Forbidden Knowledge (Banned Research, Part II) (fwd)

From: Eugene Leitl (
Date: Wed Jul 04 2001 - 06:44:43 MDT

-- Eugen* Leitl <a href="">leitl</a>
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---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Tue, 3 Jul 2001 13:19:04 -0700
From: Tim May <>
Subject: Forbidden Knowledge (Banned Research, Part II)


A followup to my earlier items on banned research. People arguing
about the validity or need or danger of cloning research are missing
the basic point.

Much of the discussion here, and from some "echoes" I've gotten back
from a list Declan forwarded my article to (Politech, I presume), has
focused on the _cloning_ issue, qua cloning. Some argue for why stem
cell research should be "allowed," some argue that cloning is
intrinsically dangerous, some argue that there are no particular
hazards to cloning.

This is an interesting technical area, but my article was about the
basic issue of the state deciding that some knowledge is too
dangerous to let non-approved persons and labs gain access to it.
And, equally basic and important, the troubling issue of how
non-judicial (not going through a court, through a jury of one's
peers, a la the Fourth and Sixth) means of enforcement are being
used: "visits" by regulatory agencies and worried burrowcrats, "we're
ordering a timeout," "consider this a warning shot across their bow,"
and, in some cases, even predawn raids on those trafficking in
forbidden knowledge.

Some have said the issue is public safety. Well, I mentioned this, in
the context of their perhaps being justification for stopping someone
or some company from assembling a nuclear weapon in their facilities.
More plausibly, manufacture of nerve gas and biological warfare

No one has persuasively argued that human cloning research justifies
this kind of restriction based on imminent danger--there is no
"danger" of clone mutants, for example, running amok in a
neighborhood. There _might_ be a bunch of failed implant attempts,
failed attempts to bring a fertilized egg to term. Ditto for various
experiments with artificial insemination, fertility drugs, etc. But
no particular "imminent danger" requiring police action to protect
the safety of others.

(Someone on the other list talked about that old chestnut "Shouting
"Fire" in a crowded theater." I say chestnut for the obvious reasons:
even Holmes concluded later in his life that it has been appropriated
for all sorts of appeals to censorship and restrictions on basic
rights. And of course that old chestnut had the modifier "falsely" in
the equation. The connection with the Rael group's work on cloning is
an exercise I'll leave for students and lawyers in Texas.)

The real issue is about a move toward "permission requirements" for
research. We came _this_ close to having such restrictions on crypto
(examples familiar to Cypherpunks); whether such restrictions would
have withstood a challenge reaching the Supreme Court is unclear. And
we have seen the Felten/DMCA nonsense, where researchers cannot even
do basic analysis of published specs! And nuclear, chemical, and
biological weaponry work.

(There are even restrictions on such established things as _gun
research_. A hobbyist interested in building a better kind of rifle,
or even building an old-fashioned kind of rifle or handgun, has
committed various felonies merely by building such a thing without
having all sorts of expensive licenses and "permission slips" from
the BATF and probably other local, state, and federal agencies. Even
if he never sells his handiwork he has violated BATF
regs...essentially a licensing restriction on R & D. Not such a big
deal to Ruger or Kahr or Smith and Wesson, perhaps, but a mighty big
insult to the Constitution...and to the Founders, some of whom were
gun makers.)

Tangential to this issue, but intersecting it, is the issue of
licensing in general. More and more employment requires that the
state issue a permission slip. As with the cloning arguments seen
here, the debate is usually couched in terms of "public safety."
(Though how the licensing of fortune tellers, here in Santa Cruz, is
a matter of public safety is quite mysterious.) The real issue, as
readers of my stuff will know, is the creation and support of guilds:
licensing is a rent-seeking mechanism.

(I mention "readers of my stuff will know" because I expect that if
Declan chooses to forward this article to his own list(s), I'll get
the predictable mini-flurry of questions and arguments from people
who basically are in other worlds of discourse, people with whom I
have little points of principle in common. To "reach them," if I
cared to, I'd have to explain many more points than I have the time
to do in these articles sent out to Cypherpunks. Agree or not with
me, Cypherpunks mostly have some idea of what is meant by various
terms and ideas here.)

To cut to the chase, we are seeing a transition to a world of:

-- licensed and approved members of professions. Lawyers, doctors,
accountants, geologists, tax preparers, fortune tellers, even
engineers and programmers (in more and more states). At this rate,
Uncle Sam will have to give his blessing for any activity other than
purely amateur or leisure activity. This is NOT what the Constitution
is about. (And please don't anybody cite the "commerce clause": the
1964 landmark case arguing that interstate commerce was affected by a
rib joint not serving blacks--hence making their discrimination
policies subject to Congressional rule--was pretty bogus even back
then. Arguing that a programmer needs to be licensed, regulated, and
controlled because he might sell a program across state lines is even
more bogus. People often lose sight of the forest for the trees.

-- to a world where broad areas of research are banned or restricted
to controlled institutions. Seen with CBW research, and now cloning.
How long before it carries over to other areas in biology? Why not
restrict computer virus research? Or nanotech research?

(Some of these areas are even "dangerous." Imagine Ben Franklin being
arrested for "conducting banned research into electricity"? "We are
ordering a timeout on Dr. Franklin's dangerous experiments with kites
and keys. We have it on good authority from our own experts that Dr.
Franklin might hurt himself. And, as we know, lightning causes fires.
Man was not meant to know such things...unless we in government are
doing the work. Dr. Franklin should consider this a warning shot." As
an exercise, make up a list of all of the other kinds of research
which might have been banned on the grounds that it might be
dangerous to the researcher or, someday, to others. "But these flying
contraptions will no doubt crash and kill many innocent people. All
we are requiring is a "timeout" on this forbidden research by these
Wright brothers.")

-- the "ban on bomb-making instructions" proposed by the usual
suspects is a variant on this issue. If such a ban is passed into
law, and upheld, how long before it carries over to requiring
encyclopedia editors excise articles on bombs, ANFO, and Astrolite?
How long before court transcripts are censored to remove forbidden
knowledge? (Ironically, Keith Henson recently reported to me that a
key piece of evidence offered up the Scientologists, in their "friend
of the Toronto court" brief, was an e-mail to Cypherpunks where I
mentioned Keith telling us at a local party how the McVeigh
transcript "got it right" on the real formation of Astrolite in the
OKC bombing. Apparently my citing of Keith's citing of CNN's citing
of the McVeigh trial testimony was enough to mark Keith as a
dangerous criminal. Interested Cypherpunks can retrieve this article
by using the obvious keywords in a search at Google, for example.)

The next point shows where this takes us:

-- and as with "precursor chemicals," chemicals which _could_ be made
into methamphetamines or Sarin or other banned items, there will be
bans on "precursor knowledge." This is probably exactly what is
happening now with the Rael group and their early work on human
cloning. Odds are excellent that they are at least several years away
from actually attempting a human cloning. It's the groundwork, the
precursor knowledge, that the government is now cracking down on. A
very disturbing trend.

-- fortunately, these "warning shots" will perhaps accelerate a
transition into cypherspace.

--Tim May

Timothy C. May        Corralitos, California
Political: Co-founder Cypherpunks/crypto anarchy/Cyphernomicon
Technical: physics/soft errors/Smalltalk/Squeak/agents/games/Go
Personal: b.1951/UCSB/Intel '74-'86/retired/investor/motorcycles/guns

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