TORTINI

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

Succès de scandale – With Thanks to Rosner & Markowitz

March 26th, 2017

for there is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.”

Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890)

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Some years ago, I co-chaired a Mealey’s conference on silicosis litigation. When plaintiffs’ counsel participate in such events, they are usually trolling for business, and jockeying for position on litigation steering committees. Ethical defense counsel are looking to put themselves out of business. My goal at the conference was to show that there was no there, there, so don’t go there. Mostly, the history of the litigation has proven me correct. In the early years of the 21st century, there were well over 10,000 cases pending. Now, there are just a hand full of pending cases. Very little money has been given to plaintiffs’ counsel; almost no sand companies have gone bankrupt.

At that Mealey’s conference, I presented a paper, which I later allowed Mealey’s to publish in its Silica Reporter. The paper became something of a “succès de scandale,” at least in getting under the skin of the Marxist historians, David Rosner and Gerald Markowitz, whom I took to task. In at least four of their publications, they have attempted unsuccessfully to rebut my arguments, and to criticize me for making them.1 At a meeting of the Committee on Science, Technology and the Law, of the National Academies of Science, I found myself presenting alongside Markowitz, on access to underlying study data. Markowitz played the victim of legal counsel’s subpoenas to his publisher for peer review comments in vinyl chloride, which grew out of his participation in the vinyl chloride litigation as an expert witness.2

I was on the panel for having served a subpoena upon Dr. Brad Racette for the underlying data of a study of parkinsonism in welders, with support in the form of the financial largesse of felon Richard Scruggs. Rosner was at this meeting only as a spectator, but he did not miss the opportunity, at a break, to get in my face, with the obvious intent of bullying me, with warnings that I would regret having ever written about them.

Back in 2007, the lawsuit-industry funded SKAPP conducted a conference, at which Rosner presented. I was not present, but a friend wrote me later, “Boy, does Rosner not like you. You steal a puppy from him or something?” When I presented at the Fourth International Conference on the History of Occupational and Environmental Health, in 2010, Rosner repeated his Middlebury behavior. As soon as I finished my talk, he rushed for the microphone and filibustered the entire question and answer period.3 I would chalk this up to fascisti of the left, except the very nice socialist historian who chaired my panel apologized profusely afterwards.

In a revised edition of one of their historical potboilers, Rosner and Markowitz repeated their calumny:

It was not just the lead and chemical industries that saw our book and the evidence we presented as a threat. Nathan Schachtman, an attorney with the Philadelphia-based firm McCarter & English, and who defended companies sued for ‘exposures to allegedly toxic substances, including asbestos, benzene, cobalt isocyanates, silica and solvents’, also published an attack on us in Mealey’s Litigation Report: Silica, titled, ‘On Deadly Dust and Histrionic Historians’. In his attack on our earlier book, Deadly Dust, a history of the devastating lung disease silicosis, he accused us of writing a ‘jeremiad’ that ‘resonates to the passions and prejudices of the last century’. He took us to task for our ‘prejudice’ that ‘silicosis results from the valuation of profits over people’ and admonished us to point out the higher rates of silicosis in Communist countries. ‘They [the authors] fairly consistently excuse or justify the actions of labor… . They excoriate the motives and actions of industry’. But Schachtman’s true agenda emerged in the middle of his third paragraph. ‘We could safely leave the fate of Rosner’s and Markowitz’s historical scholarship to their community of academicians and historians if not for one discomforting fact,’ he wrote. ‘The views of Rosner and Markowitz have become part of the passion play that we call silicosis litigation.’16

Schachtman seemed to be saying that as long as academics speak only to one another and had no influence beyond academia, they can be tolerated. But once they begin to affect that wider world, they need to be put back in their place. All this despite the fact that, at the time of Schachtman’s piece, more than a decade after the publication of Deadly Dust in 1991, each of us had appeared on the stand in only one case.”4

Rosner and Markowitz get virtually everything wrong, but one factoid may have been true. As of 1991, Rosner and Markowitz had perhaps only “appeared on the stand in only one case,” but by the time I wrote the article in 2005, the Marxist duo had been listed as expert witnesses in hundreds, if not thousands, of cases. The language quoted above appeared in an “Epilogue” to a 2013 publication, by which time Rosner and Markowitz each had testified over a dozen times, as professional historian “arguers.” Only Markowitz testified in vinyl chloride cases, from what I can make out, but the two of them testified in many silica, asbestos, and lead cases by the time they published their Epilogue.

