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 (

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