From an interview with Marc Edwards:
Q. Do you have any sense that perverse incentive structures prevented scientists from exposing the problem in Flint sooner?
A. Yes, I do. In Flint the agencies paid to protect these people weren’t solving the problem. They were the problem. What faculty person out there is going to take on their state, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency?
I don’t blame anyone, because I know the culture of academia. You are your funding network as a professor. You can destroy that network that took you 25 years to build with one word. I’ve done it. When was the last time you heard anyone in academia publicly criticize a funding agency, no matter how outrageous their behavior? We just don’t do these things.
If an environmental injustice is occurring, someone in a government agency is not doing their job. Everyone we wanted to partner said, Well, this sounds really cool, but we want to work with the government. We want to work with the city. And I’m like, You’re living in a fantasy land, because these people are the problem.
Q. I keep coming back to these university researchers in Flint who said: "The state has 50 epidemiologists. They say that the water’s safe. So I’m going to focus my energy on something that’s less settled." How do you decide when the state should be challenged?
A. That’s a great question. We are not skeptical enough about each other’s results. What’s the upside in that? You’re going to make enemies. People might start questioning your results. And that’s going to start slowing down our publication assembly line. Everyone’s invested in just cranking out more crap papers.
So when you start asking questions about people, and you approach them as a scientist, if you feel like you’re talking to an adult and they give you a rational response and are willing to share data and discuss an issue rationally, I’m out of there. I go home.
But when you reach out to them, as I did with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and they do not return your phone calls, they do not share data, they do not respond to FOIA [open-records requests], y’know. … In each case I just started asking questions and turning over rocks, and I resolved to myself, The second something slimy doesn’t come out, I’m gonna go home. But every single rock you turn over, something slimy comes out.
Q. I talked to this woman yesterday at the university pavilion. She’s a senior, a nursing student. We looked at the stickers the university had put on its water fountain, saying that this has a filter, that this is safe. And she said: "No. I don’t drink the water here. I don’t care what they say. I don’t care if it’s from the university." At that level of mistrust, the system doesn’t work. What do you think people would have to see in order to start trusting what scientists tell them?
A. It’s going to take time for the people in Flint. They have been so betrayed, and the callous way that our most vulnerable were treated in Flint by the very agencies paid to protect them is so profoundly disturbing. That’s why this is striking such a chord.http://chronicle.com/article/The-Water-Next-Time-Professor/235136/