Why Fear when the Mask is Here

“I am Captain Planet! I’m gonna save you from the evil green monster who is going to take over the world! *pow, wham, bam!*”

“Look at my beautiful long hair and pink dress! I am Cinderella and I would love to be a princess one day!”

“Who is that little girl who refuses to eat her porridge? The bears are coming to eat it! Gulp it down nowww”

Been there, done that? I’m sure you have. Most of us, if not all, have grown up playing roles of our favorite characters from books or television. We have fought evil, felt beautiful, had tons of money or like in the last example, we have been blackmailed into downing broccoli and beans before the ‘monster’ gets us, right? It gives a chance to fantasize being something that we are not. But apart from that, it gives us an excuse to do things we may not imagine. I think this is akin to the veritable mask bender mentions in his article that I found to be very interesting and profound.

While researching material for the RCR module, I came across the 3 loose terms of power, prestige and pressure to perform and put them together to form the 3 Ps of motivation. with reference to that I realize that those in power use that very power as their mask – to do as they please. The public remain themselves, screaming and vying for attention while those in authority trample over them with ‘regulations’.

Most often than not, when we talk about such ‘masks’, we seem to only consider the bad things that one would do under disguise. There is a lot of good that can be done too, but somehow I think people want to do that with their real face on so that they can be known and recognized as the do-gooder. Like the CDC (I’m trying to link their supposed act of righteousness to a pesudo-good act) and their MMWR. They disguised their intentions as a well-intentioned, caring, public-health message only and only for the welfare of the people. How did they do this? Because they have the power to do it and the prestige to throw around (with their names).

From an individual’s standpoint, I don’t feel it is wrong to have a mask because I know a friend who is a totally different person when she dons the role of a writer. Her imagination runs wild and she is sooo creative but she doesn’t have more than 5 words to talk/ conversation. We used to always tell her, in jest, that she should perhaps write to us when we meet just because she cannot talk. But I honestly feel that removing the mask would be a good step for self- realization. If all the perpetrators could get out from behind their respective masks and just be what they really are – human beings, citizens, lay people, they may find the need to apologize for their mis-deeds. They may finally see light of what all the hue and cry that the public is making, is about. This, is important.

There is no point in being complacent behind the mask because when it is removed, you are exposed. And so are your vulnerabilities.


Bender, K. 1992. The Mask: The loss of moral conscience and personal responsibility. The Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

It was almost a feeling akin to deja-vu or a case of ‘you stole the words right outta me mouth!’ while reading the Michaels, 2008 article. It articulated most of my thoughts and there are a couple of quotes that stand out so strong I would like to re-quote them here:

1. “However, science is also becoming more like accounting in that it is increasingly and inextricably linked to commerce” – How many times have we seen this as an issue in ethical cases we have studied? Most of them revolve around some kind of cost-benefit perspective as mentioned here (pg. 243)

2. This is a long one but I will just highlight important lines from the paragraph – “While the anti-regulatory forces have been unable………As a direct result, some agencies have virtually abandoned their efforts to fulfill their public health responsiblities”…..(in relation to FDA), “political meddling has occured in purely scientific areas that has been considered off-limits to politicians” (pg. 242)

3. “The public is also largely ignorant of the depth and reach of corporate deception” – This is true isn’t it? Doesn’t this hurt to know? (pg. 243). As mentioned, people don’t have anywhere else to turn to but for the Government in times of need and end up trusting them probably because they want to believe a change will come.

4. “As a result, the model of the disinterested scientist searching for truth……is no longer help up as an ideal, even by scientists. Instead, the most valuable scientist is the one whose work contributes most to the bottom line” (pg. 244) And so, finally the cat is out of the bag for all of us. Our research doesn’t really matter UNLESS it can rake in funds from multiple sources. Does that mean unfunded research is not valuable? Funny, or laughable as Michaels mentions, isn’t it?

5. “Money changes everything. Financial conflict of interest inevitably shapes judgment – the funding effect- and this correlation must be factored into consideration of analyses and opinions of scientists employed by the industry” (Pg. 245). Anybody reminded of Guidotti?

