Daily Illuminator

March 16, 2008: Mad Science In Real Life

We've got a real-life cyberpunk scenario unfolding, one that could be right out of William Gibson. In fact, it inspired me to go reread Neuromancer. To set the scene . . .

The Internation Whaling Commission has banned whaling. For many years, though, Japan has sent out its whaling fleet in spite of that ban by issuing itself a "lethal research quota" of up to 1,000 whales. The "research subjects" wind up in grocery stores. This has made Japan the target of activists like Sea Shepherd, whose ship, the Steve Irwin, harassed the whaling fleet this year as it hunted in Antarctic waters claimed by Australia.

The Sea Shepherds threw foul-smelling butyric acid onto the Japanese ships, and after their ship left to refuel, it claim to have planted transmitters onboard so they could easily find the whaling fleet wherever it went. The captain of the Steve Irwin also claims to be returning home with a Japanese bullet which was stopped by his bulletproof vest. The Japanese deny shooting at the activists, though they did initially acknowledge firing "warning shots." So there's definitely a "Japan Inc. vs. Techie Activists" scenario playing out here.

Okay, so where's the mad science? Getting to that . . . Although the Japanese whale catch winds up in Japanese meat lockers, the hunt is not officially for food. After all that's forbidden by an international treaty which Japan has signed. Instead, it's for "research," which is permitted under the treaty. And there's no limit on the size of the quota a nation can issue itself for research. (Many munchkin points for finding that little loophole!)

But . . . if the hunt is "research," it has to generate some science. A thousand whales a year ought to generate some killer science. So to speak.

Last week, the head of Australia's scientific delegation to the IWC, Dr. Nick Gales, reported on an investigation of the last 18 years of Japanese whale research. Apparently the probe found only 43 papers, some of which Dr. Gales described as "bizarre," including attempts to fertilize cow ova with frozen whale sperm. The rest were characterized as useless. Unfortunately, I cannot direct the boggled Game Master to any comprehensive list of these "research papers." The reports I've found online have been at best
light on details . . . and most of them were merely sarcasm and funny art. So if anyone comes up with anything further on what sounds like the maddest state-sponsored "science" since WWII, please share!
-- Steve Jackson

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