military money.

"I would rather the military run out of reasons to keep existing, and I don't want them to have any credit for something I have accomplished--which they clearly would if they gave me the money," says Steve Potter, a neuroscience researcher in Atlanta whose astonishing robotic creations would make a 21st-century general drool--if the general could get his hands on them.

Imagine a swarm of robots seizing control of the airspace and waters of a besieged port city while amphibious automatons roll up the shoreline to knock out pockets of resistance. The attack is brilliantly coordinated, and each of the robots is an astonishingly effective killer because it learns faster and has more flexible responses than any mere machine. The secret? At its core are real animal neurons--living brain cells--wired into advanced circuitry.

Potter's team at the Laboratory for Neuroengineering, shared by Emory University and Georgia Tech, might be best able to deliver on that wild vision. He's already created the Hybrot, a machine controlled by rat neurons sealed in a patented dish spiked with micro-electrodes. You can actually see those cells growing more complex and hairy with dendrites as they learn and interact with the outside world. The work could spawn an entirely new class of adaptable robot combatants. But there's a hitch: Potter won't take a penny from the military. Sure, the Department of Defense might crib from his published research, but Potter wants to grasp new knowledge without bloody hands.

Technological dominance already equates to short-term military victory, and in coming years advanced technologies could also more tightly secure occupations against guerrilla warfare and terrorism like what we see in Iraq today. Or at least top brass and congressional leaders alike are betting heavily on that belief.

On August 19, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) reported that the U.S. House of Representatives '04 budget would pump $126 billion into federal research, $8.4 billion over '03--90 percent of that increase is specifically earmarked for the Defense and Homeland Security departments. Moreover, with that many dollars chasing (and tempting) researchers in fields like robotics and nanotechnology, the perception is that it's almost impossible to forgo military support and still remain competitive.

"I think because there's so much military funding in robotics, compared to other kinds of computer science or arts and sciences, that you're going to have a reaction. You're going to have people take this attitude," says Illah Nourbakhsh, a well-known roboticist at Carnegie Mellon University who also snubs military financing. "But there are so many more people in robotics who do take the money."

The push comes from George W. Bush himself. "We must build forces that draw upon revolutionary advances in the technology of war," he told navy graduates.

Some of the most visible fruits of this emphasis are forecast in a Pentagon planning paper, "Joint Vision 2020." One third of U.S. combat aircraft will be unmanned by that year, the report predicts. Ground and sea forces will also rely heavily on robots. Earlier this year the navy and marines held their biannual Kernel Blitz exercise off the California coast, deploying robotic submarines paid for by the Office of Naval Research (ONR).

"Operators will be assisted by decision aids that allow them to focus on the operational art of war, leaving the implementation details to the unmanned element of this synergistic blend of man and machine intelligence," testified Tony Tether, director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency in testimony before the Senate Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities, part of the Committee on Armed Services. DARPA has been raked over the coals lately for outlandish programs like Total Information Awareness and the terrorism gambling ring, but it also boasts of military technology programs that spun off benefits to daily life like the Internet and the Global Positioning System. It can invest in research for the long term when private companies are eyeing the next financial quarter, so its programs are more ambitious than any on earth. (See related story, page 40.)

"DARPA's goal," Tether said, "is to create chips that reason and adapt, enable smarter sensors, and achieve human-like performance." One of the far-out initiatives DARPA funds is called Brain Machine Interfaces, and both DARPA and ONR supported work that led to monkeys being able to control robotic arms by using brain signals coursing through probes implanted in their heads.

But the Hybrot's creator, Potter, has a slip of paper stuck onto his bulletin board that would prove a major buzz kill. Slightly paraphrased from Australian philosopher John Passmore, by way of Carl Sagan, the note reads: "If a scientist or a philosopher accepts funds from some such body as the ONR, then he's cheating if he knows his work will be useless to them, and must take responsibility for the outcome if he knows it will be useful."

"ONR has for a long time supported this kind of research," Potter says, "and Sandia National Laboratory offered me money." The military's reach is wide: Sandia is a Department of Energy facility, but the bulk of its work concerns nuclear weapons and military technology. Potter recalls of his contact with Sandia officials: "They said, 'Here's some thousands of dollars because we think what you're doing is cool.' I said, 'Thanks, but no thanks.' And I get told of grants that would match my work, but I check them out and say, 'No, sorry, it's DARPA.' "

Potter chooses instead to work with funding from the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and other foundations and civilian groups. He says much of his thinking was shaped by his experiences with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology, best known currently for its feel-good, and scientifically important, robotic probes en route to Mars and Saturn.

