Certain institutions exist in order to have a place to put those people who one way, or another, are on the fringes of society. For example, the NBA and WNBA provides a community where otherwise freakishly tall people fit right in. Academia provides a community where people missing some normally important life skills can find a comfortable home. There is one important difference between these examples, though; when a basketball player retires, he (or she) can do so with a decent amount of money and the continuing worship of adoring fans. When a professor retires, he (or she) actually doesn’t, really, because he doesn’t have any money. That’s usually OK, though, because he gets to continue his life’s passion, research on a field so narrow, he is the world’s only expert.
The problems start when retired professors attempt new life pursuits after retirement. Evert Schlinger, a retired professor of entomology, made the mistake of trying a second career managing a foundation, with disastrous results.
Although it may seem hard to believe to those living in the real world, it is probable that Dr. Schlinger was foolish and naive rather than deliberately engaging in fraud that ended up losing nearly all of his foundation’s money. Although he is implicated in a pyramid scheme, it is quite possible that he had no idea what a pyramid scheme was at the time. It sounds like he was an easy mark for crooks who wanted to make off with the foundation’s money, and leave him holding the bag (one of his financial “advisors” is filed under “whereabouts currently unknown”).
There is a reason that certain people become entomologists and others become kingpins of the financial world. Entomologists are at their best tramping through jungles looking for tiny creatures. Insects are elegant beasts, thrilling to watch and holding keys to many of the mysteries of life. They are not out to get us (despite what the layperson might believe). In contrast, the world of finance is not only complex but bewildering at times, and if you are lucky enough to have the millions to start a foundation, there will be people waiting in line to try and take your money away. The world of insects has nothing to do with money (apart from the funding needed to seek them out). It is a world of interlacing webs of ecological interactions that no matter how much we discover, will always hold more mysteries for the human mind to delve into. Entomologists will never be burned by entering the world of the insect, only fascinated and delighted over and over again.
So do not condemn Dr. Schlinger as a shyster or a fool. In his world, he is king. We need to remember that some of us need protection from some of the harder realities of human interaction, because we are focused instead on the interactions among a multitude of species that are simply far more interesting. If Dr. Schlinger was able to transmit his enthusiasm for his world to some students who will also see beyond the minutiae of day-to-day maneuvering, then he has done more than his job.