Stories tagged terrorism

Nabbing terrorists: Robotics experts are analyzing how automated devices played a part in apprehending the Boston Marathon bombers.
Nabbing terrorists: Robotics experts are analyzing how automated devices played a part in apprehending the Boston Marathon bombers.Courtesy Mashable
Law enforcement authorities aren't giving out specific information, but robotic experts are chiming in with their thoughts on how robots played a role in capturing the Boston Marathon bombers. Here's a pretty interesting online article theorizing the use of robots in the case. The link includes a video that shows how these robots do their jobs. While TV reports Friday night said that a robotic arm was used to pull the tarp off the boat where the second suspect was hiding, those reports, have now been called incorrect.

What do you think about using robots to handle dangerous tasks involving terrorism and crime?


Do as we say, or we'll kill your family: Some animal activists are attacking researchers' homes.
Do as we say, or we'll kill your family: Some animal activists are attacking researchers' homes.Courtesy charmingly_busy

(With the Republican National Convention literally across the street, the Science Museum of Minnesota will be closed starting Friday, August 29. But Science Buzz marches on! To honor our convention guests, I’ll be posting entries focusing on issues where science and politics overlap. Hopefully this will spur some discussion. Or at least tick some people off. Previous entries here, here and here.)

5:30 Saturday morning. The pre-dawn quiet is shattered by firebombs exploding almost simultaneously in different parts of the town. One is set under a car in a driveway, apparently trying to ignite the fuel tank. The others ignite on the porch of a family home, setting it on fire, forcing a husband, wife and their two children to climb out of a second-floor window to escape. All this follows a pattern of death threats, break-ins, harassment and intimidation.

A movie, perhaps? A war-torn foreign country beset by extremists?

Nope. Santa Cruz, California. The target: scientists.

Some groups of activist have long protested the use of animals in experiments. Most of these protests have been peaceful social and political action, and they’ve had results—the care of lab animals has improved, and many cosmetic companies no longer test their products on animals.

But some activists crossed the line into crime and violence, breaking into labs and destroying equipment. And now they have escalated to attacking researchers and their families in their homes. In one instance, masked intruders broke into a professor’s home and disrupted his daughter’s birthday party. Classy.

The scientists being targeted are biomedical researchers, trying to find cures for diseases like cancer and AIDS. If they are successful in shutting down medical research, then as a result millions upon millions of people will die slow, painful, and preventable deaths, thanks to their efforts.

(And it’s not just medical research—in one instance, activists wanted to stop a university from testing the safety of…pet food. That’s right—these lunatics who claim to be advocating on behalf of animals, want to make it harder for companies to ensure the safety of pet food. Brilliant.)

While some groups focus their activity on labs that conduct tests on happy little monkeys or cute fluffy bunnies, others draw no such distinctions. Some have targeted researchers using fruit flies.

Worried that this terrorism might persuade researchers to leave the field, or dissuade young scientists from entering it, the US Congress in 2006 passed the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act to protect researchers. However, there have not yet been any prosecutions under this legislation.

(Meanwhile, in response to the recent attacks, the California state legislature is pushing through its own ordinance. UCLA has gone on the offensive and is suing people involved in intimidating researchers,)

This is not how we do things in this country. If you think an activity should be limited or outlawed, speak up. Petition the government. Elect officials who agree with you. But do not take the law into your own hands, resort to terrorism, or try to blow up little children.

When I was a kid, I used to do stupid kid things. And my saintly Mother in frustration would cry out, “What’s the matter with you? Do you sit on your brains?” I would ask the same question of these losers—except that would imply they had brains to begin with. And that would seem to give them entirely too much credit.

Robot snot

by Gene on Jul. 16th, 2007

Seriously, I don't have to say anything else to get you to read this article. Right?

Bomb-sniffing bees. Anthrax-absorbing roaches. Remote-control butterflies. Scientists are using insects and other creatures to identify biological hazards, including those that may be related to terror attacks.


Are life and death just a game?: Mathematics says they follow the same rules. Photo from the National Park Service.
Are life and death just a game?: Mathematics says they follow the same rules. Photo from the National Park Service.

Game theory is a branch of mathematics that attempts to explain how people make choices by weighing costs and benefits. It can be applied not just to games, but to all kinds of serious situations – business, politics, even war.

This report (abstract free; $ to download complete report) argues that even terrorists use classic game theory to maximize the impacts of their attacks:

We find that more educated and older suicide bombers are less likely to fail in their mission, and are more likely to cause increased casualties when they attack.

Knowing this, I wonder if anti-terrorist efforts are focusing more on those older, educated operatives, to minimize the threat of attack.

*(It's also the name of an '80s band, but that's neither here nor there.)


A new paper published in the Procedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that, as parents preferentially select boys over girls and gender imbalances grow, we'll see rising levels of anti-social and violent behavior.

Stella: Isn't she worth just as much as a baby boy? (Photo by Liza Pryor)
Stella: Isn't she worth just as much as a baby boy? (Photo by Liza Pryor)

"There are already an estimated 80 million missing females in India and China alone."

(According to the World Bank, in 2004 48.6% of China's population and 48.7% of India's population were female. By contrast, females made up 49.1% of the total population in East Asia, and 52.1% in all of Europe and Central Asia.)

The Reuters news report says,

"'This trend would lead to increased levels of anti-social behavior and violence, as gender is a well-established correlate of crime, and especially violent crime,' [the authors] said, adding the trend would threaten stability and security in many societies."

The authors of the paper call for "measures to reduce sex-selection and an urgent change in cultural attitudes." But that seems easier said than done.

Do you think it's possible to change cultural attitudes about gender preference? It's easy to say this is a problem of East Asian cultures, but what about the US? Do we have cultural preferences about our children's genders, too?


The newest fighting force on the war on terror: white lab rats.

A team of six little rodents are now part of the arsenal of tools that Columbian police are using to sniff out bombs and land mines. And it’s their little size that’s the biggest thing going for them.

Police are preparing to use the rats to find and defuse the more than 100,000 land mines that pepper the Columbian countryside, the result of hostilities between the Columbian government and leftist rebels.

The rats, which weigh less than half a pound, don’t trigger any explosions when they walk atop the mines. Dogs or people, who’ve tracked down mines in the past, don’t have that light-weight luxury.

Over the past year, the rats have gone through daily training where they are placed in a maze which holds C-4 explosives and other bomb making materials. When they find a target, they’re rewarded: a cracker for their palates and a stroke on the top of their heads.

So far, the rats have been able to locate explosives 83 percent of the time. But they won’t get to try their skills out in the field until they hit the 100-percent mark, a benchmark trainers figure they’ll get to in another six months.

It’s believed Columbia is the first country to use rats for finding mines and bombs, but larger rodents have been used for similar work in the Sudan.

If the experiment works out, the little critters could have a big impact. Columbia has the highest number of land mine victims in the world. Last year, 1,070 people were involved in mines explosions. About one quarter of those people died.

And in a related development, researchers in New York are developing “Roborat.” The technology allows police to control rats’ movements by sending electronic impulses to their brains via miniature electronic backpacks strapped to their bodies.