Posted on Nov 16, 2007
James Harris and Josh Scheer
Scheer: Where’s the hate coming from? Because it doesn’t sound like, “OK, this book is a little boring,” or whatever. There’s one like that. But most of them are, like, “This woman’s completely wrong. She made up the whole story.” Where does that come from? Is it just people—?
Weinberger: The main Web site against the book is, of course, run by the wife of the main protagonist. There’s this professor in Texas, Carl Collins, who did the controversial experiment in 1998, which led to the idea of a hafnium bomb. And this is where he basically had a used dental X-ray machine, a sample of hafnium, this radioactive material, a nuclear isomer, and he claimed results that were immediately criticized by the scientific community but led this cadre of true believers to support the isomer bomb. He has an unusual history. He has definite opinions, and after the book came out, his wife created this unusual Web site that attacks me. It attacks the book. On one hand, coming out of writing the book, it wasn’t a surprise because Carl Collins’ MO was to very much attack the people who attacked his work, so it wasn’t that surprising for me that they created a Web site to attack me and attack the book. I would say that, probably—there certainly are people who like the book and dislike the book, but I think certainly some of the reviews posted on Amazon could well be sock puppets, but I won’t say to whom. This is part of what led me to write the book. It was an interesting group of people, very hard-core, true believers who promoted the hafnium bomb and in some cases other far-fetched concepts. I think people who look at the Web site will see that he not only attacks me; he attacks anyone who’s ever written a good review of the book, including a former presidential science adviser. It’s entertaining to see the aftermath. On the other hand, the book is quite critical of his work and he certainly has the right to answer that criticism in a public forum.
Scheer: We’ve had authors on here that Publishers Weekly has tarnished and said, “This book is not worth reading,” but every Amazon review—there’s hundreds of them with five stars. Whereas Publishers Weekly on Amazon likes your book quite a bit. But, yes, some of the reviews—it was shocking to me because I hadn’t seen something like that. I mean, a bad review is a bad review, but where it goes from five stars where it’s “This book’s a must-read,” to ...
Weinberger: The book speaks for itself. Certainly what I would divide between are homemade Web sites by a protagonist in the book versus—. There have been a slew of published reviews of the book, some of which have been—The New York Times Book Review reviewed the book. They had some compliments of it, they had some criticism. Science Magazine gave it a really, really nice review of the book. There have been things in between. But certainly none of the published reviews have attacked the book the way Carl Collins’ wife’s Web site attacks the book. And there have been similar high jinks on Wikipedia. My opinion is: The book speaks for itself. People will read it and they’ll like it or not like it. What people post anonymously or not anonymously is up to them.
Square, Site wide
Weinberger: It’s a free world out there.
Scheer: I want to get on to something else now, something different, about a piece you wrote in 2005 called “Xtreme Defense” for the [Washington] Post and I want to talk about the ideas. It seems to me—I don’t know about James—that sometimes you can sell these ideas—obviously the guy in this book—who can sell these ideas ... better salesmen, and you invest many, many years into it, and you realize at some point—. When do people wake up and go, “That’s a bad idea”? Or do they ever, and we end up procuring nuclear hand grenades 15 years from now?
Weinberger: That’s a recurring theme in my work, and not just in “Imaginary Weapons,” but also in a number of articles that I’ve written for The Washington Post Magazine, for Wired and for other outlets. Part of the problem is that these ideas never go away. Be it a nuclear hand grenade, be it a lightning weapon, be it a mind-control device—.
Weinberger: It’s the old adage: There’s a sucker born every minute. The Pentagon does not speak with one voice, and if you get turned down in one part of the Pentagon, there’s an endless number of other agencies and funding sources you can go to and you’ll get many, many very smart bureaucrats in the Pentagon, but eventually you might find that one who just ain’t tried that yet. And that’s unfortunate, and the question is, is that problem getting worse, has it always been there? I think in some ways it is getting worse. It’s certainly very troublesome.
Weinberger: And certainly—. You have to tolerate some waste in a system because any system is going to have waste, but that doesn’t mean you should not look at it or try to eliminate it. And when you see these things come back again and again and again, you wonder, “Why haven’t they learned the lesson before?”
Scheer: I was laughing before because when you were talking about mind control, I read on your Web site that you didn’t want people contacting you because they’d had mind-control devices put in their head. That was just a funny aside that I’d read, but I just liked it.
Weinberger: A lot of that came out of— I wrote an article that came out earlier this year. It was a story for The Washington Post Magazine, again, on people who say that they are mind-control victims, and the irony you get out of the situation is that the Pentagon really has worked on a lot of these mind-control technologies. That doesn’t mean these people’s claims are true. But part of the problem is, they get on the Internet, they start googling things and they find the Pentagon really has invested in weapons that send voices into people’s heads, and so they’d come to this conclusion. And there’s a lot of people who believe this.
Harris: We are talking to the author of “Imaginary Weapons,” Sharon Weinberger. Sharon, is this really a conversation about who should be building? Is this really a conversation about what scientists should be doing and how these projects should be born and thought out, or is this a question about, you just feel like funds are being misappropriated and there’s a better way to do it but you don’t really have an answer as to how to do it?
Weinberger: Well, that’s like the question of things getting better. Yes, technology goes forward. In some cases claims have been made for decades, like the advent of deployable laser weapons. Well, we’re now 30 years on and we still don’t have that deployable laser weapon. So, yes, technology moves forward, but it doesn’t always fulfill the promises that some people claimed some decades back.
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