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E-M:/ Dr. Devra Lee Davis, Natl. Book Awd finalist 2002, Coming to East Lansing!


We are all in for a very special treat. Devra Lee Davis, author of "When Smoke Ran Like Water, Tales of Environmental Deception and the Battle Against Pollution," National Book Award, bronze medal winner for non-fiction in 2002, will be spending a day in East Lansing. For more information about Devra and her importance to us, read below.

The date:
April 8, 2002, a Tuesday. Here's her schedule:

3:30- 5:30 Michigan State University, Communication Arts Building, Room 145
7:30- 9:00 Schuler's Books, Meridian Shopping Mall, Okemos

This is a rare opportunity for government officials, the media, teachers, environmentalists, and concerned citizens to learn about our environmental health from a master. Devra is on a national book tour and recently appeared on NOW with Bill Moyers and on the Diane Rehm show. For more information about Devra, including a score of interviews about her dynamite book, see her website at:


Devra covers Lansing's Ingham County Health Department's environmental suppression scandal in her book, as well as a surfeit of similar stories that have kept smoke in the eyes of so many citizens and government officials, damaging our health. 

For more information, please call me, Brian McKenna at (517) 337-8913, or send me an e-mail at mckenna193@aol.com

Why is Davis important? Let me share this story. . .

Under the Engler administration there were rampant abuses in environmental health enforcement and right to know, data suppression. A 1998 survey by PEER (Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility) found that more than half of Michigan's Department of Environmental Quality employees (52%) expressed fear of job retaliation for advocating environmental enforcement. A similar percentage (54%) knew of cases where employees were transferred or reassigned for "doing their job too well" in a controversial project.

PEER mailed surveys to 1462 DEQ employees and had a 41.6 response rate, (609 responses). You can view the results for yourself at the PEER website at,  http://www.peer.org/publications/srvy_mi_deq.html

You can read several comments by MDEQ workers at the time including this one:

"Director Harding has been picked by the Governor to cater to the Regulated Community. Wasting resources on customer service training and programs like Environmental Assistance Division. The Director hand picking industry friendly Division Chiefs. Division Heads ignoring technical staff to favor industry."

If these results are anywhere near being accurate, then citizens should be distressed at the Engler Administration's treatment of honest employees seeking to do an honest day's work. When citizens are denied the facts they do not have the wherewithal to fully understand the issues. Several leading Michigan environmentalists are excited by Governor Granholm's selection of Steve Chester, a very knowledgeable environmental lawyer with a good track record, to replace Director Harding. Chester was listed in the Environmental Law Section of the "Best Lawyers in America" for the 1997-98, 1999-2000, 2001-2 and 2003-4 editions.  

In general, why don't more government workers speak out? Because all too often, government workers who simply do what they were hired for and report on the true state of affairs in their fields, can suffer severe financial losses for speaking up.  Their reputations can be sullied and they can be demoted, reassigned or pushed out of their jobs.

This process was well depicted in the 1999 movie, "The Insider" with Russell Crowe and Al Pacino. Crowe played Jeffrey Wigand, the high-level corporate executive who blew the whistle on Brown and Williamson Tobacco and precipitated what became the $236 billion settlement against Big Tobacco. This settlement, the largest class action suit in history, signaled Tobacco's admission to pushing an addictive substance and causing the deaths of a hundred thousand people a year. As a staff scientist, Wigand had first hand knowledge of Brown and Williamson's deceptive and indeed deadly practices. Soon after he voiced a difference of opinion with company policy, he found himself fired for "poor communication skills."

His story, it turns out, is all too common.

Devra Lee Davis, a world-renowned epidemiologist, has just written a powerful book that tells scores of these stories. "When Smoke ran like water: Tales of Environmental Deception and the Battle Against Pollution won the National Book Award, bronze medal prize for 2002. One-third-murder mystery, one-third biography and one third muckraking expose of systemic environmental science corruption and oppression, Smoke reveals the intricate details on how the dominant culture operates to keep smoke in our eyes. Davis tells us about her own experience when she went undercover on a flight to Paris with a 10-pound scientific particulate-matter-sniffer (pre-911 when no questions were asked about such devices) to answer Senator Daniel Inouye's question about why he always got sick on the flight from Hawaii to D.C. Her answer: scientifically speaking, there was no "non-smoking section" on our airplanes. It's the plane truth today, but not when she gathered the proof. Yet that discovery was buried for four years until the government felt that more orthodox studies could determine the veracity of the claim. What was the cost in lives resulting from the U.S. government's silence? Well let's just say that the airline stewardesses who sued the airlines would have liked to have known this information when Davis found it.

There are a number of stories of good people - dedicated scientists - being censored and deprived of a good working life for simply doing their job: telling the truth. . . .the uncomfortable truths concerning what they discovered about our air, water and environment. But by challenging power in its various forms - the bureaucratic power of governmental administrators, the ideological power of positivist science, the corporate power of the Fortune 500, and the political power of entrenched interests aligned with the status quo - they were prevented from serving the public interest.  


I guarantee one and all a terrific time on April 8th. Please consider atendingone of the two events. Let's make Dr. Davis feel at home in Lansing!


Brian McKenna