One obvious point is that Rosner and Markowitz are both rather disingenuous in portraying themselves as innocent academics without connections to the lawsuit industry. In their world, they seek victim status to hide their long-standing partisanship in litigation issues. The real point, however, is that Rosner and Markowitz have never rebutted my arguments that silicosis was worse for workers in East Germany, the Soviet Union, Maoist China, under communist rule than it was in the post-1935 era in the United States. Unlike the rising incidence of asbestosis, the incidence of silicosis in the United States has steadily and significantly declined after World War II. Indeed, the Centers for Disease Control has held up the control of silicosis as one of the ten great public achievements in 20th century United States.5 SeeRamazzini Serves Courtroom Silica Science Al Dente” (July 25, 2015) (showing CDC data on declining silicosis incidence in the United States, against the rising trend in asbestosis incidence).


1 To date I have found four articles that dwell on the issue. See D. Rosner & G. Markowitz, “The Trials and Tribulations of Two Historians:  Adjudicating Responsibility for Pollution and Personal Harm, 53 Medical History 271, 280-81 (2009); D. Rosner & G. Markowitz, “L’histoire au prétoire.  Deux historiens dans les procès des maladies professionnelles et environnementales,” 56 Revue D’Histoire Moderne & Contemporaine 227, 238-39 (2009); David Rosner, “Trials and Tribulations:  What Happens When Historians Enter the Courtroom,” 72 Law & Contemporary Problems 137, 152 (2009); David Rosner & Gerald Markowitz, “The Historians of Industry” Academe (Nov. 2010).

2 Markowitz was excluded in at least one case in which he was disclosed as a testifying expert witness. Quester v. B.F. Goodrich Co., Case No. 03-509539, Court of Common Pleas for Cuyahoga Cty., Ohio, Order Sur Motion to Exclude Dr. Gerald Markowitz (Sweeney, J.).

3 Nathan Schachtman & John Ulizio, “Courting Clio:  Historians and Their Testimony in Products Liability Action,” in: Brian Dolan & Paul Blanc, eds., At Work in the World: Proceedings of the Fourth International Conference on the History of Occupational and Environmental Health, Perspectives in Medical Humanities, University of California Medical Humanities Consortium, University of California Press (2012); Schachtman, “On Deadly Dust & Histrionic Historians 041904,”; How Testifying Historians Are Like Lawn-Mowing Dogs” (May 15, 2010); A Walk on the Wild Side (July 16, 2010); Counter Narratives for Hire (Dec. 13, 2010); Historians Noir (Nov. 18, 2014).

4 Gerald Markowitz and David Rosner, Deceit and Denial: The Deadly Politics of Industrial Pollution at 313-14 (U. Calif. rev. ed. 2013). Footnote 16 was a reference to Nathan A. Schachtman, “On Deadly Dust and Histrionic Historians: Preliminary Thoughts on History and Historians as Expert Witnesses,” 2 Mealey’s Silica Litigation Report Silica 1, 2 (November 2003). Their language quoted above was largely self-plagiarized from Gerald Markowitz and David Rosner, “The Historians of Industry” (Nov. – Dec. 2010). 

5 CDC, “Ten Great Public Health Achievements — United States, 1900-1999,” 48 Morbidity & Mortality Weekly Report 241 (April 02, 1999).

