The decision is a victory for FACHEP and friends and their lawyer Bill Moran. Oftentimes, the loser in such cases makes a desperate attempt to claim the glass is somehow half-full. But that would be dishonest, so we herein acknowledge the victors, and turn our focus to the question: If what transpired was not illegal, was it ethical?
Federal Judge Urbanski ruled that the Flintcomplaints letter signed by FACHEP faculty Dr. Ben Pauli, Dr. Laura Sullivan (Kettering University) and their friend, Dr. Yanna Lambrinidou, used wording that achieved a dubious standard, of being too hyperbolic to be trustworthy. The judge described the Flintcomplaints Letter that these three FACHEP and friend
“<The Letter>…is replete with emotional and polemical language, rhetorical hyperbole, and unmistakable indicia of partisanship. Indeed, there is absolutely no pretense of objectivity or disinterestedness…”
”..the authors express their frustration with Edwards about a formal complaint he allegedly filed against a Wayne State University professor <Dr. McElmurry>.
“…there is a definite and palpable current of exasperation throughout the Letter,..The emphasis on the first-person tense……The sum effect of the format, tone, and content of the Letter is to make it unmistakably clear that its contents are of a partisan character…..”
“Moreover … the exasperated tenor, advocative style, and responsive posture would invariably lead a reasonable reader person to expect something less than scrupulous factual accuracy.”
In a post-truth world, what constitutes libel is changing, as described in the recent article “Too Hyperbolic to Be Believed”. Specifically if you make a sufficiently outrageous (i.e., “rhetorical hyperbole”) false statement about someone, the legal system assumes that “no reasonable person could believe” it. By legal definition, if a reasonable reader should doubt it, then it is not defamatory.
Ironically, Dr. Edwards filed the lawsuit and is authoring this blog series, precisely because he expects FACHEP faculty and friends with PhDs to be held accountable for anything ‘less than scrupulous factual accuracy” when it comes to all work conducted in Flint.
For eight months, we have been perplexed, by the question of “Who authored the hyperbolic Flintcomplaints letter—and why?” With the advantage of FOIA emails unavailable when the lawsuit was filed in August 2018, and which were also unavailable to the judge when he rendered his decision (because new evidence cannot be provided after a case is filed), we can now shed more light on this mystery.
Herein, we examine evidence that shows that the Flintcomplaints letter and anonymously owned websites defending
CLUE #1: KATHERINE
The once unimaginable possibility that FACHEP faculty might go to such lengths, to create an event that would put themselves in a positive light, was nicely expressed by Katherine who wrote the following comment, in response to our blog on Citizen Engineering.
All extremely logical and factual responses Dr. Edwards. You will always win in the court of science and facts but that’s clearly not how these folks play. The hubris of this group <FACHEP> for attacking someone for noticing gross fabrications and
probablelying under oath is pathetic.
Good assignment for an undergraduate media class to figure out who the heck is actually behind such ‘sites’ as “flintcomplaints.com” and what their ultimate goals are, revenge, defamation, money, other? Probably a dirtier soup than the original Flint River water.
CLUE #2: WHO WROTE FLINTCOMPLAINTS
Acting on a tip, we submitted
But as part of the FOIA appeal process, NJIT was required to file a document, describing the general nature of emails that were withheld. That document revealed Dr. Holbrook corresponded not only with FACHEP friend Dr. Yanna Lambrinidou, but also with FACHEP faculty including Dr. Ben Pauli (Kettering) and Dr. Nancy Love (University of Michigan).
Recall that when Dr. Edwards was
While we cannot tell who was authoring or cc’d on any NJIT emails, the timeline, content and general description of emails withheld by NJIT align perfectly with above events as follows:
- March 26, 2018-April 1, 2018 (11 pages). Email discussion re: Virginia Tech researcher Dr. Marc Edwards’ testimony about Flint, Michigan water emergency and attached draft letter from Kettering Assistant Professor Benjamin Pauli addressing unfair criticism by Dr. Edwards against the Flint Area Community Health and Environmental Partnership (FACHEP)
- March 26, 2018-April 4, 2018 (26 pages). Email chain including additional discussion re: the possibility of Benjamin Pauli filing a complaint against Dr. Edwards pursuant to ASCE’s ethics and complaint procedures and providing link to ASCE’s ethics page.
