Anti-nanotech group behind Mexican scientist bombings

The group claims that nanotechnology research will cause the Earth to become a 'grey goo' Copyright: Flickr/victorpuntes

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[MEXICO CITY] Recent bomb attacks targeting Mexican scientists have been orchestrated by a radical group that opposes nanotechnology and may be planning further attacks against individual scientists, according to its manifesto.

Two professors were injured while opening a package containing a home-made bomb at one of the Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education (ITESM) campuses in Mexico earlier this month (8 August).

According to local authorities, the attack came from the group called ‘Individuals Tending Towards Savagery’, which took responsibility through a blog post detailing bomb construction that matched the evidence found by the police.

The group has published a 5,400 word manifesto, which claims that nanotechnology research will cause "the Earth [to] become a grey goo in which intelligent nano-machines will rule".

"Many might say technology has improved medicine, and might label us as inhumane … but this is just a trap of the system," the manifesto says, denouncing nanotechnology as global domination propaganda.

The declaration states that it targets individuals, rather than institutions, and it names five other nanotechnology scientists. The group has also claimed responsibility for two previous bomb attacks, in April and May, against Oscar Camacho, a researcher at Mexico’s National Polytechnic Institute.

ITESM has taken security measures such as installing metal detectors, using police dogs, and conducting vehicle and package inspections, but other research institutions are uncertain about how to react.

"The government’s response was slow, especially on stating a clearer and stronger message condemning these acts," Manuel Torres, director of the Institute of Physics at Mexico’s National Autonomous University, told SciDev.Net.

But Torres added that the institute has received advice from the government on security measures, such as dealing with incoming mail and possible phone threats.

Silvia Ribeiro, Latin America director for the ETC Group, which opposes unregulated nanotechnology products, told SciDev.Net: "We absolutely condemn these [bombing] acts".

Ribeiro added that they instead promote open and informed debates involving scientists and society.

Arturo Barba, science journalist and director of the news agency Sapiens, told SciDev.Net that poor government support for research may be more harmful in the long run than such attacks.

"The Mexican government has already beaten these ‘savages’ to it by destroying Latin America’s most important nanotech lab," he said, referring to the dismantling of a prestigious nanotechnology research group due to disagreements with the administration.

Barba said that factors such as insufficient media coverage of science; scientists with little interest in communicating their work; authorities that do not rely on scientific advice; and poor public education add up to "an ideal breeding ground for episodes like this".

But he added that it is strange for such a group to strike in Mexico, because Mexico is not one of the best countries in nanotechnology; and even stranger to attack ITESM, as there are many more research centres that are more advanced in the subject.

Torres said: "I don’t believe we should change the way this kind of research is conducted — and even less consider giving up nanotechnology development. But, inevitably, we will have to think about how we communicate these topics".