A death in the tribe

Sep 17 2009 Published by under Tribe of Science

The Tribe of Science has suffered a horrible and untimely loss with the murder of Yale MD/PhD graduate student Annie Le. The latest news is reporting that she was strangled and left in a wall in the basement of a science building at Yale University where she worked. By news accounts Ms. Le was an energetic and promising scientist. She was also preparing for her wedding to another graduate student.
This is tragic. It reminds us that violence against women is always lurking out there. It reminds us that those in the Tribe of Science are at risk. It reminds us to ask ourselves what we can do, if anything, to make our workplaces safer.


The connection with the Tribe of Science is worth thinking about, if I may take a sidebar. I confess I am no big fan of the media hoopla that seems to surround every missing blonde, blue-eyed, white, preferably Southern college woman in the US. The attention always seems so out of proportion, considering the relative anonymity of many poorer, less-educated, frequently black or brown women that go missing (only to be found murdered, if at all). I didn't have this reflexive distaste for the media circus this time around and it probably has less to do with the fact that the victim is Asian-American and more to do with the fact she is Scientist-American.
It is not a point of pride, it just is what it is. Things just hit closer to home when they are your people. I guess the aforementioned missing blonde, white college women are more salient to the members of the MSM. Well, this scientist is more salient to me and I imagine, DearReader, to you as well.
I didn't know Ms. Le, of course, nor am I familiar with her laboratory. But...there are people I know who have worked in the past or currently work at Yale. Certainly there are a number of scientific giants in fields of interest to me that are Yale professors. They must all be grieving. Worrying. Wondering how this senseless tragedy could possibly have been averted.
Even if we do not know Ms. Le or know people within a degree of separation of her...we know the Tribe. And we feel the grief and fears of the Yale scientists. We also feel a personal loss that a promising, intelligent, energetic scientist in training has been lost forever. What she might have accomplished...
RIP, Ms. Le.

21 responses so far

  • Eamon says:

    Indeed, rest in peace Ms. Le.

  • Greg Laden says:

    This just came "over the wires" ..
    "Lab technician Raymond Clark arrested in killing of Yale graduate student Annie Le, police say."
    At a later time we can discuss the relationship between the "missing blond girl" phenomenon which is indeed, ubiquitous, incredibly obnoxious, and very important as a social phenomenon, and the construction of "whiteness." Now is probably not a good time.

  • whimple says:

    To paraphrase Neo from The Matrix: There is no Tribe.

  • cookingwithsolvents says:

    RIP Ms. Le. May your family and friends find their own peace by celebrating your life.
    If a lab tech really did murder her then this story just can't be over, can it? I just hope that no one kept quiet about an obvious situation brewing, even though I'm SURE no one would imagine an incident like this would happen.

  • neurolover says:

    Very sad, and very close at hand for many of us who have worked in the same and similar environments, late at night, on weekends and alone, with no one around, and with people we might occasionally find creepy nearby.
    FSP has talked about these types of worries on her blog. This event reminds me once again to take personal safety issues seriously (though not tipping into paranoia), always a difficult balance.

  • lost academic says:

    We'll talk about safety and being alone in labs at night for some time, both as a research community and for once as the overall public, of this I am sure. But from all timelines, Ms. Le disappeared in the middle of the day, a regular weekday, and no one saw. Now we will worry about more than working alone at night or on the weekends. We will worry about every semi-secluded area or empty-seeming lab we enter, to some extent. Most of us aren't 4'11", but anyone can be overpowered. And in a major research area, campus, set of buildings, strewn with card access and cameras, we didn't find her body for days and we never SAW who did it.
    It's one thing to know what makes you a target, but it's another thing to not be able to know and thus be able to do nothing about it.

  • Another biomedical researcher says:

    Oh, and some animal rights wingnuts are explaining this case (specifically related to the job role of the accused) as due to the desensitization of individuals that occurs in animal research. Doing animal research makes you more likely to kill people!
    If you want some bothersome insight into the way the general public views scientific research, read some of the comments over the past week on websleuths (a site I only became familiar with because of my heightened interest in the case as part of the tribe of science, who also is familiar with the work of the lab in question and is also a former Yale grad student).

  • science beez says:

    I'm a PhD student (finishing in two months!) and worked with a psychotic post-doc that had serious anger and paranoia issues. He verbally attacked me AND my boss (who is also female) constantly. He even told my boss to her face she was 'f***ing stupid'! My boss is a moron and never did anything about this. Finally I couldn't take it anymore and after an extreme flip-out on me in lab meeting, I filed a report. I even QUIT the PhD because I couldn't handle working with him. The department chair met with me and begged me to come back. After I told him I didn't feel safe with this guy because my boss just allowed this aggressive behavior, and he actually LAUGHED at me! The only reason I came back is because he finally went to a different institution.

  • brandles says:

    Yeah, this is a very sad situation.
    I can't believe you would find ANY murder of an innocent person to be 'obnoxious'! Yes, maybe the lack of fair and equal reporting is obnoxious, but not murder. Also, Annie Le is pretty much in the 'whiteness' zone - I mean I consider anyone upper middle class and above to be more important in the media's eyes. She was a medical student at a prestigious university - any color of person in her shoes would have been covered. I bet there are many murders of white women in poverty that go unnoticed media-wise as well.

