Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A prominent Pakistani scientist is stoking conspiracy fires

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 HAARP based 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 a letter 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 find information about Apollo Moon Landing hoax here). This is a matter of beliefs. May be HAARP 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 is important 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.

24 comments:

Snuze said...

OMG. I used Atta ur-Rahman's work for my MSc experiments. :p Oh well, nobody's perfect. Just because he is an outstanding phytochemistry researcher, doesn't mean that he is invulnerable to brain fever or maggots in the little grey cells.

Nidhal Guessoum said...

Thanks, Salman. I share your disappointment over such writings, the likes of which I witness regularly around me as well. (And don't get me started on conspiracy theories...)

But I have a question, which is really addressed to Prof. Hoodbhoy, if he reads this blog, otherwise perhaps you can provide an answer: why is Comstech referred to as a "pseudoscience organization"? I am not defending Comstech; I have never had any involvement or contact with the organization, but this is the first time I read such a negative description of it, so I'd like some explanation and evidence.

Ali said...

I think one has to be really careful before criticising conspiracy theorists. I am not a fan of such theories, but, I will not criticise those who believe them.

I was more than 100 percent sure of one such story around which a conspiracy theory was built. After viewing a video that presented the alternative vew, I cannot give the more than 100 percent that I used to give. It was completely by accident that I saw this video before which i did not even know that there is an opposing view to what I believe. I must also admit that this video is no more than 30 minutes long but, it successfully created doubts in my mind.

You know, even in courts, a man is proven guilty only if his quilt can be proven beyond reasonable doubt. So I tell myself may be not all conspiracy theories are conspiracy theories. But i think they are conspiracies because I believe what the media tell us and can't be bothered to do the research. I have better things to do. :)

:) said...

"all we need is a President of a country believing in quack science!"

Careful, Salman.
Many presidents must have thought Coppernicus' was also quack science.

Anonymous said...

Is Mr Hoodboy an authority in auroral ionospheric physics? or is he just retaliating for the sake of visibility? Here we have it: two scientists, who claim knowledge beyond the fields of their expertise, respectively. HAARP is a very powerful facility used to probe the auroral ionosphere in a way no other antenna system has ever done; it is a unique heater with far far more power than the ESA EISCAT system for example. The scientific bounds sought by HAARP are unknown since most of the experiments and their results are classified.

It is easy for non specialists to get into speculations, and Mr Hoodboy and his minister have just speculated beyond their bounds. Siding for Hoodboy or his minister is just foolish and irresponsible for neither holds sufficient knowledge to affirm any truth on the impact of HAARP.

Shahid said...

Great post Salman bhai. It's not just that Ata ur Rehman is a prominent scientist, he is a popular name now outside scientific circles and for a member of the Royal Society and Pakistan Academy of Science to write such utter conspiratorial thing should make everybody think about what the hell has been going on in the minds of "educated" Pakistanis keen to blame others for all problems.

The defence he wrote is not just fox-ish but he cites a patent w/o explaining that the patent is concerned not with weather control but what HAARP is about - a focused ionosopheric heater (patent talks about method to alter one selected region in ionosphere).

Other thing that he cites the EU resolution. Now while the EU operates it's own ionospheric heater as part of EISCAT, the resolution was result of proceedings initiated by a conservative MEP from Britian (later did not run for EU parliamet after a scandal of possessing gay pornography and cannabis). Expert witness called was that same Nick Begich with a mail order degree in pseudo-medicine. Summaries of the resolution are available online and at no point does the resolution claim that HAARP can alter/control weather but rather that it can disrupt communications and ionospheric heating should be discussed as a scientific and ethical concern.

Shahid said...

He also brought in the fact that Raytheon brought the company. Raytheon has such a massive advanced radar division that it naturally is one of the few companies that deal with radars of HAARP's type. He might as well have gone into discussing the military-industrial complex and started Haliburton conspiracies too.


Now, while there exists a history b/w Hoodbhoy and Rehman, Hoodbhoy's article does not go into attacking him at any moment and I can easily imagine Hoodbhoy writing this even if any other scientist has published such utter nonsense.

COMSTECH is also known to spend money organizing annual conferences on Quran science and funding small studies to study scripture under a microscope and discover relativity having been written in a verse. And you have written over that matter earlier as well.

There should have been a bigger public shaming of Ata ur Rehman to have written such utter irresponsible nonsense (plus it's not his field either).

Nidhal Guessoum said...

