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Charges against artist Steve Kurtz thrown out
April 21, 2008 8:45 PM   Subscribe

Biomaterial charges against N.Y. art professor dismissed. A judge has thrown out the charges against Steve Kurtz. Finally. Kurtz's case was previously discussed here and here. [Via]
posted by homunculus (29 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
This case was the basis for the recent film Strange Culture.
posted by unmake at 8:59 PM on April 21, 2008


FAQ
posted by ryanrs at 9:03 PM on April 21, 2008


good.
posted by brevator at 9:04 PM on April 21, 2008


Fixed link for the CTheory article When Taste Politics Meet Terror.
posted by homunculus at 9:06 PM on April 21, 2008


Don't the federal attorneys have more important cases they should be working on? This is kind of a waste of taxpayer money.
posted by mr. creosote at 9:06 PM on April 21, 2008


Hurrah for sanity.
posted by Artw at 9:09 PM on April 21, 2008


Don't the federal attorneys have more important cases they should be working on?

More important than fighting terrorism? Good god, man, he had petri dishes! Do you want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud?
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 9:22 PM on April 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


Yay!
posted by jrb223 at 9:31 PM on April 21, 2008


Don't the federal attorneys have more important cases they should be working on?

Of course not. That's the closest thing to a real terrorist they can produce to justify the existence of the DHS. But seriously, they need to practice harassing a few art students occasionally if only to remind the field ops that they can't waterboard EVERYBODY they target.
posted by wendell at 9:38 PM on April 21, 2008


well that certainly took long enough.

i've never been a huge fan of critical art ensemble (or really "bio-art" as a collection of practices), but that was a seriously embarrassing (and frightening, and frustrating) four years.
posted by wreckingball at 9:46 PM on April 21, 2008


Fucking finally.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:46 PM on April 21, 2008


The horror, the horror!
posted by pompomtom at 9:54 PM on April 21, 2008


I've never even heard about this until today. I try really hard to avoid conspiracy theories in my life -- but when you consider the millions of dollars that the US Government has spent to find absolutely any reason to send this art professor to prison for the rest of his life -- it really makes you wonder.
posted by Avenger at 10:01 PM on April 21, 2008 [2 favorites]


At last! I've known about this since it happened and sent the poor guy some $$ from time to time.

The point is you simply have to assume the government will treat you badly if it notices you: take this.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:19 PM on April 21, 2008 [2 favorites]


Nice to read good news about an interesting case, thanks!
posted by owhydididoit at 10:26 PM on April 21, 2008


Huzzah. Damn time.
posted by lalochezia at 10:27 PM on April 21, 2008


Hurrah for sanity.

Not yet:

[Quote:]
The U.S. Attorney's Office in Buffalo said it was considering an appeal but otherwise declined to discuss the ruling.
posted by DreamerFi at 11:15 PM on April 21, 2008


Don't the federal attorneys have more important cases they should be working on?

You mean like these guys?
posted by homunculus at 11:17 PM on April 21, 2008


The U.S. Attorney's Office in Buffalo said it was considering an appeal but otherwise declined to discuss the ruling.

What a pack of assholes, seriously.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:30 PM on April 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


Yay! I'm so glad. Now if someone could tell me what the hell is happening with Julie Amero and her new trial, and it'd be a good day.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 12:14 AM on April 22, 2008


I'm sorry to rain on the MeFi parade here, but the American Type Culture Collection is not a toy or a joke. The collection includes Bacillus anthracis (the causative agent of anthrax), Aspergillus fungal cultures (producing the mycotoxin aflatoxin), Brucella melitensis (causing brucellosis), Clostridium botulinum, Clostridium perfringens, E. coli and Salmonella cholerae-suis.

Don't get me wrong, he's not a terrorist and shouldn't be prosecuted as such. But he's not some shining beacon for artistic freedom either.

Kurtz lied to the ATCC and falsely claimed that the materials were going to be used by the Genomics department at the university(RTF) instead of the art department. There's a plenty good reason why the ATCC doesn't hand out samples to anybody who comes calling; plenty of the samples are dangerous and are not things to be sprayed about willy-nilly. As it happens, Kurtz did pick a harmful agent for his project -- Serratia marcescens has caused at least one human death after airborne dispersal and causes infections in hospital patients. Maybe Kurtz didn't intend to use a harmful agent, but his lack of experience is exactly why the ATCC requires certain credentials to use its services.

