Who can you trust?

I was working out the plot for a science fiction novel, and developed a scenario in which nation-states get into a real competition, something like the Manhattan Project crossed with the space race. The nation that wins gets all the marbles. So what would you do with scientists in that kind of situation? The government needs them, but how could it make use of them?

The Feds could draft them, if they didn’t volunteer, just as we used to draft doctors.

They could be forced to do something useful, if they were capable of such. Build a sharashka in Alaska and stuff it full of string theorists. Explain that if they deliver, some day they’ll get to see a picture of a woman.

But who could the Feds trust? It wouldn’t be like the Manhattan project, where the researchers were anti-Nazi even if they weren’t loyal to the US. Ted Hall and Klaus Fuchs may have delivered the implosion design to Los Arzamas, but at least they didn’t help the Germans.

Could you trust Chinese immigrants? Mostly not. Chinese Americans? Certainly not all of them. But then, what do you do with them?

Let them go home? This issue has come up before. The Feds locked up H. S. Tsien [Qian Xuesen] back in the 50s because they thought he was pro-Chinese and would aid the Chinese rocket program. When they finally let him go, that’s exactly what he did.

There have been many cases in which key individuals have been allowed to go home and fight with their homies, due to chivalry or some other form of stupidity. in 1861, the Feds let many officers go home and fight for the Confederacy. Radomir Putnik, chief of the Serbian general staff, was taking the waters in Austria when the First World War broke out. They let him go home – were they ever sorry! Gernot Zippe, an Austrian POW in a Siberian camp, built a workable centrifuge for separating isotopes. Yet, to my lasting surprise, the Soviets let him go in 1956. He became the Johnny Appleseed of nuclear proliferation [along with Eisenhower – Atoms for Peace].

Seems to me that the right thing to do would be to get real, while staying reasonably humane. Discriminate. Don’t give out key information to people whose loyalties are plainly elsewhere (that’d be a change !) Arrest technically competent aliens and let them play chess for the duration.

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47 Responses to Who can you trust?

  1. If they are a lot smarter than their jailers, they will likely be able to find a way to communicate secrets to foreign powers especially if you give them even limited Internet access.

  2. Patrick Boyle says:

    My Internet connection went down a couple months ago so I had to deal with only those resources that I had on my local machine. I naturally had Microsoft Word so I started to write a Science Fiction novel. No outline. I just began In media res . But then my connection came back and I never got past the first chapter. I went back to making movies.

    This is the James Fennimore Cooper effect. You read a novel and decide that you could do better. I told my girl friend about this and she confessed that she had written a novel too. Writing a novel doesn’t seem that hard. I just Googled IQ and novelists and found a blog that claims that the more you actually know about real science the harder it is for you to write fiction. Must be true – I read it on the Web.

    I suspect that you may be drafted yourself if anything like your speculation comes about. The new weapons frontier may very well be in genetics. It sure isn’t in aeronautics or tank design or small arms design. Fighter pilots and conventional infantry look to be obsolete right now. Anyone who can rebuild a car engine should be able to build a drone capable of carrying a nuclear device. If that’s wrong you could just kidnap Grant Imahara. He’s on TV every week building a home made drone.

    But that level of warfare is yesterday’s news. Someone will want sooner or later to try to kill all people of a certain race or ethnicity. I have no idea how to do that, but someone might think that you do.

  3. The concept of the indiscriminate spread of knowledge seems to be roughly that the danger of it in the hands of those hostile to the West will be more than balanced out by the coincident spread of Western values by them. It seems to have worked, mostly. Outside of some Islamic backwaters everyone in the world wants to be “developed” and part of capitalist world trade.

    • reiner Tor says:

      It didn’t work. Even the Islamic countries mostly want to be developed, but it doesn’t mean that they are any less hostile to the West.

      Are the Chinese or Russians now good friends only because they want to be rich and developed, too? I mean, there was détente even during the USSR times, there was even a brief military alliance (during WW2), so I’m not sure how much things have improved vis-à-vis Russia since the collapse of the USSR. China was an ally against the USSR in the 1970s and 80s, so market economy etc. might not have changed things too much there either.

      Moreover, it’s not even clear to me if indiscriminate spread of knowledge played any role in them wanting to be as rich and developed as we are. I mean, wouldn’t it be their natural impulse anyway, temporarily suppressed by some crazy dictatorship, but then set free as the dictatorship gets less crazy?