I just feel that this week’s readings present a crude reminder (yet again) of the evils of Corporate Culture and the unfortunate control they have on the Government and the people. Every industry sells products they make and not what customers want. They go to any extent to defend themselves and their malpractices. What then can be said about a mere human being who is, but expected to err?

I think it is not wrong to expect this culture to change. As citizens, we are all constantly in the hope that with a new government, change will also be brought. If not for hope, what else do we live on? This may definitely by my least-worded and most-disjointed post till date but there is just too much to bring out. Hopefully in a couple of days as I reflect on the entire course, I will be able to blog more on it.

I also really hope this blog continues and we call continue to be ‘in touch’ through it. As I said, it doesn’t hurt to hope, does it? :)


1. Broome, T. H., Jr. 1986. The Slippery Ethics of Engineering. Washington Post (December 28):4S1.

2. Corburn, J. 2005. “Street Science: Toward Environmental Health Justice.” In Street Science: Community Knowledge and Environmental Health Justice, pp. 201-218. Cambridge, MA and London, UK: The MIT Press.

3. Michaels, D. 2008. “Sarbanes-Oxley for Science: A Dozen Ways to Improve Our Regulatory System.” In Doubt is Their Product: How Industry’s Assault on Science Threatens Your Health, pp. 241-265. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

4. Ladd, J. 1970. Morality and the Ideal of Rationality in Formal Organizations. The Monist 54(4):488-516.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Pen is Mightier than the Sword

What Washington Post is to the D.C Lead case now, New York Times and CEN were to the Bhopal incident (Hazarika, 1994). From initial coverage to follow-up articles on these environmental disasters, these print media agencies played a huge role in spreading awareness and pushing for reforms. With this, and a few other reasons that I shall discuss here,I definitely believe that the media has a very,very important role to play.

However, that said, politics has ensured that media succumbs to the very ‘heresy’ of bias that they fear (Miller, 2009). I remember Dr. Edwards’ mentioning in one of our classes that the number of environmental journalists in the U.S has declined drastically over the years. Why is this? I think it is because they feel ‘wasted’ in their position as writers if they cannot report what is as is but are forced to say what their agency wants them to. In a sense, it is all business – business of churning our interesting news yet playing the stealthy advocate.

Let me ask you all honestly – how many of you trust the news you read? I mean, not the front page cover up of incidents but stuff like environmental news? By now we all know that we pretty much tend to ignore or just ‘read for fun’ stuff about global warming right? Why does the media continue to write about it then? If you look at the article in the UK Daily Mail that Dr. Edwards’ sent out a couple of weeks ago, Prof Muller of Berkeley turned to the media just about the time when his review paper on global warming was to be published. Most of his fellow professors considered this as a ‘publicity stunt’ and were not too happy about it. Why did the media think of listening to him without looking at the credibility of his claims?

But yet, I must say that the role of the media IS indeed important. No, I’m not contradicting myself, I’m just trying to get across the point that they are important but either a) they take themselves to be more important than they are; by believing that people will just believe them no matter what the truth or b) they take themselves verryy lightly and believe that people will read sensational news today and disregard it tomorrow – it’s all about covering the now smartly. I’m not sure. Any thoughts?

Withe the Bhopal incident, I felt like the pieces of the puzzle were falling together. No matter what the industry says to protect themselves, to me, they are heartless perpetrators. I’m not one to generalize usually, but somewhere with all that I’ve been reading, the industry seems like the villain. The callousness with which they pit cost over life is….appalling. We’ve seen it in the DC case, in Libby and now here. It amazed and amused me that they were grumbling over having to pay for remediating their dumping sites. I mean, really now – is it that hard to understand? C’mon, pay for your mess! If you won’t who will?! The citizens who may or not be killed by the stuff you put out? Or the Government, who by the way uses tax payer’s money for it all? What did they think – they would come create jobs, make useful products and all that jazz and they’ve done mankind SUCH a huge favor? Will they tell the people “Now, go on, give us a break and do some clean up – we’ve had a long day and are tired?”

In a way, all of us are environmental journalists. As we sit writing these blogs, we are conveying information to maybe 1, maybe 100, people out there who will learn from us. I think we must, thus, write with our reporting hats on – keeping in mind that someone somewhere may be reading us.


