TORTINI

For your delectation and delight, desultory dicta on the law of delicts.

Quackers & Cheese – Trump Picks Kennedy to Study Vaccine Safety

January 11th, 2017

Science necessarily involves a willingness to follow evidence to whatever conclusions are warranted, if conclusions properly can be had. When it comes to vaccination conspiracies, Democrats have it in their political DNA to distrust pharmaceutical companies that research, develop, and manufacture vaccines. The current Republican party, which has been commandeered by theocrats and populists, see vaccination as federal government aggrandizement, and resist vaccination policy as contrary to God’s will. Science is often the loser in the cross-fire.

And so we now have the public spectacle of watching the left and the right join in similar scientific apostasies. Consider how both McCain and Obama both suggested that vaccines and autism were related in the 2008 election. (Although both candidates were to some extent slippery in their suggestions, which might have been appropriate given how little they knew about the controversies.) And consider Michelle Bachmann was converted to a similar view about the HPV vaccine on the basis of a woman’s anecdote about her child. And then on the far left, you have the uplifting story of Robert F. Kennedy Jr, and his brief on how thimerosal supposedly causes autism.

So it should be no surprise that Donald Trump, a Birther, a Mirther, a mid-night Twitterer, should embrace the anti-vaccination movement. Trump has made it clear that he rejects evidence-based policy, and so no one should expect him to embrace a scientific policy that is driven by high-quality scientific evidence. According to Kennedy, Trump wants Kennedy to head up a “commission on vaccine safety and scientific integrity.” Michael D. Shear, Maggie Haberman & Pam Belluckjan, “Anti-Vaccine Activist Says Trump Wants Him to Lead Panel on Immunization Safety,” N.Y. Times (Jan. 10, 2017); Domenico Montanaro, “Despite The Facts, Trump Once Again Embraces Vaccine Skeptics,” National Public Radio (Jan. 10, 2017).

Who needs the National Academy of Medicine when you can put a yutzball lawyer in charge of a “commission”?

Some of the media refer to Robert F. Kennedy Jr. as a vaccine skeptic, but their terminology is grossly inaccurate and misleading. Kennedy is a vaccine denier; he has engaged in a vitriolic campaign against the safety and efficacy of vaccines. He has aligned himself with the most extreme deniers of science, medicine, and public safety, including the likes of Andrew Wakefield and Jenny McCarthy. Kennedy has not merely engaged hyperbolic rhetoric against vaccines, he has used his radio show on the lawsuit industry’s Ring of Fire, to advance his campaign against public health as well as to shill for the lawsuit industry on other issues. SeeRFK, Jr.: Science Shows That Autism — Mercury Link Exists – PT. ½,” Ring of Fire (Mar 8, 2011).

Kennedy should not be characterized as a skeptic, when he is a shrill ideologue, for whom science has no method that he is bound to respect. Back in July 2005, Kennedy published an article, “Deadly Immunity,” in both Rolling Stone and on Slate’s website. The article was a hateful screed against Big Pharma and government health agencies for an alleged conspiracy to hide the autism risks of thimerosal preservatives in vaccines. Several years later, on January 16, 2011, Salon retracted the article. Seehttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deadly_Immunity” entry in Wikipedia. See also Phil Plait, “Robert F. Kennedy Jr.: Anti-Vaxxer,” Slate (June 5 2013) (describing Kennedy as a full-blown anti-vaccination conspiracy theorist); Rahul K. Parikh, M.D., “Inside the vaccine-and-autism scare: A pediatrician traces the rise of the anti-vaccine movement that falsely linked thimerosal with autism and turned parents away from the most lifesaving medicine in history,” Salon (Sept. 22, 2008); Keith Kloor,Is Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Anti-Science?” Discover Magazine (June 1, 2013); Steven Novella, “RFK Jr.s Autism Conspiracy Theory,” (Jun 20 2007).

