Sunday, June 10, 2007

Class of Nuke 'em U

Interestingly enough, McMaster University, whose library I've been pillaging recently, is home to a nuclear reactor. It's the largest research reactor in Canada and the oldest and largest nuclear reactor in the British Commonwealth. Sadly, they have not produced any radioactive spiders or giant fire bats of any sort. The reactor was constructed in 1959 and is up for licence renewal this year. I think their license should be dependent on their creating at least one mutant.

Apparently, the public gets a say in these licenses, which doesn't seem like the best idea to me in light of the fact that most people don't know anything about nuclear reactors aside from what we've seen in The China Syndrome. Actually, I'm fairly certain that widespread public fears about what happened in The China Syndrome are part of the reason that they haven't built any of these things in the U.S. for quite some time; the last thing we need is Jane Fonda doing the news! Anyway, in the case of McMaster, this review has been a headache because several members of the public are all up in arms because some of the researchers at McMaster are Muslims, or from Egypt, or some such thing. They have demanded that the reactor be shut down indefinitely because of this. So, good news America- we have unreasonable jackasses here too!

This uproar goes back to a fellow named Paul L. Williams who has published boilerplate books about Al Qaeda and their plan to nuke the United States. Williams has cranked a number of these books out, apparently saving valuable time by not fact-checking them. In a recent book, he stated that members of Al-Qaeda were researchers at the McMaster nuclear reactor and that they have stolen 180 lbs of uranium, which they are theoretically using to built a 'dirty bomb' or a time machine out of a Delorian so they can go back in time and strangle Ronald Reagan in the crib.

McMaster has stated that the men in question were never there, that no uranium has ever been stolen, and that he could have found all of this out by simply calling them and asking. The Canadian Nuclear Regulatory Commission has said that McMaster has excellent security ratings and that they haven't reported anything missing. Williams has said that McMaster is harboring terrorists and I guess covering up the stolen uranium. I can't tell from his website where he got his information because mainly sites websites and a four year old Washington Times article that I can't find. Did he seriously do his research by surfing the Internet? Did he really not contact the university? He begins his case by telling us that ''McMaster has harbored leading al Qaeda operatives.'' Really? Al Qaeda? Really? Well, that's one way to get funding...

This of course recalls Rufus' Theory of Conspiracy Theories, which states that there are two parts to every conspiracy theory:
1. The idea that a horrible crime has been committed,
2. The idea that a conspiracy is covering up that crime.
The reason that you can't ever disprove the conspiracy theory is that any evidence that you might provide to disprove 1 is automatically evidence of 2. It just proves that you've been duped by the conspiracy. So, paradoxically, the more evidence that there is that no crime was committed, the more it proves that there is a strong and wide-reaching conspiracy. As Karl Popper noted, ideas that can't possibly be disproven enter into the realm of blind faith.

This is the problem with the whole thing- McMaster can demonstrate that they have excellent security, that radioactive material wasn't stolen, etc. etc. but, for anyone who believes the theory, this just proves that they're hiding something. And maybe they are. But I personally find it hard to believe that a fugitive Al Qaeda operative had open access to a functioning nuclear reactor and successfully stole 180 lbs of uranium without anyone noticing. Well, or melting.

Anyway, the guy's publisher has posted a statement on their website that his claims are not based in fact. They're World Net Daily Publishing, so no, they don't check facts apparently. McMaster, for their part, is suing the guy for nearly two million dollars, which is probably less with the exchange rate. I'm not sure that this is the way to handle him at all though; I'm guessing that they're just getting sick of hearing angry yahoos at public meetings whining ''But, don't you see? They're Muslims!'' At any rate, I think it would be a lot better for the university to demonstrate their commitment to an open marketplace of ideas by debating the guy instead of suing him.

But this raises an interesting question- how exactly would you steal 180 lbs of uranium? Wouldn't that generally be a really bad idea?


gregvw said...

Fact-checking is for queers.

Holly said...

If you do any fact checking, the terrorists have already won.

Rufus said...

I actually have a few corrections that I wanted to make to this post. But now I'm afraid to.