1. Miller, N. 2009. “The Media Business.” In Environmental Politics: Stakeholders, Interest, and Policymaking, 2nd ed., pp. 149-165. New York and London: Routledge.

2. Hazarika, S. 1994. “From Bhopal to Superfund: The News Media and the Environment,” pp. 1-14.

3. Sismondo, S. 2010. “The Public Understanding of Science.” In An Introduction to Science and Technology Studies, 2nd ed., pp. 168-179. West Sussex, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.

4. Davis, M. 1998. “Avoiding the Tragedy of Whistleblowing.” In Thinking Like an Engineer: Studies in the Ethics of a Profession, pp. 73-82. New York, NY and Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Common Sense and Common Science

“Ultimately this whole thing is about trust, about building trust that was detroyed over many years” (Sismondo, 2010 quoting Futrell, 2003)

With all our discussions and critiques in the past few weeks, this line could not be anything but true. The very essence of cases like the D.C Lead in water and asbestos poisoning in Libby, Montana (ok, I’m going to keep referencing the book “An Air That Kills” till the end of time because, YES, the book had SUCH an impact on me!) is breach of trust by the authorities that people looked up to as protectors. Well, I’m not going to go into the whole trust discussion again. What I found pertinent in this week’s readings was the concept of “Deliberative Democracy” (Sismondo, 2010) which would inturn help establish trust.  If only D.C WASA and the whole political bandwagon came clean to the public, they could have tried to inculcate a “participatory model” to get citizen input. Mob mentality is to empathize and I genuinely feel the people could have thought over and come up with effective, practical solutions to the problem. If they were told that the lead levels were indeed high and that D.C WASA’s concern was the cost of replacing entire pipelines, people would have volunteered to have their portion of the line replaced (by themselves) because ultimately the consequences affect their children. Working in such harmonious circumstances would not have warranted a 10-year struggle of the sort that is now prevailing. In terms of common sense, I believe industry and the Government are the lay-people.

With reference to the discussions in Street Science (Coburn, 2005), I’m someone who strongly believes in the ‘voice of the crowd’ concept. I feel collective, intuitive science the common man possesses is in no way inferior to “esoteric” science. Parents of D.C children knew something was wrong with the water as they saw symptoms in their children. They did not need lab tests and expensive equipment for it. If that is not street smart science, then I don’t know what is. And so, it is annoying when scientists act patronizingly and paternalistically towards people.

One thing that I did not quite like was the term “Eco-terrorism” that was mentioned in the Miller, 2002 paper. I’m not clear on whether it was coined by the activists themselves, but I don’t appreciate the fact that a sentiment as harsh as terrorism would be used to address a good cause. While it is a just fight, just the very name would undermine and relegate their efforts are “extreme”. What do you guys think?

I’ve heard a lot and been appalled by what is known as “Environmental Racism” (I’m surprised Shaun mentioned the same website in his critique! And yes, I highly recommend a skim, or more, of its contents). Countries like the U.S, UK etc – where environmental protection laws are strict and attract millions of dollars for disposal and damages alike – actually enter into contractual agreements with third world countries for disposal of their hazardous wastes. I don’t unfortunately remember the book where I read this, I will definitely try to look it up and cite is soon. It was shocking because the Governments of the poorer countries knew the risks they were getting into, but they went ahead with it because of the monetary benefits that they so needed. It was almost like they believed the money would help feed the people NOW, which is a bigger concern than worrying about the future generations (that may not even be there if people died from hunger anyway). I find the whole thing so malicious, disconcerting and the veritable H word that seems to define my views towards all this – Helpless.


P.S: I don’t know how I missed it, but I just read the news article on global warming that Dr. Edwards’ had sent a couple of days ago. And I just HAD to come back and say something. With years of conflicting information about this topic, it’s funny that global warming is now somewhat of a joke to most of us. Like other stuff – chocolates being good for the heart and suddenly not etc. In that sense, I’m guessing it’s the common man’s common sense that ignores such news – unless there is something path-breakingly established. Till then it is – Not another one of ’em global warming news!


