Wrong man gets booted

Becky Fenger Fenger PointingMy late husband, an atheist, had fun teasing his sister-in-law, a devout Catholic who earned a master's degree in religion later in life. He purchased a Doctor of Divinity certificate (or something even loftier – I forget) from the Universal Life Church for a small fee and lorded his degree over her at every opportunity. The following item reminds me of this old tug of war.

Dr. James Enstrom was a renowned professor of epidemiology at UCLA's School of Public Health for 36 years. According to him, he was fired from his research position in UCLA's Department of Environmental Health Services in 2010 for being a whistleblower. UCLA says he was let go because "his research is not aligned with the academic mission of his department."

Methinks it is more likely because of his research showing no causal link between diesel soot and premature deaths in California. This pitted him against the California Air Resources Board (CARB), a division of California's Environmental Protection Agency, which is wildly touting its new standards on diesel emissions that they claim will save thousands of lives. But Enstrom points out the new standards are void of any scientific rationale, since there is no association between diesel fuel emissions and mortality.

With such a long record at UCLA, Dr. Enstrom probably didn't think he would be fired for rightly pointing out that the lead author of the CARB Report had lied about his credentials. Instead of earning a doctorate in statistics from the University of California, Hien T. Tran obtained a Ph.D. by doling out $1,000 to "Thornhill University," a diploma mill.

Unlike my husband's phony diploma which caused only emotional heartburn to his relative, Tran's actions at CARB resulted in regulations so costly they could cripple the California trucking industry. This comes at a time when the Golden State, primarily due to unfunded union pensions, is crumbling into the dirt without help needed from anyone
Enstrom also had the gall to point out that many of the members on the CARB Scientific Review Panel on Toxic Air Contaminants had overstayed their 3-year limits by decades. (Some folks get really attached to their cushy positions of power.)

Just to drive home their displeasure, the environmental department faculty also denied Enstrom any further compensation for his work and had a ball raiding his research fund accounts. Doggedly, Enstrom stuck to his work schedule despite receiving no pay. Now that Enstrom's termination process has run its final course, David French of the American Center for Law and Justice is suing the university on the professor's behalf for violating his academic freedom of speech.

Dr. Michael Siegel, professor and associate chairman at Boston University's School of Public Health, said that what the UCLA department appears to be saying is "it's not the nature of Enstrom's research but the nature of his findings."

Why should we care? The new standards in California could be a forerunner of new national standards. That's a scary but not unlikely outcome. It's happened too often before to us inlanders.

Worse is what this action portends for scientific research and academic freedom as a whole. Sad as it is to see a fine career smashed, it's another thing to further water down standards for scientific inquiry. Thomas Sowell is fond of saying there is diversity everywhere at our universities except on the faculty. He's right.

In case you want to know what happened to Hein T. Tran, who faked his academic credentials by purchasing his worthless Ph.D., well, you can probably guess. He got a slap on the wrist. But CARB spokesman Stanley Young informs us that Tran's report was still used to "set the context for the health benefits of reducing diesel emissions" when CARB board members voted on the trucking regulations! The disgusting phony scientist was demoted, but his product became pivotal to legislation. Fengernails to the little creep.