letter to STEM from academics

July 19, 2018

To Whom It May Concern:

On May 10, 2018, Flint residents sent a letter to a variety of scientific and engineering organizations requesting that “academics, professionals, and Environmental Justice leaders” conduct an investigation into the actions of Professor Marc Edwards of Virginia Tech relating to his work in Flint. [1] At last count, the letter has been signed by 60 residents and over 30 non-resident supporters. The signatories to the letter feel that Edwards is wrongly claiming to speak for the citizens of Flint, that he is “taking Flint residents’ voice away,” and that his actions constitute “abuses of professional power.” In response, Professor Edwards has made public his intent to contact all the complaint’s signatories “to see if they actually agree, word-for-word, with all of the letter’s contentions.” [2] He has also made public his intent to file a defamation suit against the people he believes to have written the letter. [3]

As academics who have done work on Flint, the Flint water crisis, and/or closely related issues, we wish to affirm Flint residents’ right to be heard on this matter. We urge members of the scientific and engineering communities to keep in mind that the power imbalance between scientists and disenfranchised communities can often be great. While disagreement between scientists and community members does occur, this fact alone does not release scientists from being accountable to those who are most affected by scientific advice and research. A prompt response acknowledging residents’ right to be heard from the institutions and organizations that received their complaint, as well as from similar institutions and organizations in a position to help, will demonstrate much-needed respect for voices that are too often systematically marginalized. It will also, we believe, help temper potential harms that might result from Professor Edwards response to the letter. We are concerned that his intent to contact the signatories and to file a defamation suit might be experienced by residents as an attempt to intimidate or silence them.

We hope that, whether or not you received the original complaint, you can appreciate that circumstances like the present one in Flint can place communities in a vulnerable position. Flint residents—whether signatories to the complaint or not—deserve to be protected from threats, pressures, harm, and any attempts to discredit their grievances prior to an investigation. In short, they deserve a chance to be heard.

If you were a recipient of the residents’ letter, we urge you to take timely and appropriate action to respond to the letter’s requests. If you did not receive the original letter but are nevertheless in a position to elevate residents’ voices and ensure that their concerns are taken seriously, we urge you to do so. If there is anything we can do to help, please let us know.


Stephen Gasteyer, Michigan State University
Michael Mascarenhas, University of California-Berkeley
Kyle Powys Whyte, Michigan State University
Phil Brown, Northeastern University
Jason Kosnoski, University of Michigan-Flint
Jennifer Carrera, Michigan State University
Max Liboiron, Memorial University of Newfoundland
Ashley Nickels, Kent State University
Rebecca L. Rutt, University of Copenhagen
Dvera I. Saxton, Ph.D.
Jevgeniy Bluwstein, University of Fribourg
Curtis Pomilia, University of Kentucky

[1] Available at FlintComplaints.com.
[2] Available at East Village Magazine.
[3] Available at Huffington PostMedium, and BuzzFeed News.