  • DrugMonkey says:

    brandles: Greg was clearly referring to the phenomenon of MSM obsessive coverage that was my point in the OP. Nobody is suggesting that any murder should be treated lightly. Although he didn't specifically note the poverty issue as distinct from race, I did and Greg said nothing that contradicts this. We are well aware that part of "likeness" in determining who gets the most media attention goes beyond apparent racial classification. In short, chill.

  • "It's difficult when you're a supervisor and the student is smarter than you," said Dr. Gary Martin, head of the pathology dept at the hospital where Le volunteered while growing up in Placerville, CA.
    While it will make you even more sad to read, this quote comes from a Diverse Issues in Higher Education article on her pre-collegiate experiences with the people who knew her then.
    I've been feeling all week like I've been sucker-punched - you said it, chief: Ms Le was part of our Tribe. An amazing and promising talent, training in a pharmacology dept. I always tell my students what an incredibly small world our business really is: I dedicated one of our papers to a Yale prof in her dept who died in 2001 and have had several friends in cancer research and pulmonary pharmacology come from that dept. Several friends still there too, at Yale or in New Haven, including the family of one of my best students. I know everyone is suffering and second-guessing. I am heartbroken for her fiance, family, and friends as well. We can all identify with this case regardless and I'm reminded every day about the safety of our students who work long hours.

  • This story has been bothering me since last week. I often have to go into our basement animal facilities alone at night to tend to my animals. Before this happened, and now even more so after, I am paranoid about what is lurking behind the next blind corner in the basement. I wish I didn't have to be afraid to do my job.

  • Cloud says:

    This is indeed a tragic case. I've been following more closely than usual partly because of the "tribe" feeling you mention, and partly because I once, as an undergrad, worked with a seriously unstable lab colleague who harassed me. At the time, I considered the sort of creepy postdoc with a habit of turning up in suspicious places and saying hugely inappropriate things to be a stressful inconvenience. When I later learned the full back story on him, I was scared for myself in retrospect. Reading about Ms. Le, I can't help but have a "that could have been me" feeling. It is hard to keep yourself safe, and you rarely have all the information on that sort of creepy guy who has taken a shine to you.
    Anyway, we shouldn't jump to conclusions about what happened here. I hope the police are able to figure it out and give her family and friends some closure.

  • drdrA says:

    This is such a sad, sad story, I have been bothered by all week. Incredibly saddened. An undergraduate friend of mine was murdered in her own apartment by someone she knew. Ms. Le was murdered on the job by someone she knew. Violence against women most often happens by the hands of someone known to the victim.
    Sometimes this strikes so very close to home.

  • Brandles says:

    I am chilled 🙂 - I just don't think that one type of media coverage hoopla is more important or less annoying than another. Yes, some situations may hit home a little more than others, but I really don't think you should categorize it as a 'missing blond girl' phenomenon. And yes you did mention the poverty issue, but only for those that are brown or black. Anyways, I just found it annoying to simplify it as a race issue, and more specifically a "blond girl" issue - that's all.

  • Julie Stahlhut says:

    This is a really sad story. Annie Le was an undergrad at the University of Rochester, where I did my postdocs. I never met her, but some of my undergrad acquaintances there knew her quite well, and are understandably devastated.
    Incidentally, we're starting to see another disturbing thread in the news coverage, and that's been sensationalism regarding the jobs of lab technicians. I've seen their jobs referred to as "menial," and one tabloid article even described the Yale group as performing "gruesome experiments" on lab animals.
    Perhaps the killer was obsessed with his victim, perhaps there were racist, misogynistic, and/or class aspects to the killing, and perhaps he was just someone given to fits of uncontrollable rage. The details will eventually come out in court, but there may have been no way anyone could really have predicted this would happen, nor protected against it. In the meantime, ugly things are being written about an entire group of professional people, simply because the prime suspect in a terrible crime was in that line of work.

  • Cashmoney says:

    In the meantime, ugly things are being written about an entire group of professional people, simply because the prime suspect in a terrible crime was in that line of work.
    I'm sure the workers of the US Postal Service are feeling you Julie.

  • David E. Harrison says:

    I am dismayed to read that #8 complained about feeling threatened, and no one took action. At my institution that was the case many years ago, but over the past 25 years, our human resources department and administration has become ever more strict in preventing bullying and threatening. I believe that the US has strict laws. You have a right to complain if someone makes you feel uncomfortable, and your administration is making a serious error if it does not take you seriously. In this case send written complaints and copy several people up the command chain. This tends to generate action because if you turn out to be correct, and were ignored, then the administration is very very exposed.

  • David E. Harrison says:

    I am dismayed to read that #8 complained about feeling threatened, and no one took action. At my institution that was the case many years ago, but over the past 25 years, our human resources department and administration has become ever more strict in preventing bullying and threatening. I believe that the US has strict laws. You have a right to complain if someone makes you feel uncomfortable, and your administration is making a serious error if it does not take you seriously. In this case send written complaints and copy several people up the command chain. This tends to generate action because if you turn out to be correct, and were ignored, then the administration is very very exposed.

  • Cloud says:

    David E. Harrison- as someone who has been in a situation similar to what science beez describes, I have to say: taking your complaint up the chain of command feels a bit like career suicide when you're so early in your career, and need letters of recommendation to get to the next step and have only a very few people from whom you can get those letters.
    I'm not saying it would be career suicide. I don't know- I suppose that depends on the people involved. But it certainly feels like it. Which is why I didn't pursue a complaint beyond my immediate supervisor, either. In retrospect, that was a huge risk. At the time, it seemed like the best course of action.

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