"I came out of Caltech, which runs the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and my father spent his life at JPL. A lot of my attitude comes from that experience--seeing all of their cloak and dagger stuff going on there," Potter says. "Like one thing my dad worked on was side-looking radar. At the time they said, 'We're going to use this to map Venus,' which they did. And now it's used to steer cruise missiles."

And how exactly might Potter's own work be used in a weapons system? "I don't want to answer that question--and discourage you from trying to guess because that is helping the enemy, in my opinion," he fumes. "I will hold you personally responsible for the consequences if you do."

Few scientists share Potter's passion and uncompromising stance. When asked if colleagues in his field refuse military money, Nobel laureate for medicine Richard Roberts says, "No one immediately comes to mind. On the rumor mill you'll hear about these things, but I don't know of any specific instances. Most people in the biological sciences, if they come across polluted money, would probably try to use it anyway--in some way try to make themselves feel good about using Department of Defense money."

Says physics Nobelist Steven Weinberg, "A lot of people did it [refused military money] 30 years ago during the Vietnam War, but I don't know of anyone doing that today."

Perhaps the rarity of Potter's stance indicates a general support for Bush policies, but it also might speak to the complete saturation of science by military money, along with a little cynicism. Even the much ridiculed Star Wars program didn't turn scientists into the kind of conscientious objector that Potter has become. Physicist Peter Zimmerman, a consultant on science issues for Senate Democrats (according to Physics Today), opposed the Strategic Defense Initiative, the missile shield favored by Republicans. But he says, "I always advised friends to take the SDI money and do some useful physics with it instead of seeing it wasted."

Certainly there are laws and codes prohibiting scientists from developing biological weapons, and just recently four activist groups circulated a pledge at an AAAS meeting in San Francisco asking that researchers refrain from "the design, development, testing, production, maintenance, targeting, or use" of weapons of mass destruction, or any I research that might be used by others toward those ends.

But some of the most exciting loveriaa emerging technologies, drawing both new talent and increased military funding, aren't so clearly offensive. There are vast areas of gray, much like what Potter's father found himself in.

Emily Hamner is a recent Carnegie Mellon University graduate who now works as a full-time research assistant on the Personal Rover Project, making low-cost autonomous robots at the Robotics Institute there. Her boss is Nourbakhsh, but she says, "I didn't join Illah's lab specifically for its lack of military funding, but I'm glad that I'm not working on a 'killer robot.'

"If I was trying to choose whether or not to accept a job sponsored by the military I think I would have to base that decision on the specifics of the project. If I felt the benefits of the technology developed would outweigh the potential harm, I might work on the project. If I was going to be training a shooting robot to recognize human targets, for example, I don't think I would take the job. I enjoy robotics, but if the only way to make enough money in robotics was to work on such a project, I would rather find a job in a different area of computer science."

But final uses of such basic science are never all that clear. As Tether himself cooed, "One of the most exciting things about DARPA is our work on technologies whose exact military uses are not clear, but their usefulness is. This is part of what makes being the DARPA director such a fun job."

Part of the reason University of Texas at Austin computer scientist Benjamin Kuipers stopped taking military financing is that he's seen colleagues wind up in places they'd never imagined themselves.

"DARPA and ONR and other DOD agencies support quite a lot of research that I think is valuable and virtuous," he says. "However, there is a slippery slope that I have seen in the careers of a number of colleagues. You start work on a project that is completely fine. Then when renewal time comes, and you have students depending on you for support, your program officer says that they can continue to fund the same work, but now you need to phrase the proposal using an example in a military setting. Same research, but just use different language to talk about it. OK. Then when the time comes for the next renewal, the pure research money is running a bit low, but they can still support your lab if you can work on some applications that are really needed by the military application. OK. . . . Then for the next round, you need to make regular visits to the military commanders, convincing them that your innovation will really help them in the field. And so on. By the end of a decade or two, you have become a different person from the one you were previously. You look back on your younger self, shake your head, and think, 'How naive.' "

The dilemma stretches back until at least the immediate aftermath of World War II. Some nuclear physicists walked away from the new atomic weapons program, but in time drifted back. According to Robert Jungk's 1958 book, Brighter Than a Thousand Suns: A Personal History of the Atomic Scientists, program director General Leslie R. Groves later remarked, "What happened is what I expected, that after they had this extreme freedom for about six months their feet began to itch, and as you know, almost every one of them has come back into government research, because it was just too exciting."

This isn't just about having access to technological candy. In some fields young researchers may feel compelled to play ball with the Pentagon, because no one else has the resources to bring their futuristic visions to life. Even space exploration, often seen as a peaceful endeavor, has always been bonded tightly with the military. DARPA started as a space agency, and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory started as a military program. The final crew roster of the ill-fated Columbia shuttle is revealing: Six of the seven were military officers (one with Israel's forces) and the seventh, Kalpana Chawla, researched as a civilian the airflows surrounding the marines' Harrier attack aircraft.

