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    Whistle-blowing Scientist Sues UCLA for His Job

    Whistle-blowing Scientist Sues UCLA for His Job

    UCLA’s Dr. James Enstrom is one of my personal heroes of the “Tea Party” movement.

    The importance of his work on behalf of Californians cannot be understated.

    The Environmental Health Sciences professor has been fighting the false science behind some of our state’s most onerous regulations for years.  The rebel professor is also famously known for bringing the public’s attention to a fake Ph.D. degree claimed by a researcher for the extremely powerful state environmental agency, the California Air Resources Board (CARB).

    Liberal institutions claim they adore whistle-blowers.  Not, it seems, when they fight the eco-activism that is entrenched in campus and government bureaucracies.   Shortly after I met him in 2010, UCLA told Enstrom he was being terminated because his research failed to accord with the department’s “mission.”

    Subsequently, Enstrom turned to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) for assistance in keeping his job. Now, the organization is helping him bring a lawsuit against the University of California.

    The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) also took up Enstrom’s case and is representing Enstrom in a lawsuit filed late yesterday in Los Angeles federal court against UCLA officials and the University of California Regents. Enstrom is seeking a declaration that UCLA violated Enstrom’s free speech and due process rights, as well as an injunction requiring UCLA to rehire him.

    “Because of Enstrom’s research and his whistleblowing against prominent advocates of environmental regulation in California, UCLA seemingly has decided to silence him any way it can,” said FIRE Vice President of Programs Adam Kissel. “If there is anywhere we need honest scientists who aren’t on a mission to exclude whistleblowers and skeptics, it is the American university.”

    Enstrom is hoping Californians in the area can show up to the courthouse in support of his suit to keep his job. The hearing details are:

    • 9 AM on Monday, March 18,
    • Court Room 790 of Central District Judge Jesus G. Bernal at the Roybal Federal Building and US Courthouse, 255 East Temple Street (at Alameda), Los Angeles,
    • If possible, please arrive at 8:30 AM at entrance to Courthouse for prehearing meeting.

    The lawsuit filing provides a troubling description of how fraud was used to impose draconian environmental regulations on California enterprises, which is one of the many reasons why California is deemed by CEOs nationwide as the “worst place to do business”.

    I hope that my fellow Californians show up to the courthouse and support Enstrom on Monday. We need more rebel professors.

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    Frank Koza | March 18, 2013 at 11:17 am

    Thank you for bringing this up again, Leslie. It’s certainly not surprising to see that Stanton Glantz was also in those meetings supporting fake numbers, but it is the first time I heard that Froines actually publicly acknowledged that they weren’t real.

    Dr Enstrom is certainly no stranger to the huge battles over scientific integrity. He also had published a 2003 study he did with Geoffrey Kabat in the BMJ that questioned the prevailing opinions on the association between environmental tobacco smoke and coronary heart disease and lung cancer.

    http://www.bmj.com/content/326/7398/1057

    That study was initially funded through the Tobacco-Related Disease Research Program (from Prop 99 cigarette surtax) which had also funded a number of Glantz’ projects. The TRDRP funding was later inexplicably and abruptly halted and Enstrom finished the analysis with funds from the tobacco industry.

    Instead of identifying any errors in the research itself, the outcry from the anti-tobacco industry were largely confined to ad hominem attacks on Enstrom and Kabat as well as the BMJ for daring to publish that study, claiming it was tobacco industry propaganda to try to discredit the findings. You can find several of Enstrom’s reponses to criticism and updates on page 3 of the rapid responses.


     
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    halflight | March 18, 2013 at 1:52 pm

    This is my first post on this blog, so hello to everyone out there.

    I agree with Ms. Eastman that Dr. Enstrom’s complaint raises some troubling questions–but that’s what complaints are supposed to do. (Yes, I did read the whole thing–I’m compulsive that way.) Let’s not overstate his case.

    Ms. Eastman wrote: The Environmental Health Sciences professor has been fighting the false science behind some of our state’s most onerous regulations for years.

    That’s not what he’s done. Dr. Enstrom hasn’t proven or alleged that someone has faked data. Instead, he says there isn’t sufficient statistical evidence to conclude that particulate matter (PM2.5), specifically in diesel exhaust, causes people in California to die at an earlier age than they would in the absence of PM2.5 pollution.

    Not “false” science– insufficient science.