Back in 2008, President Obama apparently considered Robert Kennedy for a cabinet-level position, but on sober reflection, thought better of it. See Steven Novella, “Politics and Science – The RFK Jr. Test,” (Nov. 07 2008). The Wall Street Journal, joined by many others, are now urging Trump to think harder and better about the issue, perhaps with some evidence as well. See Alex Berezow & Hank Campbell, “Ignore Anti-Vaccine Hysteria, Mr. Trump: Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s conspiracy theories have no place in the White House,” Wall Street J. (Jan. 10, 2017).

Toward Better Definitions & Assessments of Conflicts of Interest in Science

October 13th, 2016

In capitalist and in communist societies, industry has a responsibility to conduct research on health and safety concerns. For corporate research to be credible, it should be methodologically sound, transparent, and available. So should non-corporate research.

In the United States and in Europe, much important research is done only by private corporate sponsors. Of course, private funding of research raises questions about potential conflicts of interest (COIs), but political frenzy over such COIs is a serious diversion often motivated by a desire to live in a faith-based world in which industry and chemicals are demonized far beyond what even precautionary principles would support. Susan Sarandon’s superstitions about the herbicide Round Up come to mind.

Although members of the Lobby, the Litigation Industry, and the environmental groups of the less rational kind frequently find their knickers in a knot over corporate scientific COIs, the fact is that publicly funded and self-styled “public interest” research is often afflicted by non-financial COIs that are more mind numbing than the anticipation of money.[1] Some groups, such as the Society of Toxicology, have implemented more complete definitions of COI to include advocacy and positional conflicts.[2]

Joseph Huggard recently posted an interesting piece at Innovative Science Solutions’ blog, on the need to “Follow the Science Not the Money,” to remind us of the first principle, that research should be evaluated primarily on its merits, and not on its perceived or imagined COIs. Huggard likens the current situation of proliferating ad hominem attacks to less talented footballer who approaches the game thinking “If you can’t play the ball, play the man.” (Or if you are Donald Trump, then play the ref.)

Huggard cites an interesting meta-observational study in which researchers attempted to obtain research protocols from epidemiologic studies on phthalate exposure. Not surprisingly, researchers who published studies that purported to find adverse associations involving phthalates were three times less likely to share their study protocols.[3] A request for study protocols is hardly an intrusive or difficult request to meet. Of course, there are “reasons,” such as researchers’ desire to privilege their methods when so-called positive studies will serve as stepping stones to funding for future studies, but future studies should be conditioned on making past protocols available, and the failure to share protocols generally is pretty dubious scientific behavior.

As grim as the situation has been in the United States, Huggard suggests that an upcoming Luxembourg Chamber of Commerce conference this week, on October 10th, will seek to redress the imbalance in European COI rhetoric by calling attention to the importance of non-financial conflicts and biases.[4] Let’s hope so, but the more likely outcome is that the Chamber of Commerce’s sponsorship will disqualify any conference recommendations among the “political scientists,” those who practice science to achieve political aims.


[1] Simon N. Young, “Bias in the research literature and conflict of interest: an issue for publishers, editors, reviewers and authors, and it is not just about the money,” 34 J. Psychiatry & Neurosci. 412 (2009) (positional conflicts, based upon prior beliefs, can create much more intractable bias than financial rewards). See also “Conflict Over Conflicts of Interest” (July 12, 2015); “Conflicts of Interest in Asbestos Studies – the Plaintiffs’ Double Standard” (Sept. 24, 2013); “Conflicted Public Interest Groups” (Nov 3, 2013).

[2] See, e.g., Society of Toxicology, Conflict of Interest, Bias and Advocacy: Definitions and Statements.

[3] Gerard M.H. Swaen, Miriam J.E. Urlings, and Maurice P. Zeegers, “Outcome reporting bias in observational epidemiology studies on phthalates,” 26 Ann. Epidemiol. 597E4 (2016)

[4] “Managing Bias and Conflict of Interest: Ensuring that Policy-Makers and Regulators Access the Best Quality Scientific Advice,” at the Chambre de Commerce Luxembourg, at 7, rue Alcide de Gasperi, Luxembourg (Kirchberg).

