John Ashcroft: Periodic Table of Elements
Now Classified Information
August 26, 2004
Satire by David Albrecht
WASHINGTON (AP) – Attorney General John Ashcroft today announced
sweeping changes in how the federal government will secure scientific
Effective immediately, the periodic table of the elements will
be classified as "Secret" under a new plan Ashcroft predicted would
"strangle" the ability of terrorist groups to plan and build weapons
of mass destruction.
Almost anyone who has taken a chemistry class, whether in junior
high or at the university level, has at least a nodding acquaintance
with the table. This systematic grouping of the (redacted)-odd elements
into groups based upon their chemical and physical properties was
first devised by the famed Russian physicist Dimitri Mendeleev in
the late 19th Century.
From (redacted), the lightest element with an atomic weight of
(redacted), to (redacted), a far more massive artificial element
present only briefly in the aftermath of atomic experiments or nuclear
explosions, the familiar checkerboard pattern of the periodic table
has for over a century been a presence in classrooms and chemistry
texts everywhere in America.
Until today, that is. Acting under the Attorney General's direct
orders, local, state and federal police officers fanned out early
this morning in cities and towns in all 50 states. Although classification
is effective immediately, the removal process will take weeks.
The first targets of the Justice Department crackdown were public
elementary and secondary schools.
"We wanted to hit publicly-funded sites which offered particularly
rich pickings for anyone interested in anti-American activities,"
noted Special Agent Thomas Higgins.
"We just can't run the risk of students learning about (redacted),
which can be used to manufacture dynamite, or (redacted), which
has been used by the military as a poison gas in the past."
Higgins noted that private and religious schools will not be as
stringently policed; the former, as non-taxpayer funded organizations
are exempt from some provisions of the new rules while the latter
contain relatively little scientific information.
Colleges and universities may be permitted to use the now secret
table, provided students submit to background checks, mental health
screenings and mandatory anti-depressant drugs
Gwen Burns, a high school science teacher in Winnetka, Illinois,
stood by, stunned and silent as FBI and ATF officers ripped down
posters and charts, tore pages of newly sensitive information from
textbooks and blacked out paragraphs and pages with black permanent
"I'm still in shock," Burns said. "I can't believe that they're
Upon reflection, however, Burns was somewhat philosophical with
the new security moves.
"On the other hand, I suppose if it will help keep us safe from
terrorists, it's worth it."
She noted that she had voted for Bush in 2000, and though she is
not entirely happy with this decision, would probably support him
"He's never flip-flopped on terrorism, and I admire that," she
Some scientific leaders, however, rejected the Bush administration's
Dr. Arnold Mitkin, a leading research chemist and member of the
National Academy of Sciences, pointed out that removing the periodic
table from American schools "will do nothing – nothing – to prevent
the use of knowledge which has already been disseminated around
the planet for over 100 years. This is an appalling step backward
for science education."
Mitkin appeared unimpressed by an alternative chemistry text presented
by Ashcroft and Education Secretary Rod Paige.
"This is ridiculous," Mitkin scoffed, reading from the pages of
Atoms Big And Small – Chemistry For Everyone. "'All atoms
are small, but some are really, really small, and some are much
bigger than the typical really small ones.' 'Some atoms stick together,
and others don't.' This is possibly the worst attempt to deal with
(redacted) and explain the theory of (redacted) that I've ever seen.
The entire concept is (redacted)", Mitkin stated.
The Attorney General, however, remained confident in his plan.
"When we passed the Patriot Act and strengthened anti-terror laws,
they didn't apply in all countries, either. Despite what Dr. Mitkin
may say, we must start somewhere, and this is the starting point
for opening this new front in the fight against these faceless killers,"
Added Secretary Paige, with a laugh, "I don't need to tell you
what this is going to do for the results of troubled schools on
their standardized tests!"
Ashcroft did not comment on rumors of Bush administration plans
to classify tables of weights and measures, confiscate all compasses
and ban both maps and road atlases, though he did concede that such
initiatives would make terrorist activities "difficult".