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Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies

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The Lifeboat Foundation: A stealth attack on scientists?

Richard Loosemore

Ethical Technology

March 08, 2011

It turns out that the Lifeboat Foundation (and this is a direct quote from its founder, Eric Klien) is “a Trojan Horse” that is (here I interpret the rest of what Klien says) designed to hoodwink the people recruited to be its members.

Okay, first: what is the Lifeboat Foundation? It is supposed to be a nonprofit organization dedicated to the study of existential threats to humanity (threats that could lead to destruction of the human race, or all life on the planet). It consists mainly of a very large number of invited members (sometimes called Advisors and sometimes Board Members) who are organized into groups known as Advisory Boards, which are dedicated to specific subjects like threats from artificial intelligence, from nanotechnology, from falling asteroids, and so on.

LBSounds like a good idea? Well of course! I thought so too, when I was asked to become one of their advisory board members a couple of years ago. Serving alongside Nobel laureates! Heady stuff.

But last year something strange happened. The person who runs the Foundation, Eric Klien, decided to add a new Advisor who was a little controversial. Some would describe her as an “extremist political blogger.”

Her name is Pamela Geller, and to give you a general idea of what she stands for, she and her organization (called “Stop Islamization of America”) has just been classified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a “Hate Group.” The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) is, for those who don’t know, pretty much the gold standard for monitoring and classifying hate groups.

If you want a few quick references, here is Geller’s blog, and the link to Stop Islamization of America, and the SPLC 2010 listing of hate groups.

And, just in case you need some immediate evidence of Geller’s debating style, without having to go off looking at other web sites, here is a quick collection of ten Pamela Geller quotes, gathered from just the front page of one section of her blog (the “How the Left Destroys the Nation” category):

  • “These libturds are so sick.”
  • “The left is itching for civil war. What decent Americans would call themselves members of this party?”
  • “Looking at the Left ... Make no mistake, they have declared war on America. You will work for these collectivists, feed them, clothe them, enrich these pigs and thugs ...”
  • “The persecution of Jews on university and college campuses is another leftwing dirty secret.”
  • “It has become increasingly clear that the left will never lose its racism and its knee jerk reaction to blame and race-bait when called out for its failures. The leftists do not want to get past racism. It defines them.”
  • “Looks like a class action suit would have to be filed immediately on behalf of all parents for child abuse, sexual molestation, trauma and sexual abuse against the Federal government, the teachers union, the city and any other sick pervert who had a hand in this. The decaying left, a pox on America’s soul.”
  • “If this [demonstration of a sex toy] is what is taught at universities, then they [the universities] should be vanquished.”
  • “Everything the left and their media whores accused the tea party of doing, which they never did, never did—these moochers and looters are doing times ten. The Jared Loughner party.”
  • “Such suicidal stupidity is beneath contempt. More of the poisonous fruit of the left’s war on America. These same tyrants in America are rejoicing at the very idea of an Islamic crescent through Africa and the Middle East. All the hand wringing and whining about GITMO, never so much as a peep as to who and what they were doing there.”
  • “The Democrat heroes of the left have for decades been the worst subversives in our nation’s history, actively working against individual rights, capitalism, and basic Constitutional principles. Time and time again. Is it any wonder that we wound up in this current crisis, with an imposter [sic] at 1600 Pennsylavania [sic] Avenue? It’s a wonder that it didn’t happen sooner. We are in a chokehold, held hostage by the leftwing government’s union armies.”

Do you see where I am going with this? A group of scientists and thinkers dedicated to saving the world, on the one hand ... and on the other, the leader of a hate group? Can you say “strange bedfellows”? As a matter of fact a lot of people said “strange bedfellows” when Geller turned up on the Lifeboat Foundation discussion list last year. A number of Advisory Board members promptly resigned.

Now let’s fast-forward to a few days ago, when there was a new spate of comments about Geller on the Lifeboat discussion list, prompted by her recent addition to the SPLC hate group list. Geller posted an entry, described her hate group as “a human rights organization” and pouring scorn on the credibility of the Southern Poverty Law Center. I decided that I had to speak up, so I directed the following at Geller:

You are a hate-mongering extremist, writing in the forum of a group dedicated to eradicating existential threats to humanity. You are not fighting any problems we are fighting. You ARE one of the problems we are fighting. Go somewhere else.

A few hours later, Eric Klien expelled me from the Lifeboat Foundation. My words were, according to him, not “polite.”

I contacted a few people to let them know what had happened, and in the ensuing online storm that began the day before yesterday, some dramatic new information emerged, shedding a spine-chilling light on Eric Klien and his motives for starting the Lifeboat Foundation.

