When I saw all of the coverage of this on my computer yesterday I heard the word wierd, eccentric, strange, odd, crazy, and colorful applied to the Heene's. What did they do that was so strange? They were actively interested in science. They were interested in the UFO phenomena and held the belief that we are all descended from aliens. They built this balloon in their back yard to do an experiment. They made youtube video's as a family instead of alone in a room just talking.... Last but not least horror of horrors the dad said on TV to day they don't even have cable!!! Call DCFS quick! I have even heard some suggest that Mr. Heene beats his wife, based on the children fidgeting. (The AP has actually pursued this angle. I guess they have never seen children who have ant's in their pants.)
This all lead me to think how does one raise a scientist, engineer, or astronaut? If I had a child how could I interest them in science and learning and creativity instead of just name brands, gadgets, and consumerism? Furthermore why should having minority beliefs, religious or secular make one a target for such a vile and vicious accusations as those mentioned above (wife beating).
Many of us had parents who were either science enthusiast, like the Heene's, or scientist. We had parents who did things with us, or at least watched PBS or the discovery channel with us. My father taught me about medicine and chemistry. He made polystyrene for me, and showed me a chemical reaction which will release hydrogen from water. What he didn't know about we watched tv shows about on PBS. I especially liked the subject of space travel and black holes back then. We also watched the news. Thanks to sundays (which I did not always like) spent watching "The McLaughlin Group" and "This week With David Brinkley" I learned to pay attention to politics. My mother taught me about biology and how to care for plants. They made me who I was, a kid interested in science and learning in general. Because to me science was not wrote recitation of trivial facts in a book. Science was for me, what it really is, an interactive real life experience.
That is hardly unusual and eccentric among scientist. I can think of a couple of people who had the same experience. One person I know had a father who was a pharmacist, he taught her about the various drugs and chemicals. She is a student at the university I am studying at now. Another person had a father who worked in the garment district of NYC who did much to interest his son in science. This man was Richard P. Feynman. He describes vividly how his strange odd father taught him about science, the difference between knowing something and knowing the name of something. (Cue to 3:49)
Lastly all of those who talk about how this guy must be abusive the wife should leave and take the children...that's the story brewing for the next news cycle (unless some more sexy story comes up)... remember this story "Polygamist sect children reunited with happy parents 2 months after Texas' raid on compound" By MICHELLE ROBERTS , Associated Press,June 3, 2008 But those people are strange polygamist, they may therefore beat their wives, and have sex with their children. (Ok so someone in Utah did that... but how many good protestant christians have too?) What does this have to do with the space case Heene's they have strange beliefs therefore he must be a wife beater. He cussed when that ballon flew away because he must be a wife beater. How easy how easy would it be to apply that (il)logic to just about anyone? How are scientist raised? They are raised by parents who engage with their children in the very way the Heene's do on some level.
UPDATE: Apparently the sheriff responding to pressure from people calling him asked child protective services to get involved. The moral of this story seems to be taking a really active family interest in science is tantamount to abuse. I guess the Heene's should just get drunk like more normal parents.
- Richard Heene, Balloon Boy, and the Mad Scientist stereotype. Tabloidification of mainstream media.
- Richard Heene and the Balloon Boy Hoax
- Stereotypes, Preconceptions, And The Public Image Of Science- Educating Our Youth
- John Archibald Wheeler doyen of Modern Physics
- Is Bugs Bunny Making Your Child A Killer?