1. Corburn, J. 2005. “Street Science: Characterizing Local Knowledge.” In Street Science: Community Knowledge and Environmental Health Justice, pp. 47-77. Cambridge, MA and London, UK: The MIT Press

2. Sismondo, S. 2010. “Expertise and Public Participation.” In An Introduction to Science and Technology Studies, 2nd ed., 180-188. West Sussex, UK: Wiley-Blackwell

3. Miller, N. 2009. “The Growing Sophistication of Environmental Advocacy.” In Environmental Politics: Stakeholders, Interest, and Policymaking, 2nd ed., pp. 74-95. New York and London: Routledge

4. Edwards, M., 2010, unpublished letter to the US Department of Health and Human Services (5/27), 2 pages

5. National coalition of public health and environmental groups, 5/20/10, unpublished letter to the CDC requesting retraction of 2004 MMWR publication

6. Lambrinidou, Y., WAMU 2010 commentary (http://wamu.org/news/10/07/08/commentarylead_in_dcs_wateryanna_lambrinidou)

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Do what you believe, believe what you do

The above quote (by me, ofcourse!) sounds to be pretty positive, doesn’t it? Well, yes it is. But it could, infact, be positively negative. Think of it this way. When a researcher begins his work, he/she starts off with a set of questions. These questions, as Ioannidis says, may be leaning towards the development of “eye-catching theories”. Basically, they have a hypothesis that could potentially be path-breaking, they formulate relevant questions to the fabricated theory and work out a plan to prove it. And so, they believed in something, went about doing it and now, but naturally, they believe in it. Now do you think it’s a good thing?

Frankly, I think I can quite understand this “mad rush to publish” or to be funded that everyone’s talking about. The pressure of being in research is quite….subtle, I must say. We are made to believe there is all the time in the world to do something, yet, there pink elephant (thesis topic etc) is always in the room. How many people know just what they want to do before getting into a PhD program? How long does it take for someone to figure out what exactly it is that they want to research on? What if, the topic is infact not something they are interested in, but something their advisor really wants them to work on? What is they lose motivation half the way? Please don’t misunderstand me, I’m not for a second saying that this pressure warrants making up or manipulating data, but these are just questions that plague me.

The Freedman article in The Atlantic really, really caught my attention. Why? Because medical research has been my area of curiosity, if you may call it, for a long long time. Those random claims – one day, chocolate is good for the heart, and the next, it could cause cancer! – always made me wonder about its credibility. It was a joke among my family, we’d say, “Eat what you like today, tomorrow someone’s bound to say it’s not good for you”. And we’d laugh because we believed it was a joke. I never extrapolated that to the entire medical community really, I was just laughing at who I believed were bored scientists looking at discovering something. A random joke, a random thought, actually had meaning. Not so naive, for a layman, don’t you think? Or is intuition much, I wonder.

Back in India, visits to the Doctor meant waiting in the lobby for a while to get treated. During that time, on certain days, the clinic would be filled with “medical representatives” – sling bag with goodies et al. They would wait around in clusters, discussing their “new products” – some pill, some vaccine or some equipment, that they were there to market. They would leave samples of these products with the Doctor, for him to test. Whenever it was my turn to go in, I would wonder if I was today’s guinea pig. I’ve even gone home and googled the name of the medicine to see if it was popular enough before I was confident of using it. It scared me to think I was taking a medicine that had no established cure potential. What if tomorrow it was proven to cause contrary effects? But somehow, I guess, we trust the Doctors. Yes, that same veritable trust that we have discussed so often in this class.

It was funny to note CDC’s “Notice to Readers”. They came out and glossed over the missing data and almost made themselves seem credible and just almost claiming they promptly included all those 9000 something data once they realized they were missing! So, they had 2 notices issued on one of their publications! Their level of, I don’t know if I can say this openly but here goes – Stupidity, amazes me! So I can do a paper today and issue 5 notices 5 years later saying I missed a majority of the data but YET what I found out then stays the same. And then I can change the wordings on a couple of sentences, highlight a couple more that were said earlier thinking that it would go on to establish the validity of their earlier work. Interesting, tactic – maybe I will just try it! ;)


1. Freedman, D. H. 2010. Lies, Damned Lies, and Medical Science. The Atlantic (Nov.), pp. 1-12, http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2010/11/lies-damned-lies-and-medical-science/8269/.

