This blog is written by Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Posts appear Monday & Wednesday.
Reason.com has a distressing story about a professor at risk of losing his job because his research findings are politically incorrect. On Monday, April 4th, a hearing begins that will decide his fate.
Epidemiologist James Enstrom has worked at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) for 34 years. In 2005, he published a study that found no relationship between fine particulate air pollution and premature death.
The California Air Resources Board (CARB) is in charge of air quality in that state. In an astonishing turn of events it chose to ignore Enstrom’s published-in-the-peer-reviewed-literature findings. Instead, CARB had its employees prepare an internal document that reached the opposite conclusion.
The lead author of the internal document was Hien Tran. When he was hired, Tran said he had a PhD in statistics from the University of California, Davis. On that internal research document (shown in the video above), Tran’s name is followed by the claim that he holds a PhD.
But this man never actually finished his doctorate. Instead, he apparently purchased one for $1,000 from an unaccredited, online diploma mill (full details are included in this 12-page disciplinary letter).
As if all of this weren’t scandalous enough, chairwoman Mary Nichols chose not to inform other members of the CARB board about Tran’s deception before they voted to implement stringent new air quality rules based on the research he had led.
In April 2009 Tran was demoted – and suspended for two months. But he wasn’t fired. Despite her atrocious behaviour, Nichols also continues to serve as chair of CARB.
Enstrom, on the other hand, was told last year that he was out of a job (he has been fighting for it ever since). One of his unpardonable sins was to point out that the law says scientists on a CARB advisory panel are supposed to be limited to three-year terms. Yet according to this (lawsuit) press release the majority have served for more than a decade. The above video claims UCLA professor John Froines served for 26 years and only lost his position after Enstrom began challenging CARB.
Since Froines is an influential person in the academic department that has decided Enstrom’s services are no longer required, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to deduce what has gone on here. Academic freedom sounds great in theory. In practice, some academics are more protected than others.
Just to recap, though: the person who lied about having a PhD didn’t lose his job. The woman who failed to tell her fellow board members that the internal research was conducted by someone with a fake PhD didn’t lose her job. The person who was supposed to serve for three years but served for 26 has finally been asked to move along.
But the gent who’s in real trouble is the one with the genuine PhD, who published in the actual peer-reviewed literature, and who drew attention to the fact that a body that imposes regulations on other people was disregarding those that govern its own conduct. Of all the people is this saga, that is the person whose livelihood now hangs by a thread.
When Mom said life isn’t fair, she wasn’t joking.