Mike the Mad Biologist

Glenn Greenwald’s recent post about the botched anthrax investigation reminds me of a colleague who was investigated by the FBI after the anthrax attacks (and check out the letter claiming that Bruce Ivins was yet another scientist wrongfully accused).

When I heard that he was under investigation, I was shocked: he is one of the nicer scientists I know. Ultimately, he was cleared, and in a bizarre reversal, the government asked him for help in typing the anthrax strain.

The reason I bring this up is not to demonstrate that the FBI couldn’t investigate its way out of a paper bag, but to note that, at the time, the FBI was seriously investigating many U.S. scientists (none of whom had even the remotest connection to Iraq, Al-Queda, or other Islamist terrorist groups). Meanwhile, several prominent politicians, notably John McCain and John McCain were suggesting that Iraq was involved:

LETTERMAN: How are things going in Afghanistan now?

MCCAIN: I think we’re doing fine . . . I think we’ll do fine. The second phase — if I could just make one, very quickly — the second phase is Iraq. There is some indication, and I don’t have the conclusions, but some of this anthrax may — and I emphasize may — have come from Iraq.

LETTERMAN: Oh is that right?

MCCAIN: If that should be the case, that’s when some tough decisions are gonna have to be made.

But, hey, they were only ‘suggesting’ this; they were only claiming that there was only “some indication” that “some” of the anthrax came from Iraq. This is profoundly stupid: what does “some” of a strain mean anyway? There is no evidence that multiple strains were used, so it either came from Iraq or it did not (answer: not).

And where exactly did they get this “indication” from? Because the FBI was focused on U.S. scientists who were not associated with Iraq at all. Either this was an outright lie or a case of hysterical delusion.

But McCain’s the last honest man in Washington! Or not.

Comments

  1. #1 More Questions
    August 3, 2008

    What continues to bother me about Ivins is the wide variant in descriptions of his personality. Researcher with “quirks” or homicidal sociopath?

    Mike, surely you are familiar with the dismissive attitude toward a good scientist with “quirks?” As long as the science is good, fellow scientists or faculty will overlook behaviors that the rest of society labels a personality or true psychiatric disorder. That tendency continues to astonish me after 11 years inside the science sector of the ivory tower.

    It’s what makes me truly wonder about Ivins. The first attack has always struck me as someone who thought or knew he or she was smart and chose the “National Enquirer” deliberately. Definitely looking down one’s nose at one’s victim, yes?

    I’m looking forward to seeing the evidence. Of course, it’s the FBI, so the evidence could be non-existent.

  2. #2 llewelly
    August 3, 2008

    Hey Mike. Don’t mock the Iraq-anthrax connection. Don’t you remember those mobile bioterror minivans ?

    As for Ivins, surely, if was innocent, he would have trusted our fair and noble justice system to demonstrate that? How convenient that he committed suicide. Besides, with a name like Ivins, he’s surely anti-American.

  3. #3 Mike Haubrich, FCD
    August 3, 2008

    It’s a “push polling” kind of insinuation. Politicians use it for campaigning. For example:

    “Would you vote for candidate X if you knew that she looked at the other women in the locker room shower?”

    You never have to say she is a lesbian, but the listeners hear that she is. It’s not a lie, but it’s effective. McCain was leading the way to a conclusion without having to say that the “strain” was from Iraq. Don’t forget the “trailers” from the spy satellite photos, which were obviously germ warfare labs.

  4. #4 yogi-one
    August 4, 2008

    No, wait! Correction needed!

    We may – and I stress “may” have information that some of the strain – some, I’m not suggesting all of it, may have come from Iran, not Iraq. Change that to Iran.

    If that should be the case, that’s when some tough decisions are gonna have to be made.

    Like whether to elect that idiot.

  5. #5 TomDunlap
    August 4, 2008

    Yogi, that’s not a tough one.