Manhattan Problem

Published 16 years, 3 months past

It’s not every day I uncover a case involving the botched theft of information about nuclear weapons.

Here’s how it went down: in the infosthetics feed was an entry about a video regarding nuclear stockpiles around the world and the effects of a nuclear explosion in New York City.  The video was produced by Chimp on a Chain for Good Magazine.

That’s a long-standing area of interest for me, so I watched it.  When I got to the New York City portion, something started to bother me beyond the obvious horror of the scenario.  The point of detonation, the explosive yield, the elapsed-time intervals, the radius distances—all seemed very familiar, like I’d seen them somewhere before.  And I had.

They were nearly all taken verbatim from the New York City scenario found at the Atomic Archive.  I could find only two differences.  The first is that the total death toll given in the video is slightly higher than that in the Atomic Archive’s scenario.  Otherwise, all the numbers matched up.

The second difference is really a major error on the part of the video’s makers: they dramatically under-represent the areas of damage.  For example, the ten-second ring’s (found at 2:33 in the movie) radius is labeled with the correct distance (2.5 miles) but the circle placed on the map is much, much too small to be 2.5 miles in radius.  The circle doesn’t even cover the breadth of Manhattan Island, whereas an accurate plot would have it stretch across the Hudson River on both sides into New Jersey and Long Island.  You can see this in part 5 of the Atomic Archive’s scenario, or on a HYDEsim plot of the same scenario.

The video seriously misrepresents the area of damage that would result from such an incident, making it appear much smaller than it would be, and I just can’t fathom how or why they would get that so wrong.  Even assuming they mixed up the meanings of “radius” and “diameter” doesn’t appear to explain it.  The ring distances shown correspond to a three-kiloton explosion at most, not to 150KT.

That’s the botched part.  So where’s the theft?  There is no credit whatsoever given in the video for the material’s source.  There is a reference to the Archive on the video’s page at Good in the “Resources” box, but the material in the video has been used without permission—I checked this with the custodian of the Archive—as required by the site’s policy.  Even if one could argue this is a case of not needing permission on non-profit grounds, attribution is still required.

It would almost be worth subscribing to Good so that 100% of my payment could go to the non-profit of my choice, as the site promises, except I’m limited to their choices of non-profits and none of them appear to be charged with educating magazine publishers or video artists about the niceties of copyright law, intellectual property rights, or even just plain common courtesy.

Comments (6)

  1. Am not so concerned about theft of Web content as I am about “theft” of nuclear fuel, the zeal of a few dedicated individuals, the ease of building a crude but highly effective weapon and the culmination of the scenario described by either one of the cited Web sites.

  2. Why was this in the Technical feed?

  3. Frank –
    As Eric wrote HYDEsim – the tool using google maps to plot explosive yields on real maps – It’s technical as it’s in relation to an application right up there in the toolbox.

    thacker –
    I’m worried about both. Sure, nuclear terrorism worries me but when the media drastically under-represents the dangers of the situation it creates a sense of reduced concern. That worries me – a lot.

  4. Hacke–

    Good point and understood.

    The greatest threat to any in-country operative is an educated and aware indigenous population. That said, a highly motivated, well trained, well financed and properly equipped lone individual is damn near impossible to stop.

    Intellectual property to terrorism … all on a site dedicated to CSS. Gotta love the Web, huh. Oh, and Meyer’s tolerance.

  5. It’s not as easy to manufacture a high-yield nuclear device as most people tend to assume– otherwise, a lot more countries would have done it by now. The North Koreans didn’t botch their first device because they’re idiots, they botched it because it’s hard. Now, if you want to talk about theft of pre-made warheads, I share your concern. As for “dirty bombs”, those are easy to make but aren’t really damaging in this sort of fashion. (One study suggested that in a “dirty bomb” attack, more people would die of panic-induced heart attacks than from direct bomb effect like radiation poisoning.)

    But I’m not going to back down on content theft just because the subject matter is so dire. Otherwise it would be permissible to steal any movie that dealt with the end of humanity or the world.

    As for the post showing up in the technical feed, Greg’s right, I referenced HYDEsim and so I clicked the “Tools” category (as it’s a tool I built) and that landed it in the technical feed. Possibly that was inappropriate, but that’s what happens when your taxonomy isn’t as robust as perhaps it could be.

  6. Meyer–

    You will get no disagreement from me in what you have qualified as “high-yield nuclear device[s]” nor from your comment regarding the traditional concept of a ‘dirty’ weapon, e.g. effective dispersion.

    Back to the main point of your thread and objections to theft of copyrighted material or intellectual property published on the Web, if it is that valuable, do not publish it on the Web. Right or wrong, that is the nature of that beast. However, I can understand and appreciate the objections.

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