Citizen Engineering comes to Flint — Disrupting Communities by Undermining Engineering Expertise

Flintwaterstudy was launched in August 2015 with the following goals and principles:

We have worked hard to stay true to our goals, and also play a role as an honest broker of scientific information and analysis for all parties. It has not been easy.

Early on we put our professional careers and reputations on the line, by attacking unethical and unscientific statements made by powerful government agencies (e.g., MDEQ, MDEQ again, US EPA, US EPA again, US EPA, MDHHS, MDHHS again, City of Flint, City of Flint again). We spent thousands of hours (and dollars) on Freedom of Information Act requests — releasing the documents with an analysis online for everyone to see and all media to use. We publicly supported valid scientific claims made by Flint residents that were being unjustly ignored, and we spoke out on behalf of silenced EPA Whistleblower Miguel Del Toral. We released our data and associated information on water lead (see full data sets from 2015 and 2015-17) and legionella (see also here and here) transparently and in near real-time, exposing the problem of elevated lead in water and the high levels of Legionella in large buildings. We paid for most of it out of our own pocket, and were proud to be part of a “critical mass of moral courage” that exposed what is now acknowledged world-wide as an environmental injustice.

In late 2015 the maligned agencies began an escalating public health response and relief effort. It started with a lead advisorycity water emergency and then culminated in President Obama declaring a Federal Emergency. At that point hundreds of millions of dollars were mobilized to help Flint recover. The agencies that caused the crisis admitted fault, many civil servants were indicted or resigned, and the vast majority of employees in those agencies who are ethical honest professionals were newly empowered to do their jobs—Miguel Del Toral was even given a leadership oversight role in EPA. We have been guided by the principle that “If you want to be part of the solution, we will work with and defend you, but if you are part of the problem we are going to call you out.” Since the Federal Emergency we observed great relief work by all parties, we were proud to work alongside them and report their progress firsthand (e.g. see here and here).

But as anyone following Flintwaterstudy or the Flint Water Crisis knows, unfortunately, the hundreds of millions of dollars and all the lawsuits and media attention, brought something else to Flint.  We have documented how numerous unethical opportunists (see here, here, here, and here) descended on the city starting in late 2015, to exploit the tragedy to their own advantage. The media spotlight and the possible large financial rewards also played a powerful corrupting role. Unfortunately, when bad science was deployed by these groups in a manner that could compromise public health, they became “part of the problem” and we made the difficult decision to call them out. This was particularly painful in some cases, because some of those formerly allied with us in exposing the agency corruption and misconduct during the water crisis, have remained in full-blown and full-time attack mode even after the Federal Emergency—a few of these individuals have now become dedicated adversaries of Flintwaterstudy and Dr. Marc Edwards.

Citizen Science versus Citizen Engineering

One untold story unfolding behind the scenes, feeding the growing controversy, is a clash of cultures and philosophy from within academia. On one side are the proponents of “Citizen Science,” which is exemplified by the scientific collaboration between Flint residents, Flint Water Study and others, that first exposed the water crisis in August-September 2015. Citizen scientists are dedicated to truth-seeking and truth-speaking, working in collaboration with trained scientists, in order to learn about their environment and the world around them. An exemplar from the water crisis is Flint, is resident LeeAnne Walters, who recently won the internationally recognized Goldman Environmental Prize for her grass roots activism.

On the other side are followers and practitioners of an emerging philosophy of “Citizen Engineering,” first defined by Purdue University Dean Dr. Donna Riley and effectively put into practice in Flint by her colleague Dr. Yanna Lambrinidou. Citizen engineering involves a process by which:

“community members (“non-experts”) identify scientific questions …sometimes but not always with the cooperation of trained scientists,” with “…the disruption of engineering expertise is a central goal….”

This goal of disrupting engineering expertise complements Dr. Riley and colleagues plea to get rid of the concept of “rigor” entirely in science and engineering to uphold “social justice” and eliminate “the profession’s tendency to marginalize, ignore, silence,…<l>ocal knowledges and scientific counter-knowledges that depart from dominant paradigms of engineering thought and practice.”

