The Empirical Method

Did you have a chemistry set when you were a kid? I did. It was an important step in my science education. Educational toys, building toys like the Erector set, science toys — these were vital parts of my upbringing. My father was an electrical engineer, and part of the DNA he passed along to me was an interest in science and empiricism, and a curiosity about how the world works.

Since the early Enlightenment days of Hooke, Wilkins, Boyle, and particularly, Bacon, people performed experiments to learn about the natural laws that govern the behavior of matter and living things. These men helped to develop the foundations of chemistry, physics, anatomy, botany and so very much more. I like to think that those chemistry sets and science kits linked me to those inquisitive minds, those great contributors of the Royal Society.

Recently in Sweden, a do-it-yourselfer decided it would be cool to learn about radioactivity. He performed a variety of experiments in the kitchen, presumably to see if he could develop brownies that glowed in the dark, which would make them easier to find. The Swedish police found that he bought a science kit over the Internet from Radioactive Products Inc, a Pakistani firm that specializes in selling dangerous scientific toys to India.

The 31-year old Richard Handl should be given credit, since he tried to do what usually takes years and zillions of dollars to accomplish. The results of his work (in the photo at the top) looks amazingly like the results of most of my chemistry set experiments: burnt, brown sludge that my mother made me throw out right away. Maybe I should have grown up in Sweden where such endeavors are more graciously welcomed.

Among the goodies Mr Handl bought for his table-top reactor were radium, uranium and americium-241, which he said he bought at a farmer’s market from a man wearing a hoodie. That he was arrested by Swedish authorities is not important; what is important is that he was experimenting to find out what worked and what did not. Some people forget that finding out that something does not work is still a contribution to knowledge.

Important scientific work is being done in Texas right now, and soon they will learn that prayer does not do a darn thing.

Other important experimental work is being done in China. In rural and urban regions across that large and populous country, citizens have conducted experiments in democracy. These attempts to shed light on darkness have resulted in mostly predictable outcomes, ranging from being harrassed by uniformed and plain-clothes police, to being placed in “protective custody” to being thrown in prison.

One punishment becoming more frequent in China is having small children apprehended or brutally kidnapped by members of the Harmonious Relocation of Potentially Wayward Children Ministry. This relatively new arm of the Peoples Bullying Party was formed, ostensibly, to uphold China’s One Child And That’s It policy, and to punish those horrible, evil, unspeakably vile parents who want more than one child. Plausible social media originating in China strongly suggest that local government officials steal infants and then sell them on the very black market to “adoption agencies” who in turn provide them — at a high mark-up — to western parents who believe they are adopting orphans.

This heinous and arbitrary punishment is being meted out to more categories of crimes, as more and more behaviors — those considered a threat to the “harmony” of the Communist Party’s grip on power — are being labelled as crimes.

Sources in China reveal that an increasing number of brave amateur scientists are purchasing “Freedom Kits” and “Democracy Sets” from the United States, the UK, and other advanced western countries. These social science kits contain such documents as copies of the Magna Carta and the US Constitution, and other materials used in the experiments. Deluxe kits also contain censorship-free Internet servers, allowing the owner unfettered access to information, without fear of the Chinese Communist Party slamming shut the doors to independent thought and expression.

Rather like our Swedish amateur scientist trying to build a miniature reactor in the kitchen to see how it worked, some Chinese homes have tried to concoct miniature democratic organizations based on law and democratic principles, to see how they work. But then, just as the results of these ground-breaking experiments start to become tangible and observable, the authorities get wind of it, and bundle the perpetrators off in the middle of the night in unmarked government vans. Transcripts of hacked mobile phone conversations provided by News of the World reveal that many Communist Party members take classes to hone their ability to detect the faintest whiff of disharmony.

Perhaps in a later column, this crack investigative reporter will be able to compile substantiated evidence to prove a growing rumor correct. Susurrous murmurs suggest that an international conspiracy is forming to adopt illegally procured Chinese infants, and then to inculcate in them a love of democracy. Then, like little black-haired time bombs, they will be replanted clandestinely in Chinese society. The results of this audacious experiment? Stay tuned.

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