That article is one I read about in 1998, in Harper's Magazine. The Tall Tale but True of the Radioactive Boy Scout.
It's the story of an archetypical nerd, someone who pushed the bounds of nerdom where no-one had gone before, and hopefully won't again. A senior High-school student who thought it would be really neat to build a model of a breeder reactor. A working model.
David went into a serious depression after the federal authorities shut down his laboratory. Years of painstaking work had been thrown in the garbage or buried beneath the sands of Utah. Students at Chippewa Valley had taken to calling him "Radioactive Boy," and when his girlfriend, Heather, sent David Valentine's balloons at his high school, they were seized by the principal, who apparently feared they had been inflated with chemical gases David needed to continue his experiments. In a final indignity, some area scout leaders attempted (and failed) to deny David his Eagle Scout status, saying that his extracurricular merit-badge activities had endangered the community.Yes, I'd say so. Definitely.
In the fall of 1995, Ken and Kathy demanded that David enroll in Macomb Community College. He majored in metallurgy but skipped many of his classes and spent much of the day in bed or driving in circles around their block. Finally, Ken and Kathy gave him an ultimatum: Join the armed forces or move out of the house. They called the local recruiting office, which sent a representative to their house or called nearly every day until David finally gave in. After completing boot camp last year, he was stationed on the nuclear-powered USS Enterprise aircraft carrier.
Alas, David's duties, as a lowly seaman, are of the deck-swabbing and potato-peeling variety. But long after his shipmates have gone to sleep, David stays up studying topics that interest him--currently steroids, melanin, genetic codes, antioxidants, prototype reactors, amino acids, and criminal law. And it is perhaps best that he does not work on the ship's eight reactors
...for EPA scientists worry that his previous exposure to radioactivity may have greatly cut short his life.My worry is not so much for him, as everyone around him. The concept of "common sense" is foreign to him, as it is to many of the hyper-intelligent. His value system is different.
Keeping him as a swabbie is a dangerous waste though. A waste because his intellect could be harnessed and used for some really worthwhile purposes. And dangerous because while he's pushing round a broom (something that doesn't require much in the way of higher brain functions), he can think about genetic research, backyard reactors, and criminal law. Which of the three is the most dangerous, I don't know.
He really needs to be placed in a well-equipped lab, along with a keeper, a prosthetic source of common sense. He'd be happier, and the world more safe.
Thanks to The Stupid Shall Be Punished for reminding me of this story.