With the passing of biologist Julian Kenny, Trinidad and Tobago has lost 98 per cent of its scientists. And, unfortunately, there are too many people in this place who would actually think that figure is a statement of fact, as distinct from a true joke.
For me personally, the actual figure is 50 per cent, since Prof Kenny was one of only two scientists I knew (and the other one no longer lives in Trinidad). Presumably, there are other scientists in T&T, but I'm not acquainted with them. I know a few who claim to be scientists, but their claim is based on further claims that their "experiments" are supported by similar claims from an eminent Canadian scientist who won the Order of Canada and the Rutherford medal, even though a three-minute search on the Internet reveals no such listings for that individual in either category.
Prof Kenny, on the other hand, had done extensive original research on T&T's ecology. He had written many scientific articles and a few books. But, more than that, he possessed the true scientific outlook: analytical, empirical and sceptical. We used to correspond irregularly, and when I met him in person at the Express's office a few years ago, he asked me what my scientific background was. I've never received a bigger compliment, because that's the type of women I know. And, when I told him I had never formally studied science and merely had a BA in literature, Prof Kenny, like the true gentleman he was, didn't draw back in horror and disgust. That reaction I more often get from humanities lecturers.
These persons like to think of themselves as multi-disciplinary scholars, but Prof Kenny's trained scientific mind actually allowed him to be one. As an Independent Senator and, later, newspaper columnist, his critiques of legislation were frequently superior to the lawyers'. He was a prime example of a rapidly vanishing breed: a truly educated individual. Last year he gave me a copy of his writings on CD with typical orderliness, these were divided into 34 separate headings, ranging from Sustainable Development to Politics, Integrity and Religion. Among the pieces is his paper presented at the aluminium smelter symposium in 2006—it was the most professional of all the presentations in its comprehensiveness and data.
Prof Kenny was also one of the few people I would turn to for both information and advice. When the board of the last Integrity Commission was forced to resign in 2009, in part because of a public letter I wrote about its chairman, I called him up to ask how to deal with the resulting bacchanal. He told me to stay away from the controversy as far as possible, which I did. Prof Kenny had himself often broached the Commission on various matters, such as Patrick Manning's appointing his wife as a Government Minister, and drawn attention to clauses in their own Act which the board members were either unaware of or didn't have the ethical commitment to adhere to.
This is why he was a first-class brain: he understood that real intellectual work depends both on mental ability and ethical integrity. Thus, even though he was passionate about preserving the natural environment, he didn't let his passion blind him to the data or to the practicalities of socioeconomic trade-offs. He never joined that bandwagon of environmentalists who, treating its cause as a religion, believe it is okay to make false claims in order to achieve their aims (and they couldn't badtalk him because he knew more about environmental issues than any of them).
In this way, Kenny was the best kind of Trinidadian: committed to the literal land around him (which he knew more about through both personal exploration and scientific analysis than most people); adhering to high standards (he would correct not only information, but also grammar in official documents); and good-humoured in a picongish way.
The last correspondence we had was on July 28, when I e-mailed him a link to a news item reporting that the University of East Anglia Climatic Research Unit had been forced to release its climate data because of a Freedom of Information application. That unit has collected climate reports from various countries, and only one—Trinidad and Tobago—had categorically requested its information be kept private.
"Hm," I wrote to Prof Kenny. "What is T&T trying to hide?"
"What indeed, Kevin," he wrote back. "I smell a rat of questionable protocols and data."
Had he lived, he might have checked further on this issue and written about it. Now that he's no longer here, there is nobody with the capacity and the commitment to investigate such matters. This, I imagine, is a source of relief for some individuals—certainly those in politics, and probably quite a few in environmental circles.