Friday, March 21, 2014

The Radioactive Boy Scout

The following is an analysis of the book The Radioactive Boy Scout
            David’s most well used source for what it meant to do science was The Golden Book of Chemistry of Experiments.  While decades outdated and full of potentially dangerous experiments it did not fail to provide David with the instruction in how to do science.  The Golden Book  also provided David with his first image of what it means to be a scientist.  The book painted a romantic picture of the Curies working day in and day out to find answers to the questions which perplexed them.  David grew up imagining the scientist as an entrepreneur of knowledge.  He wished to see himself in tomes of history next to the Curies, Otto Hahn, and Van Brahn.
            The adults around David rarely recognized him or his attempts at science.  Therefore he was mostly ignored except for those rare occasions where his experiments were so distracting to someone else or the authorities were required.  He generally gathered his ideas of what it meant to do science or be a scientist from books, magazines, and television.  Specifically he would sit and watch The Simpsons with his step-mother regularly.  Of course The Simpsons does have a high amount of science related content; it is however usually a bit simplistic or even sometimes completely misleading.  His science teacher would portray limited knowledge of science itself, chocking David’s attempts up to merely a mischievous youngster.  David pictured science as an exciting and alluring passion: something he could use to make a name for himself (which it of course eventually did, just not in the way he had hoped).  Anything or anyone which could have made David doubt this side of science just simply did not permeate David’s conscious. 
                David’s scientific interests allowed him to forge deeper relationships with few and cut him off from most.  For most, even family, rarely saw David.  He spent the majority of his available hours locked away in his shed or down in the basement working.  His only friends were other loners, whom he only saw on occasion.  He would make visits when he was in need of something, such as sodium from the lab at the local community college, or when he wished to show off his progress, such as the regular trips in his younger days to the woods to play with explosives.  Probably the people which he communicated with the most and forge the deepest relationships with were the ones who were furthest away and knew him the least.  He was like 007 is to M or Q or Moneypenny in the way that he is so very cordial and kind with them and they all think they know him so very well but he is not at all the person which he portrays himself to be and merely uses them for assignments, inventions, and sexual favors respectively, and of course the gossip that is inevitably between any coterie of co-workers.  David befriended people throughout the atomic energy and chemical industries as “Professor Hahn” for the sole purpose of furthering his research.  These pen pals probably actually knew David even better than his own parents did since his parents paid him such little attention unless he invaded their tv time or were required to answer to the police.  The relationships he made taught him how to lie and that lying was usually the easiest answer to a problem.

                David Hahn loved the idea of a nuclear powered world.  A world where the cars fly, a trip from Panama to the North Pole takes only minutes, families make weekend trips to the moon and back for a short vacation, and the world has a big enough surplus of power to last hundreds of years.  The radioactive have magical powers to David.  They hold the secrets to the future of civilization to him.  To David the radioactive are the key to his escape from the monotonous life he sees his dad lead.  With David’s want for knowledge and experimentation and his savvy for chemistry had his interest intersected with education there is a good possibility his name would be plastered on plaques in pasted into papers instead of filling the quasi-non-fiction section of Borders and appearing on the village idiot section of the local news.  David’s school teachers had a limited knowledge of the things which he was working on and they ignored the warning signs of a kid that was getting in to some pretty nasty areas.  If pre-collegiate educators were actually required to have knowledge outside of the textbook from which they teach its entirely possible that David’s potential would have been recognized and he would not be getting arrested at the age of 31 for grand larceny and attempting to acquire large amounts of americium.  
This article originally written April 3rd, 2008 for OU HSCI 1133 - Science and Popular Culture.

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