The LoGiudice Inquisitiorial Subpoena & Its Antecedents in N.Y. Law

July 14th, 2016

The plaintiffs’ bar’s inquisition into funding has been a recurring theme in the asbestos and other litigations.[1] It is thus interesting to compare the friendly reception Justice Moulton gave plaintiffs’ subpoena in LoGiudice[2] with the New York courts’ relatively recent hostility toward a defendant’s subpoena to Mt. Sinai School of Medicine.

A few years ago, Justice Sherry Heitler quashed a defendant’s attempt to subpoena information from the archives of a deceased, former faculty member of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine (“Mt. Sinai”), in Reyniak v. Barnstead Internat’l, No. 102688-08, 2010 NY Slip Op 50689, 2010 WL 1568424 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. Apr. 6, 2010). In a cursory opinion, Justice Heitler cited institutional expense, chilling of research, and scholars’ fears that their unpublished notes, ideas, and observations would become public as a result of litigation. Heitler relied upon and followed an earlier New York state court’s decision that adopted a rather lopsided “balancing” analysis, which permitted the New York courts to ignore the legitimate needs of defendants for access to underlying data.[3]

Remarkably, Justice Heitler failed to cite a federal appellate court’s subsequent decision, which upheld the tobacco companies’ subpoena to Mount Sinai.[4] Her opinion also ignored the important context of the asbestos litigation, in which Selikoff, long since deceased, played a crucial role in fomenting and perpetuating litigation, with tendentious publications and pronouncements. Some might say, “manufacturing certainty.” Perpetuating the Litigation Industry’s Selikoff mythology, Justice Heitler described Selikoff as a ground breaking asbestos researcher, but she either ignored, or was ignorant of, his testimonial adventures, his attempts to influence litigation with ex parte meetings with presiding judges, and his other questionable litigation-related conduct.

Selikoff’s participation in litigation was not always above board.  His supposedly ground-breaking work was funded by the insulator’s union, which also sought him out as a testifying expert witness. Among his many testimonial adventures,[5] Selikoff testified as early as 1966 that asbestos causes colorectal cancer, and that it caused a specific claimant’s colorectal cancer. See “Health Hazard Progress Notes: Compensation Advance Made in New York State,” 16(5) Asbestos Worker 13 (May 1966) (thanking Selikoff for his having given testimony to support an insulator’s claim that asbestos caused his colorectal cancer). To be sure, Selikoff made his litigation claims in the scientific literature as well, but without any acknowledgement of his involving in litigation involving this very issue, and his funding by the asbestos union.[6]

Given the dubious provenance of many of Selikoff’s opinions,[7] the disparate treatment of the subpoenas in LoGuidice and Reyniak is irreconcilable. The inflated prestige of Selikoff and Mount Sinai blinded the New York state trial courts to Selikoff’s role in litigation and his biased assessments in science. The judicial hypocrisy may well be the consequence of how the academic community has promoted Selikoff’s reputation, while working assiduously to undermine the reputations of anyone who has been connected with the defense of occupational disease claims. Consider, for instance, how Labor (Marxist) historians have railed against the role that Dr. Anthony Lanza played in personal injury litigation following the Gauley Bridge tunnel construction.  See Jock McCulloch and Geoffrey Tweedale, “Anthony J. Lanza, Silicosis and the Gauley Bridge ‘Nine’,” 27 Social History of Medicine 86 (2013). While these historians deplore Lanza, however, they laud Selikoff. SeeBritish Labor Historians Belaboring American Labor History – Gauley Bridge” (Oct. 14, 2013). Politics and occupational disease litigation are like that.


