Imposter!

Via Scott Aaronson and Peter Woit, I learn the story of Elizabeth Okazaki, who apparently has been hanging around the Stanford physics department for the past four years posing as a visiting scholar working on an interdisciplinary project. She has also apparently been using office space and even sleeping in the building. The range of reactions I’ve seen have been from shock and fear to pity, to amusement, but I haven’t seen anyone express my reaction: admiration. Assuming, as many people have suggested, that Okazaki is someone down on her luck looking for a place to stay, I have to admire her ingenuity in solving her problem. Physics departments have a high tolerance for personal idiosyncracy, and someone who keeps weird hours would never stand out in one. Physicists are a little vague on they do in humanities departments, so sprinkle a little interdisciplinarity on your project, and presto!, instant credibility. Her whole plan was practically scientifically designed to succeed for years. Maybe the NSF should give her a grant.

Stanford had another case of an interloper which in some ways is even more interesting. Azia Kim actually moved into the dorms and successfully posed as a college student for eight months. Okazaki’s plan only required the ingenuity of coming up with the cover story, and then sticking to it. Kim had to actually pretend to take classes to keep up her pretense. She also had to sneak into the dining halls to eat, and to climb back up into her dorm room window every night. I can’t even imagine the chutzpah it took to trick her way into dorm room, knowing how easy it would have been for her to get caught. It all required considerable courage.

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