Secondhand Smokette has a good column out today that touches on an issue we have discussed often here at SHS–the politicization of science and academia–that is, the corruption of their core missions. The story in question concerns a California researcher who blew the whistle on a faulty environmental study run by a professor with falsified credentials that was used to justify hard regulations. Guess who got fired?
If you think that academia is not the exclusive playground of the academic left, consider the fate of UCLA epidemiologist James Enstrom. In 2008, Enstrom thought that a report on the health effects of diesel emissions presented by the California Air Resources Board was faulty. As it turns out, CARB’s nitrous oxide emission estimates were overstated by 340 percent. Enstrom and others had trouble believing that a Ph.D. statistician would make some of CARB’s findings. They dug around and found that CARB researcher Hien Tran had falsely claimed to have a doctorate in statistics from UC Davis. In fact, Tran had a master’s degree from UC Davis, but his doctorate came from an unaccredited school.
In February 2010, after renewing his research grants regularly since 1976, UCLA notified Enstrom that he had lost his funding. Unlike Tran, he would be out of a job. A July 2010 memo later informed Enstrom that Department of Environmental Health Sciences faculty had determined his work did not meet department requirements and “your research is not aligned with the academic mission of the Department.”
Not aligned with the academic mission? That reads like academic-speak for “politically incorrect.” Enstrom has little doubt that UCLA cut his cord because he was a CARB whistle-blower. Worse, his 2005 study on the health effects of fine particulate matter essentially found that the diesel exhaust has slight, if any effect, on premature death. “The timing is almost unmistakable because I had essentially no problems for a position that started July 1, 1976,” Enstrom told me over the phone. “This is extremely dangerous for academic freedom and scientific integrity.”
Maybe the critics are right. Or maybe that’s how they always go after conservatives. It’s not simply that they disagree, it’s that the scientist in question doesn’t meet this hallowed academic standard that is rarely if ever applied to left-leaning scientists/activists. They believe in academic freedom, but that doesn’t mean they should have to tolerate dissent.
I’ll be a little less nuanced: “Science” is now politics as often as it is real science. I have seen it with people I know. The academy no longer promotes true academic freedom–only arguing around the edges of the required core dogmas. The fix is often in and woe betide heterodox thinkers. They can go sell shoes.
This is just one individual example of how science has become corrupted and why huge swaths of people have lost trust in the sector. And that’s too bad because good science gets lumped in with the ideological variety. But when a falsifier receives far less sanction than the punishment meted out to the exposer, you know something is rotten in Denmark.