[1] See In re All Litigation filed by Maune, Raichle, Hartley, French & Mudd LLC v. 3M Co., No. 5-15-0235, Ill. App., 5th Dist.; 2016 Ill. App. Unpub. LEXIS 1392 (June 30, 2016); “Engineers for Automakers Must Unredact Agendas in Madison County Asbestos Litigation,” Madison County Record (July 2016); Lynn A. Lenhart, “Meeting Agendas Between Non-Party Consultant and Counsel for Asbestos Friction Clients Not Privileged” (July 5, 2016).  See also Weitz & Luxenberg P.C. v. Georgia-Pacific LLC, 2013 WL 2435565, 2013 NY Slip Op 04127 (June 6, 2013), aff’d, 2013 WL 2435565 (N.Y. App. Div., 1st Dep’t June 6, 2013); “A Cautionary Tale on How Not to Sponsor a Scientific Study for Litigation” (June 21, 2013).

[2] LoGiudice v. American Talc Co., No. 190253/2014, 2016 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 2360, (N.Y. Sup., N.Y. Cty., June 20, 2016).

[3] See In re R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., 136 Misc 2d 282, 285, 518 N.Y.S.2d 729 (Sup. Ct., N.Y. Cty. 1987); see also In re New York County Data Entry Worker Prod. Liab.Litig., No. 14003/92, 1994 WL 87529 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. N.Y. Cty. Jan 31, 1994) (denying discovery because “special circumstances,” vaguely defined were absent).

[4] Mount Sinai School of Medicine v. The American Tobacco Co., 866 F.2d 552 (2d Cir. 1889).

[5]Selikoff and the Mystery of the Disappearing Testimony” (Dec. 3, 2010).

[6] See, e.g., Irving J. Selikoff, “Epidemiology of gastrointestinal cancer,” 9 Envt’l Health Persp. 299 (1974) (arguing for his causal conclusion between asbestos and all gastrointestinal cancers).

[7] See generally Scientific Prestige, Reputation, Authority & The Creation of Scientific Dogmas” (Oct. 4, 2014); “Historians Should Verify Not Vilify or Abilify – The Difficult Case of Irving Selikoff” (Jan. 4, 2014).

LoGuidice v. American Talc Co. — Subpoenas to Investigate Funding

July 13th, 2016

Mickey Gunter is a University Distinguished Professor of Geological Sciences, at the University of Idaho. Gunter has long been involved in the mineralogical issues surrounding asbestos contamination and content.  He served as a member of an EPA review committee for World Trade Center dust screening method (2005), a member of an ATSDR expert panel on asbestos biomarkers (2006), and as a panel member and reviewer for the Institute of Medicine and National Research Council, Workshop on NIOSH research on asbestos and elongated mineral particles (2009). Gunter has been publishing on asbestos and asbestiform mineralogy for well over a decade.[1]

Gunter has testified for talc companies that have been dragged into mesothelioma litigation, based upon testing he conducted for Colgate-Palmolive [Colgate], starting in 2011.  In his testimony, Gunter has acknowledged that University employees and laboratories were involved in testing Colgate-Palmolive’s Cashmere Bouquet talcum powder for asbestos content and contamination. In addition to compensating Gunter, Colgate and others have contributed to the University of Idaho, and provided support for Gunter’s student assistant, Mr. Matthew Sanchez.

In a recent New York trial court ruling, Justice Peter H. Moulton refused a motion to quash plaintiff’s subpoena served on the University of Idaho, designed to obtain evidence to show that Colgate-Palmolive Company’s gifts to the University affected research that has become relevant to their claims that Colgate’s talcum powder was contaminated with asbestos. LoGiudice v. American Talc Co., No. 190253/2014, 2016 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 2360, (N.Y. Sup., N.Y. Cty., June 20, 2016).

The plaintiffs based their lawsuit on the conjecture that the exposure to Colgate-Palmolive’s talc must contain asbestos because the talc caused mesothelioma.  Somehow idiopathic mesothelioma and occult asbestos exposure magically disappear in the plaintiffs’ worldview.