Shahid said:
"COMSTECH is also known to spend money organizing annual conferences on Quran science and funding small studies to study scripture under a microscope and discover relativity having been written in a verse. And you have written over that matter earlier as well."

Shahid,
1. Simply saying "Comstech is also known to..." is not good enough; I'm sure you realize that. Please provide references and evidence for everything you're accusing it of doing ("discover[ing] relativity... in a verse", "organizing annual conferences on Quran science", etc.)

2. I'm not sure, but I think you were referring to me when you wrote "you have written over that matter earlier as well." I have indeed written very critically of I`jaz (claims of 'miraculous' scientific facts in the Qur'an), but I have never referred to Comstech, as I have not come across any such involvement. I am not denying the possibility; I know very little about Comstech; I do ask for evidence on any and all such claims, one way or another. Thanks.

Shahid said...

I understand that my statement is no evidence and carries no objective value. Rest assured, it's not a false claim. I have myself attended a seminar (cum small conference) organized by COMSTECH on Quran and Science (where tapping energy from Djinns was again debated but rather comically - though embryology was discussed in light of Quran) in 2005 or around about that. Seeing COMSTECH's negligible online presence, I cannot back up my claim any further other than knowing a Microbiology grad who was granted a minimal fund to write a paper on Thalessemia and Quran.

As for the second point, whilst you have definitely written on the topic too (and I enjoy reading those) - I was referring to Salman bhai. I wrote this entire comment before anybody did but it somehow bounced due to the length and I then broke it up into two parts and posted the next day again.

I hope you can get your hands on more factual evidence that proves COMSTECH's involvement and support for I'jaz.

Ali Kazim Gardezi said...

Dear Salman Bhai,

I must say I love the way you write/explain. You have explained the whole discussion b/w the two eminent scientists without being judgmental.

It is indeed shocking to see Dr Ata, highly respected scientist, falling trap of a conspiracy theory.

BTW!!! the sarcasm towards the end was hilarious :)

Salman Hameed said...

Nidhal,

I actually don't know much about Comstech either. This is the reason I focused more on what Atta ur-Rahman actually wrote about this particular issue and why it is an issue in this environment. I think we will also have to deal with Comstech on a case-by-case basis.

:) said:
"Careful, Salman.
Many presidents must have thought Coppernicus' was also quack science."

This is a strange response - and poor Copernicus often gets dragged on unnecessarily. First of all, for every successful revolutionary idea, there are hundreds of thousands of really crappy ideas - and yes, with many one can tell that with a quick look. So - no, not all new ideas are intellectually valid. For example, if someone tells you that a way to get an X-ray of a person is by hitting the head of the person with an aluminum plate. Copernicus or no Copernicus, we can reasonably rule out the possibility of this ever being right - since we understand X-rays relatively well. In the same way, we understand earthquakes reasonably well (though there are still many unanswered questions) to rule out a connection of earthquakes with ionosphere.

Salman Hameed said...

Nidhal,

I actually don't know much about Comstech either. This is the reason I focused more on what Atta ur-Rahman actually wrote about this particular issue and why it is an issue in this environment. I think we will also have to deal with Comstech on a case-by-case basis.

:) said:
"Careful, Salman.
Many presidents must have thought Coppernicus' was also quack science."

This is a strange response - and poor Copernicus often gets dragged on unnecessarily. First of all, for every successful revolutionary idea, there are hundreds of thousands of really crappy ideas - and yes, with many one can tell that with a quick look. So - no, not all new ideas are intellectually valid. For example, if someone tells you that a way to get an X-ray of a person is by hitting the head of the person with an aluminum plate. Copernicus or no Copernicus, we can reasonably rule out the possibility of this ever being right - since we understand X-rays relatively well. In the same way, we understand earthquakes reasonably well (though there are still many unanswered questions) to rule out a connection of earthquakes with ionosphere.

Ali Kazim Gardezi said...

Let me bring in some politics to the discussion... if I may.

We in Pakistan are fond of conspiracy theories. We think that America (and likes) are hell bent to destroy Pakistan. I don't think its not true. I mean why would America like to do that. After all, we are an independent country with our own goals and inspirations.

But then I read about the recent wiki leaks and how America manipulate people/govts for his/her gains... it makes me rethink my earlier proposition.

I mean, they wanted to access/takeaway uranium, as per the wikileak. That means they don't like Pakistan's nuclear program. Now does this mean the airblue conspiracy (that the plane was hijacked and target was kahutta, Pakistan's nuclear facility) has some logic/weight in it?