2. Markowitz, G. and R. Rosner. 2002. “Old Poisons, New Problems.” In Deceit and Denial: The Deadly Politics of Industrial Pollution, 108-138. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

3. Jasanoff, S. 2012. Technologies of Humility: Citizen Participation in Governing Science. In M. Winston and R. Edelbach, eds., Society, Ethics, and Technology, pp. 102-113. Boston, MA: Wadsworth.

4. CDC. 2010. Notice to Readers: Examining the Effect of Previously Missing Blood Lead Surveillance Data on Results Reported in MMWR. MMWR 59(19):592, http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5919a4.htm.

5. CDC. 2010. Notice to Readers: Limitations Inherent to a Cross-Sectional Assessment of Blood Lead Levels Among Persons Living in Homes with High Levels of Lead in Drinking Water. MMWR 59(24):751, http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5924a6.htm.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

To Trust or Not to Trust

The more I think about it, the more I feel that we humans are predisposed to trusting. We are genetically wired that way. Our first instinct is to instill our trust in someone for that is what we have faced from birth. We trust our parents to take care of us and to provide for us, we trust family and friends to always be there etc. Which is a good thing, you know why? Because otherwise everyone in the world would be schizophrenic, watching over our backs all the time. This state of paranoia could be nothing but detrimental and so I would like to think trust brings order.

I must also say we are also blessed with intuitiveness or an adaptive response, at times, to be wary. And that comes with experience or knowledge. Say, I trust my friend. Everyday I find a dollar missing from my wallet. My trust is not broken yet but I have my doubts. And then one day I catch him red handed. It would not only break my trust but also I would learn. The next time around, I would try and be more careful right? Yes. Or maybe. Or….atleast I should be. Infact, this also kind of boils down to trust. Like we say, “Trust her to always make mistakes” or “trust that guy to be corrupt”.

That established, let’s zoom out into the (more relevant) broader picture. The people of D.C trusted their government. They had no qualms about drinking the water straight out of the taps because they did not believe they would be givenwater with high lead levels. The people of the little town of Libby in Montana (“An Air That Kills”) were so happy to have gotten jobs and steady incomes that they would have never imagined they were being robbed of their life in broad day light. And how did the perpetrators respond? Lies, dishonesty, treacherous disregard for lives – all in the name of money.

During Dr. Lewis’ lecture in class, I couldn’t stop but thinking how fortunately lucky the cases he and Dr. Edwards’ handled were. D.C is lucky to have had Dr. Edwards’, a scientist in the field, to fight for them. How many such situations, waiting to be exposed, are going to get so lucky? In the context of ‘science is self-corrective’, we can wait around for someone to find out, pick up years of injustice, try to run it through an ethical filter and win justice. But who’s going to stand up to do that? And more importantly, where would they turn to for help?!?!

Recently in a meeting, the topic of ‘Consumer Confidence Reports’ came up. This was new to me. A lady in the group mentioning these reports, that utilities send out periodically with each homes’ water quality data as an ‘information’. So it says, you have so-and-so mg/L of ‘x’ in your water. And then the lady said,”So WHAT? How am I supposed to know if that is a good thing or a bad thing?” Think about it. As a utility, their duty is done. Right to Know has been put in place and the information has been given out. Then what? How does one know?

I also realized after last week, the way I see it the industry is actually scared of people. They live in the paranoia of losing business. This competitiveness makes them resort to unethical behavior, to go to any means to ensure profitability. But here is where we need to understand and believe in the power of public. We need to trust ourselves and know that it our very unity that the Government, and the industry alike, are scared of.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Unity is Strength

In a country that is widely believed to symbolize democracy, proudly proclaiming to be “of the people, for the people and by the people”, it only seems right that the motto pervades every aspect of the society. It is only fair that very people whom the government is for should be made a part of most, if not all, of its activities, isn’t it? In that respect, it is ironic to note that the formulation of the Right to Know (RTK) Act (Hadden, 1989) stemmed from unfortunate incidents. Somehow I feel that this late establishment is indicative of the trust that the citizens had on the Government. They believed that those in authority, work for them and know for them. They did not find the necessity to involve themselves because they had faith in the intentions of those they elected. It was only later and when confronted with dilemmas of health and safety did they realize this was not so.

