UCLA Fires Professor for Challenging Environmental Health Myths

Published October 4, 2010

Dr. James Enstrom, a particle physicist and epidemiologist who has spent the past 34 years on the faculty at the UCLA School of Public Health, has been ordered to clear out his office after pointing out flaws in studies cited by the California Air Resources Board in support of new restrictions on particulate matter emissions.

The Chair of the UCLA Department of Environmental Health Services explained Enstrom’s termination in a letter claiming “the faculty of the Department of Environmental Health Sciences has determined your research is not aligned with the academic mission of the Department.”

Studies Challenge Alarmism
Enstrom’s academic freedom has been under assault for many years, as his research falsifying the claims of environmental and human health alarmists has proven highly frustrating to activist faculty members.

Enstrom worked on the original American Cancer Society Cancer Prevention Study cohort (CPS I) since 1991, specifically following and analyzing 118,000 Californians enrolled in the study since 1959. Cohort studies are considered highly reliable sources of public health research. Enstrom’s research on the California CPS I cohort produced two studies that cast doubt on health assertions made by UCLA faculty and others.

In 2003 Enstrom published his study of the effects of secondhand smoke (nonsmoking spouses of smokers) in the British Medical Journal, reporting no negative health effects. Enstrom’s study supported several other studies showing a small effect or no effect at all that have embarrassed antismoking zealots, including members of the UCLA faculty.

Enstrom was attacked and vilified for his findings, but his data and results have remained unrefuted.  

Annoying, Not Dangerous
In 2005 Enstrom published a robust California-specific study showing no premature deaths were being caused by small particulate air pollution. These findings undercut the asserted need for new restrictions on industrial emissions, a long-desired goal of many activist faculty members.

Enstrom’s research also shows that even though some people consider secondhand smoke and small particulate air pollution to be annoying, their health effects are nowhere near what is claimed by clean air activists.

The rule in observational population studies is at least 100 percent increases in studied health harms must be found for the causation of asserted harms to be considered reliable. Enstrom’s research regarding secondhand tobacco smoke and, more recently, small particulate matter showed the minimum threshold for reliable causation has not been met.

CARB Misconduct Exposed
In the past three years Enstrom has repeatedly shown the lack of scientific justification for new regulations on small particle and diesel emissions proposed by the California Air Resources Board (CARB), a subdivision of the California Environmental Protection Agency.

In 2008, Enstrom and Stan Young of the National Institute for Statistical Sciences embarrassed CARB and UCLA by investigating and exposing the fact that CARB’s lead author for a report supporting proposed restrictions on small particulate matter bought his Ph.D. from a mail drop called Thornhill University for one thousand dollars. CARB Executive Mary Nichols, who has worked intermittently as a UCLA Law School professor, had kept the Board author’s phony credentials a secret until they were exposed by Enstrom and Young.
Also in 2008, Enstrom embarrassed CARB and UCLA by pointing out that CARB, under Nichols’ leadership, failed to rotate its panel members properly. This led to a Pacific Legal Foundation suit that forced CARB to remove seven of nine sitting members for overstaying the statutory term of three years.

Changing Reasons for Termination
This led to UCLA informing Enstrom he was to be terminated from his research professor position on August 30, 2010. Enstrom was initially told he was being terminated because his research was of poor quality. Then, however, when pressed by inquiries, Environmental Health Services Department Chair Richard Jackson changed the excuse to a vote of the department to terminate because Enstrom’s research failed to align with the mission of the department.  

Twenty-one California state legislators rallied to Enstrom’s defense and pointed out UCLA had violated the terms of its own appeals process by telling Enstrom he had to clean out his office while his appeal was being heard. Simultaneously, Enstrom asserted his rights under state law as a whistleblower, forcing UCLA to delay his termination decision until at least March of 2011.

Stifling Academic Freedom
Dr. Michael Siegel, a professor at the Boston University School of Public Health, criticized UCLA’s decision to terminate Enstrom.

“The significance of this is a threat to academic freedom and it’s also a threat to academic science,” Siegel wrote on his Web site. “If scientists have to produce work that meets a certain view to keep their jobs, researchers are going to stop publishing negative findings for fear of being fired.”

“UCLA’s decision to terminate Dr. Enstrom is a dangerous escalation in a war on scientific honesty that has been going on in the global warming debate for quite some time,” added Jay Lehr, science director for the Heartland Institute.

“We have had many university professors tell us they disagree with the alarmist global warming storyline but are afraid to publicly add their name to the list of ‘skeptics’ because of the reprisals that would surely follow. Now, UCLA appears to be upping the ante to take this anti-science political advocacy into new realms,” Lehr explained.

John Dale Dunn, MD JD ([email protected]) is a policy advisor for The Heartland Institute and the American Council on Science and Health.  Dr. Dunn practices emergency medicine and lives in Brownwood, Texas.