In Print: Imaginary Weapons

The military subculture that pursues the development of fabulous, physically impossible weapons concepts at taxpayer expense is the subject of a new book by defense reporter Sharon Weinberger called “Imaginary Weapons.”

Weinberger introduces the hafnium bomb, a hypothetical weapon that would supposedly harness the energy released from a nuclear transition within a hafnium isomer. It is a purely speculative notion that has been largely discredited, but one that attracted nearly cultish attention — and millions of dollars — within the defense establishment.

It is akin in its eccentricity, and lack of reproducibility, to “zero point energy,” “psychic teleportation” (pdf), and other notions that Weinberger terms “fringe science.”

Fringe science, she contends, “has reached new heights under the Bush Administration. We have fewer and fewer scientific experts in the government, and an increasing unwillingness by the government to turn to outside scientific advisers.”

“The real danger in this story is not the existence of fringe science, but of fringe science in government, particularly when it receives substantial funding or guides decision-making.”

“I see this problem getting worse, not better. If the government doesn’t take steps to shore up its scientific expertise, I think we are facing a future filled with imaginary weapons.”

Her highly readable new book, filled with entertaining or disgusting anecdotes, has just been published.

See “Imaginary Weapons: A Journey Through the Pentagon’s Scientific Underworld” by Sharon Weinberger, Nation Books, June 2006.

0 thoughts on “In Print: Imaginary Weapons

  1. Steve:

    How intellectually bankrupt and scientifically illiterate it is to say that zero-point energy is “speculative or discredited” in light of the fact that Planck, Einstein and Hopf, and their collaborators invented zero-point energy in order to correct a flaw in the classical blackbody radiation energy density spectrum, and additionally the fact that zero-point energy is one of the key foundational notions of quantum field theory and general relativity physics (as applied to cosmological problems where the quantum vacuum zero-point energy is important for spacetime evolution studies). In fact, zero-point energy’s existence has been proved via quantum optics laser experiments, Casimir Effect experiments, the Lamb Shift, spontaneous emission in atoms, etc.

    All one has to do, if one is sufficiently ignorant (like defense reporters not possessing an advanced degree in physics) of this topic, is to search Google Scholar using zero-point energy as a key word and one then finds that Google Scholar will list hundreds of refereed technical journal papers and academic monographs on the topic. None of those discredit the reality of ZPE.

    I would say the same thing for psychic teleportation since scientifically illiterate defense reporters (not possessing an advanced degree in physics) would not know (because they do not read foreign scientific journals) that Chinese scientists conducted numerous repeatable experiments on psychic teleportation and published their results in their refereed technical journals. Who are we to say that Chinese scientists are incompetent boobs because they did this work? That presumes an extreme amount of arrogance on our part as American scientists (or even defense reporters) considering that the vast majority of US technical developments accomplished during WWII (e.g., jet engines, radar, nuclear physics, etc.) originated in the work done by foreign scientists from all over Europe because American scientists were technically backwards, behind the curve, etc. We are in no position to hold judgement over the credibility and efficacy of research work reported by foreign scientists even when it involves topics such as psychic teleportation, etc. The Chinese work was published and peer-reviewed. It was so out-of-the-box that it got the attention of their National Defense Science Commission and our Defense Intelligence Agency.

    The remote viewing program (STARGATE, GRILL FLAME, SUN STREAK, etc.) in the U.S. was conducted for 22 years because it was successful (largely successful prior to around 1990 before political tampering with the program became very common and disruptive). It was successful because the program adhered to rigorous scientific lab protocols involving blind, double blind, repeatable experiments, and the extensive statistical analysis to check the reality of the observed effects.

    However, a defense reporter is in no position to make a credible, authoritative scientific judgement about the efficacy of any defense-funded research. The DoD and all of its component organizations do have outside scientific advisory bodies, which are composed of independent, multidisciplinary scientists of very high caliber. These scientists are out-of-the-box thinkers who are concerned about the future of our national defense and security. That concern means that consideration must be given to futuristic or non-mainstream concepts which need to be explored in detail. Not all of these concepts will succeed, but one out of a hundred usually do. If we don’t spend the money to explore any of them, then our enemies will. And it will be they who makes the next big discovery that will have serious defense implications for the U.S.

    I have not yet gotten Weinberger’s book, but I will. My bet is that Weinberger has talked to the usual academic naysayers and complainers whose views of national defense and related research are colored and biased by extreme conservatism and fright brought on by declining federal R&D budgets, which impact their very employment. Usually people under financial stress are the ones who become the most negative about anything that does not conform to their expectations. Scientific reasoning has been known (historically) to be abandoned by such folks in the course of rational scientific discourse on non-mainstream topics.


