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True knowledge is teaching.  Speaking at conference on environmental forensics.
Knowing vs. Knowledge

Knowing vs. Knowledge

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GI Joe was wrong!  Knowing is not  half the battle (in environmental work)!  It is barely a tenth of the battle, at best.  There is a lot of confusion in the environmental industry, maybe even misrepresentation of what a company or person is capable of doing and what they are actually qualified to do.  Especially nowadays with Google, internet, you tube videos, conference presentations  that are available online - it is easy to think that just because you saw something or heard about something, that you know it and could replicate it.  There is a big difference between knowing about something and having knowledge about something.  For litigation work, it is even more important.


I find that I am brought into cases time and time again to figure out what the data means.  A consultant has tried to do the work - they collected the samples, they had the samples analyzed, they attempted to do an interpretation but the results were not clear or did not come to a distinctive solution.    We are then brought in to hopefully help fix the situation.  They want us to use the data we have because so much time and effort has gone into the work already.   This is a major pet peeve.  The previous consultant was paid a lot of money to plan, collect, analyze, and report and could not finish the job and then we are suppose to take our years of knowledge to fix it for a small price.  This reminds me of a story I have heard about Picasso.  True or not, it summarizes my point.  Picasso was in a public square drawing and a lady in fine clothing recognized him and asked the famous artist to draw a picture of her.  He did so, taking 15 minutes to sketch a beautiful picture of the lovely lady.   They were finalizing the transaction and she was outraged at the cost.  She said “But it only took you 5 minutes” and he replied “No, Madam, It Took Me My Whole Life”. 



True knowledge is not only knowing about something or know the steps on how to do something, but also knowing why the technique works, the underlying science on why it works, what could cause inconclusive results, how to explain those results, and having contingencies built in just in case the results are not black and white.    It is easy to measure chemicals and calculate a ratio that is known from the literature to indicate a certain type of product.  But what happens if it is in between the two ratios - the grey zone?  Then what?  The grey zone is hit more times than not.


When doing legal environmental investigations, hire experts in the field that have done the type of work before.  Make sure they have the capabilities to do the work and have not just seen it somewhere or reference some member of their big company from another office that might have worked on something similar.  How do you know they are an expert?  That is the key question that I hope to help answer for my connections!


Chemistry Matters has PhD and Masters level qualified professionals that keep current on the scientific literature, study these contaminants and techniques, have real legal case experience, and present and publish on environmental forensic techniques.  Visit our website or give us a call for your next environmental forensics or forensic chemistry project.


About the Author

Court Sandau

Court is the President and owner of Chemistry Matters – a niche environmental consulting firm which specializes in geoforensics, environmental forensics, biomonitoring, and arson investigations. As an international speaker and expert chemist, Court is often called upon to provide his expert services in oil & gas investigations and litigious chemistry issues.

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