Sunday, February 21, 2010

And it gets uglier.

There's a news story out today alleging that it was feared that Amy Bishop had booby-trapped the biology building with herpes virus (which can, apparently, be very dangerous in airborne form: it can cause encephalitis) before she went on the shooting rampage.

This story is now reading like the plot of a scary mystery novel - one I'd actually stop reading because it was "too creepy," or an episode of "Criminal Minds."

(I find it hard to watch "Criminal Minds" - I love the solving-puzzles aspect, I love the interaction of the FBI agents and their characters - but seeing the crimes committed is painful to me. There was a re-run the other night with a guy who trapped people in their homes, and then burned the houses down, and I just had to walk away from it for a while).

I know I'm kind of obsessed with this news story, but I think it's because I'm a biology professor that I find it so creepy and scary. And also, I keep reading - because I think I really do want some justification, some explanation of, "This woman is not anything at all like any of the other biologists I know."

It's fairly well-known that a lot of "weird" people go into academia: extremely shy people, people who are extremely easily distracted, people who might be classified as borderline Asperger's, even people who have "difficult" personalities. I count myself as "weird," though I think my own brand of it could perhaps best be described as "unworldliness."

I suppose sometimes with that weird you also get people who can do harm. (It was alleged that the anthrax-mailer, back in 2001, was actually a researcher from Iowa. No firm evidence ever came to light, and I think the scientist has since died, but there were some pretty strong pieces of evidence linking the particular anthrax strain to the lab he headed).

The problem is, sifting out people who are "merely" weird from people who have that malevolent streak. I think maybe part of my concern and obsession with the news story is the thought of "What if they start declaring that we all need psych evaluations, so that they can 'weed out' the dangerous ones?" or "But now we're all being viewed with a mix of alarm and suspicion, because of what this one person did."

And of course, that's not true at all. (Oh, the academy has always had its detractors, and I still hear the occasional populist commentator saying things like "Universities are useless, let's shut 'em down and funnel the state funds that go to them somewhere USEFUL like filling potholes") But I do worry about anything going as supposed evidence to those who would either want to demonize universities or call for things like, I don't know, requiring professors to be in the classroom 40 hours a week. (Oh, we put in 40 hour work weeks and then some. But it's not all in the classroom. But a lot of people don't seem to understand that...that grading takes a lot of time, and prep work takes a lot of time, and things like counseling students about what classes to take next semester takes time).

So I worry. I worry about us being viewed as "powder kegs," in the same way that I worry when some shooter comes to light and they describe him as "quiet and kept to himself," which is pretty much how I am (except for the evil part and the killing part).

It's kind of like the nutcase who flew his plane into that building in Austin: you KNOW it is going to be used as ammunition as why "those small-government proponents are DANGEROUS!" rather than "Here was one lunatic who gave into an evil impulse and did something very wrong."

I don't like walking around wondering what's happening in this country. I have a terrible feeling of foreboding, that things are going to get worse before they get better: that there are going to be more people flipping out in a variety of ways, and doing things that are interpreted as "political protest" by some, and given as evidence of why protest should be shut down before it becomes more dangerous. Or it will be used as justification for searching people deemed "dangerous."

(Hah. I'd like to see them try to search my office. Going through all the mounds upon mounds of journal articles, the printouts of data analysis, the giant stacks of old student papers (because we're supposed to keep them for something like five years, lest there is a grade challenge) and all of that. It would take them days. And they wouldn't find a thing, because I don't own anything that could be deemed dangerous or a weapon.)

1 comment:

Mr. Bingley said...

There musty be something in the rarefied air of the Academy this year. My Bride comes home everyday with some new tales of just...strangeness from her colleagues in her department.

It makes it very easy for me to assure her that she is indeed the 'normal' one...