Epidemiologist Fired for Reporting Unhelpful Results

James Enstrom, an epidemiologist who has worked at the UCLA School of Public Health for 34 years, was recently fired, supposedly because his research "is not aligned with the academic mission of the Department [of Environmental Health Sciences]." As Michael Siegel notes, this rationale is patently false. The department's official mission is to "explore the fundamental relationship between human health and the environment," and that is exactly what Enstrom has done. The problem is not that he tackled the wrong questions; it's that he came up with the "wrong" answers. Specifically, he has failed to find a connection between exposure to fine particulate matter and disease. Worse, he is a prominent critic of the view that such a connection is established well enough to justify new regulations by the California Air Resources Board (CARB). He has not only criticized the evidence underlying the proposed regulations but has made trouble by pointing out that a key CARB staffer, Hien Tran, had falsified his academic credentials and that a UCLA colleague who supports regulation of fine particulate matter, John Froines, had served on a scientific panel that advises CARB for 25 years without being reappointed every three years, as required by law. Froines, who has publicly ridiculed Enstrom, participated in the faculty vote recommending his dismissal. Enstrom's popularity among his colleagues was not enhanced by his work on secondhand smoke, which also failed to generate politically correct results.

These circumstances have led observers such as Siegel, Sacramento Bee columnist Dan Walters, Bakersfield Californian columnist Lois Henry, epidemiologist Carl Phillips, and Jeff Stier of the American Council on Science and Health (where Enstrom is a trustee) to conclude that Enstrom's sacking was politically motivated. Siegel reviews Enstrom's impressive body of work dating back to 1975, which includes studies reporting positive as well as negative results (among them important research on the lifestyle factors that make Mormons less prone to cancer). Siegel concludes that Enstrom "has not been afraid to report the results of his research as they unfold," an openness to evidence that clashes with what appears to be the true mission of his former department:

The mission of the Department of Environmental Health Sciences is not to "explore the fundamental relationship between human health and the environment." Instead, its mission is to show that fine particulate matter pollution and other environmental exposures adversely affect human health.

If your research fails to show an adverse effect of an environmental exposure on human health, then your research is apparently no longer "aligned" with the mission of the Department and School....As soon as you obtain negative findings and report them, you have deviated from the School's mission and you are at risk of being fired....

Is there no room for a difference of opinion in a public health institution? Must all faculty members [toe] a certain party line, regardless of what their research shows?

You can supply the answers yourself after considering the weak case against Enstrom as a scientist. I have interviewed him several times over the years, and he impresses me as an honest and conscientious investigator who is genuinely dismayed by the extent to which science has been politicized since he began his career. It is sadly unsurprising that his long stint at UCLA has ended this way.

[Thanks to Chris Reed at the San Diego Union-Tribune for the tip.]

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  • ||

    The consensus has spoken.

  • ||

    Consensus is the ultimate arbiter in science, NutraSweet. Countless non-science-trained AGW supporters will tell you so, so it must be true.

  • ||

    Thank god we got the politics out of science!

    And I would say that he was, indeed, fired because his research "is not aligned with the academic mission of the Department [of Environmental Health Sciences]", once you recognize that their mission is to generate research that supports expanding state power.

  • ||

    Yes, apparently the "Republican War on Science" is still going on!

    Ummm, wait....

  • ||

    They are not in power, so it wouldn't expand their power. So it's the Democrat War on Science. For now.

    ""Thank god we got the politics out of science!""

    Just in time to move it to health care. ;-)

  • Gilbert Martin||

    "They are not in power, so it wouldn't expand their power. So it's the Democrat War on Science."

    Oh no.

    It's still all Bush's fault - just like everything else in the Universe.

    And it will continue to be Bush's fault from now until the end of time - or the complete inmplosion of the Democratic party whichever comes first.

  • EscapedWestOfTheBigMuddy||

    Now do you see why tenure is an outmoded and unnecessary legacy of a bygone era?

    Academic freedom. Pshaw!

  • ||

    For every injustice tenure would prevent, it shields 3000 idiots who should have been fired decades ago.

    Tenure is a system that requires everyone to be an honest actor for it to operate. Like communism or the "democratic" strong welfare state, it relies on humans to routinely and consistently act against long-observed behavior. Like its cohort systems, it will always fail.

  • ||

    And the dude was at UCLA for over 30 years... Are we sure he wasn't tenured?

  • EscapedWestOfTheBigMuddy||

    Probably he was. Tenure has never been absolute.

    Nor is NutraSweet entirely wrong. I myself have seen the tenure system abused a couple of different ways. But I have also seen a obstinate old bastard stand firm against a horde of fools: sweeping back the tide of Yo Studies over enlightenment civilization.

    And, of course, I'm biased as I am still on the academic track myself.

    But the real point of the above comment was snark.