Whatever you think about the two clashing philosophies, obviously, any effort by experts such as Flintwaterstudy, to call out possible misuse of science by non-experts, is destined to create a major conflict and hard feelings.  Such was the case in post-Federal Emergency Flint.  Examples of our work in this area include the following:

We stand by our scientific reporting of these and many other issues. But as a result of the above we have been attacked repeatedly by Dr. Riley, Dr. Lambrinidou and Dr. Laura Sullivan (FACHEP) in social media, closed presentations and at conferences—they refuse all attempts to engage in responsible professional conversation about these and other issues. This is particularly painful because as recently as 2012, Dr. Lambrinidou was as equally outspoken advocate of Dr. Edwards’ research, public engagement, ethics and moral leadership, as exemplified by letters nominating him for some of the same types of recognition that she now decries.

Flintcomplaints.com

The long-running unprofessional social media attacks and rumors, recently escalated with a letter writing campaign by some Flint residents (now with the public support of Dr. Lambrinidou and Dr. Laura Sullivan of FACHEP) and launch of a website Flintcomplaints.com. We welcome the chance to finally address these unprofessional attacks directly and publicly. Below we respond, point by point, to all specific claims in the Flintcomplaints.com letter.

1. Violation of Principle #3 of the Jemez Principles for Democratic Organizing: “Let People Speak for Themselves” (https://www.ejnet.org/ej/jemez.pdf): In March 2018, Mr. Edwards filed a formal complaint against Professor Shawn McElmurry and FACHEP (Flint Area Community Health and Environment Partnership). This complaint does nothing to help the residents of Flint move toward recovery in the Water Crisis. In fact, it has caused more strife, stress and drama that we do not need, want or deserve… Michigan and Flint residents have their own voice and have never asked Mr. Edwards to speak for us, let alone take official action using our names instead of his own.

Response:We stand by the accuracy of our blog post raising legitimate questions about Dr. McElmurry claims that he worked “in Flint” from 2010-2015 and developed a hydraulic model of the Flint Water system. We further note that Dr. McElmurry and Wayne State have not yet given a direct response to this important question. We have raised additional concerns about this issue by citing Dr. McElmurry’s statements made under oath. We do not agree that our raising these points violates any democratic principle. To our knowledge, Dr. Edwards has never once claimed that he represents “the people of Flint” in relation to these complaints —  moreover Dr. Edwards clearly signed the complaints in his own name.

2. Obstruction of Flint’s right for self-determination. …Many residents now fear the possibility that Mr. Edwards’ glib, reckless, and egotistical conduct may hamper the ongoing criminal investigation into the Legionnaires deaths in our city, which we see as the only form of justice we might achieve (http://michiganradio.org/post/scientific-disagreements-could-affect-special-prosecutor-s-case-flint-water-crisis.) This additional and totally undeserved worry suddenly adds to the stress and chaos we already feel.

Response:  The only specific item mentioned in Point 2, is again related to our specific allegations about Dr. McElmurry, as represented in the Michigan Radio report. We agree that it will be unfortunate for everyone, if Dr. McElmurry’s past representations of his qualifications and his statements made under oath are indeed false—but doesn’t Dr. McElmurry himself bear responsibility for those statements? We also find it remarkable that none of the signatories of the letter, seem to have any problem, with the prospect that Dr. McElmurry made false statements to win millions in research for which he was unqualified, or stole the research ideas of a young assistant professor. 

3. Unsubstantiated defamation of Flint residents: Mr. Edwards’ portrayal of Flint residents as dumb, dirty and vulnerable to being misled by anyone other than himself started in early 2016, is ongoing, and is misguided and offensive…. The allegation that FACHEP announced that they found shigella in Flint water is a lie… In May 2016, Mr. Edwards erroneously accused Scott Smith and Water Defense of scaring residents out of bathing (https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/may/31/flint-lead-tainted-water-crisis-michigan-safe-to-use). Mr. Edwards also accused Dr. Laura Sullivan and Mr. McElmurry of FACHEP of causing Flint residents to stop bathing because their research scared us (according to some reports, Mr. Edwards made the preposterous claim that as many as 80% of us returned to a state of filth). This is insulting and false. It is also blatantly unscientific because Mr. Edwards did not bother to ask actual Flint residents about our bathing habits before coming up with this pronouncement.