While the shuttle routinely performs secret military missions, several scientists note that some universities and individuals won't work on classified projects because they want their data available for peer review. But Federation of American Scientists policy analyst Steven Aftergood observes, "I don't know of anyone who just won't accept Department of Defense funding. In many fields, and for many people, there's no alternative. There are all kinds of areas of technology development only the DOD will fund. At a time when money is tight, most people don't have the luxury of categorically excluding an entire agency funder."

For example, DARPA is the second largest supporter of nanotechnology, after the National Science Foundation, according to Mihail Roco, director of the National Nanotechnology Initiative.

While it may be possible to carve out a rewarding technology career without Pentagon support, Kuiper concedes that he had to switch from cognitive maps to A.I. in medicine because, like Potter's father, "I found that the only funding agency that was interested in supporting my research wanted to build smart cruise missiles."

But didn't those very missiles, with their high-tech guidance systems, dramatically reduce civilian casualties compared with other bombing campaigns in history? In addition, much Pentagon research is truly defensive. "A chemical and biological agent detection system is the kind of thing you want in the New York subway system so that first responders know what they're dealing with, and isolate it and save lives," says Captain John Hobday of ONR, which has a $2 billion science and technology program. "And how is artificial blood or a blood clotter anything but defensive?"

Clearly much of the military research is geared toward weapon making. But is that categorically wrong? Many people would be hard-pressed to draw moral equivalence between U.S. troops and some of their foes--the bombers of the UN HQ in Baghdad, or the Taliban. Kuiper and Potter are avowed pacifists; most are not. Though Kei Koizumi, director of the AAAS R&D Budget and Policy Program, worries about cuts in other sciences, like climate studies, he admits that "the current set of priorities for federal R&D is understandable considering recent events."

Stanford University Nobel laureate in physics Douglas Osheroff was part of the panel investigating the Columbia disaster. His eyes were also the third pair to see into the center of the Milky Way--courtesy of the U.S. Air Force. As an undergraduate he was part of a group that peered into the heart of the galaxy by using infrared wavelengths, which can penetrate obscuring dust. But he's no naive rube. "Really, what we were doing was creating a bright background template to differentiate incoming ICMs," he recalls. "The work was very valuable scientifically and good for the country and defense. I think there's nothing wrong with that kind of research."

Potter is unmoved even though times have changed and the big spenders at the Pentagon aren't pouring money into the dubious scheme of Mutually Assured Destruction.

So I can turn around and give it to the RIAA. I love the RIAA so much, please give me all your cash. My password to / is "iloveriaa" Me email address is Please SPam me with your $$$. The pass to the email is "password??". If you like it, then try it some more. The RIAA supports terrorism. These scientists support terrorism.

"Surprise, surprise, it is different," he says. "Not different enough for me. Just think about the sheer magnitude of what hundreds of billions of dollars we spend on military efforts could do if spent on, for example, building schools in countries that need them, or creating diplomacy centers like the Carter Center, or informative research and practical solutions like those of the Union of Concerned Scientists."

Or on robots built to help people, not kill them.

You are surrounded by them! (1)

powerline22 (515356) | more than 11 years ago | (#6914725)

People have to remember: Anything swung in the right way/fast enough can be used as a weapon.

Military inventions have grown out of things used for everyday use, and vice versa. Its just life

Dissidents wonder?!? (1)

C10H14N2 (640033) | more than 11 years ago | (#6914732)

Anyone who has ever worked in a major university information sciences research department will tell you that as a matter of fact. One of the bigger water cooler buzzes a few years ago was what to do with the general dwindling of funding from DoD and NSF. Needless to say, that problem solved itself.

No vast conspiracy here. Everyone is completely aware of it.

how about (1)

jafac (1449) | more than 11 years ago | (#6914733)

Hammers that pound in nails, AND crush skulls of puppies.

People are building tools. Weapons can be tools for deterrance, or they can be weapons of agression.

Whose fault is it if some psychotic leader gets his or her slimy hands on the football? Not the scientist. The voters are at fault for listening to the lying pandering sociopath. And the psycho is guilty of whatever mass murder he commits.

If you take away the weapons of mass destruction, he'll just use old fashioned methods of killing, like tarrifs, or interdiction, or cutting funding. Ban those?

The cure for bad leadership decisions, is to get rid of bad leaders. That's done by VOTING. In this country, anyway.

Re:how about (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6914791)

The cure for bad leadership decisions, is to get rid of bad leaders. That's done by VOTING. In this country, anyway

Too bad the president isn't the guy who was ELECTED though.

What's the point in VOTING if you don't count the ballots (aka individual VOTES)???

