The questionable tactics of the Flint Area Community Health and Environmental Partnership and Friends (F+F) have recently been covered in major media. Steve Kolowich at the Chronicle of Higher Education, Perry Stein at the Washington Post and Kevin Drum at Mother Jones have all given their take on this distasteful situation.
As Perry Stein perceptively noted, when it comes to the F+F instigated crybully attacks on Dr. Wells, Flintwaterstudy or Dr. Edwards, the key question is:
This blog provides revelatory new facts to answer this very question.
This week we disclose FOIA emails from a friend of FACHEP, which, in our view, are so unhinged, that they had to be sanitized in the above publications to make them suitable for public consumption. A careful analysis provides some insights to what a modern “trial by ordeal” within F+F’s academic bonfire of the vanities looks like—a nightmare that makes all the political attacks appear both quaint and principled by comparison.
What follows is a tragic tale of betrayal, both real and imagined.
Dr. Lambrinidou becomes a FACHEP supporter
Kolowich correctly described the sad end to Edwards’ decade plus collaboration with Dr. Yanna Lambrinidou [Affiliate Faculty in Science, Technology and Society (STS)]. Edwards and Lambrinidou worked intensively together from 2007-2010 to expose the D.C. Lead Crisis Coverup, co-founded an innovative engineering ethics class and had several funded research projects together.
In the Flint saga, Edwards introduced Lambrinidou as “the best” to Melissa Mays, to help organize the September 15th, 2015 press conference. Edwards also recommended Lambrinidou for other prominent roles in the Flint Water Crisis, providing a basis for claims that she was an activist “in the Flint, Michigan, crisis” during interviews in Rolling Stone and Al Jazeera. She even gave public presentations through at least April 2016, providing “insights from the prize-winning Virginia Tech research team that uncovered the drinking water crisis in Flint Michigan.”
As we will detail herein, Lambrinidou eventually turned against VT, Flintwaterstudy and Dr. Edwards, to become a fawning ally and supporter of FACHEP. In 2018, Dr. Lambrinidou signed the Flintcomplaints letter, which we consider defamatory to Dr. Edwards and defensive of FACHEP. We even suspect Lambrinidou helped instigate that anonymously written letter and the associated Facebook Flintcomplaints page, using both as a cudgel to attack our team’s reputation. Dr. Lambrinidou was eventually named as a defendant in Dr. Edwards’ defamation case in July 2018 (original case filing put online by buzzfeed) and FACHEP faculty have been rallying to her support ever since. For instance, Lambrinidou was invited to give a guest lecture at the University of Michigan in Dr. Love’s “ethics” class in October 2018.
Her vitriolic public attacks on Dr. Edwards intensified from 2016 to 2018, with claims he was an exemplar of unethical Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) faculty, who allegedly steal credit that should be given to STS “social justice” activists like herself. Lambrinidou’s first public critique of Dr. Edwards was August 2016, when she claimed to the New York Times that he should not have attended the Flint press conference.
The Press Conference: A STEM “Pearl Harbor” like Aggression?
September 15th, 2015 — a date which will live in infamy — the residents of Flint, MI were suddenly and deliberately attacked by STEM forces of the empire of Virginia Tech. #decolonizeSTEMOur only slightly exaggerated characterization of Lambrinidou’s hyperbolic Flint critiques (apologies to FDR).
Dr. Edwards started collaborating with Flint Mom LeeAnne Walters and EPA Scientist Miguel Del Toral in April 2014. Over the next three months Edwards reported hazardous waste levels of lead in Walters home, contributed scientific data to Del Toral’s EPA memo outlining the imminent and substantial endangerment to Flint residents, and collaborated with ACLU-Michigan reporter Curt Guyette on his investigative reporting. All of that work was done behind the scenes to the extent possible, minimizing Edwards’ public role. It was only after Del Toral was silenced in late July 2015 that Flintwaterstudy launched publicly.
As data from our citizen sampling campaign rolled in, it became apparent there was a massive city-wide water lead problem, at which point Guyette and other Flint residents requested that Dr. Edwards and Sid Roy attend a press conference (September 15, 2015) to make public the alarming scientific results. THE PRESS CONFERENCE is a defining moment in every account of the Flint Water Crisis, including the Lifetime Movie “Flint” and the NOVA documentary Poisoned Water.
The Press Conference: Fully anticipating that our every word and deed at the press conference would one day be misrepresented by social justice faculty, we left nothing to chance. Dr. Edwards and Roy stood in the background, spoke succinctly on the safety and public health issues before moving once again to the background. We also videotaped the entire event so you can watch it and form your own opinion (Roy speaks from 1:44-4:08 or 144 seconds and Edwards from 4:11-7:29 or 198 seconds).