Response: In response to the complaint we sent a polite letter to the email address provided to us on May 23rd  and May 24th. We pointed out that the source of our citation that 80% of Flint residents had changed their bathing habits was a U.S. Centers for Disease Control study—and we provided the authors a specific reference to that report. We also provide Facebook postings in which Dr. Laura Sullivan claimed that to avoid Shigella, her Wayne State and University of Michigan (FACHEP) colleagues had told her to boil filtered water before bathing. We also quoted a Flint resident who recently asserted “We have shigella because we wash our hands.” None of the insulting comments stated above, were ever made by Dr. Edwards. If he had done so, he would sign the flintcomplaint letter himself. As for Scott Smith data being used to scare residents about bathing, we think the title of the youtube video (“Scott Smith from Water Defense-Bathing in Flint is NOT SAFE.”) posted by Melissa Mays April 11, 2016 speaks for itself, but there are many other examples.Despite our polite letter mailed May 23 and May 24, we have received no response, yet these obviously false claims are now repeated on the flintcomplaints.com website. It therefore, seems that the website and letter are intended to deliberately defame Dr. Edwards, as opposed to exposing Dr. Edwards alleged defamation of Flint residents.

4. To our knowledge, there is no one in the scientific community overseeing Mr. Edwards’ work or the way he uses his power over powerless residents. As far as we know there is no one in the scientific community ensuring the integrity and honesty of Mr. Edwards’ words, research and activism. Mr. Edwards has repeatedly spoken and written about how there are no bacteria or dangerous pathogens in Flint residents’ water, even though he is not a microbiologist nor is he doing mass testing within our homes. Also, Mr. Edwards has assured Flint residents that it is safe to bathe in unfiltered water even though he has not done widespread testing of hot shower water and he is not a physician, dermatologist or toxicologist.

Response: The claim that unfiltered Flint water is safe for bathing, is the official position of all relevant public health authorities. The agencies position is supported by Flintwaterstudy’s extensive independent monitoring data for pathogenic and other bacteria that goes back to August 2015—our data supports the position of the agencies.  As indicated in the polite response we made to the authors of the letter on May 23 and 24, we asked them to produce a shred of evidence that Edwards repeatedly claimed “there are no bacteria or dangerous pathogens in Flint residents’ water.” For the record, Dr. Edwards has never made such a statement. He has repeatedly stated that all water in the U.S. has some levels of dangerous bacteria, and that there is no such thing as a risk free shower or bath in any U.S. city. Like the public health agencies, he has asserted that all the available data, indicate that Flint water is now as safe as other cities with old water pipes. The authors of the letter never responded with any evidence that he made such claims about “no bacteria,” which again, illustrates a deliberate attempt to defame Dr. Edwards by people who obviously know better.

As for the question of oversight, we wonder aloud:  “Who is examining the honesty and integrity of the words and actions of Dr. Riley, Dr. Lambrinidou, Dr. Sullivan and Dr. McElmurry?” And, “Who will correct the many false claims made in the Flintcomplaint letter, as detailed herein, sent to numerous professional engineering organizations, and now to the world? Afterall, it is their Citizen Engineering that has the explicitly stated goal of disrupting expertise and communities, and in Flint, they have been partly successful.

Response to original letter on May 23-24:

Download (PDF, 178KB)

Responses: Dr. Marc Edwards

Acknowledgements: Dr. Siddhartha Roy

Another Set of Independent Lead and Copper Rule Testing Results for Flint, MI

90%’ile = 3.9 ppb in Flint Tier 1 homes.

Dr. Susan Masten (Michigan State University) has published results of independent testing in Flint, MI for a 7-month period starting August 28 2017.  The 90%’ile lead is 3.9 ppb, for Tier 1 homes, completely consistent with official LCR data from the State of Michigan and our own Flintwaterstudy citizen science sampling in 2017-2018. Read her report below:

Download (PDF, 593KB)

Considering the Unimaginable: Did McElmurry completely fabricate his story of work “IN FLINT” from 2010-2014?

