While it is the view of many scientists, including this one, that research behind the global warming scare has and continues to suffer from a lack of integrity, it is nonetheless true that think tanks, universities, and environmental groups continue to funnel dollars to scientists who will provide the desired conclusion rather than produce unbiased results. But, it’s not just in the sphere of climate change research that the scientific method has been undermined; environmental science in general suffers from the same condition. UCLA recently fired James Enstrom, an epidemiologist who has worked at the UCLA School of Public Health for 34 years, for daring to publish results that were not in step with the school’s official alarmist philosophy.
A recent column by Lois Henry, published at Bakersfield.com, describes the lynch mob mentality that drove the decision to sack Enstrom in disturbing detail. Among other things, Henry explains how Enstrom was “…dumped by a secret vote of the faculty in the Environmental Health Sciences Department. Their official reason for not reappointing him is ‘your research is 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. 30.”
Enstrom’s purported sin was doing shoddy research, a claim that both he and many of his colleagues vigorously deny. The real reason appears to be that Enstrom’s work concluded that the risk to human health and the environment posed by “fine particulate” air pollution is much less than other researchers and – most nobably – the California Air Resources Board (CARB) have decreed. CARB is in the process of crafting new rules to cut emissions of pollutants that contribute to fine particulate formation and thus, Enstrom’s work undercut the state’s initiative and was embarrassing to the university as well.
The reduction of fine particulate matter, also known as PM-2.5 (particulate matter less than 2.5 microns in diameter) is a case of natural evolution in the regulatory world. When the Clean Air Act was first published in 1970, the EPA was charged with reducing total particulate emissions of all sizes. The industrial sector responded with a wave of controls that met the agency’s targets, so the EPA then dialed the standard down to focus on PM-10 (particulate matter less than 10 microns in diameter). Those goals have been met as well, with a few scattered exceptions. Neither regulators nor environmental groups ever seem able to close the book on a pollutant, so the “need” to regulate an even smaller fraction of particulate evolved. Thus, the push to create PM-2.5 standards was born, despite the fact that – when first proposed – USEPA didn’t even have a reliable method of measuring such emissions from industrial sources.
The industrial sector has called the need to establish draconian PM-2.5 standards into question, but their protests are easily ignored. It’s quite a bit more difficult to dismiss the work of a respected epidemiologist with 34 years of experience. Rather than considering Enstrom’s contrarian work in the context of the skeptical tradition of the scientific method, the UCLA Environmental Health Sciences Department opted for the simpler, time-honored method of dealing with uncomfortable reports: they shot the messenger.
Amazingly, one of the voting members of UCLA’s Environmental Health Sciences Department is a fellow named John Froines. Froines used to be a member of California’s Scientific Review Panel (SRP), an organization that reviews so-called toxic contaminants. Members of the SRP are appointed for three year terms. Enstrom found out that Froines had been continually sitting on the SRP for over 25 years, with only a couple of official reappointments early on. Follwing Enstrom’s revelations, Froines was booted off of the panel. Froines is also the head of the Southern California Particulate Center, which conducts studies of the effects of particulate pollution using taxpayer dollars. Given that Enstrom had outed Froines with regard to the SRP and given that Enstrom’s research could potentially derail Froines‘ government-funded gravy train, how could any fair-minded person allow him to help decide Enstrom’s fate?
Enstrom is also the founder of the Scientific Integrity Institute. That organization describes its philosophy in terms that the members of the UCLA Environmental Health Sciences Department might do well to consider the next time they are tempted to sack a colleague who dares to question orthodoxy:
The pursuit of truth is so important, because it is the only way that scientific advances can be made. New research on a particular scientific issue must not be inhibited or compromised, because a consensus about the issue currently exists. Science is not about consensus, but about accurate findings that can be independently verified. There are many instances where the truth on a scientific issue has evolved over time. For example, Albert Einstein made a major contribution to the evolution of scientific knowledge, when he discovered the special theory of relativity. The classical laws of motion, set down by Isaac Newton in 1687, stood as correct for over 200 years. In 1905, however, Einstein showed that these laws are not valid at velocities approaching the speed of light, although they are essentially correct for ordinary, non-relativistic motion. It is vital that the pursuit of truth in all areas of science continue, unimpeded by non-scientific considerations such as popularity and politics.