A neighborhood group in Philadelphia is asking opponents of a proposed apartment building to mail in poop samples as part of a study on how gentrification impacts cancer rates.
"We understand you may be concerned about the development of 48th Street and Chester Ave," reads a letter signed by West Philly United Neighbors President Ang Sun, reports The Philadelphia Inquirer, referencing a proposed 83-unit development slated for vacant land that was once a dog park.
"To fight gentrification, we are collaborating with biomedical researchers to investigate if development would adversely affect neighbors' microbiota and increase risk of developing colorectal cancer," the letter continues. "For research purposes, could you please donate your fecal sample (fingernail size)?"
Another flyer put out by the group, and posted to Twitter, fleshes out the link between cancer and gentrification by saying that deadly carcinogens could be released by "irresponsible demolition, excavation, and construction."
"Donate Your Fecal/Stool Sample to Help Fight Gentrification & Irresponsible Development In West Philly" reads the title of that particular emoji-covered flier.
Here's part 2! "Building housing is the same as murdering Chadwick Boseman" pic.twitter.com/w04OfZPnJP
— Calvo Fairy Wrangler???? (@KHicksEfficient) March 28, 2021
The study for which the poop samples would be collected is one proposed by Sun himself, who also works as a cancer researcher at Temple University. A spokesperson for the university told the Inquirer that Sun's research required Institutional Review Board approval given that it involved human subjects—a process that it had yet to undergo.
Sun told the paper that he couldn't comment on his research until it was approved by his employer.
The story of Sun's request for poop samples initially broke on Reddit and Twitter, where people noted the absurdity of the ask, and the potential for violation of ethics guidelines governing scientific research.
While Sun's stool solicitation is unusual, cancer concerns being used to slow down development are not. Frequently, "not in my backyard" (NIMBY) activists in California will argue in environmental lawsuits that the cancer-causing effects of new condos or commercial developments need to be studied further before a particular project can proceed.
Whatever the merits of Sun's proposed study, its merger with his anti-development activism certainly calls into question whether he's truly motivated by the pursuit of scientific truth.
One wonders if his flier got any other local NIMBYs to stop flinging poo at the idea of new development long enough to send some toward Sun.