In their paper, Markowitz et al., 2002 highlight the industry-ruled society that we now live in. To what good is an industry that supposedly aims to make products for people if the very act of manufacturing those goods is harmful to the very same people? Does it not then become evident that their predominant driving motive is nothing but profit and NOT ultimately consumer benefit and all that jazz that’s marketed around? In the vicious circle of innovation and the mad rush of corporate entities to one-up their competitors, the sufferers are the users, who are on the bottom most rung of the business food chain. To make matters worse, industry-sponsored research only seems to favor biased outcomes. In that sense, we really all are industry’s children, don’t you think?

With reference to CDC’s response (2009) to the Renner article (2009) in Salon.com, it seems as though they always respond to situations. There has been no instance where they have initiated anything on their own without being instigated to do so. We know that all the authorities seemed to know about the existence of the lead issue for a long while before it became publicized (as we saw in numerous readings and class lectures till now). Then why did they wait to be questioned to take action? To me, that itself shows that they are not pro-actively interested in the welfare of people. They subscribe to the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy where they chose to stay mum and do nothing. However, when accused, they jump at the opportunity to defend themselves and clear their names with fabricated and misleading statements and reports. Impressive – such an example they set!

I can’t imagine what the state of the D.C lead case would be if not for the involvement of Dr. Edwards, Dr. Yanna and citizen groups like “Parents for Nontoxic Alternatives”.  It is their work that is trying to improve lay knowledge (Bucchi et al.,2008) of the public and empower them with information. This is important because it almost seems like there is nowhere else for people to turn to for correct and truthful information. Trusted organizations like the EPA, CDC themselves are under trial (at the expense of sounding repetitive, I cannot stress this enough), where else is one supposed to go to for help? It is hence, the perfect scenario where people must come together and demand to know, to be told for afterall, “United we Stand, Divided we Fall”.


1. Hadden, S. G. 1989. “The Need for Right to Know.” In A Citizen’s Right to Know: Risk Communication and Public Policy, pp. 3-18. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

2. Markowitz, G. and R. Rosner. 2002. “Introduction: Industry’s Child.” In Deceit and Denial: The Deadly Politics of Industrial Pollution, pp. 1-11. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

3. Bucchi, M. and F. Neresini. 2008. Science and Public Participation. In E. J. Hackett, et al., eds., The Handbook of Science and Technology Studies, pp. 449-472. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

4. Edwards, M., S. Triantafyllidou, and D. Best. 2009. Elevated Blood Lead in Young Children Due to Lead-Contaminated Drinking Water: Washington, DC, 2001-2004. Environmental Science & Technology 43:1618-1623 (with supporting information).

5. Renner, R. 2009. Health Agency Covered Up Lead Harm: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Withheld Evidence that Contaminated Tap Water Caused Lead Poisoning in Kids. Salon.com (April 10):1-3, http://www.salon.com/news/environment/feature/2009/04/10/cdc_lead_report.

6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 2009. CDC Responds to Salon.com Article [Media Statement] (April 10), 2 p., http://www.cdc.gov/media/pressrel/2009/s090410.htm.

7. WASAwatch. 2009. What the CDC Can Learn from the National Research Council and the Public [blog entry] (May 3), 10 p.,  http://dcwasawatch.blogspot.com/2009/05/what-cdc-can-learn-from-national.html.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

The Black hole

I almost had a punch-in-the-air, triumphant moment reading the Renner article (2009). It felt like there was finally someone who decided to represent facts as they are, with none of the biases or “nudges” (as mentioned by Guidotti in an email to Johnnie Hemphi dated 4/6/2006) that seemed to surround other publications. I think her report was well-articulated, comprehensive and to-the-point.