The fact that Kurtz thought he knew what he was doing doesn't negate the fact that the protections on who gets what from ATCC are there for a reason. If the police catch you driving without a license you don't get to say "I didn't hit anybody this time" -- if you get caught forging your credentials to get access to biological materials you don't get to say "I didn't hurt anyone this time." He still committed fraud to get biological materials that were only "mostly safe" and we're frankly lucky he didn't do more.

By no means was Kurtz a "terrorist," but he's still an idiot who deserves a good slap on the wrist.
posted by Leon-arto at 1:10 AM on April 22, 2008


Perhaps most damning is Kurtz's own email(RTF) recognizing that he had no idea what he was doing with some of these samples, but forging ahead anyway:
Hi Bob, Well it looks like my bacteria is not as harmless as I previously thought. While not wildly dangerous, it is associated with pneumonia and urinary tract infections, and seems to be around other infections as well. Seems to be hardest on kids and people with compromised immune systems. Do you know what kind of strain we are getting, and how toxic it is?"
He recognized that he was out of his ballpark, that his bacteria were harmful, and that he was unable to distinguish harmful from safe. But, he pressed ahead anyway.

Again, he's not a terrorist, but he's clearly an idiot.
posted by Leon-arto at 1:30 AM on April 22, 2008


Don't the federal attorneys have more important cases they should be working on?

That depends. Are there any democratic governors left who haven't been wire tapped?
posted by srboisvert at 3:44 AM on April 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


The collection includes Bacillus anthracis

That's like saying that because you lied about your identity to order 10 pounds of sodium chloride from Sigma, you might as well have lied to order 10 pounds of sodium azide. Yes, ATCC has all sorts of organisms available, and they require different types of MTAs depending on what biosafety level organism you're requesting.

Serratia marcescens has caused at least one human death

And so has pretty much every organism and substance on earth. S. marcescens readily spreads through the air, is found on many common plants, and will grow in a variety of conditions. It's pretty much ubiquitous. There's an important difference between having plate of the stuff on your shelf (or, for that matter, having a bunch of it growing in your bathroom sink) and aerosolizing large quantities of it over a city where there are going to be many immunocompromized people, or injecting it. BL1 does not mean non-pathogenic; it means minimal risk.

I'm gonna go with "the guy was a jerk for lying so he could get the cultures, because he clearly didn't have a basic amount of training" but really, he might as well have taken shipment of a handful of dirt and struck out some plates with whatever was in there. It wouldn't have been any safer.

/microbiologist
posted by rxrfrx at 3:56 AM on April 22, 2008 [4 favorites]


It would be nice if judges could issue a kind of "black mark" against prosecutors or police that waist public funds in this way, perhaps requiring them to disclose a certain dollar amount as "incompetently spent public funds" in any future political ads. Well, the prosecutor could obviously appeal, but it'd be a nice move.
posted by jeffburdges at 5:10 AM on April 22, 2008 [2 favorites]


against prosecutors or police that waist public funds

Ouch.

perhaps requiring them to disclose a certain dollar amount as "incompetently spent public funds" in any future political ads.

Federal prosecutors are part of the civil service. They are non-political hires. The head of each local office is appointed. There are no political ads for them.
posted by Leon-arto at 10:03 AM on April 22, 2008


Theres definitely *something* weird and political going on here, if only an attempt to get more funding by proving they can bust a “terrorist”.
posted by Artw at 10:35 AM on April 22, 2008


Federal prosecutors are part of the civil service. They are non-political hires. The head of each local office is appointed. There are no political ads for them.

Um, did you miss the whole U.S. Attorney scandal thing? Where Gonzales had to resign? Where the White House and certain senators put pressure on sitting attorneys to prosecute certain cases? Where Monica Goodling admitted to asking political questions of potential hires?
posted by rtha at 12:38 PM on April 22, 2008


Great news.
posted by unknowncommand at 5:30 AM on April 23, 2008


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