SEED asks, I answer

The grand overlords behind ScienceBlogs are asking us:

If you could cause one invention from the last hundred years never to have been made at all, which would it be, and why?

That’s simple, atomic weapons. Not only for the damage they have cause, but for the perpetual state of fear they put us in because of the morons responsible for making the decisions regarding their use.


  1. #1 steve s
    May 5, 2006

    I don’t know that nuclear weapons haven’t reduced the number of deaths. The technology I’d uninvent is DRM.

  2. #2 RPM
    May 5, 2006

    In case people are wondering (as I was), DRM refers to digital rights management.

  3. #3 Corkscrew
    May 6, 2006

    On the other hand, nuclear weapons did pretty much make redundant all conventional weapons. They meant that Russia and America had to have a go at it via proxies, rather than face-to-face (as they would have done in a previous century). We could have had Pelopponesian War #2* here without nukes.

  4. #4 Roman Werpachowski
    May 6, 2006

    Without nuclear weapons, the end of the WW II in Pacific would be much bloodier than it was.

  5. #5 paul
    May 6, 2006

    As I note at PZ’s place, I think it’s hard to prune the branch without addressing the root. What of nuclear science — radiology, et al — would you be willing to do without? There’s an inevitability to nuclear weapons, I think, once you master the beneficial uses.

    As Roman says, the war in the Pacific would have been bloodier: perhaps so, but a blockade would have negated the danger of Japan itself without much risk to Allied forces.

  6. #6 RPM
    May 6, 2006

    I agree, the pacific theater of WWII may have been much bloodier if the US had not used nuclear weapons. But how would the civilian casualties have compared? And it’s very possible that the threat of nuclear war kept the cold war from escalating.

    I was looking for something big to uninvent. Sure, you couldn’t eliminate nuclear weapons without also getting rid of nuclear energy or nuclear medicine, but I decided to suspend belief. I mean, come on, we’re suspending belief in order to change history. Why limit ourselves when abandoning the laws of physics.

  7. #7 Roman Werpachowski
    May 7, 2006

    Why not uninvent electrical chair? It wouldn’t change anything (you can kill people by other methods) but would make a great symbolical gesture.

    Paul, a blockade would mean starvation for the Japanese. Instead of killing 200,000, you’d kill millions.

  8. #8 Lab Cat
    May 7, 2006


    We used to discuss this when I was a conservation volunteer. Without chainsaws the forests would still mostly be in place.

  9. #9 Roman Werpachowski
    May 8, 2006

    But they have legitimate uses, too. Also in forest conservation.

  10. #10 Jurjen
    May 13, 2006

    A blockade of the Japanese home islands was not exactly the soft option, not in the least place because, by August 1945, Japanese forces were still occupying the Dutch East Indies, French Indochina, Korea and much of China. They were especially well established in Manchuria, of course, and it was pointed out at the time that a naval blockade, combined with aerial bombardment, would require seizing ports on the Chinese coast. Doing so in the face of sizeable Japanese opposition, as army planners pointed out, would likely have caused casualties comparable to those resulting from an invasion of the Japanese home islands directly. And unless anyone was willing to leave Japanese troops in control of the aforementioned occupied territories while the Allies waited for the Japanese to break down and surrender–an uncertain proposition to begin with–those forces would have to be dealt with, which would result in more casualties.

  11. #11 venky
    October 4, 2006

    I would say the H-Bomb. After nuclear weapons were produced the H-bomb was totally unncessary, but then I again it may have given us insight into fusion which is useful too.

  12. #12 Sean
    November 13, 2006

    […]Six Arab states – Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and the UAE – have decided to embark on their own nuclear programmes. They want nuclear power “primarily for desalination purposes”, according to the deputy-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), although the sudden rush has led some to suspect that it is nuclear weapons the Arab states are really after.[…]

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