Friday’s STATESIDE correctly noted that the entire case of Special Prosecutor Todd Flood against Dr. Eden Wells and Mr. Nick Lyons, is critically dependent on the veracity of his star witness — Dr. Shawn McElmurry.  When we filed our formal complaint against Dr. McElmurry on March 1, 2018, we were virtually certain that he had exaggerated his qualifications and work experience in Flint, to win “sole source” contracts for millions of dollars in research funding and leadership of FACHEP during the Federal Water Emergency. After McElmurry evaded direct questions from reporters last week, we reviewed his sworn testimony at trial, and are now forced to consider the unimaginable: What if Dr. McElmurry fabricated the entire story of his 5 year volunteer research effort “in Flint?”

A TANGLED, TANGLED WEB

Just consider a few illustrative strands of a tangled web that Dr. McElmurry wove on the witness stand, trying to answer repeated questions about what he did and when, in relation to his past work “in Flint”:

Question: “that was quite some time ago that you were actually started with boots on the ground within the city of Flint?”

McElmurry: “…my work in Flint starts probably about nine years ago now. No, that’s too many, probably like seven or eight years ago .. I got pulled in along with researchers at Purdue University, US EPA Region 5 to try to help him address what he saw as a challenge managing their infrastructure..”…“we worked for a while on the shrinking city problem if you will, and we published some of that work and I kind of took a break from Flint. I wasn’t as involved in Flint and when I started hearing the news reports kind of roll out about problems in Flint I will be honest with you, my wife got sick of me complaining about it and she told me to do something about it and so I did not know Doctor Mona Hanna-Attisha. I did not know anyone else in Flint at the time but I just emailed her and said that I have you know, data from before the crisis that might be useful to understand that and so I started to come re-involved…”

Question: “Just to get, and I understand the gravity of the work. How important was this work to you and your team?”

McElmurry: So obviously Flint was international news but more so then that. You know, we are all residents of the State and you know, I worked in Flint before and for all of us on the team…we felt that this would, you know, this was our family, our kids, I mean we felt, we really felt for the people of Flint….

Question: So Doctor McElmurry I want to take you back in time to your, you had mentioned to the Court you came here in what year specifically to start working in the city of Flint?

McElmurry: You know, I’d have to look back at my records. I’m guessing it’s 2010, 2012, sometime like that.

Question: When was that <working in Flint>?

McElmurry:  As I said, for some reason—well maybe five years earlier.  I know we had a publication that came out right as the water crisis had kind of gotten national attention, and that was probably two years prior to that we had been working in Flint.

Question: And you had been involved in counseling Mayor Walling years ago on water issues in Flint?

McElmurry:  Correct,  Yes.

Question: And I was intrigued on direct examination when you mentioned that you had previously had experience in Flint dealing with the impending, as many communities have, about their municipal water systems, and and that was in 2014, correct?

McElmurry: It was.  I believe it was before 2014.

Question: Well you tell me.  I thought it was 2014.

McElmurry: I came to Wayne State in 2008, and the work was shortly thereafter, so it was before 2014.

Question: Let me ask you, this, in what type of work were you doing in Flint regardless of the time period?

McElmurry: So at the time Mayor Walling had,…..very broad discussion about managing utilities and infrastructure in shrinking cities.

Question:  In other words, the mayor and municipal leaders were trying to learn of the nature of the problem and possible cures, too, right….now how long?…And, for how long did that work in research go?

McElmurry: I mean, I remember I was pretty active with that for more than two years I would say.

Question: And, then, you have a memory in your mind’s eye when it ended, that work?

McElmurry:  I would have to refer to—

Question: Right. Well, let’s work with some dates we do know.  We do know that the switch to Flint River occurred in the spring of 2014, right?

McElmurry: Yes, sir.

Question:  So your research ended before that day?

McElmurry: Yes, sir.

Question: Were you aware of any of the discussion about the water switch obviously prior to April of 2014?

