Letter from Felix Smith on the duties and responsibilities of public servants
Badlands is always honored whenever it receives a letter from Dr. Felix Smith, the great US Fish and Wildlife Service biologist who was in the first team that blew the whistle on the poisoning of Kesterson Wildlife Refuge by heavy-metal laden agricultural runoff from Westlands Water District, a great act of governmental malfeasance by the Service, the Bureau of Reclamation and other state and federal resource agencies. If you ever thought scientists were wimps, I'd like to introduce Badlands readers once again to Felix Smith, a heroic scientist and whistleblower. I hope he will inspire a future generation of public employees. -- Bill Hatch
July 22, 2021
The People Have a Conscience: Do Our Elected Officials?
By Felix Smith
the Scientific American of October 17, 2012, Shawn Otto writes “Antiscience Beliefs Jeopardizes U.S. Democracy.”
Very interesting. Let’s do a little review. In our society just about every public action or statement depends on public support. Scientific findings and the freedom of speech right plays an important role in the peoples' acceptance or rejection of such actions or statements. In our society the people have the right to be truthfully informed, They have a right to know all there is to know to remain informed for democratic self governance.
It is not up to some government official (elected or appointed) to decide what is good for the people to know or not to know. Public policy should be based on the best available scientific findings, principles and a sense of moral responsibility.
What if certain scientific findings and the freedom of speech right continue to undermine politically driven or motivated decisions? The people responsible for ignoring science, passing misleading information and making political decisions without scientific support should be called to account for their actions.
For over 220 years science has been the prominent force in American politics. Many of our founding fathers were scientifically minded. Scientific knowledge and innovation lead the U.S. through WW 2. Scientific innovation brought us new medicines, brought us TV, landing on the Moon; the computer evolution, vaccines, evolutionary theory, advances on husbandry and agriculture.
It also brought some problems. Our air was getting dirtier, our water was not of good quality, fish were unfit to eat; persistent chemicals were killing beneficial insects and wildlife and our environmental amenities were being ravaged beyond sustainability.
The peoples’ concern resulted in new public policies as expressed in the Clean Water Acts; the Clean Air Acts; the Endangered Species Act, the Toxic Substances Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act.
Agencies like the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA), led by a professional staff using the best available scientific evidence, helped develop criteria to protect the people’s greater public interest in their air, water, fish, wildlife, our pollinators important to many of society’s needs.
President Reagan argued that government is not the solution, but is the problem. His ideas were both anti-regulation and anti-science and they now define the Republican Party. The Republican party has adopted an authoritarian approach that demands ideological conformity to most any political or scientific posture. Party leaders desire an occult like following. There is no room for independent thinking or freedom of speech allowed. They have attacked public schools, science, the free press and tried to dehumanize selected groups. Shades of fascism.
In the early 2000s things really started to change. In 2012 several major party presidential contenders held policy positions that can only be described as “anti science”. They spoke against evolution, human caused – induced climate change was deemed a hoax, vaccines were over rated; and stem-cell research was not their cup of tea -- to name a few.
The theory of evolution has been shaped over millions of years. Fossil fuels are derived from organic life millions of years ago. Some Republicans question spending federal funds to enforce clean air and clean water regulations, and object to funding basic research.
Then came Qnon, conspiracy theories and efforts to talk down medical advances, the benefits of vaccines or the idea that government can help people. In 2021 the COVID -19 vaccines are saving lives, but some Republican officials still downplay the need for the vaccines. They have fought against or contradicted scientific evidence and facts. They have argued against wearing masks. However, those on their death bed who thought COVID -19 was a hoax now wish for the vaccine.
For some it was too late. The book “Merchant of Doubt” by authors Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway explain how a hand full of paid for scientists with deep ties to politics and industry obscure the truth about global warming, acid rain, second hand smoke, etc.
This hand full of scientists work in “think tanks” like the Competitive Enterprise Institution funded by private monies to support the causes of their funders, who can hide behind privacy-of-funding laws.
Global climate change is a topic that most Republicans have called a hoax and fake news and is a recent idea. However the President’s Science Advisory Committee in 1965 ask the Director of Scripps Institution of Oceanography to write a summary of the potential impacts of carbon dioxide induced global warming. This included climate change, the increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and the rise in sea level.
Since then there has been billions of measurements showing it is a fact. Carbon dioxide is increasing. The sea level is rising. The drought conditions have been drier and the weather hotter exceeding past records at locations around the world. Winter storms have been more intense with floods happening more frequently causing increased loss of life and property damage over the past records.
According to NOAA the stuck weather patterns featuring strong areas of high pressure aloft have been to blame for several deadly extreme weather events this summer, including the Pacific Northwest heat wave that is thought to have killed hundreds in the U.S. and Canada. Scientists concluded that the recent Pacific Northwest heat wave, which broke 3 all-time heat records in dozens of locations, including Seattle and Portland at 108°F and 115°F, respectively — was so severe it was "virtually impossible" in the absence of global warming.
In Central Europe floods have killed at least 200 people, displaced thousands of people and causing great monetary damage. This is happening real time on our watch.