    Eric W. Davis, Ph.D.
    Inst. for Advanced Studies at Austin
    Austin, TX 78759

  2. Not having an advanced degree does not absolve citizens of the responsibility to show basic skepticism in how their tax money is spent. Nor does having an advanced degree give a scientist the right to millions of dollars in public funding unless they can eventually provide clear, definite results to the rest of the scientific community. Sharon Weinberger demonstrates this wonderfully in her book.

  3. I am very sorry to say that I believe we must consider Imaginary Weapons by Sharon Weinberger as a possible fraud. If you Google on Imaginary Weapons you can find a significant number of blogs, interviews and technical evaluations of the material offered as truth in the book, some are even posted overseas. As more copies of the book are read, comments are shading from how wonderful and how wickedly funny and how important to know that the Pentagon wasted 5 seconds of expenditure examining the possibility of a Hafnium bomb to why such a potentially important message was delivered in such a flawed package as Ms. Weinberger did in Imaginary Weapons. If you do search you will find Stephen who warns us of the danger of such uncritical acceptance of what Ms. Weinberger has written so carelessly. He points the way to a site from which free copies of nine different technical publications by that obscure Texas professor can be downloaded to see what was actually claimed. I did that and I could find no mention or picture of a bomb or a grenade. There was only a lot of technical detail telling how to repeat the experiments – if of course you could get to the first class synchrotron hidden away in Japan. A glaring error is Sharon Weinberger’s placement of the Yucca Mtn long-term nuclear waste dump in Colorado. If you only Google on Yucca Mtn you will get which tells exactly where it is – in Nevada like anyone would have guessed anyway. Why didn’t Ms. Weinberger make the trivial effort to see where it was before writing authoritatively about it? It would have taken only a minute to get the facts on Yucca Mtn. In short there is a great amount of contradictory evidence that proves Sharon Weinberger made some big mistakes in Imaginary Weapons. Why did she publish such foolish mistakes? Those of us who would like to believe what she says are repulsed by the low level of competency in researching the problem and by the low quality of the writing. I worry that if so much is wrong, what is actually corroborated by somebody else? The sad answer is nothing has been corroborated beyond what she published in the Washington Post in 2004. This is 2006. No JASON has responded with a supporting review of the book. The scientists of Argonne Labs have not written to congratulate her or to support her reporting of what they are supposed to have said. We can easily find what Collins says, but what does Donald Gemmell say, what does Esen Alp say? What does anyone else named in the book say? For me the worst is that Sharon Weinberger has not answered any of the growing reports of her (so far) 100% erroneous content. I am truly sorry to conclude that Imaginary Weapons by Sharon Weinberger is just made-up nonsense, if not worse.

  4. Sharon Weinberger “proves” we have fewer experts in the Bush administration as Collins and some “scientists” in DARPA pursue fringe science. However, why didn’t Weinberger expose the new directed energy weapons and supposedly “non-lethal” weapons? Weinberger gave these dangerous weapons a pass while exposing a straw man like Collins.

  5. Having read “Imaginary Weapons,” having worked under conditions similar to those of Dr. Collins’ group, and having seen that the only good press her book has gotten is in leftist venues such as “the Daily Show,” NPR’s “Fresh Air,” and The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, I have to conclude that Ms. Weinberger’s book is a mean-spirited hatchet-job.

    Had Weinberger been present at the Metallurgical Laboratory in the University of Chicago when Enrico Fermi was experimenting with that weird, unproven concept “nuclear fission” in one of the handball courts at Amos Alonzo Stagg Stadium, she could have written a book in time to stop all that money being wasted on the Manhattan Project. Josef Stalin would have really surprised us with his monopoly on nuclear weapons in 1949. Of course, that probably works for leftist political hacks like Ms.Weinberger.

    Of course, Jon Stewart, Nina Totenberg, and the regular readers of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists would probably agree with Weinberger that throttling a new and powerful atomic power technology at birth would be worth any amount of falsehoods, character assassination, and sheer invention of facts not in existence, much less evidence. You can almost hear them saying it – “Ewwww… atomic technology!”

    I hope that Weinberger and all of her fans find a country they think is worth defending and which doesn’t depend on mavericks like Dr. Collins for its dominance over its enemies. And they can’t leave for that country soon enough for me.

  6. My opinion is there’s a very high probability that Weinberger is one of the 30,000 or so or howevermany Russian spies living in the country, collecting bundles of money in the park woods on a regular basis, and doing their part to attempt to influence goings-on in America, for Russia’s benefit. Their spies never went home after the Cold War ended. They just added more and more. Lots of bang for the ruble.

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