The very next day (September 16, 2015) Dr. Lambrinidou wrote to her Virginia Tech colleague Dr. Donna Riley (who is now Dean of Engineering Education at Purdue), describing the press conference as follows (emphasis added to all quotes in this blog):
“You are catching me at an especially cynical moment… Marc colonized Flint so completely this week, that the press conference I recommended to the residents in order to support them to take power back and become visible again turned into a Marc-fest with Marc at the center of everything.”Link
Lambrinidou’s ludicrous characterization of Edwards’ role at the press conference has now been presented in the Chronicle of Higher Education, the New York Times Magazine, Lambrinidou’s editorials, and in numerous disparaging STS presentations all over the country. Not only is that story completely contradicted by the video, but she falsely tries to take credit for recommending the press conference to residents. When Sid Roy directly contradicted his former ethics professor’s account of a “Marc-fest” during a May 2016 conversation, he felt it important to note that she did not even attend the event whereas he had. Undeterred, Lambrinidou mysteriously responded: “sometimes you have to be far removed from actual events to know what is really going on.”
Filter GoFundMe: Unfortunately, Lambrinidou was just getting started in her September 16, 2015 email to Dr. Riley. She next extended her distorted social justice lens to question the motives and ethics of Flintwaterstudy students. After Anurag Mantha started a GOFUNDME campaign to help Flint residents purchase lead filters, Lambrinidou described the good deed as follows:
“On top of that, in Blacksburg the research team decided to create a crowdsourcing site that asks the world to make a donation for water filters for the low-income people of Flint…..So we have a bizarre noblesse oblige set-up that in reality seems self-promoting. If I were a resident of Flint, I would be offended. Actually, I am not a resident of Flint and I am offended.”Link
Sid Roy Tweet: Completing a “land, water and air” characterization of the VT STEM colonialist assault on Flint, Lambrinidou then called out two tweets Sid Roy sent after the successful press conference.
To Flint residents: Thank you so much for coming out tonight! We have come to admire and appreciate you all during our time here.— Flint Water Study (@flintwaterstudy) September 16, 2015
Lambrinidou’s analysis of Sid’s tweet:
“The climax of the colonization was last night in the form of a tweet from Sid …who upon his return home thanked the Flint residents for “coming out” to their OWN press conference (I suspect that Sid and many other grad students have grown somewhat confused about WHOM the Flint situation is about?).”Link
Lambrinidou ended her email claiming that this VT STEM colonization story would make a great introduction to a new book she wanted to co-author with Riley on Environmental Justice. Riley agreed.
It is also important to note that until her May 2016 conversation with Sid Roy, Lambrinidou never once shared this sort of criticism with Dr. Edwards or the rest of the Flintwaterstudy study team. In fact, she was outright duplicitous, as evidenced by public praise for our team’s efforts through at least January 2016. Consider her October 8, 2015 tweet “Thks to VT..for helping to uncover the truth,” or her January 19, 2016 email to Edwards:
She also emailed: “Marc, congratulations!!!,” celebrating his pivotal role in the resignation of Ms. Susan Hedman (EPA). We hope our readers agree that this is a very fascinating situation. What on earth could cause someone to live such an “academic double life” in the first place? And, what could cause someone to eventually give that double life up? We will answer the latter question first.
For really interested readers, here is an audio recording from a October 8 2015 podcast interview between Sid Roy and Dr. Lambrinidou, where she is clearly alluding to the strains of her situation and decisions:
“I’LL GO CRAZY” and it is “EATING ME UP ALIVE”
Science published a short feature on Dr. Edwards’ work in Flint entitled “The Water Watchdog” on March 11, 2016. When asked what colleagues thought about his activism, Dr. Edwards honestly replied:
I engage in activism as a last resort, after every scientific path has failed. Since I personally find activism distasteful, I forgive the academics who also view it negatively.
Upon reading the interview Dr. Lambrinidou took grave offense. At no point in the interview did Dr. Edwards disrespect activists, but merely said that for himself, activism was a last resort he found distasteful. Reacting angrily, Lambrinidou’s activist faculty colleagues said “unethical ME <Edwards> is not a good scientist, not a good engineer, not a good teacher, and not a good citizen.” Lambrinidou thanked them for their support, stating “I honestly sometimes get scared that i’ll go crazy…. Sometimes i can’t take it anymore.”
Rolling up their sleeves to conduct research for their book on environmental justice, Lambrinidou actually started counting “hero” references to characters in the Flint story, eventually creating the graph depicted below, which she sent to Dr. Riley on April 4, 2016, along with an explanatory caption.