- March 26, 2018-May 8, 2018. “…request for Dr. Holbrook to provide feedback re Benjamin Pauli’s (Kettering University) proposed letter to AAAS and ASEE.”
- May 8, 2018. “Email discussion re: location for meeting in Wash., DC on May 9, 2018.”
The day after the above May 9th 2018 meeting, the “hyperbolic” Flintcomplaints letter was sent to AAAS, AEESP, Virginia Tech, NAE and many other Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) groups.
Although the Flintcomplaints letter was judged too hyperbolic to be trusted by a reasonable reader, many of the STEM organizations were forced to examine this letter seriously.
Let’s consider the increasingly likely possibility, that
Further, recall that a June 28, 2018 posting on the Flintcomplaints Facebook page acknowledges that the hyperbolic Letter, was “crafted for us” Flint residents. And a reporter from East Village Magazine noted that authorship of this letter was “being strategically cloaked,” but “multiple local activists were involved.” Were Dr. Lambrinidou, Pauli, Sullivan, Love and Holbrook, those who “crafted” a letter for Flint residents to sign? Was this hyperbolic letter, considered a viable alternative, to publicly filing an ethics complaint against Dr. Edwards as discussed early April 2018?
CLUE #3: DR. PAULI (FACHEP) PERSONALLY SOLICITS SIGNATORIES
It turns out that FACHEP’s Dr. Pauli was actually sending out emails to many faculty, recruiting signatories to both the Flintcomplaints letter and still another letter (to be discussed later) with an “appeal for solidarity.” After writing FACHEP’s version of Edwards activities in Flint, Pauli pivoted:
But this email is only indirectly about Edwards’ attacks on FACHEP. It is really about Flint residents and activists.
(Note: Edwards never publicly called out FACHEP until fall 2017, even though they were maligning him publicly since late 2016)
I have been following up with many of you individually and I just want to say how deeply appreciative I am of the support. This situation has been a bit of a nightmare for those of us in the middle of it–it has made people fearful for their careers and even their personal safety, and it has sucked up a massive amount of time that could have been spent on a great many other things. It has also been deeply damaging to the community. At the same time, the pushback we are seeing at multiple levels has the makings of something truly historic and inspiring.
We adamantly dispute any implication that Dr. Edwards ever endangered the personal safety of anyone and would like to see a shred of evidence supporting such an accusation. What is truly mystifying here, is why Dr. Pauli and
CLUE #4: PAULI, LAMBRINIDOU AND THE SECOND LETTER
We will now detail the actions of Dr. Pauli and Lambrinidou, as explicitly documented in emails related to a second “letter to STEM from academics” that also spoke out against Dr. Edwards.
Step 1: On June 2, 2018, FACHEP’s Dr. Pauli grew concerned that the first Flintcomplaints letter was not sufficiently damaging to Dr. Edwards because “the press release sent out a few days ago to announce the <Flintcomplaints> letter failed to get any traction”. Pauli then emailed numerous false statements to a group of social science faculty, none of whom Edwards had ever heard of, including a preposterous claim that Edwards had been sending “aggressive emails” to Melissa Mays because she signed the Flintcomplaints letter. Edwards sent no such emails to Mays.
Step 2: On June 30, 2018, Pauli then wrote the professors:
“The letter of support for the residents’ complaint is more critical and urgent than ever…Yanna <Dr. Lambrinidou>, can you set up a website that could host the letter and that would allow fellow academics to sign in support?”
From reading this, we get a clear sense that Pauli and Lambrinidou have done this before (i.e., Flintcomplaints). Upset at the escalating attacks, Edwards filed his defamation case 4 days later.
Step 3: Dr. Lambrinidou does not sign the letter. Dr. Pauli authored the letter and makes it clear he never intended to sign the letter he wrote either. Instead, he explicitly tells the other faculty, that his reason for not signing, is to maximize reputational harm to Dr. Edwards:
“Since I am not a signatory to the letter….I am also being very careful about what I say about the letter in general…. because then it might look like I’m the spokesperson for the letter (even if I don’t address it directly), which is something we absolutely must avoid if we want this thing to have its intended impact [on Dr. Edwards].”
Step 4: Pauli then informs the signatories of his letter that if Dr. Edwards should call them to discuss matters, then they should give Edwards the “cold shoulder” because “this letter, like the residents’ letter, is not for him.” He reminds these faculty how important it is that this effort “goes viral.” The letter is then released.
