This American Moment: Restoring the public's faith in science and expertise

Flint water crisis
Louis Singleton receives water filters, bottled water and a test kit from Michigan National Guard Spc. Joe Weaver as clean water supplies are distributed to residents January 2016 in Flint, Mich.
Paul Sancya | AP

When it comes to solving some of the biggest issues of our day, how do our leaders weigh evidence-based solutions versus protecting the bottom line? In Flint, Michigan, it took a government whistleblower and a concerned citizen to force city and state leaders to admit they'd tried to cover up dangerous levels of contaminants in the water system.

Virginia Tech civil engineer Siddhartha Roy was part of a team of scientists that traveled to Flint to help city residents conduct testing to prove the water coming into their taps was not protected against lead contamination. In January 2016, these efforts resulted in President Barack Obama declaring a national public health emergency in Flint, which brought more than $600 million of relief to residents. But even after the Virginia Tech team first proved that the water was unsafe and later that the city had fixed the problem by switching the source of city water, residents still had a hard time believing they could drink from and bathe in tap water.

Siddhartha Roy
Siddhartha Roy
Courtesy of PBS

Roy wants to help restore this trust. "As experts, we have a responsibility to show that we're responsible and ethical and care about that public good and go out of our way to make that happen, so we don't lose the public trust," he told MPR News. "If the public pays attention, they'll realize we live in a world where we have to trust each other and trust experts to enjoy the quality of life we do."

As part of MPR News' "This American Moment" series, Roy spoke to host Kerri Miller about what it will take to return to a place where rigorous scientific method is held in high regard again - in Flint and in the nation at large.

You can listen to the full discussion using the audio player above.

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