Even though Dr. Edwards was in third place on the graph (for a biased analysis ignoring all the work behind the scenes from April to August 2015), he was strangely the sole target of Lambrinidou’s angst. She emailed Dr. Riley:
“this work, although i know it’s important, is making me sick. an hour ago i just took my first ever anti-anxiety med (i almost never take meds for anything). the injustice of it all, the exploitation, the abuse, and the national narrative of celebration and heroism is eating me up alive. it’s like looking at your rapist <Edwards> get the nobel prize for gender equality.….Link
Dr. Riley offered Lambrinidou the following solace:
“I think this is why so many justice folks talk seriously about self care – because it does eat us up. And often it’s not the opposition but supposed allies that inflict the most betrayal and harm. There is nothing wrong with you. You are having a very human response to it all.”Link
Based on Lambrinidou’s response when he asked her about the above emails produced by FOIA, Kolowich (Chronicle of Higher Education) wrote:
“…she’s not ashamed of what she wrote in her private emails. The real shame, Lambrinidou said, would be if people mistake her criticism of Edwards’s work for a personal vendetta rather than a serious critique of the power dynamic between experts and the people they are supposed to serve.”
Personal Vendetta or Serious Critique?
To shed light on the “double life” question, and the issue of a “serious critique” versus “personal vendetta,” we now have to go back 8 years.
As detailed in the lawsuit, in 2010 Dr. Lambrinidou sent Dr. Edwards emails that he interpreted as romantic advances. Such emails stopped after he made it clear he was committed to his then 22 year marriage. But in July 2013, Lambrinidou made the following comment, copying three of her 20-something male VT graduate student advisees, on the topic of “listening”:
“This might sound weird, but to me the question sounded almost as personal as a question about the last time you had a really meaningful sexual encounter. Think about standing up in front of a crowd and telling them about the last time you felt really listened to… Exposing, yes?”Link
Now that you mention it, that does sound weird.
Over the next month or so, there were many other “weird” events that can be documented in writing, including Lambrinidou claiming that Edwards “humiliated” her by “flirting” with another female faculty member while at a professional banquet. Or Lambrinidou writing about an “attraction between us that we discussed many times,” in reference to conversations Edwards recalls differently. Or warning “how good <Lambrinidou> was at leaving people” but that this that is “not a skill I am proud of, btw.” (These emails are not provided herein).
Edwards still respected Lambrinidou as a valued colleague that he had worked with for 6 years at that point, but he made it clear that boundaries to their communications would be necessary if they were to continue working together. After they could not reach agreement on that issue, they began a long process of finishing up several major grants in progress, which included co-development of an Engineering Ethics class.
Over the next several years Edwards continued to professionally support Lambrinidou by extolling her strengths publicly. He called her “the best” in his September 4th 2015 email introducing her to Flint activists, and he recommended Lambrinidou for other roles in the Flint water crisis in 2016 as mentioned earlier. And as with all his advisees and colleagues, he repeatedly attempted to boost her spirits about the value of their work (see exemplary emails January 18-January 21st, 2016).
But unbeknownst to Edwards, back in 2013 Lambrinidou plotted a different path. In an October 20th, 2013 email to a friend regarding the distancing that occurred in their personal relationship (profanity edited with ## below):
“some absolutely mortifying developments a few weeks ago. Like I was dealing with a psychopath sans a soul. Like, if he lived close to me, he would come stab me to death. …He wrote back within 3 seconds and told me to fu## myself (in essence)… So, on the one hand I am doing MUCH better, but on the other, I am still in shock and very much grieving. I have never had any experience with a human being like this before — he even accused me of expecting too much of people…It’s all finished. Totally finished. But the idea that he thinks of me as some little pain-in-the-butt psychotic bit## scares me and stuns me and leaves me in disbelief…, and that’s because a) I am none of these things at all, and b) in truth I gave him everything, everything I have, the very best of me, just gave him all.”Link
Seventeen months later, Lambrinidou was still preoccupied with Edwards, as evidenced by a March 18th, 2015 email to her friend just a few weeks before Virginia Tech engaged in Flint (emphasis added):
“Indeed, slowly but surely Marc is starting to fade away from my heart and mind. I think of him as a coward, like all narcissists are, because he doesn’t have the emotional and spiritual strength to enter relationships where he is not being feared and worshipped. How pathetic that seems to me. What a spineless way to live one’s life. Marc is the quintessential example of the subjugating engineer who colonizes people….”Link
Clearly, Lambrinidou’s issues with Dr. Edwards dated back to at least 2013. Her private accusations of colonialism and much worse, predate the “critique” in her September 16th, 2016 email. For nearly three years, Dr. Edwards was completely unaware of what his colleague was doing or saying about him behind the scenes, which included a March 11, 2016 FWICC meeting when Lambrinidou greeted him warmly, took an adjacent seat and passed him personal notes.