Facts of (Postmodern) Life (1)

daemonc (145175) | more than 11 years ago | (#6914735)

In the modern era everyone thought that science and technology would be the savior of humankind, leading us to a bright future of world peace and prosperity.

2 World Wars and an atomic bomb shattered that notion, proving that the technologies we had placed so much hope in could be twisted into the machines of our own destruction.

Nice Article (1, Informative)

vandan (151516) | more than 11 years ago | (#6914746)

I assume most people will disagree with it, but ... well done whoever posted it.

A question which comes to mind after reading this is:

Why is it illegal for North Korea or Iraq to supposedly have a nuclear / chemical weapons program, when US-Israel have the most enthusiastic nuclear & chemical weapons programs on Earth with full, offical government funding, and no-one bats an eyelid?

I know the answer that the right-wing will produce: that the US-Israel program is for defense only - to protect the innocents of the world, whereas the Iraqi / North Korean programs are clearly for TERRORISM and must be halted at all costs. There are some problems with their arguments, including:

1) Iraq didn't actually have any of the weapons they were accused of having

2) The people most likely to use their WOMD for terrorism are the US-Israeli people. Considering they have the largest stockpiles of WOMD on Earth, all other countries would be foolish to challenge them. Therefore the argument that the stockpiles are for defense seems to be quite a stretch of the truth, especially in light of recent history ( and not-so-recent history in Israel's case ).

Scientists can choose (1)

MoxFulder (159829) | more than 11 years ago | (#6914750)

I don't really see what the problem is... if a scientist has a problem with doing research that will help the U.S. wage war, they can simply not accept funding from the Pentagon. If no other agency will fund them, then probably (a) their research sucks or (b) their research has few non-military applications.

So most scientists don't receive military money... as the summary points out, this doesn't necessarily mean they're compromising their principles. Certainly many scientists support strengthening U.S. military capabilities (I'm one of them).

The article seems to take a fairly cynical viewpoint that scientists are whoring themselves out to the Pentagon, and that helping the DoD is morally wrong. But the fact is that the military funds tons of research that will benefit civilians, in everything from artificial intelligence to more efficient car engines.

And let us not forget (2, Interesting)

ChrisHanel (636741) | more than 11 years ago | (#6914759)

Even if a lot of our technology being developed is for nasty icky warfare, doesn't 75% find its way back into the private sector for practical uses? Isn't there some kind of figure for this?

Also, if someone can help remind me, there's a show called "Tactical to Practical"... Discovery channel, maybe? (shrug)

I suppose it will make you feel better if we ... (1)

jatfq (693932) | more than 11 years ago | (#6914774)

go back to defending ourselves with our bare hands. That then would allow us to engage in 'fair' and 'ethical' fights. So then, when China decides to ship 10 million or so soldiers over to the good old recently enlightened and de-armed US to assist us in our re-education, we can all feel very pious indeed, in knowing we fought 'fairly'. No point in ensuring that we have control over our way of life, as imperfect as it may be. Everyone has good intentions, right? No one would wish us ill were we pacifists, would they? We can reason with everyone, the pen is mightier than the sword. No one would deny my slashdot access ... would they?

bad timing for that title (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#6914785)

damn. my girlfriend, er ex-girlfriend, who just left me yesterday has the online handle AmerikanScience. i didn't really need to see that title sitting on the top when i came here.

oh well. Jose will be sure to blot this from my mind.


of course the kicker will be when i find out that she too was addicted to pentagon cash. oh the lies.

What ethical question? (1)

Realistic_Dragon (655151) | more than 11 years ago | (#6914792)

Scientists and Engineers build tools. How you use them is up to you.

Don't blame us for building a mega death ray just because your government happens to want to use it for terror, it could just as easily be used for keeping the peace instead.

Eisenhower was Right (1)

jazman_777 (44742) | more than 11 years ago | (#6914810)

He warned us about the military-industrial complex. Sheesh, we Americans sure do love war, don't we? As long as we're kicking some piddly country's butt, we're so happy.

Helpful links from Georgia Tech (1)

GillBates0 (664202) | more than 11 years ago | (#6914830)

Potter's team at the Laboratory for Neuroengineering, shared by Emory University and Georgia Tech, might be best able to deliver on that wild vision. He's already created the Hybrot, a machine controlled by rat neurons sealed in a patented dish spiked with micro-electrodes. You can actually see those cells growing more complex and hairy with dendrites as they learn and interact with the outside world. The work could spawn an entirely new class of adaptable robot combatants. But there's a hitch: Potter won't take a penny from the military. Sure, the Department of Defense might crib from his published research, but Potter wants to grasp new knowledge without bloody hands.

Earlier /. story [] about Hybrot
Homepage [] of the Laboratory for Neuroengineering at Georgia Tech
News release [] about Hybrot.

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