      • ziel says:

        You’re suggesting that relations with Russia are not significantly less hostile today than during the cold war?

      • reiner Tor says:

        Why restrict observations to the period of the Cold War? Why not include WW2, when the USSR was an ally? I think US-USSR relations during the Second World War were much much friendlier than US-Russia relations ever since the end of the Cold War, even though USSR leaders, ideology and policies were much crazier than during most of the Cold War, to say nothing of present day Russian policies.

        My thesis is simply that internal ideology (capitalistic or not) and craziness has very little effect on external relations. A lot of things have much higher effect on it, like interests (common or antagonistic), strength (USSR in the 70s was strong, Russia in the 90s was very weak, Russia today is still much weaker than the USSR even at its weakest), and some similar issues.

        • gcochran9 says:

          Your thesis is wrong. In some cases, internal ideology, and other internal factors that are harder to characterize, have had a huge influence on external relations. For example, during a period in which a particular captured Venetian girl was the favorite of the harem. and later when that same lady was the mother of the next Sultan, the Ottoman Empire treated Venice like its own left nut.

    • Speaking of Islam, could you trust Muslims, who (if they really believe Islam) are famously loyal only to the Ummah (the Muslim world)? I’d like to think a scientist smart enough to be of use in such a high level project would not be a true believer, but you never know.

      • gcochran9 says:

        In the same sense that no true Scotsman would ever have sold out to the English Crown, right?

        It’s a moot point. There are few high-quality scientists from the Moslem countries. Very few.

      • Hugh Mann says:

        A Q Khan trained at Capenhurst (UK) and other URENCO uranium enrichment facilities in Europe, then went back to Pakistan and enriched uranium for a bomb (the technology then being passed on to North Korea, Iran and Libya).

      • misdreavus says:

        If talking made children smart, I’d be dumber than a rhesus monkey by now.

      • K says:

        Is it the heatstroke that dumbs them down? Or marrying their cousins?

  4. Douglas Knight says:

    How did Keldysh’s Calculation Bureau work?

  5. metatron says:

    What kind of scenario are you envisioning exactly? A lot would depend on how critical the competition is.

  6. The fourth doorman of the apocalypse says:
    • rsq says:

      Not only did Marilyn vos Savant’s parents both speak broken English, they both had different mother-tongues.

      It’s too bad nothing seems to work. I’ve experimented on myself with everything from chemicals to electromagnetism hoping for a boost. The most powerful effects are so weak that they’re not worth the bother.

  7. Jim says:

    Charles Murray mentions somewhere the case of a girl who was raised in an attic by a deaf-mute mother until something like the age of eight. When she was discovered she could only make a few croaking sounds but put in a normal environment she acquired normal linguistic abilities quite rapidily. By the time she graduated from high school her social/intellectual development was quite normal.

  8. Don Strong says:

    What do you do with Noam Chomsky?

  9. Edward Teller thought it better to let all scientists participate in defense projects, because an open society would always outstrip a closed and secretive one. A testable hypothesis, though with a lot of downside.

    • Toddy Cat says:

      Teller was pretty smart, and certainly no liberal, so his opinion deserves respect, even if I’m not sure that I agree with it. I’m sure that things would work out that way in the long run – assuming that there WAS a long run…

  10. Orthodox says:

    The government should invest some money finding Mormon and Appalachian scientists, otherwise it might be in trouble.

  11. dave chamberlin says:

    Any chance that this space race-Manhatten project scenario has to do with genetically engineered higher intelligence? The internet is a nightmare for leak pluggers. Lets say some country has umpteen thousand scientists working in isolation on a project that once completed means that ” they win all the marbles.” At least a handful of these people are going to have the wikileak spirit in them that this information ought not to be censored and will be able to get around whatever walls have been built to isolate the internet from these scientists. Now said country needs to 1)compartmentalize the project so that everyone working on it knows just a small fraction of the total project and 2)spread disinformation like crazy so the real leaks can’t be deciphered from the phony ones.

