Why I March – Flint Water Crisis

By Joey Lawson, Ph.D.

Featured photo courtesy of Wanaruk Photography

I grew up in Flint, MI. The Flint water crisis is a frightening example of how politicians’ disregard for science can, and will, risk the health and safety of Americans. Warnings about the risk were chalked up to scientists unnecessarily driving up budgets. Their warning was valid, yet went unheeded. A city of 100,000 people was poisoned with lead because the government dismissed science.

Science focused organizations like the EPA, NIH, and DOE are currently facing intense political scrutiny, as the value, cost, and purpose of government funded scientific research is questioned. Politicians most frequently cite the number of jobs created to measure the value of science based programs. This metric hides a real and immediate value of scientific funding. Cutting federal spending on science initiatives will lead to job cuts within universities and research institutions. These cuts will also prevent science based startups from forming, which lead to new products and job creation.  While this is a critical aspect of government funded science initiatives, focusing strictly on the number of jobs or revenue obscures a major value of science funding.

The Flint water crisis could have been avoided with a small investment to their water authority, a local scientifically focused agency. The crisis could have been stopped if federal agencies like the EPA had more resources and more authority to intervene. Decreasing science funding at federal and local levels can have an immediate and disastrous effect on our community as well. Science funding benefits everyone in quiet ways. We can thank current and past generations of scientists, politicians, and taxpayers each time our children avoid lead poisoning, don’t get sick from smallpox,  or enjoy the convenience of heat and electricity. All of these things are possible because of previous and continued investment in science and research. All of these things could disappear if our leaders disregard scientific research.

Government funding of science and respect for scientific methods by our elected officials are crucial to our society’s functioning.  Last year, the negativity and villainizing of scientists by some in government lead to the organization of more than 600 March for Science events across all seven continents on April 22nd. These marches were grassroots movements initiated by scientists in their local communities, but they are not just for scientists. Science funding (or lack thereof) affects everyone in our community.

This year, the Rochester NY March for Science will be hosting our second annual “Day of Science” to celebrate all the ways science benefits the Rochester community, and to advocate for evidence-based policies that implement the findings of scientific research for the greater good. The day’s events begin Saturday, April 14th at noon in Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Park. I urge you to march with us, stand up for science, and help solidify Rochester’s presence as a safe, healthy, innovative city for generations to come.

About the Author
Joey Lawson helped start the Rochester NY March for Science with the hopes of promoting science-driven policy making and building awareness of the positive impact science funding has on society. After earning a B.S./M.S. in mechanical engineering from RIT and a Ph.D. at U of R, Joey now works as an R&D scientist in the digital imaging and print industry. His role with ROC-MFS focuses on community outreach and serves as both Treasurer and Science Expo co-chairperson.

Photo courtesy of Eric Koski

This blog is a publication of the Rochester NY March for Science. Opinions are that of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the ROC-MFS.

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