I know it may sound crazy, and I dont want to believe like this, but sometimes you are not really sure...

Wikileaks really got me confused :)

Salman Hameed said...

"I know it may sound crazy, and I dont want to believe like this, but sometimes you are not really sure..."

Of course. No one should be gullible. And of course, there are things that individual countries are interested in. The question is how do we look at individual instances? Sometimes we really don't have enough information. How should we approach such a case? In science, we have to be aware of our own biases. For example, if there is an idea that we really like and want to believe in, we really have to be skeptical of the results that confirm our own ideas. So we have to make sure that we rule out other possibilities to make sure that we are not mistaken. In fact, one may ask others to repeat those tests - or in medical instances, one may do double-blind tests. The reason is that we want to know how things really work - even if this means that our hypothesis - and that helps us in the long run.

In many ways, we have to think about these issues in political situations as well. Lets take the example of the Air Blue crash. We would/should really like to know what caused the crash to prevent other similar incidences. In Pakistan, US and India are often our favorite targets. It is very easy to point a finger at them. It has been no secret that US has had concerns about Pakistan's nuclear program.

So should we be satisfied with the explanation that US was behind the Air Blue crash as soon as we hear that? After all, it satisfies a particular narrative.

Or should we try to entertain other explanations as well? For example, how were the weather conditions that day? How old was the plane? Have their been any complaints about the navigation system of the plane? How old was the pilot? Can this be a human error?

Can this be US conspiracy? Sure - we cannot rule it out. But are any simpler explanations possible? Well, we know that there was fog and rain that day, and several flights to Islamabad were cancelled. May be weather did have something to do with the crash. It also seems that a pilot error also played a part.

So we have to be skeptical of our cherished ideas - and look for simpler explanations first.

Here is the news about the report of the Air Blue investigation.

Ali said...

@ AKG

"Wikileaks really got me confused :)"

Exactly my point.

Just imagine the world without Wikileaks that you mentioned. It will be so much easier to believe that most Pakistanis love conspiracy theories. But now that you have got acccess to some information (which I believe is only a very small fraction of the truth), you are 'confused.' Imagine you have access to ALL the information. Then only you will know what is the truth.

So, without having access to the REAL details of something someone else is doing, to critisize a person because he believes in (what you call) a conspiracy theory is, in my mind, not right.

By the way, I am not defending anyone. :)

Salman Hameed said...

"So, without having access to the REAL details of something someone else is doing, to critisize a person because he believes in (what you call) a conspiracy theory is, in my mind, not right."

Yes, Ali, I guess, this is the reason we should not criticize those in the US who say that Muslims have a worldwide conspiracy to impose Sharia rule (for example in Oklahoma) and those who believe that the Islamic Center in Manhattan is a secret terrorist plan. Of course, we have to wait for the "REAL details". In the mean time, lets assume they are true - or at least give them the same weight as being given to the Air Blue conspiracy theories. Right? After all, we cannot make any reasonable conclusions...

Ali Kazim Gardezi said...

Guys, we have established that there are people who believe in conspiracy theories every where. And one should have access to complete information.

Now the question is what should we do till we don't have complete information? Shall we indulge into conspiracy theories? Can we give equal weight-age to all possibilities?

I think we can get the answer by looking at the motives of investigation. Like we want to know the truth about Air blue plane crash. So that it doesnt happen in the future. A simple explanation, supported by some evidence is good enough.

If we go in the route of American conspiracy then we can ask why would American want to destroy Kahutta? Is there any reason for that? And just by destroying Kahutta will Pakistan's nuclear capabilities vanishes? Is Pakistan's nuclear assets threat to the world peace or are these for peaceful purposes? There are so many questions comes into the mind?

But I wonder why all these thoughts originates in our (Pakistanis/muslims) minds? Is this our insecurity? After all we muslims had a great past and if we continue the way we are, a bleak future. So we think the world is conspiring against us. So that we can make sense of our current dismissal situation.

(If Americans believe in some conspiracy theories it because of their insecurity towards Islam or anything who threatens to take there lives/jobs etc.)

So can we conclude that people(countries) in power like to influence other people(countries). But at the same time, those on the receiving end indulge bit too much into this thinking and everything happening to them is considered as a conspiracy?

After all we Pakistani believe that spot fixing scandal was also a conspiracy against our cricket players. And it happens everywhere. Why Pakistan? My answer would be why not Pakistan?

