Saturday, Aug 14 2010 09:00 PM
Last Updated Saturday, Aug 14 2010
I know you're going to wonder why you should care about
getting the boot at UCLA. So let me start by explaining why it matters,
then we'll get to the nitty gritty of what happened.
It matters because it looks like UCLA is firing this
his work on air pollution doesn't fit with popular thinking and it
wants to shut him up.
Popular thinking, that air pollution is killing us, is
lucrative to universities by way of government-funded research grants.
The guy who's getting sacked, James Enstrom, was one of
only a few
scientists willing to stick his neck out and blow the whistle on an
outright fraud and coverup at the California Air Resources Board (CARB)
over regulations that
will squeeze every wallet in this state once they're
Enstrom has been relentless, if not successful, in his
get the air board to acknowledge that the science on the health effects
of air pollution is not closed.
Moreover, he has demanded that the process of
science-based regulation be honest, open and fair.
And that's why this really matters.
Out of step
Now, despite his 34 years as a researcher at UCLA, he's
dumped by a secret vote of the faculty in the Environmental Health
Their official reason for not reappointing him is "your
not aligned with the academic mission of the Department," according to
a July 29 letter sent to Enstrom notifying him that his appeal of an
earlier dismissal letter had been denied and his last day would be Aug.
Department Chair Richard Jackson told me the faculty
had no problem with scientific disagreement.
"They're not troubled by disagreement, but by poor
quality science," he said, adding that "there are two sides to every
When I asked what about Enstrom's science had been
said he would prefer I schedule a "formal interview" with him, which I
did for the next day. He later canceled and referred me to Sarah
Anderson, dean of communications for the School of Public Health.
Anderson e-mailed and asked what my questions were. I
sent them and she replied that UCLA does not discuss personnel issues.
I objected that the faculty's opinion of Enstrom's
published scientific work isn't a personnel issue.
I got nothing back.
Several other Environmental Sciences faculty members
did not return my calls.
Beate Ritz, a leading air pollution scientist with UCLA
who works in the Epidemiology Department, did respond.
She said she hadn't read Enstrom's 2005 study on air
But, based on his 2003 findings that second-hand
doesn't kill people, she said she knows him "for letting his
interpretations go beyond the data and his personal biases to be strong
enough to not allow for a balanced and appropriately cautious
interpretation of the numbers."
Her attitude wasn't surprising to Enstrom, who said his
published in the British Medical Journal, was widely attacked.
"Not a single error was ever identified in that paper
and I refuted
all claims made against me and my research," he said. "My work isn't
about being politically correct, it's about honest research and being
faithful to the science."
Noted toxicologist Robert Phalen, who co-directs the
Health Effects Laboratory at the University of California, Irvine, said
Enstrom's science is very high quality. He theorized it has been
Enstrom's outside activities, such as agitating at the air board, that
did him in rather than his science.
"Jim was definitely out of step" with the direction of
the leaders of his department, Phalen said.
Jackson himself alluded to that, saying the faculty
troubled by Enstrom's presentation at a symposium in February put on by
CARB to discuss the science examining air pollution's health effects.
He didn't say exactly what about the presentation was upsetting.
Tangling with CARB
The Environmental Science mission statement says the
"committed to furthering research and education at the interface
between human health and the environment."
Enstrom has done exactly that with his studies, most
published in 2005 that shows no evidence of premature deaths in
California due to exposure to PM2.5.
PM2.5 is tiny bits of dust and soot that CARB is trying
to regulate to a gnat's hind end.
Specifically, CARB has regulations pending that would
today's trucking and heavy construction fleets inoperable in California.
The rationale for the regulations is that, based on
numerous studies, PM2.5 kills thousands of Californians each year.
Enstrom's 2005 study was peer-reviewed and published in
well-respected journals and, while some have disagreed with his
conclusions, the study and its methodology have held up.
Yet, when a health effects report used to justify the
regulations was written by CARB staffer Hien Tran, Enstrom's study was
misquoted and discounted, as were others that don't support the notion
that PM2.5 kills.
Tran, it was discovered by Enstrom and others, had lied
about having a Ph.D in statistics from UC Davis.
Enstrom's bell clanging over Tran later revealed that
chairwoman Mary Nichols knew about Tran's falsification but kept mum to
other board members until after they voted to approve the trucking
As an aside, I'm still aghast that both Tran and
Nichols have kept
their jobs. Really, we can't find two people in the entire state who
can do this job honorably?
Back to Enstrom. He also single-handedly got scientist
kicked off the Scientific Review Panel, a state organization tasked
with identifying toxic contaminants.
And, as luck would have it, Froines is a voting faculty
member of UCLA's Environmental Sciences Department.
It was the Scientific Review Panel that in the 1990s
diesel exhaust is toxic. That declaration triggered CARB to gin up
regulations to reduce the amount of diesel PM2.5 in the air, which is
what brought on the truck and heavy equipment regulations we're now
Scientists are supposed to apply for and be appointed
Scientific Review Panel on three-year terms. Froines was appointed in
1984 and continued to sit on that panel for more than 25 years though
he was only reappointed a couple of times in the early years.
It's not just an issue of needing new blood. The
Panel verifies and approves methodologies for studies that are
Froines is also head of the Southern California
which conducts such government-funded studies. All of which makes his
de facto lifetime appointment seem more than a little conflicty.
When Enstrom brought that to the attention of the
Legislature, Froines was kicked off the panel.
I called Froines to see how he felt about that and his
views on Enstrom but he didn't call back.
The offense of not going along
Enstrom told me he doesn't believe his colleagues have
done bad science, per se, on air pollution.
His main concern has been with how one-sided and
self-fulfilling the entire system has become.
CARB exists to regulate air pollution. It funds studies
ill effects of air pollution. Any effects found are used to justify
more regulations and, hence, more studies.
Finding "no effects" doesn't fit into that cycle.
Then, of course, there's ego.
A scientist's work is considered more important if it
points out a hazard rather than saying "everything's fine," Phalen said.
"Jim's work offends people because it diminishes the
importance of their work," Phalen said.
Even accidental findings of "no effects" have been
In one major national study by Daniel Krewski, a map
had little to no effect of premature deaths in California. And just
recently Michael Jerrett revealed preliminary data from his CARB-funded
California specific study that also showed little to no evidence of
premature death from PM2.5 exposure.
That map has since disappeared from later uses of the
study. And Jerrett has said perhaps mortality calculations should be
"They've decided that no one else can have a say,"
Enstrom said. "Valid research is being stifled."
Enstrom had been in line to receive funding for a new
the Health Effects Institute, but that likely won't happen after he
loses his UCLA position.
All of this may seem like so much academic inside
these studies and how they're treated result in regulations that have
Phalen noted that we are in a period in our culture
is used to fuel movements rather than to elucidate. Going against the
movement puts careers at risk.
Phalen himself is no stranger to swimming against the
published a book in 2002 titled "The Particulate Air Pollution
Controversy." He concluded that our hamfisted manner of setting
environmental standards has created a regulatory environment that
doesn't consider secondary consequences and may result in more harm
Though Phalen couldn't say whether that book cost him
on Froine's Southern California Particle Center, he wasn't reappointed
after it was published.
So much for welcoming diversity of thought.
Opinions expressed in this column are those of Lois
Henry, not The
Bakersfield Californian. Her column appears Wednesdays and Sundays.
Comment at people.bakersfield.com/ home/Blog/noholdsbarred, call her at
395-7373 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org