McElmurry: I can’t recall how much I was aware of.

Question:  So even though you had done research in Flint, as far as your academic obligations, you weren’t brought in on any, in any capacity, with respect to the water switch?

McElmurry: At the time I was doing the work on shrinking cities we never discussed switching to an alternative water source as a way to, in any of those discussions.

From the above we created a rough timeline to try and make sense of McElmurry’s research work “in Flint” using his trial testimony and NIH proposal.

REALITY INTRUDES: WILD INCONSISTENCIES BETWEEN TESTIMONY AND DOCUMENTATION

The FOIA of Dr. Faust provided documents, which indicate that McElmurry joined her PhD committee and had his first contact with the City of Flint on her project on January 9, 2013. Assuming that document is correct, the only possible window for Dr. McElmurry’s work is from January 2013 to April 2014 before the switch. That is only 1.3 years even if Dr. McElmurry’s now dubious word is taken as truthful. And strangely, even if he was working “in Flint” in that time-frame and counseling Mayor Walling, McElmurry has now claimed under oath that he had NO KNOWLEDGE OF THE PENDING SWITCH TO FLINT RIVER?

Furthermore, Dr. Faust and her advisor, assert that McElmurry did none of the work “in Flint” described in her dissertation or paper. Dayne Walling, supposedly counseled by McElmurry during that critical time period 2013-2014, does not remember any such thing. Nobody has yet vouched for the fact McElmurry even stepped foot “in Flint,” much less worked there for 1.33, 4 or 5 years. “Boots on the Ground?”  We are starting to wonder if McElmurry’s sneakers ever touched a street “in Flint.” The only documentation we have that McElmurry did anything at all related to Flint, is his participation in the one January 9, 2013 phone call.

WHAT NEXT?

Despite the fact that some professors who gorged themselves at the FACHEP funding trough (e.g., McElmurry supporters Dr. Love, Dr. Ben Pauli and Dr. Laura Sullivan) are rallying around McElmurry even as we speak – asserting that we are “bullies” and spreading “false information” and deserving of sanctions for our supposed “unethical” behavior, we stand by our every word. And for the record, we can no longer find the WAYNE STATE PRESS RELEASE POSTED YESTERDAY WHICH DENIED OUR ALLEGATIONS. Attempting to provide an explanation for this disappearing denial, FACHEP’s Dr. Ben Pauli stated:

It sounds like the legal folks are being super careful right now given everything that’s going on. I don’t blame them. I’m glad folks got to see the statement in its original form!

We do not blame them either. We repost the original Wayne State University press release (now deleted) for all interested readers and historians.

If our new concerns prove justified, McElmurry may be guilty of perpetrating, one of the most insidious cases of scientific misconduct ever, in relation to procurement of disaster relief research funding.

Download (PDF, 98KB)

Primary Authors: Dr. Marc Edwards with help from Dr. Siddhartha Roy

Wayne State University Press Release Does Not Address our Allegations

Wayne State has just issued a press release with a blanket denial of “false accusations.” In response to a direct challenge that we first provided to Wayne State in early March 2018, they have been unable to produce any evidence, supporting specific claims related to Dr. McElmurry’s work in Flint from 2010-2014.

In contrast, the e-mails we obtained by FOIA, are perfectly clear that McElmurry gained access to Dr. Faust’s dissertation work under false pretenses. Moreover, McElmurry improperly referenced that work as “his” in an NIH proposal, and to position himself for millions of dollars in relief research grants.

We have been waiting a month for an innocent explanation on this issue. We are still waiting. We are starting to doubt that an innocent explanation exists.

FACHEP vs. The People of the State of Michigan: Part I Dr. Shawn McElmurry

The Flint Area Community Health and Environment Partnership (FACHEP)

vs.