“Even if every word of the residents’ letter was a lie, it is hard to see how anyone in their right mind could think that what Edwards is doing is appropriate. There are already signs that this latest outrage is opening up cracks in Edwards’ reputation, even with sympathizers.”
Step 5: Pauli prepares the professors for anyone who might try and defend Dr. Edwards. For example, Pauli told them that AEESP President Maya Trotz has “acted in some truly shocking ways that have compromised people who are trying to speak out about Marc. How she reconciles all this with principles of “community engagement” or “environmental justice” is beyond me.”
PAULI’S BOOK: FIGHTING FOR FLINT
Coincidentally, Dr. Pauli happens to be working on further cashing in on the Flint Water Crisis in general, and the Flintcomplaints and Flintaccountability letters, by writing a book about it. Due to the
The draft chapter reveals an academic version of Fire Fighter arson. First, we have argued in this series, that FACHEP repeatedly (figuratively) started fires with residents, by intentionally maligning other academics and public health agencies. They then presented themselves as heroic figures battling the imagined enemies.
In relation to Edwards, Pauli goes further to write about how residents rose up to defend FACHEP, by first authoring and then signing onto the hyperbolic Flintcomplaints letter. In his emails, Pauli alternates between a claim that residents wrote Flintcomplaints, or that activists wrote it, dependent on the audience. All the while Pauli acts as if he is a dispassionate observer of the unfolding events, rather than the instigator he was. Why won’t Pauli honestly admit he played a role in authoring the letter?
For those who are interested in reading this tale, we provide a copy of the draft chapter covering the time period of our blogs 1-10 (read here). For those who do not have the time, we can tell you that the book mentions virtually none of the FACHEP problems we revealed in blog parts 1-10. There is almost nothing about the clashes between FACHEP and Dr. Wells (MDHHS), or FACHEP’s friction with health messaging of other public agencies through January 2017. Of course, there is also nothing at all mentioned regarding FACHEP’s rumormongering about a shigella outbreak coming from water.
When describing the Flintcomplaints letter, Pauli wrote the following:
And in the most stunning development yet, 40 residents signed a letter in protest of Edwards’s attack on FACHEP and behavior toward the community generally, sending it to a variety of professional engineering and scientific associations and calling for an independent investigation. After the letter was posted online to Flintcomplaints.com, signatures from residents and outside supporters continued to stream in. Edwards, denouncing what he called the. letter’s “many false claims” and depicting it as a plot by Melissa Mays to smear him, pledged to track down each of its signatories individually and ask them whether they agreed with its every last word.
Here we can see several dimensions to Dr. Pauli’s dishonesty. First, he again hides any personal role in planning, writing, orchestrating or seeking signatories for the “stunning..letter in protest of Edwards’s attack on
Second, Edwards never “pledged to track down each of its signatories individually.” He wrote a very polite email to the email address from whence Flintcomplaints originated, pointing out false statements in the letter, and asking whether those facts would change anything for signatories. Of course, Edwards got the Pauli “cold shoulder” treatment– no one responded to his email. As far as Edwards knows, the signatories were never even provided it.
We also do not feel Edwards was “depicting <the letter> as a plot by Melissa Mays to smear him.” Here is the full quote from the cited East Village Magazine source:
Edwards asserted the flintcomplaints.com letter had been written, and primarily represented the views of water activist Melissa Mays, though he said it is not all about her. “This is about an attack on expertise,” Edwards said in a phone call today. When his detractors — some of whom he said were from academia — “started to attack our engineering expertise, it all went off the rails. It’s a different world view, entirely — what we’ve been calling science anarchy, a populist, anti-elite movement that’s affected all our institutions.This is a new battlefield in a war over science, instigated by professors. This is coming from academia, spurred on by people who are not engineers.”
An “…unmistakable indicia of partisanship…frustration with Edwards about a formal complaint he allegedly filed against a Wayne State University professor….a reasonable reader person <should> expect something less than scrupulous factual accuracy.”
SOME CONCLUDING THOUGHTS
Regrettably, none of the revelatory emails and insights presented
It is truly shocking to witness how FACHEP and friends
Actually putting in writing that a motive for the letters, was to damage Edwards reputation, and inherent dishonesty in how the letters
While maybe “no reasonable person could believe” the above story at first glance, read the emails and decide for yourself. Indeed, it is “a dirtier soup than the original Flint River water.” It may not be illegal, but it is ethical?