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Sewer Water

Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt

Once upon a time, when I was just a pup in the computer business, International Business Machines (IBM) often deployed a sales tactic that came to be known as Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt, or simply FUD (rhymes with mud). It worked by instilling fear, uncertainty, and doubt in the minds of customers thinking of choosing a computer system built by someone other than IBM. “No one ever got fired for choosing IBM,” is an example of this tactic.

The antidote to FUD was simple: Teach your customers to recognize it and provide them with information that combats it.

Today in 2020, the Anderson Valley Community Services District (AVCSD) is rolling out FUD to sell their water and sewer system plans to Boonville. This website is dedicated to fighting AVCSD FUD by pointing it out and providing articles and discussions to inform.

Take a look at the recent mailer from the AVCSD titled, “Water and Wastewater Treatment Update #1”. In the event that you’ve consigned your copy to the trash, I’ll quote from the mailer.

“There is a public health crisis in Anderson Valley.”

Grabs you, doesn’t it? When I first read it I thought of the black plague, of carts filled with corpses, and the ringing cry “Bring out your dead.” The first aim of FUD is to get you to stop thinking critically by getting you to think irrationally about something you fear.

“In 2015 water testing detected coliform bacteria and high levels of nitrates in 21 of 23 residential wells tested in central Boonville.”

Sounds like it might be factual. What it doesn’t say is that the wells selected for testing were already strongly suspected to be contaminated. In no way was this a representative sampling of wells in Boonville. When I asked at the AVCSD meeting on 2/5/2020 whether it was fair to say that the wells to be tested were “cherry picked”, the answer given was, “Yes”.

Now that you’ve been hit with a health crisis and some cherry picked facts, comes the sowing of doubt. Hopefully you’ve been sufficiently frightened to accept this dubious chain of reasoning:

“This is a serious public health issue and could affect the greater community. The contamination could spread beyond Boonville to the aquifer of the Anderson Valley, potentially polluting everyone’s water on the valley floor.”

Notice the use of “could” and “potentially”, words that signal a speculative line of reasoning. No facts here, the intent is to sow doubt about the future, so that unless the remedies to come are taken whole and without question, terrible things might happen.

“Residents of the Anderson Valley deserve better water quality than what is normally found in third-world countries.”

This sentence is offensive. The admixture of “normally found in third-world countries” and “Residents … deserve better” comes off as xenophobic. It has no place in an official communication.

“The State funds will no longer be available if the AVCSD doesn’t act soon.”

Here’s the uncertainty. If we don’t rush into whatever plans the AVCSD and its friends in the consulting and construction industries have cooked up for us, we might not get anything. Take it or leave it.

And that is how FUD works: Fear for our health, uncertainty about funding for alternatives, and doubt about the future.

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