The People of the State of Michigan:

An investigative science reporting series by Flintwaterstudy.org

When MDHHS’ Mr. Nick Lyons and Dr. Eden Wells were charged with felonies associated with the Flint Water Crisis back in June 2017, we took a wait and see attitude. Our original reading of internal e-mails produced through our Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests had led us to blame misconduct by a few employees at the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) as the primary cause of the Flint water crisis. We contended that the governor’s office and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) were certainly guilty of being overly trusting of those engineers and scientists, but that the true criminal acts were the lies told by these few MDEQ employees. While we always remain open to new information, nothing presented to Dr. Edwards in the preliminary hearings has changed our opinion.

Anyone following us also knows we are not shy about calling out bad actors. In late September 2015, we wrote that some MDHHS employees were behaving unethically, but within a few days MDHHS reversed course by agreeing the water was unsafe, and after Dr. Wells started working with us in December 2015, we were impressed enough to call her out publicly in a good way on our webpage on January 7, 2016. Ever since, Michigan government has supported our scientific work and professionally answered all our questions, even when they were fully aware our research was showing that the switch to Flint River water was one key factor contributing to the Legionnaires’ Disease outbreak and associated deaths. We published two peer-reviewed journal papers documenting this science in 2016 and 2017. At no point did anyone at MDHHS or the governor’s office discourage or impede our teams ground-breaking research that helped reveal the Flint Legionella outbreak.

Given our own positive experiences with MDHHS since December 2015, we were surprised when professors representing the Flint Area Community Health and Environment Partnership (FACHEP) alleged under oath that the State of Michigan had not cooperated with their Legionella research. Indeed, sworn testimony by FACHEP professors was a basis for felony “obstruction of justice” charges against Wells and Lyons. To date, the media has generally sided with the presumably noble FACHEP professors and against the maligned state employees in these disputes.  Starting with this article, Flintwaterstudy will present an investigative series that calls that narrative into question, by examining FACHEP’s public leadership, especially as represented by Dr. Shawn McElmurry (Wayne State), Dr. Nancy Love (University of Michigan) and Dr. Laura Sullivan (Kettering University).

Figure 1. Representative FACHEP leaders Dr. Nancy Love, Dr. Shawn McElmurry and Dr. Laura Sullivan (left to right). Photos from UM and Kettering

In Part 1 of this series, we examine the role of Dr. Shawn McElmurry, an Associate Professor at Wayne State, who was essentially given carte blanc leadership of FACHEP in his formal role as Principal Investigator.

Part 1: Dr. Shawn McElmurry’s Unique Qualifications

The State of Michigan funded FACHEP with a $3.35 million “sole source” grant to study the Flint Legionnaires’ Disease outbreak. This was in 2016: AFTER the switch back to Detroit water, AFTER the declaration of federal emergency, and MONTHS AFTER the Flint Legionnaires’ Disease outbreak had ended. The logic behind awarding this large grant exclusively to Dr. McElmurry and his hand-picked team, without any competition, was summarized in public testimony by Wayne State President Roy Wilson to the Michigan legislature on February 28, 2016:

“Wayne State is uniquely qualified to lead this investigation given its established relationships, expertise in urban water issues, and existing engineering, public health, and social science expertise…This effort is being led by Dr. Shawn McElmurry, who has been working in Flint for a number of years…”

Indeed. McElmurry burst onto the scene of the Flint Water Crisis in October 2015, by introducing himself to Dr. Edwards of Flintwaterstudy as an extraordinary humanitarian who had just completed 5 years of research into the Flint water distribution system at the direct request of then-Mayor Dayne Walling. McElmurry also provided Dr. Edwards with his pre-proposal for an emergency research grant to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which stated that he was “able to respond with this rapid assessment based on our intimate understanding of the Flint regional water system and social infrastructure” and due to his “research focused on how to best adapt Flint’s existing water infrastructure to changes in population and industrial demandover the last 5 years.” McElmurry further asserted to both NIH and Dr. Edwards that he possessed “a complete hydraulic model of Flint’s water distribution system” as a result of “his” research work.

In the unfolding Flint Water Crisis, such a combination of local scientific knowledge, on-the-ground experience, social contacts and a working hydraulic model were urgently needed. McElmurry’s declaration that he possessed such expertise and assets represented a “golden ticket” to disaster relief research funding and a designated seat at situation room tables where important decisions would be made directly affecting the recovery. Edwards promptly introduced McElmurry to the inner circle of those working on the water crisis response and and wrote a letter of support for the $422,000 NIH grant which McElmurry was awarded.