Once Lambrinidou went public with her criticism in August 2016, her attacks inexorably intensified. At one dinner in late 2016 with Flintwaterstudy students who formerly had Lambrinidou as an ethics professor, she claimed Dr. Edwards was unethical. She then asserted that Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, with whom Edwards was closely collaborating and sharing awards, was actually a cowardly figure who had to be talked into doing her famous blood lead study. When Dr. Edwards heard this, he immediately fact checked the story with the only people who would know—Lambrinidou’s vindictive statement was refuted. Along the same lines, in April 2016 Lambrinidou wrote that Edwards and Hanna-Attisha’s Time100 award represented a “grave injustice.”
Shortly thereafter, another Flintwaterstudy student heard shocking claims that allegedly came from a mutual friend of Lambrinidou. First, there was the assertion that the Flintwaterstudy effort was unethical and opportunist from the start (consistent with Lambrinidou’s newly revealed September 16, 2015 email to her VT faculty friends). But it was also alleged that Dr. Lambrinidou never liked Dr. Edwards, that he had stolen credit from her for the ethics class, and he had even threatened her. All rumors that have been circulating ever since.
In late 2017, Dr. Riley publicly tweeted analogies to #metoo and claims of “structural bullying” in relation to Dr. Edwards, during a conference presentation by Lambrinidou—apparently this sort of unfounded personal attack is cutting edge scholarship in STS social justice warrior events. At that point we were finally compelled to respond publicly. Dr. Riley’s bizarre public tweets, are now viewed as a perfectly logical extension of years of disparaging email communications between Riley, Lambrinidou and their other social justice faculty colleague. Those emails include dozens of pages in which they attempt to negatively influence press reporting of Edwards and sabotage his award nominations (these emails are not included herein).
Further, recall that Dr. Riley and Lambrinidou, both cowardly refused to discuss their tweets or presentations about Edwards when we confronted them. Dr. Riley even flat out lied in writing to our team, when she claimed her tweet had nothing at all to do with Dr. Edwards or our work in Flint.
FlintComplaints and Allegations of Unethical Behavior
These attacks became ever more aggressive as detailed in the lawsuit. On April 27 2018, Lambrinidou sent this #decolonizestem tweet, citing “the brutality he <Edwards> inflicts on innocent ppl” and “institutional betrayal” by “intoxicated” “#Engineering & #STEM establishments.” We suppose this is another yet serious STS critique not to be confused with a personal vendetta.
The #Engineering & #STEM establishments, still intoxicated from their #hero’s trick of #TurningLeadIntoGold, are doggedly ignoring the brutality he inflicts on innocent ppl. This is what #InstitutionalBetrayal looks like. #FlintWaterCrisis #DecolonizeSTEM https://t.co/gxJDa1KMdf pic.twitter.com/RKX3gqo4Qa— Yanna Lambrinidou (@DrishtiEthics) April 28, 2018
Just two weeks later, the anonymously authored “flintcomplaints” letter was sent to numerous STEM organizations, requesting that Edwards be subject to an immediate investigation of unethical behavior, and face a kangaroo court “that includes…. Environmental Justice leaders who have expertise in abuses of professional power against poisoned communities like Flint.” Two FACHEP faculty signed the letter, which prominently criticized Edwards allegations about Dr. McElmurry, and also denied FACHEP ever claimed Shigella came from water.
As the saying goes, all is fair in love and <<the academic culture>> war—heaven forbid if the two are ever conflated.
Who Betrayed Whom?
Exposing these emails is both tragic and revelatory. The narcissistic victimization narrative of F+F would be laughable were it not for the real-world harm as measured by damaged reputations, lost trust in science/government, and millions of dollars in taxpayer funding.
Recall FACHEP’s claim that they were being “set up” and that the State of Michigan “completely screwed us and the people of Flint,” all because they were only provided $3.4 million dollar in a sole source project based on unverified “unique qualifications?” And the testimony that “Dr. Kilgore turned red and pounded his hand on the table and said, “People are going to Fu##ing die” if the <$13 million> in research was not able to proceed immediately and as planned.”
And we now have Dr. Lambrinidou, writing that she was being “eaten alive” by Edwards’ acclaimed role in Flint, becoming physically ill as she counted “hero” references one by one, and then invoking an outrageous rape analogy to justify her malaise. And her friend Dr. Riley, asserting this is all a normal human response to “supposed allies that inflict the most betrayal and harm.”
In this case and all the others, “Who betrayed whom?”
Primary Author: Dr. Marc Edwards