This is the kind of thing that the iconic historian of science, Thomas Kuhn, predicted in his classic book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. When a scientific “paradigm” is assaulted by reality, increasingly ornate and bizarre explanations are put forth to keep it alive. Sulfates smelled like one of those to us back in the 1980s, and now it looks like the excuses are finally getting comeuppance.
The role of institutions again surges to the fore here. There is no question that Gillespie and everyone else is right to condemn the Ferguson police and Missouri state officials for acting poorly insofar as they kept the release of evidence to the public to a trickle. Full and prompt disclosure has to be the norm in cases of killings by police officers, in order tamp down on local distrust that could easily lead to violence. In Ferguson, moreover, the disputed question of whether a police officer has suffered serious injuries is something that can be answered easily enough by photographs or a direct viewing of the officer. Yet nothing of that sort was done. By the same token, the interventions of Attorney General Eric Holder in the situation only compound the difficulty, because his job is not to seek evidence of a civil rights violation, but to ask whether Wilson had committed any civil rights violation in the first place, which you cannot do effectively if you align yourself publicly with Brown’s parents. It is a sorry state of affairs if every potential investigator of the situation is perceived by some constituency to have axe to grind. There is no faster way for public confidence to go south