Within months, McElmurry’s “unique qualifications” and claims of “intimate understanding” based on his 5-year volunteer humanitarian research mission in Flint, snowballed into his designated sole-source leadership role in the $3.35 million FACHEP grant. He also was involved in winning three emergency grants from the National Science Foundation to study water filters, which Dr. Edwards also helped him to obtain, with his Wayne State colleagues and Dr. Nancy Love at the University of Michigan. By late 2016 and early 2017, Wayne State (and other collaborators) were awarded $12.3 million of other NIH grants which prominently boasted about McElmurry’s pioneering work in Flint. Wayne State University was so proud of how the emergence of FACHEP was playing out in the media and  in garnering funding, that they even “branded” their Flint efforts with a heart-warming “Wayne State for Flint” logo.

THE WORST KIND OF MISCONDUCT: a PRIVILEGED SELF-PROCLAIMED BUT UNQUALIFIED “EXPERT,” EXPLOITS A CRISIS AND VULNERABLE COMMUNITY

Dr. McElmurry’s “EXPERTISE” was not what he claimed

Unfortunately for everyone involved (e.g., unsuspecting Flint residents, accused state employees, prosecutors who have been relying on his expertise and testimony) McElmurry’s claims about his prior work in Flint were too good to be true. At best his experience in Flint was grossly exaggerated, and at worst he perpetrated outright academic identity theft, with profound long-term economic and social consequences for Flint and the State of Michigan. Herein we present just some of the evidence of unethical behavior by FACHEP’s founder, which led us to this regrettable conclusion.

1. Second Impressions: Motivation, Expertise and Social Connections

By January 2016, McElmurry’s humanitarian story about his years of volunteer work in Flint, seemed demonstrably inconsistent with his behavior and performance as observed by Flintwaterstudy’s Dr. Edwards. McElmurry showed little interest in conducting quality science or actually helping Flint residents, but rather, was myopically focused on seeking funding and associated academic power. Whenever he was directly questioned about specifics related to his supposed “intimate knowledge” of the Flint water distribution system, McElmurry was completely clueless and unable to provide answers to even the most basic questions. In October 2015, McElmurry acknowledged he did not know how to contact Howard Croft, Flint’s Director of Public Works, and asked Edwards to introduce them. To date, we have not found anyone who can verify that McElmurry was leading the research that he claimed, into the Flint water distribution system from 2010-2015. When asked, former Mayor Walling stated that while he does not specifically remember McElmurry, he did recall research into Flint’s water distribution system that was led by Purdue University.

2. Meet Dr. Kasey Faust: The actual expert that McElmurry was pretending to be.

At that point Dr. Marc Edwards reached out to Dr. Kasey Faust, a remarkable young woman from Purdue University who did work in Flint as part of her PhD dissertation (2011-2015). In 2011, Faust won a prestigious National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, which enabled her to conduct research helping “shrinking cities,” like Flint, understand and prepare for challenges to their water sector infrastructure.

After Faust and her PhD advisor met McElmurry at an EPA organized workshop in April 2012, he was invited to be an external member of her PhD advisory committee in January 2013. Notably, the word “Flint” was not mentioned in McElmurry’s VITA or statement of qualifications provided to Purdue University at that time. Moreover, Faust and her advisor are not aware of McElmurry being independently involved in data collection related to Flint’s water distribution system, nor did McElmurry accompany Faust or her advisor on their trips to Flint, in his role as her external PhD committee member.

In response to a FOIA from Mr. Lyon’s lawyers, Dr. Faust provided her e-mail correspondences with McElmurry, and they are quite revealing. Reading through the emails is truly heart-breaking: suddenly McElmurry’s “cluelessness” makes perfect sense.  McElmurry literally stole Dr. Faust’s unique and visionary work and claimed it as his own in order to get his foot in the door and a leading seat at the table in Flint.  How did he do it?