Now comes the 2020 national election. There were 130 Republican members of the Congress who believe that the election which President Biden won the popular vote and Electoral College, was actually stolen by fraud and abuse of the voting privilege. These 130 Republicans voted to not certify the Electoral College vote. They believe Mr. Trump’s “Big Lie” that the election was stolen. However, over a dozen court actions to overturn the election have been thrown out for lack of evidence.
Congressman Jim Jordan of Ohio has been one of the leaders of the “Big Lie” campaign to this day. He is the same Jim Jordan, who was Ohio State wrestling coach at the time the team doctor was accused of sexual improprieties with young men on the wrestling team. Mr. Jordan apparently “I know nothing” or does not recall much of what happened at Ohio State with members of the wrestling team. Yet several team member said Mr. Jordan took part in the discussions. It looks like Ohio voters failed to fully check out Mr. Jordan credibility and integrity before he was elected.
Moving forward to the insurrection day January 6, 2021 and the attack on the U.S. Capitol. According to reports, while watching the scene at the Capitol unfold on TV, President Trump apparently called the attempted insurrection a loving occasion. Many photos show people breaking into the U.S. Capitol. Over 450 people have been identified, arrested and charged with various crimes.
The first criteria on the Code of Ethics for Government Service (PL 96-303, 1980) is “Put loyalty to the highest moral principles and to country above loyalty to person, party, or Government department.” It looks like Mr. Jordan failed this part of the Code of Ethics.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi apparently believes Jim Jordan is a person of interest. Rep. Liz Cheney apparently believes Mr. Jordan is an expert on the January 6 insurrection because he helped plan it. Mr. Jordan as he did as a wrestling coach at Ohio State may plead “I know nothing” about what led up to the break in at the U.S. Capitol on January 6.
ABC News (Jan. 8) reports Trump’s campaign staffers worked behind the scenes to plan and promote the event. OpenSecrets reports at least $3.5 million from Trump’s 2020 campaign supported the effort by direct payment according to Federal Election Commission filings. The photographic evidence was not photo shopped.
People came forward and identified people who were there from the photographs. Cell phone evidence and I 4 witnesses can be very persuasive.
What Rep. Liz Cheney has to say will be believed. She is going to stand on principle say Rep. Anthony Gonzalez.
Conclusion: Integrity, professional ethics and scientific credibility must be the bottom line for all in government service at any level. It must come down from the top. If the American people do not demand integrity and professionalism from elected members of the House and Senate, local supervisor or counselmembers; if scientists are not allowed to speak good science and if the people fail to demand the truth or can no longer trust government officials to tell the truth, our democracy could fall to an imperial president and a political system of special favors for special interests run by political cronies and toadies.
The period in our Democracy between 2016 and 2020 was a lesson that we do not want to repeat. I hope the science, the photos and the freedom of speech right, will make the case for all of us.
Blum, Bill. 2020. “How Donald Trump Has Constructed a Legal Infrastructure of Fascism.” Progressive Populist, October 1, 2020
Friedman, Thomas L. “Trump’s Big Lie Devoured the GOP and Now Eyes Out,” Democracy, May 4, 2021
Massoglia, Anna Feb. 10, 2021. “Trump’s political operation paid more than $3.5 million to Jan. 6 organizers.” OpenSecrerts.
Also see Ed Mazza article in HuffPost posted of July15, 2021
Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway. 2010. Merchant of Doubt. Bloomberg Press, N. Y., N. Y.
, Shawn. “Antiscience Beliefs Jeopardizes U.S. Democracy.” Scientific American October 17, 2021.
Schneider, Jack, and Jennifer C. Berkshire. “Where have we seen this before?” In San Francisco Chronicle June 27, 2021
Smith, Felix 1992. “Integrity, Ethics and the Public Trust.” Presented at Georgetown University Conference - Protecting Integrity and Ethics. Panel on the Management of National Resources, March 27-29, 1992.
Wood, Mary Christina, 2014. Nature’s Trust; Environmental Law for a New Ecological Age. Cambridge Press
Felix Smith bio, from River Network, Boulder Colorado.
For thirty-four years, Felix served as a fish and wildlife biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service. Felix is a lifelong advocate for the protection of fish and wildlife habitat, and for responsible use of our precious water resources.
Felix was one of the biologists on the team that found the first deformed birds in 1983 at Kesterson National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge, located in California’s Sacramento San Joaquin Delta region, was an artificial wetland that received agricultural runoff as its primary water source. Selenium is a component of the leachate from the area’s irrigated agricultural land that caused the death of fish and deformities and death in birds in the refuge. Felix Smith risked his career to make sure that the truth wasn’t kept hidden.
In Death in the Marsh, author Tom Harris, then a reporter for the Sacramento Bee, wrote: “But more than any other person, Felix Smith was responsible for bringing the selenium story out of the closet into which some of his superiors and the Fish and Wildlife Service, and theirs in turn at the Department of Interior, initially tried to keep it locked up. While it was perhaps the finest moment in a distinguished career as a dedicated public servant, Smith will be remembered more for his unswerving commitment to the true mission of his agency: the protection of this nation’s wildlife heritage. He put his career on the line for the critters when it counted most.
As a fisheries biologist, Felix has also written and given testimony about the preservation and restoration of fish and wildlife habitat. He currently serves on the board of Save the American River Association and is a member of the Environmental Water Caucus of the Sacramento Area Water Forum.