    The lawsuit filing provides a troubling description of how fraud was used to impose draconian environmental regulations on California enterprises, which is one of the many reasons why California is deemed by CEOs nationwide as the “worst place to do business”.

    The lawsuit doesn’t even allege fraud, and the complaint doesn’t directly address the controversy over PM2.5 regulation. Instead, Dr. Enstrom claims that his supervisors failed to renew his research appointment at UCLA to retaliate for statements he made about the adoption of PM2.5 regulations and for criticisms of the governance of CARB, in particular that the members of the CARB scientific advisory board were not selected in the manner required by law.

    Dr. Enstrom doesn’t have to prove fraud to make his case. He needs to show that his public comments were of the type protected by the whistleblower statute, and his position was eliminated to retaliate for those statements. His First Amendment claims require basically the same proof: that his speech was protected, and UCLA’s failure to renew his position amounts to a state act to limit his speech.

    There’s a touch of irony here. Dr. Enstrom publicly criticized CARB for not following the law regarding the appointment of scientists (including one of Enstrom’s colleagues) to advisory boards. In return, his UCLA colleagues suddenly found it necessary to perform a formal review of his research appointment, something that, according to Enstrom, UCLA hadn’t done in years, having merely renewed his appointment without comment. It’s almost as if his colleagues were saying, “So you want to follow proper procedure? Fine, we’ll show you proper procedure.”

    Only that “gotcha” may prove costly to them. Whistleblower laws and the First Amendment protect speech, even if the defendants think their actions amount to poetic justice.

    While I’m at it, there are some parts of Enstrom’s complaint that stretch credibility. The complaint alleges that UCLA misallocated research grant funds in retaliation for Enstrom’s speech. However, the misallocation apparently predates the PM2.5 and CARB controversies, and seems, if anything, to show that neither UCLA nor Dr. Enstrom paid attention to the research grant money Dr. Enstrom received from outside contributors, specifically the Phillip Morris Co. For years, UCLA charged Dr. Enstrom double (54%) of the proper rate (26%) it charges to administer grants for research off-campus, and made excess charges to trust accounts held by UCLA. The fact that neither Dr. Enstrom or the university realized the mistake for years doesn’t create confidence in the administrative abilities of either. Enstrom thinks it was UCLA’s duty to catch the error, and thus to reimburse the misallocated funds; UCLA contends that it was Enstrom’s obligation to catch the error, and it has no obligation to reimburse the excess charges. I don’t know the ins and outs of a university’s responsibilities in administering research grants, but this SNAFU doesn’t reflect well on any party.

    Anyhow, I’m glad Enstrom is pursuing a legal remedy for the dimissal. The events described in the complaint certainly carry the scent of retaliation; but it’s important to understand what is and isn’t at stake in this litigation


     
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    EricRasmusen | March 18, 2013 at 4:05 pm

    Good comment, Halflight.
    Looking at the complaint, I don’t see how UCLA has a case. As Halflight said, Enstrom doesn’t have to prove fraud. What he has to prove is that this public university fired him because of his political position. Since they hadn’t reviewed him this way for over 30 years and since they’ve never reviewed anybody else this way (if what the complaint says is true) that seems pretty easy. He hasn’t even gotten to Discovery yet, and probably the public health faculty said some pretty juicy things at their meeting, however restrained the bureaucrats may have been.

    It looks to me like one of these all-too-common situations where the university decides to illegally fire a professor and then pay him off when he sues. The law protects the individual scholar, in the sense that he has to be bought off generously. Unfortunately, that doesn’t protect the public interest.

    Still, let’s make it as expensive as we can for the wrongdoers. This is a section 1983 claim. Do the university administrators have personal immunity? They’re not policemen or prosecutors. If not, press vigorously for personal liability. Would the court be willing at this stage to issue an injunction preventing the defendants from hiding assets? That would emphasize their peril to them.

    Also, I wonder why the complaint doesn’t include breach of contract and why it doesn’t use a whistleblower statute— doesn’t California have a suitable statute?

    I’m skeptical that getting people to show up for the judicial hearing will do any good, and it might do harm, if someone offends the judge. This is a political case, but the political pressure needs to be put on the legislature and Congress and alumni, who provide UCLA with funding. Some university funders will be pleased with the attitude of “we’ll break the law and just pay damages”, if they agree with the political position, but other university funders will not.

    Is it legal for a public university to settle a lawsuit and keep the terms of the agreement confidential?


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