    I was playing with the idea of a science fiction novel is about genetically engineered higher intelligence and I wondered how to isolate the effect of gene combinations that geniuses have and normal folk don’t. My dumb idea that I have stuck in my mind is an extra chromosome added to cloned pigs. Somewhere in the future lies the genius pig farm. All day long they are nosed up to a specially designed pig nose keyboard and they are solving problems for a scrap of food. They are as vicious as they are smart, and the farmhands need to be paid extremely well or they quit. Its a dangerous job and you never get used to the penetrating mean stare of those genius pigs.

    • gcochran9 says:

      I had something else in mind. Some wildcatters find remnants of a prehuman civilization, one wiped out in the Cretaceous extinction. It takes a while, but we come to realize that they were technically ahead of us, significantly so. Almost all of the artifacts we find have been ruined by erosion, geology, and time – but we learn that they had an underground Moon base, where moth and rust do not corrupt. Whoever submits a boxtop to that buried base first wins valuable prizes… so the race is on.

      with the pig idea, real class is demonstrated if we simultaneously make the pigs smarter and tastier.

  12. Jim says:

    On the subject of ideology influencing foreign policy I recall reading that Beria after the death of Stalin proposed to the other top guys in the Soviet Union that they try to work out a deal with the Western powers that in return for the Soviet Union giving up control of East Germany amd maybe other parts of Eastern Europe that the the US would give the Soviet Union substantial economic aid. Apparently Beria wasn’t very committed to Marxist ideology, the defeat of capitalism and all that
    and more interested in getting the greatest immediate payoff for the Soviet conquests in WW II. I
    wonder how different postwar history would have been if Beria had come to power in the Soviet Union?

    • Toddy Cat says:

      Beria was evil, but not stupid. He knew a lot more about both the Soviet and American economies than most of the Politburo, and he could probably forsee the likely outcome of a contest between the two. I doubt that Beria was giving up on Communism, but he probably was in favor of what in the 1970’s we called “Detente” – that is, more or less conciliatory relations with the U.S. while pursuing “Wars of National Liberation” in the Third World. Hard to say if this would have worked, but it could hardly have been any worse for the commies than what happened…

  13. Robert Plomin might have a preliminary list of the first set of genius genes by Christmas. So, the funny thing is that we have already handed the best secret of all to the Chinese, who are crunching the data at BGI. The question is: if they announced that the genomes of very bright people had no features which distinguished from that of less bright folks, would we believe them?

    • melendwyr says:

      If they had merely looked at individual genes, sure. With something as complex as the brain, with something like 50,000 special genes contributing to its structure, if there are any key differences I’d expect them to be in associations of genes rather than individual parts. You can’t tell that much about a book by looking at it on the level of words – you need to at least examine how they’re put together into sentences at a minimum.

    • dave chamberlin says:

      I don’t think there are genius genes because we would have found them already. But there is a large standard deviation in intelligence, even among siblings, so I’m thinking along Melendwyr’s lines that it is associations of genes that make the difference. Also don’t discount the switching in front of genes as inconsequential. They have been shown to have been the subject of rapid spread of certain mutations meaning they have some reward. It will take a lot of data crunching and probably decades to find these magic combinations of genes but it is coming. We live in interesting times.

      • melendwyr says:

        I rather suspect they won’t find a magic combination, or even a relatively small number of combinations, that result in high IQ. There may be subgroups of high IQ people where there are identifiable sections related to their scores, though – I would recommend trying to look at families noted for generations of achievement (a la the Darwins).

  14. IC says:

    We Chinese are not exactly that loyal to homeland or own ethnic group. It is all depending who treat your better. Yes, historically we had no problem switching to non-han ethnic power if the offer is better than your own people. We got plenty of “race traitors” during Mongol and Manchurian invasion. It is mutual process that made China such melting pot.

    For Chinese, there is no absolute loyalty. People from large empire might be very similar in their behavior. Smaller the group, stronger ethnocentrism. The same rule applies to organization or business. Smaller organization, stronger coherence.

  15. Jim says:

    Large empires often seem to come under the control of individuals who may have little connection with the original founding ethnicity. Stalin was not Russian and I’ve heard that he always spoke Russian with a pretty strong accent. He doesn’t seem to have had much sentimental attachment to the Russian people or any other people for that matter. In the later Roman empire in the west real power was often in the hands of barbarian generals who were “Roman” in name only. Napoleon wasn’t French and his main regard for the French people seems to have been as a source of cannon fodder.