It turns out that Klien has written—on Pamela Geller’s blog—that he is on a crusade against what he calls “The Religion of Science,” and that he formed the Lifeboat Foundation with the intention of deceiving its members about his true purpose:

I have developed Lifeboat Foundation with a Trojan Horse meme that tries to wrap our goals in the Religion of Science memes. For example our mission statement begins with “The Lifeboat Foundation is a nonprofit nongovernmental organization dedicated to encouraging scientific advancements.”

[NOTE: The article quoted above was available on Geller’s Atlas Shrugs blog until yesterday, when Klien had it removed.]

[UPDATE: Here is a link to a cached version of the article. Google says this shows the page as it appeared on Jan 27, 2011 20:56:38 GMT.]

[UPDATE 2: Apparently the Google cache version is no longer accessible. But an archived version of the Klien article is available at this link. (Thanks to reader ‘Luke’ for the info.)]

To me, the clear implication of that paragraph is that Klien’s mission statement is designed to give the impression that he encourages science, whereas his true purpose is to wage a war against it. That is a little disturbing. Not a good idea to give a mission statement designed to lure scientists in, when your real goal is something like hatred for them and what they do. But if you think this is disturbing, wait for what comes next.

In the first subheading of the above article he defines the “Religion of Science” as “The dangerous delusion that all scientific progress is good…” and he completes that heading sentence with the words “... and what to do about it.”

What does he suggest as an idea for “what to do about it”? He sets up the tone of the rest of the article by starting with a quote.

A quote from ... Adolph Hitler.

“It is always more difficult to fight against faith than against knowledge.” - Adolph Hitler.

So, let me see if I have got this straight. Eric Klien tells us (in the rest of that article) that scientists belong to a religion that they are not even aware of belonging to, and this religion believes that all scientific advancement is good under all circumstances, and that members of this religion must do whatever it takes to quiet people mentioning any dangers that might be caused by science.

And his position is that this religion must be destroyed. And he puts in a quote from Adolph Hitler about fighting against people of faith.

This is beginning to get very scary.

Klien admits that he used a Trojan Horse strategy when setting up the Lifeboat Foundation, so it seems like he is coming to the scientific world ostensibly bearing gifts (to wit, a foundation dedicated to science and the scientific study of existential threats), but any day now he and his followers are going to burst out of the horse and ... what? Use Adolph Hitler’s methods for eliminating religious people who opposed him?

Maybe I have read too much into this. I mean, lots of people put quotes from Adolph Hitler at the head of their essays. I suppose it’s true that I, personally, haven’t ever done that, and none of my friends have, and nobody I respect has…

But now here is one last thought that makes it seem that my first conclusion might have been on the right track after all. Where exactly did the name “Lifeboat” come from? Is it supposed to mean a lifeboat to rescue humanity?

I always assumed it did, but when I did some research into the Ayn Rand school of thinking (from which Klien and many of his friends seem to derive a good deal of their inspiration), I noticed that the word “lifeboat” crops up quite frequently in the context of something called the “lifeboat question.”

The lifeboat question is what to do if two people are stuck in a lifeboat with no hope of both of them reaching land, but with some hope of salvation if one of them is thrown overboard. The question—the big dilemma, for the Randians—is whether it would be ethical for one person to kill (and perhaps eat) the other person. If humanity is to be saved, perhaps it would be necessary to…?

Klien concludes the aforementioned article with these words:

By wrapping our meme with a Religion of Science coating, I hope to develop enough resources that we can make sure that unlike every civilization so far, we can have at least SOME people survive this dangerous religion.

In other words, if you kill the other guy in the lifeboat, then at least SOME people survive…?

So, to summarize, Eric Klien has said quite openly that he is waging a war against what he believes to be a “Religion of Science” (which he claims that all scientists subscribe to even though they don’t know it), and that he is using a Trojan Horse strategy to gather a lot of scientists and intellectuals together in a place he calls a “Lifeboat”, and that when he thinks of what to do about this problem his first impulse is to quote Adolph Hitler on the subject of how hard it is to fight people who belong to a religion….

Something is seriously wrong here.

It is worth adding that the Lifeboat Foundation is also spectacularly ineffectual. All it seems to do is have a discussion list where a few people argue occasionally, and a set of boards where (as far as I can see) nothing happens.

Or, looking at it another way, the Lifeboat Foundation is very effective indeed. It raises money, and it supplies a very high profile to its founder, Eric Klien. As far as I can see, that is all it has ever done.

Special thanks to PJ Manney for originally doing the sleuthing that led everyone to the web page on which the latter parts of this essay are based.

Richard Loosemore is a professor in the Department of Mathematical and Physical Sciences at Wells College, Aurora, NY, USA. He graduated from University College London, and his background includes work in physics, artificial intelligence, cognitive science, software engineering, philosophy, parapsychology and archaeology.


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