Yesterday, Craig Cormick—the public awareness manager at Australia's Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, and the person who invited me to the 6th Science Center World Congress—leaned over during a conference session and showed me this story on his blackberry. I had to double check and make sure it wasn't a sketchy email forward.
But the truth is that, sometimes, anti-science sentiment coalesces into violent attacks on scientists themselves. That's happened to researchers who work with animal models in the United States. And it's also happening to researchers around the world who are working with nanotechnology. The threat seems to be particularly prevalent in Mexico. In manifestos, the terrorists have said that they're attempting to prevent scientists from inventing self-replicating nanobots that could turn the entire world into "grey goo."
Nanotechnology was singled out as a target for the attacks in manifestos posted on the Web by the group behind the bombs, which calls itself "Individualities Tending Toward Savagery." It has been linked to attacks in France, Spain, and Chile, and to a bomb sent earlier this year to a scientist at another Mexican university who specializes in nanotech. An analyst who helped identify the Unabomber—who turned out to be a former professor—says the posts show signs of someone well-educated who could be affiliated with a college.
The new group's latest package exploded in an office on the campus of the Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education, outside of Mexico City, in early August. The blast wounded its intended target, Armando Herrera Corral, director of a technology-transfer center, which the group's manifesto said is key to the university's plan to promote research projects that "are relevant for the progress of nanobioindustry within the country." The explosion also wounded a nearby colleague, Alejandro Aceves López, director of the university's graduate school of engineering and science.
In the group's online post (written in Spanish) claiming credit for the latest bombing, the terrorists complained about the growing number of nanotechnology experts in Mexico, which it estimated at 650. "The ever more rapid acceleration of this technology will lead to the creation of nanocyborgs that can self-replicate automatically without the help of a human," it said.
While it's entirely possible that this "group" is actually one dude (in the gender-neutral sense of "dude"), I still think it's appropriate to use the label of "terrorism." When you carry out violent acts against non-combatants in an effort to scare a broad category of people or political entities into doing what you want, I think that counts as terrorism. That's a bit of a broad definition, and imperfect. But you get the idea. This, to me, goes well beyond simple "violent crime."
Maggie Koerth-Baker is the science editor at BoingBoing.net. She writes a monthly column for The New York Times Magazine and is the author of Before the Lights Go Out, a book about electricity, infrastructure, and the future of energy. You can find Maggie on Twitter and Facebook.