    • rsq says:

      Whom you can trust is itself a puzzle worthy of a Manhattan Project. Some anthropologists think it such a devilishly difficult puzzle that it accounts for much of the size of our neocortex.

      Solve it and you’d fix nine-tenths of social ills.

      • Hugh Mann says:

        The answer historically to “who do you trust?” has been “family”. Hasn’t always worked, but nothing’s perfect.

  16. melendwyr says:

    I think it rather depends on the nature of the research. Reaching lunar alien artifacts would be relatively simple, requiring that only a very few people know the true purpose of the mission. The real problem would be analyzing and reverse-engineering them once they’re back on Earth. It’s been a popular idea in various media properties to suggest that, or something like it, is what actually happened, and the military responded with disinformation campaigns about Area 51; you can find variations of the basic plot in dozens of books and movies.

    Probably only a very few people would be allowed to look at the artifacts, which is a very inefficient way to do science – but from the point of view of the government, it’s not a loss if we never figure out their secrets as long as no one else does either. We believe we’re on top, without anyone likely to challenge our dominance militarily, so there’d be no need to hurry and get results. It would take a war in which we were in danger, or the threat of one, to get something like the Manhattan Project going – and to help ensure that the people involved will take secrecy seriously.

  17. Cloudswrest says:

    if you do not beat him he will not listen.

    Years ago on Usenet groups, before they were polluted by spam and rabble, there was a regular poster named Steven B. Harris, MD (he now works in life extension). In one post he referred to ADHD as “kids who are unafraid of teachers without sticks disease.” He was commenting on the prescription Meth they give kids to keep them focused. He said it really does work. For example an adult can focus all day at work on capping Coke bottles without getting bored. The trouble is, is it good to lower the brain’s “boredom shields” in a developing brain. That is, are the “side effects” of the intended effects bad? Wouldn’t a few whacks with a plastic ruler be better than drugging a kid. Wouldn’t caning a teenage vandal (like they did in Singapore) be better than the expense of incarcerating him in a “boys’ ranch”?

  18. zhai2nan2 says:

    > The nation that wins gets all the marbles. So what would you do with scientists in that kind of situation? The government needs them, but how could it make use of them?

    Governments will sink to any depth of tyranny, regardless of whether it works.

    The solution is to have less government of every kind, and less idolatrous fawning on dictators.

    I could go into detail with various sci-fi plots involving drug-and-torture-based brainwashing, but no horrific excess of my fictionalizing could come close to the actual human right violations and war crimes of the real world. MKULTRA never really stopped, it just changed names.

  19. georgesdelatour says:

    “My thesis is simply that internal ideology (capitalistic or not) and craziness has very little effect on external relations. A lot of things have much higher effect on it, like interests (common or antagonistic), strength (USSR in the 70s was strong, Russia in the 90s was very weak, Russia today is still much weaker than the USSR even at its weakest), and some similar issues.”

    I take your point.

    I’d turn it into a slightly different point.

    Ideological closeness or distance isn’t a good guide to how international politics works in practice. For instance, Maoist China’s relationship with the USSR became more and more antagonistic for various reasons; but one specific reason was, Mao thought the Soviets were insufficiently zealous in their Communism.

    Nixon was able to exploit this antagonism. Capitalist America made a strategic alliance with the world’s most hardline Communist country (which was then in its psychotic Cultural Revolution phase), in order to checkmate a duller Brezhnevite bureaucratic incarnation of Communism.

    Personally I think this was good diplomacy on Nixon’s part. But it doesn’t make sense if you only think in terms of ideology.

    • reiner Tor says:

      Yes, I think your point is much closer to reality. This (together with Dr. Cochran’s point about the Venetian wife of the sultan) also implies that slowly altering other countries ideologies in a more capitalistic (and somewhat more democratic) direction might not be the best idea if you want to make them friendlier to you, because international politics is too dependent on random factors, like personal tastes of a ruler or a people’s dislike of an ill defined “Americanization” (all the while they contradictorily keep consuming Coke and Hollywood movies in industrial quantities).

  20. neilfutureboy says:

    Perhaps the smartest way of dealing with Saddam was to offer his nuclear and related scientists and close family jobs in the USA. There weren’t that many & their names were known and who would choose to live in Iraq if you had the choice. Since Iraq was under UN sanctions at the time Saddam couldn;’t have refused.

    Obviously it was either too smart or to peaceful to be tried.

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