  • ||

    Tenure makes the individual tenured jobs more attractive. By doing so, it draws more people into the academic track, looking for those star positions. But there are never enough academic positions for those graduated, particularly in the non-sciences, particularly as mandatory retirement ages are out as well and the baby boomers hold on while reducing their teaching loads. The excess people bidding for tenured jobs results in poor pay for postdocs and adjuncts who fail to get those positions.

    Such winner-take-all job markets are not entirely unusual-- we see them in the performing arts as well as in athletics. In almost all those fields except athletics, participants, even the successful ones, tend to lean towards the Left and statism, being well aware of the role that luck played in getting their star position. Athletes, having the reassurance of more objective statistics measuring their talents, tend to lean towards the Right, being convinced that their success was due to merit.

  • Pip||

    "among them important research on the lifestyle factors that make Mormons less prone to cancer"

    It's the magic undies.

  • ||

    It's the magic undies.

    The Science is settled!

  • EscapedWestOfTheBigMuddy||

    This is where we really miss yesterday's power to post images...

  • In Time Of War||

    "John Froines, had served on a scientific panel that advises CARB for 25 years without being reappointed every three years, as required by law"

    I like the way everyone except private individuals and businesses can blow off laws just because they're inconvenient.

  • Ragin Cajun||

    This John Froines?

  • ||

    Yes, actually, the same John Froines. Wow, nice catch.

  • ||

    Next thing you're gonna tell me a member of the Weather Underground got Obama his start in politics.

    You conservatives and your conspiracy theories.

  • ||

    John Froines was charged with making an incendiery device but was innocent? I know a couple of bartenders in Fairfax, VA that would like to talk to him about mounting a defense.

  • fish||

    Wow Cajun....That was a good catch!

  • Hank||

    This is simply fucking outrageous...that this "warrior" was overlooked for the administration's science czar.

  • E. Spitzer & T. Geithner||

    The only thing that is important s being connected. Like us.

  • TickleStick||

    You guys are buttfucking right now?

  • Joseph Stalin||

    Atta boy, UCLA!

  • ||

    Wrong thinking is punishable. Right thinking will be as quickly rewarded. You will find it an effective combination.

  • Virginia||

    California again? Has that state collapsed yet?

  • ||

    It's like a purse stringularity.

  • Virginia||

    Ha, I like that term and will be stealing it for future use.

    Basically, California's anti-business climate will reach an event (or close series of events) where its demise turns exponential due to negative feedback... and what happens to California after the singularity is unpredictable. Is that the gist of it?

  • ||

    How does death by "purse stringulation" sound?

  • Ska||

    If there is ever going to be a live action Simpsons movie, we may have just found Homer.

  • ||

    (chuckling), but wouldn't he be better as Herb Powell? He's got the hair for it.

  • Wind Rider||

    The last thing the political class wants is real scientists, doing real sciency type things; anointed priests that hue to an agenda are the preference.

    Heretics and non-believers will be shunned.

  • Feynman||

    But you can fox with with a good table top demo in front of the TV cameras...

  • Michael Mann||

    Enstrom is a hack.

  • Scotticus Finch||

    From the link: Must all faculty members tow a certain party line, regardless of what their research shows?

    Partially fixed by Jacob, but we all know he still didn't get it quite right...

  • Pope Jimbo||

    I hate that smug bastard Wernstrom!

    Wait. What? Enstrom? Sorry I got my scientists all mixed up. I'm sure Enstrom is Futurama worthy though.

  • ||

    You wait and see if enstrom and kabat both arent the leaders of tomorros science in the government..........Id bet money on it!

  • ||

    Enstrom and Kabat did a 39 year study of second hand smoke and came up with the results that shs didn't hurt anyone. Studies like that just can't hang around in today's world of anti smoking propaganda!

  • ||

    Yes, you are referring to the long running study of 35,561 nonsmoking women from California that were married to smoking spouses. Much of the raw data that was given to Enstrom and Kabat was provided to them by the IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer) and the American Cancer Society. Much of the funding for this project came from the TRDRP (Tobacco-Related Disease Research Program), a California bases anti-smoking organization funded by Prop 99.

    Then, suddenly (1997), after almost 4 decades of research, the TRDRP withdrew its funding from the study when it became apparent that the results were not going to "fit in with their agenda"...so to speak. In order to finish up the last year of research, Enstrom accepted a grant from the tobacco industry funded Center for Indoor Air Research. The results were not what the anti-smoking fanatics wanted, so they simply tried to silence him by saying that he is a BT hack.....after 37 years of being funding by anti-tobacco, of course.

    The study found no increase in lung cancer or coronary heart disease risk. That's simply the truth. But, we can't have the truth in this climate, can we?

  • ||

    Anti-smoking is bankrupted...its the fattys that they are after now!

  • bags||

    And I would say that he was, indeed, fired because his research "is not aligned with the academic mission of the Department [of Environmental Health Sciences]", once you recognize that their mission is to generate research that supports expanding state power.

  • han||

    You can supply the answers yourself

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