From a recent article in the New York Times considering University of Alabama-Huntsville shooter Amy Bishop’s scientific stature and finding it lacking, this comment on why so many denizens of the internet think they can understand why she did what she did:
Why did people who knew Dr. Bishop only through reading about her crime make excuses for her?
Joanathan D. Moreno, a professor of medical ethics and the history and sociology of science at the University of Pennsylvania, thinks reactions have to do with a long tradition that goes back to Plato. The idea, he said, is that someone who is very intelligent is assumed to be “morally wise.” And that makes it hard to reconcile the actions of Amy Bishop, with her Harvard Ph.D., her mantle of scientific brilliance.
“There’s a common-folk psychology,” Dr. Moreno said. “If you are that smart, you know the difference between right and wrong.”
“That is what’s going on,” Dr. Moreno said. “In cases like hers that contradict the framework, we look for excuses.”
First question: Do people really assume that knowing the difference between right and wrong is enough to assure that one will do no wrong? Or is it just that murder is such a mind-bendingly awful crime that we can’t imagine someone who knew that it was wrong would still do it?
Second question: Is this really about granting Amy Bishop the benefit of the doubt on account of her intelligence, or is it more about granting no benefit of the doubt to a university that has denied a tenure petition?
In other words, is it that the public really respects smart people, or really distrusts universities?