Professor Who Exposed Flint Water Crisis Says Greed Has Killed Science

Professor Who Exposed Flint Water Crisis Says Greed Has Killed Science
Science & Medicine

“I grew up worshiping at the altar of science, and in my wildest dreams I never thought scientists would behave this way,” said Virginia Tech professor, Marc Edwards, whose research helped expose the high levels of lead in municipal waters in both Flint, Michigan, and Washington, D.C.

Marc Edwards is the Virginia Tech civil engineer and professor who helped expose the Flint water crisis, all while Governor Snyder was colluding to keep that information hidden, as shown by the governor’s emails.

When interviewed in February by the Chronicle of Higher Education, Edwards said that both Michigan and Washington authorities knew they were poisoning residents with lead-contaminated water.

Academic Pressures Hinder Useful Research

Edwards lamented that the idea of engaging in scientific research for the public good is lost due to a scientific culture that lives on a “hedonistic treadmill.” Researchers face incredible pressure to pursue funding, publication, and academic clout for the universities that sponsor their work.

The pressure put on academics to secure funding is leading scientists to ignore obvious truths that need investigation – such as contaminated drinking water. Instead, they make convenient statements that will line their pockets.

Edwards said that he is:

 “…very concerned about the culture of academia in this country and the perverse incentives that are given to young faculty.”

Academic research and scientists in this country are no longer deserving of the public trust.” [1]

Edwards seems to be the exception to this rule. His exposure of lead levels in the Washington, D.C. water supply helped Flint residents get their water tested. Both the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) had ignored Flint’s earlier requests.

Agencies Should Solve Problems, Not Be Problems

Edwards noted how government scientists’ corruption along with academia’s refusal to address valid claims like those of Flint’s citizens is what led to this current public health crisis.

He explained:

“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.” [1]

Edwards admits he has lost friends by standing against the system:

“When I realized what they had done, as a scientist, I was just outraged and appalled. The only way I can construct a worldview that accommodates this is to say, These people are unscientific. Science should be about pursuing the truth and helping people. If you’re doing it for any other reason, you really ought to question your motives.” [1]

In the following video:

“Virginia Tech’s Marc Edwards and his team of research scientists and students presented in Blacksburg to outline their internationally recognized work — done in collaboration with Flint, Michigan, residents — that exposed widespread lead-in-water contamination.

The presentation provided an overview of the Flint Water Study team’s efforts combining ethics engineering, citizen science, laboratory experiments, investigative science, and social media to confirm the high lead levels in Flint’s water.”

Governor Snyder, who had hidden the crisis from Michigan’s residents, was absent from both hearings on the water crisis. Edwards testified along with Flint residents before the House Oversight Committee on February 3 and was recently appointed to a task force to help address the ongoing crisis.



Featured image source and credit: STEVE CARMODY / MICHIGAN RADIO