Science can be dangerous

By Michael Howlett

September 4, 2013

If you’re like me, when you think of scientists, you think white coats, broken glasses and mouse molesting. However, after stumbling across an article … don’t worry I wasn’t hurt … about danger scientists, I have a new respect for the bundles of inquisitiveness. Yes, as it turns out, some of these guys and gals live on the wild side and flirt with danger, although seldom with the opposite sex.

The article I read listed seven danger scientists, but I’m just going to deal with a few of this strange breed, beginning with venom milkers. Yes, that’s right venom milkers. Now, I don’t find these guys as strange as some others, because I’ve liked to catch snakes since I was a young lad. I’ll be honest with you, though, I’ve never caught a poisonous snake in the wild, although I’ve tried.

One time a relative from West Virginia … please don’t spread it around that I have relatives in the toothless state … came to visit and with him was a rattlesnake he had captured on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Since he hadn’t anticipated the availability of a snake, he put it in the only container he had – an empty gas can. By the time my relative … make that unknown stranger … transferred the snake to a crate, it was very drunk on gas fumes. Every time it tried to coil up into striking position it would fall over. I felt this was the perfect opportunity to handle a rattlesnake, but my parents nixed that idea, saying something like, “Who you think you are, a scientist?

Years later, helping put up hay on my grandfather’s farm gave me plenty of opportunities to handle Copperheads. The first time I took time off from work to catch one of the buggers, my grandfather told me we were in the business of putting up hay, not catching snakes, then promptly killed it. We would kill at least one copperhead a day and sometimes two during those all so much fun days putting up hay.

Some 30 years ago, the Mistress of the Manor and I were headed to Fox Hunter’s Paradise for a company outing. As we neared our destination, we saw a snake crossing the road, and to my excitement, it was a rattlesnake. I pleaded for her to pull the car over and she eventually did. I found I could get within about two feet of the snake before it would begin to coil. I would take a step back and the snake would attempt to make his escape; a step forward and the snake would begin to coil. I yelled to the Mistress of the Manor to find me a stick so I could pin its head down and grab it. She refused; she can be like that sometimes. Anyways, I eventually had to let the snake crawl off into the grass to eat a mouse or bite somebody.

Another danger scientist is the cave diver, whom I think are really crazy. I’d much rather attempt to catch a rattlesnake than to go cave diving. Quite honestly, I’m not big on dry caves. I think they’re beautiful and amazing, but the whole time I’m in one, I am expecting to be crushed or trapped by a cave-in, or, quite possibly, attacked by Sleestaks. Add water to a cave situation and you’ve in even bigger trouble. If you think I’m being unnecessarily timid, think about this; from 1969 through 2007, 368 Americans died while cave diving. Some of them, I think, were eaten by a Megaladon.

Then we have the crocodile physiologist, who stands to get eaten by one of those giant creatures so popular on the SyFy Channel. Physiologists study function in living systems. I’m not even a physiologist and I can tell you what the function of a crocodile is – to eat you! This one group of pyscos, I mean physiologists, would jump into crocodile-infested water at night to study these magnificent creatures. Something about that seems like a bad idea.

I saved the most dangerous danger scientist for last – the lab technician. Now, you may ask “What in the name of Marie Currie is he talking about?” Working in a lab may not seem dangerous, but all kinds of awful things can happen. When experiments go wrong, there are often horrible results. You can get burnt or shocked, you can end up with a prehensile tail or an extra butt crack, or even turn into a ghastly creature like Zombie Joe or Rush Limbaugh.

Now, I know firsthand about the dangers involved. I experienced some rather strange happenings during one of my stints as an amateur lab technician during my college years. One time, after a particularly intriguing experiment, I thought I was riding a winged chipmunk with Salvador Dali and Bob Dylan through a forest of giant Petunias. I think we were headed to Middle Earth or, possibly, Funky Town, I’m not sure. Anyway, a few hours later I realized that was just a side effect of my lab work. However, I still can’t figure out how I got the prehensile tail.