It was actually interesting to see Guidotti’s “pained” letter in response to her article. I guess once the ball of lies is set rolling, they become so deeply embroiled in it that they probably start believing it’s true! In that respect, Guidotti’s emotional outburst to the report by calling it “incorrect and irresponsible” and going on to further refer to her statements as “unwarranted allegations” almost feels…real. From a reader’s perspective, I’m pretty sure Renner’s report would’ve generated rightful concern about lead in water. But if they are not well-versed on the case, as most people would not be, Guidotti’s response may have raised doubts, because his status has power. This is what worries me the most. As I mentioned in my last post, the sheer power these agencies and individuals carry – EPA, DC WASA etc is pretty intimidating. They can, and are, pull strings to tilt things in their favor and so this fight is pretty long drawn.

With reference to the other readings, I believe Guidotti would fit the bill of an Issue Advocate (Pielke, 2007)from the Devil ofcourse.  This is evident in every angle of his paper, which was even termed as a “Health Message”. However, being an advocate is not necessarily a bad thing. I feel that most research works from this angle. We build a hypothesis and try to defend it and that pretty much means we try to push across a central message. That is advocacy in its own right, but I guess it ultimately boils down to what is being conveyed. 

I think what strikes me most about this entire case is the level of complexity. With the recent angle of the partial lead service replacement and its detrimental effects (EHP, 2010), we can see that while there is one central problem, ie, Lead in water – there are many sources. Which one should be addressed first? Aren’t they all linked somehow? It appears that the one thing that could help solve these problems – SCIENCE – has been sadly pushed to the back seat.


Van de Poel, I. and L. Royakkers. 2011. “Normative Ethics” and “The Ethical Cycle.” In Ethics, Technology, and Engineering: An Introduction, pp. 102-108 and pp. 133-160. West Sussex, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.

Pantazidou, M. and I. Nair. 1999. Ethic of Care: Guiding Principles for Engineering Teaching & Practice. Journal of Engineering Education 88(2):205-212.

Pielke, R. A., Jr. 2007. “Four Idealized Roles of Science in Policy and Politics” and “Making Sense of Science in Policy and Politics.” In The Honest Broker: Making Sense of Science in Policy and Politics, pp. 1-7 and 135-152. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Renner, R. 2009. “Troubled Waters: Controversy Over Public Health Impact of Tap Water Contaminated With Lead Takes on an Ethical Dimension.” AAAS Professional Ethics Report XXII(2):1-4.

Renner, R. 2009. “Troubled Waters: On the Trail of the Lost Data.” AAAS Professional Ethics Report XXII(3):1-3.

Guidotti, T. L. 2009. [Letter to the Editor in response to Renner’s “Troubled Waters” articles]. AAAS Professional Ethics Report XXII(3):4. (Renner’s final response to Guidotti, is in PDF “W7 Renner Response.”)

Renner, R. 2010. Reaction to the Solution: Lead Exposure Following Partial Service Line Replacement. Environmental Health Perspectives 118:A202-A208.

Renner, R. 2007. Lead Pipe Replacement Should Go All the Way. Environmental Science & Technology 41(19):6637-6638.

Edwards, M. and Lambrinidou, Y. 2009. Possible Undisclosed Conflicts of Interest and Other Concerns Related to a Publication in Environmental Health Perspectives.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Art of Fabrication

Reading the Guidotti et al (2007) paper, after all that’s been discussed in class, was almost a humorous experience, minus the humor ofcourse. Knowing that the data was false, the authors corrupt and the conclusions invalid negated the credibility of the entire article. But that is for me – a person who knows. I tried to put myself in the shoes of a naive citizen of D.C – either a worried mother or say, an environmental engineer whose scientific curiosity has been piqued by the case. The discussions in the paper would make both of them happy. To the engineer, who trusts science and data, all those numbers and statistics would make him think the problem is solved. To the mother, to whom science means nothing in comparison to the health of her child, just the “conclusion” in the beginning of the paper would be enough to assuage her worries. Problem solved. The score: 1 million points to the authors (or DCWASA, CDC, DOH), 0 to the people.

