The Burden of Knowledge

  • Author: Sabrina Turba
  • Published: 16 April 2014
  • Copyright: Wiley-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA
  • Source / Publisher: Propellants, Explosives, Pyrotechnics/Wiley-VCH
thumbnail image: The Burden of Knowledge

On April 15, 2013 at the Boston Marathon, the United States experienced the first terrorist bombing on its soil since Eric Rudolph’s attack at the Summer Olympics on July 27, 1996. During the almost 17 year span that separated those attacks the world had changed immeasurably.

Kirk Yeager, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Washington, D.C., USA, takes the first anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing as an opportunity to highlight selected, recent terrorist attacks using improvised explosives and to share his thoughts on the danger a broader gateway to knowledge on these explosives and their use/misuse bears.
The attack on the Boston Marathon was conducted by two young men whose technical insight came from the article “How to Build a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom” published by an online magazine.

The phrase “ipsa scientia potestas est” or “knowledge itself is power”, which first appears in the writing of Sir Francis Bacon in 1597, is in Yeager’s opinion often forgotten by those who labor in the pursuit of knowledge and lose perspective on the power they truly possess.

Yeager calls on scientists to be vigilant about knowledge management. Most of them rarely get a glimpse into the darker side of what their knowledge can produce. He additionally provides some recommendations, based on his experience, on how much information to pass on and what venues to select to do so. Examples include YouTube videos which contain alarmingly sound and detailed instructions on how to make explosives and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and articles accessible online which do not provide new insights to the top bomb makers, but provide ideal details for non-experts.

Kirk Yeager says that we have to assume that everything published in open literature will be available to an adversary intent on doing harm.


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