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A Mysterious Death at the South Pole (2009) (mensjournal.com)
70 points by curtis on Apr 18, 2015 | hide | past | web | favorite | 12 comments

To spare others the rather extreme fluff and constant self-derailing of the article:

A scientist who worked with various kind of non-drinkable alcohols died by methanol overdose and this was only found out and investigated much later, with no real conclusion made beyond the assumption that he probably didn't poison himself; but a bottle of liquor he had and emptied maybe, possibly might've been spiked with methanol and he could've died from that. No actual facts are known though, and nobody who might have access to any facts cares to talk to the person doing the investigating.

Well, the interesting content of the article is the handling of the incident by his companions and NSF rather than the details of what might have been the cause of Mark's death.

I'm not surprised how it went at all though, having had some experience on a French polar base I'm quite sure it would have been exactly the same, maybe with a bit more secrecy. I think it's fine.

I rather enjoyed the entire article, which is atypical for me. Most of time, I would have agreed with your tone. But this one held together well, and I read every word.

Yea, the author did a great job in writing this story. The death does sound like an accident? I couldn't imagine being in the new facility. The article was about a tragic death, but it was also about a generation(maybe the last?) of people who didn't live, nor play by the rules. I wonder if we are stifling people's lives, work, and intellectual achievements with all--these--rules--that--are--enacted--to--protect?

Same here, kept me engaged the whole time. But I did skip the last few paragraphs.

> To spare others

Good summary. I really dislike long articles that very slowly dribble out information.

However, I did read the article, because it's not IMO "extreme fluff". It paints a picture of life in winter at the south pole. Extreme isolation means people behave differently than elsewhere on earth.

My question is this: How does a group that large not consider methanol poisoning? Almost every bootlegger from the mountains of Kentucky to half the prisoners in the United States knows that when you're making your own alcohol, accidental methanol poisoning is what can kill you.

They were operating a still, and had everyone from PhDs to carpenters there, and nobody thought of methanol poisoning? The ultimate irony is, of course, that the antidote to methanol poisoning is ethanol, aka regular potable alcohol, of which they had a great deal.

Final point, these guys are going to the bottom of the world. We can't give them specialized alcohols (to say nothing of a spare Li-ion battery)? There are some alcohols that are similar in effect to ethanol, but a lot less toxic, more easily transportable, etc. Sure, they're not common, but neither is a base deep in Antarctica.

Methanol poisoning in the prohibition era was the result of trying, and failing, to purify methylated ethanol. That was not in the picture in this case. Even if they had a really crappy distillation operation, it would not have produced a fatal dose of methanol, even if someone intentionally dosed the victim with the "heads" of a distillation. You would die from the ethanol first.

Sure, but there was methanol on base, it is known to be mixed with ethanol in some locations to improve the potency. I assume they also had denatured ethanol for lab purposes. It just seems like an obvious hypothesis if that much alcohol is being consumed.

I had an office next to this guy. His Tourette's syndrome did not seem mild to me; it drove me nuts trying to concentrate with the bizarre noises he was making all day. When I heard about this, I figured someone murdered him because of that.

More about the topic of drinking in Antarctica, this guy wrote the book about it


and years later killed himself after being rejected for another term there:


More recent experience, written by another past worker:


The fact that so many of these people seem like they are alcoholics is a bit disconcerting. I like booze and am a loner myself, but all things in moderation. Maybe a propensity towards substance abuse is something they should be screening for-unless someone can convince me that booze is essential to surviving the Antarctic.

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