The approach of the authors in structuring the paper is smart, to say the least. They start off by establishing the credibility of those on their side, again DCWASA, CDC etc. They address the history of lead in water with legitimate facts. They mention the counteractive measures taken by DCWASA to deal with the issue, such as offering free testing, distribution of filters to homes, arranging low-cost finance etc. And they present their methods and results, which try to prove that they have done their work, pretty meticulously at that. Case established and trust won. (The erratum in the end was almost a joke, if I can say so!).

It makes me wonder – did these papers have to go through any other reviewers before being published? Or were the profiles of the authors enough to warrant publication? If that was the case, did they not abuse their scientific power, esteem and respect to present wrong facts in the belief that they will be accepted? Then, isn’t this a violation of their ‘Virtue ethics’? (Poel et al, 2011). I also think the ‘equity or justice’ angle of risk assessment (Harris et al, 2009) or the value of an individual in the society was ignored throughout. What do you guys think?

The concept of virtue ethics, in itself, is easy to understand but difficult to follow. I feel that most often than not our responses to practical situations are circumstantial. For example, a person may kill someone in self defense. While Mahatma Gandhi may have claimed non-violence would have solved the issue, the instinct to save one’s life takes over and controls actions. This is well-articulated in the article – “A person’s good character traits do raise expectations, but they do not provide a measure for judging an action”. Also, who defines what these virtues are? Each person’s views of personal ethics varies and hence the distinction between good and bad is a blurred thin line.

To lighten up the mood a bit, I thought this was funny: 


1. Van de Poel, I. and L. Royakkers. 2011. “Normative Ethics.” In Ethics, Technology, and Engineering: An Introduction, pp. 95-101. West Sussex, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.

2. Harris, C. E., Jr., et al. 2009. “Risk and Liability in Engineering.” In Engineering Ethics: Concepts & Cases, pp. 135-164. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

3. Corburn, J. 2005. “Risk Assessment, Community Knowledge, and Subsistence Anglers.” In Street Science: Community Knowledge and Environmental Health Justice, pp. 79-109. Cambridge, MA and London, UK: The MIT Press.

4. Guidotti, T. L., et al. 2007. Elevated Lead in Drinking Water in Washington, DC, 2003-2004: The Public Health Response. Environmental Health Perspectives 115(5):695-702.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Rat Race

The article on Integrity in Research (Steneck, 2006) was very interesting in that it dealt with a lot of my concerns, which I had voiced in earlier critiques. As someone who is new to the research community, understanding the implications and responsibilities of being a researcher is pretty overwhelming. As a mere student, all one has to do is deal with education, while occasionally wondering where what they’re learning will be applied. These are just passing thoughts, however, until homework and assignments take precedence over every single other thought. When he/she graduates (literally!) into a working professional, most often than not, their understanding of their individual responsibility is limited to completing assigned tasks on time. But as a researcher, there are no confining boundaries to limit tasks, there is no time limit for the entire study, there is no restricted syllabus or text books for aid and well, are no exams to test knowledge! This presents a researcher with intimidating levels of freedom and thus enormous scope for error.

Honestly, when I started working on a paper, I wasn’t aware of the fact that there were standard ways to cite articles. While I knew the meaning of the word plagiarism, I wasn’t aware of all that it entails – I did not know that reproducing a figure from an article or anywhere on the net needs reference. However, I am learning as I go and I now understand that if I make a mistake somewhere, I cannot brush it off saying “I did not know” or “I didn’t mean to”. I need to be more aware by asking questions to more knowledgeable people, whenever necessary.

If as a novice researcher this is my view, I fail to understand how people of the ranks of Lynette Stokes could resort to FFPs without the faintest bit of remorse. It is a shame to note the bold “PhDs” that adorn their name as suffixes and the oaths they have sworn in to.  It is almost as though they believe that these oaths are mere promises that are meant to be broken. As bothersome as it is that the perpetrators of the D.C lead case have failed their collective professional duties, I cannot fathom how they live with themselves as humans (with a conscience). Ultimately sometime, it would be interesting to know the reasoning behind their actions – were they trying to exhibit paternalism (Gostin, 2010), i.e, curbing paranoia amongst the public or plain purposeful ignorance of facts to make sure they come out looking clean? I really wish we get to know, though it wouldn’t change anything as the damage has already been done.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment