Vol. 16 No. 32, September 1, 2010
CARB Fakes Out California
By K. Lloyd Billingsley, editorial director
The University of California at Los Angeles is attempting to dump James Enstrom, a researcher with the UCLA School of Public Health. This action is part of a larger story with consequences for state government, the UC system, and every Californian.
Enstrom earned a Ph.D. in physics from Stanford University in 1970 and an M.P.H. and Postdoctoral Certification in Epidemiology from UCLA in 1976. He has been a member of the UCLA faculty since 1976 and a fellow of the American College of Epidemiology since 1981. Enstrom is also the author of a 2005 study that found no evidence that PM2.5, dust and soot from diesel exhaust, causes premature deaths. That’s the contention of the California Air Resources Board (CARB) now working three shifts to impose new regulations that would severely restrict trucking and heavy machinery in California.
CARB’s preferred scholar in this cause was Hien Tran, author of the report “Methodology for Estimating Premature Deaths Associated with Long-term Exposure to Fine Airborne Particulate Matter in California.” Tran had been with CARB since 1994 and in 2007, when he was appointed manager of the Health and Ecosystems Assessment Section in CARB’s Research Division, the agency announced that Tran had recently earned a Ph.D. in statistics from UC Davis. Actually, that wasn’t true.
Tran’s Ph.D. came from Thornhill University, located in a New York City office of the United Parcel Service (UPS). Legitimate scholars did not think much of Tran’s report, either. Dr. S. Stanley Young, assistant director of Bioinformatics at the National Institute of Statistical Sciences, told a CARB board member that the reasoning in Tran’s report was “too flawed to be done by a capable statistician.” For his part, Enstrom was concerned that Tran had ignored critical evidence. That prompted him to investigate Tran’s credentials, and he played a key role in exposing Tran’s fraud. That didn’t matter to CARB boss Mary Nichols, who called the ethical lapse an “a very annoying distraction.”
Nichols said nothing to CARB board members, the press, or legislators, and pushed ahead with the draconian regulations she wanted. Tran’s fake doctorate eventually came to light, and he was suspended then demoted. CARB, however, opted to keep him on staff. He was not fired, which was UCLA’s master plan for James Enstrom.
The faculty of the Environmental Health Sciences Department charged that his research “is not aligned” with the academic mission of the department. Actually, it is aligned with the mission because others in the department conduct the same kind of research. Rather, the conclusions of his study on PM2.5 were out of line with the end result CARB wanted, and for which Mary Nichols and the CARB board indulged fraud and a coverup.
The “mission” in this case seems clear: give government agencies the results they want, regardless of the evidence, otherwise you will not be reappointed. Mary Nichols, conveniently enough, is a professor-in-residence at UCLA and before Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed her CARB boss, served as director of the UCLA Institute of the Environment. Did she perchance apply leverage on UCLA faculty to dump James Enstrom?
The full story may emerge in hearings that assemblyman Dan Logue and other legislators plan to hold in Sacramento. In an August 16 letter they say: “We will allow Dr. Enstrom and others the opportunity to present evidence regarding academic freedom and scientific integrity at UCLA, particularly regarding the circumstances surrounding his dismissal.”
Enstrom had been slated to get his walking papers on August 30 but an ongoing grievance procedure has pushed that to March 30, 2011, according to the UCLA Department of Public Health. The delay will provide opportunity for legislators and the media to expand their inquiries, but some realities should already be clear.
Californians have a right to expect environmental regulations to be based only on the best science. The indulgence of academic fraud and regulatory zealotry is not the kind of leadership California needs. It amazes that nobody has called for Mary Nichols’ resignation.