On my recent visit to Pakistan, I was amazed at the number of conspiracy theories floating there. Everything was blamed on a shadow conspiracy. And I heard these statements from very very (yes, the second very is not a typo) educated people – and many of these people have close connections to policy makers. Some of the craziest things I heard was that the recent crash of a commercial plane, despite the fact that the weather was bad and the plane was flown by a pilot two years beyond his retirement age, was actually caused Blackwater agents trying to crash it into Pakistan’s nuclear facility at Kahuta. That American President Harry Truman, soon after the end of World War II declared that we may think that Soviet Union is our (United States) enemy, but our true enemy is Islam. And that the catastrophic floods in Pakistan were actually caused by an American experiment in Alaska – that can control weather and earthquakes. Now all of these things are absolute nuts – not much different from many Americans believing that the astronauts never landed on the Moon, or the Kennedy conspiracy theories, or that the Pentagon was actually hit by a missile and not a plane on 9/11.
The difference in the case of Pakistan is that these conspiracy ideas are widely spread amongst the educated elite. Why should this be of any concern? If we start believing in a false reality, then it will be very hard to fix the real problem at hand. We won’t even know what is there to fix. For example, if instead of understanding the changing weather patterns as part of a worldwide change in climate, we blame an intentional manipulation by a foreign power – then the answers we find, and the way we prepare for this change will be completely different.
Why am I talking about this? I was absolutely stunned to see a highly irresponsible article by prominent Pakistani chemist, Dr. Atta-ur-Rahman, insinuating that the recent flooding in Pakistan may indeed have been caused by an American atmospheric research program called HAARPbased in Alaska. Now mind you that Atta-ur-Rahman has served as the federal minister for science and also the federal minister for education. He was elected Fellow of the Royal Society in 2006. So his words carry a lot of weight.
Now there is a surprising amount of bunk in Atta-ur-Rahman’s article (in fact, his bunk-level is almost as close to that of Harun Yahya!). Now it is true, that he is citing other people – and not saying it himself – so then he can use the excuse that, well, I was just quoting somebody else. No question: he is stoking the conspiracy fire (or in Urdu, “yeh jalti per tael chirak rahay hain“).
Now Pervez Hoodbhoy promptly called Atta-ur-Rahman out on this in an article titled,Case of Bogus Science. He correctly points out that there is no connection between the ionosphere and earthquakes and that one of the people quoted in Rahman’s article is a new age-y guy with a degree in traditional medicine. I just googled his name, Nick Begich, and found that he also believes in mind control and ESP! This doesn’t necessarily disqualifies him – but we have to be a bit more careful about his claims.
Pervez dismantles several of the arguments presented in Rahman’s article, and then ends his article like this:
Yet another quoted “authority” is the arch conspiracy theorist, Michel Chossudovsky, a retired professor of economics in Ottawa. In Dr Rahman’s pantheon of ‘experts’, none has published a scientific paper in a reputable science journal that demonstrates a connection between ionospheric physics and any weather or subterranean phenomenon. In short, Dr Rahman’s claims about HAARP are based on pseudo-science promoted by conspiracy theorists who blame America for all grief in the world.
Once science loses its objectivity and becomes enslaved to any kind of ideology or political opinion, it becomes useless.
Quack science does not just cost money. It also confuses people, engages them in bizarre conspiracy theories, and decreases society’s collective ability to make sensible decisions. One must therefore seriously question whether a pseudoscience organisation like Comstech deserves lavish funding from poor Pakistanis. We have better things to spend our money on. As for the world of science: it will not even notice Comstech’s demise.
Now, Pervez and Atta-ur-Rahman have a personal history as well, and I think it is safe to say that they don’t like each other. Pervez has been a harsh critic of Rahman’s education policies – and that spat continues to this day. I think Pervez’s critique of the article is spot-on, but given their personal history, I think it comes out quite harsh (but then Atta-ur-Rahman did write a horrible piece). So expectedly, Atta-ur-Rahman wrote aletter to the editor titled HAARP: a US weapon of mass destruction?, digging his heals in some cases and on others he claims that he was only citing other people. Now this is a classic Fox News defense. They would run a ticker as: “Is Obama really unpatriotic?” – and then defend themselves by saying that they never questioned Obama’s patriotism – they were simply asking a question.
If one reads Atta-ur-Rahman’s original article, it is hard to draw any other conclusion than that HAARP is involved in developing a weapon that can control weather and that Pakistan’s recent floods have been quite suspiciously mysterious. I think it is not too hard to connect the dots – especially at a time when Pakistan is obsessed with conspiracy theories.
This is not one of Atta-ur-Rahman’s proudest moments.
But what about the science itself? Here is what baffles me. Just like the Moon landing conspiracy theories, the allegations about HAARP are actually quite easily dismissible. And just like the Apollo Moon-landing hoax, people are not genuinely interested in finding out alternative explanations (if you want to entertain yourself, you can findinformation about Apollo Moon Landing hoax here). This is a matter of beliefs. May beHAARP is involved in something sinister – but it is certainly not related to the claims that are made in Ata-ur-Rahman’s article.
Just a very brief primer on our ionosphere: This is a thin layer of atmosphere containing charged particles (ions – and hence the name ionosphere) extending roughly from 80 kms to 300 kms above the surface (Rahman got this thing correct). Most of the weather is shaped by lower layers (the stratosphere and the troposphere). Indeed, ionosphere isimportant for communication systems – as our transmitters often bounce off radio waves in the ionosphere. Therefore, it is important to understand variations in this layer of the atmosphere. Can this have a military connection? Of course. Militaries all over the world are worried about maintaining communication links in all eventualities. For example,solar flares emit charged particles – and these particles can disrupt satellites as well as they can have an impact on the ionosphere. Therefore, while solar flares are of interest to astronomers, many militaries in the world are also monitoring the Sun for the same purpose. But, the fallacy comes in when we jump from a military application…to the assumption of a weapon of mass-destruction.
Wait a minute. So where does the HAARP and earthquake connection comes in. After all, Ata-ur-Rahman has quoted President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela of blaming the US for causing Haiti’s earthquake (yes, all we need is a President of a country believing in quack science!). This is an interesting question. I know that radio waves are used to monitor movement of plates and any earthquakes (for example, here is the system in Auckland). And, since they are dealing with communications, radio waves are also important for projects like HAARP. I really don’t know. But if this is the case, then blaming earthquakes on these radio detectors is like blaming your pressure gauge for causing thunderstorms.
Atta-ur-Rahman should have been able to pick these things up quite easily. The fact that he did not do so, is deeply disappointing and, in this particular case, quite irresponsible.
P.S. Ever wonder, if the US is so good at weather manipulation then why don’t they recall all their troops, and simply flood-out the Taliban. May be they want to keep the weather system appear natural – so most of us think that they don’t really control the weather. And now if you think about it, this is exactly what is happening. OMG! Their plan is working perfectly.