Although I had seen a broad range of foolish experts, a case I encountered in the little town of Courtnay on Vancouver Island presented still another type, and I began to think that everybody must be a fool, in one way or another.
Some islanders were concerned about the health consequences of living inside the electromagnetic field that would emanate from a powerline planned by British Columbia Hydro. They didn’t think that BC Hydro wanted to give them cancer, but they were more interested in not getting cancer than the power company was in not causing it. BC Hydro was willing to take the chance and so were some of the people if they were paid; others wouldn’t accept EMF exposure regardless of how much they might be offered.
The day I arrived, a dinner was held in my honor that featured salmon cooked ten different ways. Salmon swimming upstream seemed a good metaphor for the decision of the people to fight BC Hydro. The next day a power-company expert named Linda Erdreich took the witness stand and served her version of cooked fish. She was the most despicable of all experts, one who became so in contemplation of litigation. She told the court she had read every study dealing with the biological effects of EMFs and had concluded that the BC powerline posed no risk whatever to human health. She never told the court that any expertise she might possess involved risks produced by toxic waste dumps, or that she had become a so-called EMF expert in just six weeks. She told the judges that they could have faith in her knowledge of bioelectricity and her integrity as a scientist. Her school-teacher manner and neat appearance meshed well with her testimony, and altogether they said to the court, “I’m a doctor, trust me, the powerlines will be safe.”
Picture to yourself a woman who knows nothing about EMFs and has little concern for the public good, someone who for years had maintained that toxic waste dumps were harmless. See a woman who doesn’t care about the welfare of the people, but who judges everything by how much money she is paid. Now dress her modestly and give her a low-key demeanor, and crown her with the title “Doctor” to show her outstanding knowledge of science. Dressed in all these trappings and opposed by a lawyer who did not know how to cross-examine an expert, it was not surprising that the court believed her.