P.S: I'm sorry I've diverted this 'scietific' discussion towards politics/human nature, but I guess its worth pointing out.

Ali Kazim Gardezi said...

It would have nice if this discussion could take place on Facebook, I mean all these comments could somehow fall in there.

We would have a much wider audience to the discuss the issue. Just a thought :)

Anonymous said...

HAARP is not a conspiracy theory. It is a fact. Check the internet. You can find lots of information there. Mr. Ata was right on the spot. You don't know what you are talking about.

I was sitting peacefully at home when in CNN they showed that SUPER WINDS from around the world came to Pakistan and stopped at the northern area and caused heavy rains. They also told that the monsoon winds which usually occur at this time of the year also came into that region.
I was intrigued that why the super winds would travel halfway across the world to rain down on Pakistan. So I started to search the internet.I would suggest you to do so thoroughly before again criticising anyone in this regard. This is fact that HAARP has been used before too .

Salman Hameed said...

"HAARP is not a conspiracy theory. It is a fact. Check the internet. You can find lots of information there. Mr. Ata was right on the spot. You don't know what you are talking about. "

Oh thanks - and you are absolutely right, it is on the internet and hence it must be true. But I'm no longer worried about HAARP now. It seems that a planet-dissolving dust cloud is headed towards the Earth and it will dissolve the entire Solar system in 2014. It is on the internet - check it out yourself!

Anonymous said...

If you need information, where can you get the same?? The internet only basically. HAARP is not a conspiracy theory ,it is a fact, just like chem trails are in the USA. Why was it being filmed by 5 men who also jumped and danced.I can go into a lot of detail. Do you also think that 9/11 was true?. How did the buildings fall in their footsteps. the maker of the buildings said that he had made these buildings strong enough to stand the impact of a 747. Look at the pentagon. The govt says that the plane entered totally in side the building??. Nonsense.I have followed 9/11 and i have a lot of detail saved. It was nonsense.

Check out the patents for HAARP. Also if you want, i can attach the links too.

But I have a strange feeling that you already know....

Also two planes crashed but how many buildings fell in their footsteps?? Do you know that .How would you explain that. There were hot spots in the area 1 month after the fall. Pictures of molten metal can be seen in the internet. And this was also reported in the papers. Now is that a conspiracy theory too.And this is just one instance. There are lot of details too many to go in detail. This was just an excuse, and I think that I don't need to go in detail about this. And this is not the first time.
And about black water, 4 guys were caught in islamabad and it was proved that they belonged to black water, it was all in the newspaper. Now what are you going to say to that. That they are all lies? And you alone are right? Think about what you are saying.
We know that black water is here to stay.
Oh and i checked your site too. the fact is that lot of disinformation is spread by the govt so as to counter other theories.
Salman you can't fool all the people all of the time.
And anyway you are working in the USA and i think that you have two jobs , one as a scientist and ....

Anonymous said...

Why did the superwinds travel all the way from across the world to hit Pakistan? Why?. I saw this in CNN and this prompted me to check it.

I don't work for the govt, and I also don't follow the politics. Only the big story. I dont' think that i had heard the name of Mr. Ata before too. But if has said what you say he has said, then good for him.

Some people came from America and told Pakistan that they were due for a big earthquake. Why? California is also due for a big quake as well as a lot of other places.

Again some persons came and informed Pakistan that they were due for heavy rains.

This has now become a joke.

some areas of Pakistan lie on the fault zone. Its easy to cause a quake. Just detonate 1-2 kiloton bomb on the fault line in any of the deep caves found in Afghanistan,and there you have it. India refused to give us the seismographic report of that time. We had 4000 tremors after the earthquake. This has never before happened in the history of the world. Maximum maybe 200-300 tremors but not more.

Akbar said...

Did you read Professor Hawking advising humans to avoid contact with the aliens? Alien...but what exactly IS an alien, could you please reflect upon that too? In my view it is just a deep-rooted figment of our childhood imagination, and I can bet on that.
Dr. P. Hoodbhoy has a long parasitic history of hating everything related to Pakistan, why shouldn't he miss out a chance here too.
It is a sad state of affairs to read such an article from a prominent Pakistani scientist, but shouldn't we adopt a more balanced approach?

Salman Hameed said...

Dear Anonymous,

You seem very defensive about Prof Atta. And you are hiding your name. Hmm...using your logic then there is only one conclusion that can be reached: you must be working for the "Agencies" in the Pakistan.

See - How easy it is to accuse someone?? :)