Thursday, March 31, 2016

There’s a price to be paid

by Nicole Freund
Doctoral student at Wichita State University

So sayeth Dr. Marc Edwards, someone known for challenging systems in the interest of helping communities in crisis. Most recently, Dr. Edwards has been recognized for blowing the whistle on the water infrastructure failure in Flint, MI. The Community Psychology Practice Blog is sharing an interview Dr. Edwards gave regarding both Flint as well as the important role of science in protecting people and communities.

While Edwards has degrees in biophysics and engineering, he endorses many values that correspond to the practice of community psychology. Identifying as a scientist generally, he notes in the interview shared here, “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.” The discipline of community psychology espouses this very concept, and, as many practitioners know all too well, the path to public good can be . . . bumpy. Dr. Edwards argues that this path is made even more dangerous by the ways academia incentivizes its faculty to refrain from dissention when funders (especially governmental funders) might be called into question. The desire to fund good work can sometimes overshadow the warning that something is wrong, especially when those funding relationships might evaporate with one disagreement or media interview.

Everything in life has a price: emotional, financial, temporal. How does this value of give and take get reflected in our science? Do our motivations mirror the intention to do good despite the funding trap that leads to silence when warnings should be shouted? Dr. Edwards argues that “the systems built to support scientists do not reward moral courage and that the university pipeline contains toxins of its own — which, if ignored, will corrode public faith in science.” That corrosion can be seen in a wide range of domains from the environment, to education, to homelessness, to substance abuse treatment. Historical abuse of vulnerable populations and communities of color continue and compound distrust as more and more scientists are silenced in the name of expediency. How do we fund good programs and the scientific evaluations of those programs without losing our way when unanticipated results may not be favorable?

Interview in full here:

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