First, in October 2015, McElmurry asked Faust to participate in his NIH emergency grant. This would have been a tremendous opportunity for Dr. Faust, who was now a newly minted assistant professor at the University of Texas, and it could have showcased her visionary expertise and continue her quest to help Flint residents.  Next, McElmurry requested that Dr. Faust send him her Flint water network and associated hydraulic models from her dissertation work for the NIH proposal. Faust also introduced him by email to people in Flint with whom she had worked. Final step, once Dr. McElmurry had the data/hydraulic models and introductions to collaborators in hand, he subsequently claimed they were “his and cut Dr. Faust out of his NIH grant.  McElmurry then used her data/models into his NIH grant proposal (without her permission or knowledge). At some point he did inform Dr. Faust that he was sorry she was dropped from the NIH proposal, but that the research went in a different direction than anticipated.

Thereafter, McElmurry essentially assumed Faust’s identity related to her Flint work and embellished it by adding three years additional effort for good measure. In this manner, McElmurry completed his academic identity theft, effectively lining his own pockets, opening the door to important leadership roles and harnessing the Flint disaster for his self-promotion—at the expense of Dr. Faust, Flint and MI residents.

3) Violating Ethical Canons of Engineering and Perjury?

By now, McElmurry has told and re-told the story of his 5-year volunteer humanitarian research mission in Flint so many times, he probably believes it himself. He testified to this story under oath as the star witness in the prosecution case against Mr. Lyons and Dr. Wells, and it is prominently featured in FACHEP press commentary and in Wayne State pressroom materials. McElmurry occasionally cites a research paper written by Dr. Faust, on which he was included as the last (i.e., least contributing) author, to imply intellectual ownership of her entire dissertation work. Here is an example from a Wayne State page: “McElmurry [began] working in Flint in 2010 (Faust et al 2015). However, according to Dr. Faust and her advisor, he conducted none of the work in that paper related to Flint or any other specific city mentioned.

Wayne State release states Dr. McElmurry began working in Flint in 2010 citing a research paper by Dr. Kasey Faust. According to Dr. Faust and her then-PhD advisor, McElmurry did none of the work on Flint (or other cities) described in that paper.

As the veil is now being lifted, it is becoming more and more apparent that Dr. McElmurry seems to be in the habit of making false statements that benefit his career. When posing as a “uniquely qualified” leader for the FACHEP funding in 2015, he asserted in writing to the State of Michigan that his research specialty was in “urban infrastructure and human health.” This false claim was not added to his online VITA until mid-2017, before his sworn testimony in the case against Lyons and Wells. The reality is that McElmurry’s true experience and academic record do not qualify him to serve as a contributing member of a group like FACHEP, much less lead it on behalf of Flint residents and the State of Michigan.

Our discoveries reported herein are truly shocking, and it is regretful to be put in a position where such information must be publicly shared, but it provides an explanation for the incompetence and disastrous consequences of McElmurry’s FACHEP leadership.  Ironically, our engagement in Flint was initially compelled due to the first canon of Civil Engineering ethics: to hold paramount the public welfare. Herein, as painful as it is, we are now compelled to call out McElmurry’s blatant violation of the second canon of Civil Engineering Ethics that Engineers shall perform services only in areas of their competence.”

Accordingly, Dr. Edwards has submitted a corresponding complaint to the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) and has agreed to testify in a second canon violation hearing if necessary. He has also reported McElmurry to NIH for possible scientific misconduct in the midst of a Federal Emergency, due to falsifications that directly (and indirectly) may have won millions of dollars in research grants for himself, Wayne State University, and his collaborators.

When it comes to truly criminal behavior related to the FACHEP grant, perhaps the individuals who are presently accused, should be star witnesses for the State of MI in the case against Dr. McElmurry.

NEXT INVESTIGATIVE REPORT: Dr. Nancy G. Love

FOIA and other associated emails/documentation on FACHEP and Dr. McElmurry:

Download (PDF, 4.72MB)

Dr. Edwards’ complaint to Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs:

Download (PDF, 146KB)

Primary Author: Dr. Marc Edwards with help from Dr. Siddhartha Roy