The plaintiffs’ vacuous and circular arguments supposedly thus made their claim of financial bias relevant.  Plaintiff’s mesothelioma must have been caused by cosmetic talc, but Gunter’s and Sanchez’s test results found no asbestos in the talc the tested. Therefore, the test results were skewed by financial bias. There is no suggestion in Justice Moultin’s opinion to suggest that there was any error, omission, or misconduct involved in the analytical testing conducted by Professor Gunter and his assistant.

Without much real analysis, Justice Moulton found the subpoena-based inquiry into financial influence relevant and proper.  Gunter had testified about asbestos contamination in Cashmere Bouquet and conducted research, published articles, and given speeches[2] on the subject. With minor modifications to the plaintiffs’ subpoena, he denied Colgate’s motion to quash, and allowed the plaintiffs proceed with their investigation. What the disinterested observer might well miss is that Gunter’s views were well formed, articulated, and published in advance of his retention by Colgate in litigation.

Professor Gunter thus represents an example of a litigant’s (Colgate’s) seeking out a highly qualified scientist, with relevant expertise, in part based upon his previously stated views. To be sure, his testing results of the particular talc were not done and available until commissioned by Colgate, but Gunter’s sound views about what would count as an asbestos fiber, based upon mineralogical, scientific criteria (rather than arbitrary legal, regulatory criteria) were well known in advance of retention.


[1] See, e.g., B. D. McNamee, Mickey E. Gunter & C. Viti, “Asbestiform talc from a talc mine near Talcville, New York, U.S.A.:  composition, morphology, and genetic relationships with amphiboles,” Canadian Mineralogist (2016 in press); Bryan R. Bandli & Mickey E. Gunter, “Examination of asbestos standard reference materials, amphibole particles of differing morphology, and phase discrimination from talc ores using scanning electron microscopy and transmitted electron backscatter diffraction,” 20 Microscopy and Microanalysis 1805 (2014); B. D. McNamee & Mickey E. Gunter, “Compositional analysis and morphological relationships of amphiboles, talc, and other minerals found in the talc deposits from the Gouverneur Mining District, New York,” 61 The Microscope 147 ((2013) (part one); 62 The Microscope  3 (2014) (part two); Bryan R. Bandli & Mickey E. Gunter, “Mineral identification using electron backscatter diffraction from unpolished specimens:  Applications for rapid asbestos identification,” 61 The Microscope 37 (2013); M. R. Van Baalen, Brooke T. Mossman, Mickey E. Gunter & C.A. Francis, “Environmental geology of Belvidere Mt., Vermont,” in Westerman, D.S. and Lathrop, A.S. eds., Guidebook to Field Trips in Vermont and adjacent regions of New Hampshire and New York.  New England Intercollegiate Geological Conference, 101st Annual Meeting, B11-23 (2009); Mickey E. Gunter, “Asbestos sans mineralogy,”  5 Elements 141 (2009); D. M. Levitan, J. M. Hammarstrom, Mickey E. Gunter, R. R. Seal II, I. M. Chou & N. M. Piatak, “Mineralogy of mine waste at the Vermont Asbestos Group mine, Belvidere Mountain, Vermont,” 94 American Mineralogist 1063 (2009); Mickey E. Gunter, E. Belluso & A. Mottana, “Amphiboles:  Environmental and health concerns.  In Amphiboles:  Crystal Chemistry, Occurrences, and Health Concerns,” 67 Reviews in Mineralogy & Geochemistry 453 (2007).

[2] See, e.g., Mickey Gunter, Matthew Sanchez & Richard Van Orden, “Fibrous talc (ribbon talc/”kinky” talc),” at Talc Methods Expert Panel Meeting, United States Pharmacopeial Convention, Rockville, Maryland (June 28, 2016).