Mercola’s Middlebury Moment – Conflicts of Interest As Distraction from the Merits

March 11th, 2017

Joseph Mercola is an osteopathic physician, who is possession of alternative facts about alternative medicine, which no doubt come from alternative science in an alternative universe. He is a conspiracy theorist who sees government, the media, and the scientific community as engaged in a vast conspiracy to stand in the way of his alternative truths.1

In his alternative world, vaccines kill, timerosal and milk2 cause autism, fluoridation3 and cell phones cause cancer. On his path to alternative health and wellbeing, Mercola has made millions selling and promoting dubious “health foods”; he has also found himself on the alternative side of the law, particularly with the FDA4 and the FTC5.

Mercola is an entrepreneurial physician, who hawks untested “natural health” products, while bashing licensed, tested pharmaceuticals. Mercola may not be the most honest broker of scientific information6, and so it seems inappropriate when he lobbies for the silencing of scientific discussion and debate.

In a web post this week, Mercola claimed that the newspaper USA Today,had been ridiculed for a column by an “industry front group.”7 This was a bit of fake news from Mercola; the event he referenced actually involved an attempt by environmental activist groups8 to silence speech that they disagreed with. The speaker to be silenced was the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH). No ridicule was involved; only accusations of undisclosed funding from self-styled public interest groups, which themselves do not disclose their funding sources in their letter.9

The President of the ACSH, Hank Campbell, responded with a rebuttal to this Middlebury Maneuver10, which is worth reading.11 Campbell eloquently makes three points. First, the accusers have serious conflicts of interest, both financial and positional, themselves. Second, the crucial issue in a scientific debate is the evidence, its quality, and its ability to warrant valid inferences. The “Lobby” wants to silence speech, but has nothing to offer on the merits of any scientific issue, except politically correct, subjective opinion. Third, the Lobby ignores that the ACSH has taken stands on health issues against many the pecuniary interests of corporations; indeed it has taken one of the strongest anti-smoking stances of any advocacy group. Campbell’s rebuttal is a powerful reminder that scientific disagreements cannot be won by bullying opponents into silence.


2 Joseph Mercola, “Milk linked to autism, schizophrenia,” Optimal Wellness Center Website (Mar .21, 1999; archived Jan. 2, 2008).

3 See, e.g., A. Mesh, “Dr Joseph Mercola gives $15,000 to anti-flouride campaign,” Williamette Week (May 6, 2013); Joseph Mercola, “Is fluoride as safe as you are told,” Optimal Wellness Center Website (Feb 2, 6, and 9, 2002); Mercola, the Sun, Tanning Beds, and Melanoma (Skeptic’s Dictionary Newsletter)

4 Susan J. Walker, Director, Division of Dietary Supplement Programs, “Warning letter to Joseph Mercola, D.O.,” (Feb 16, 2005) (Ref. No. CL-04-HFS-810-134 ); Scott J. MacIntire, District Director, “Warning letter to Joseph Mercola, D.O.,” (Sept. 21, 2006); Steven Silverman, Director, Office of Compliance, Center for Devices and Radiological Health, “Warning letter to Dr. Joseph Mercola,” (Mar. 22, 2011); see also Trine Tsouderos, “FDA warns doctor: Stop touting camera as disease screening tool,” Chicago Tribune (April 26, 2011); Stephen Barrett, “Dr. Joseph Mercola Ordered to Stop Illegal Claims,” Quackwatch (Jan. 9, 2017).

6 See Kate Knibbs, “The Most Honest Man in Medicine?” The Ringer (Jan. 5, 2017); Brian Smith, “Dr Mercola: Visionary or quack?” Chicago Magazine (Feb. 12, 2012).

7 Joseph Mercola, “USA Today Ridiculed for Column by Industry Front Group,” (Mar. 07, 2017).

8 Alaska Community Action on Toxics; Beyond Toxics; Breast Cancer Action; Breast Cancer Fund; Californians for Pesticide Reform; Center for Biological Diversity; Center for Food Safety; Citizens’ Environmental Coalition; Clean and Healthy New York Community Science Institute; Empire State Consumer Project; Farmworker Association of Florida; Friends of the Earth – US; Greenpeace; HavenBMedia; Healthy Building Network; Health Care Without Harm; Learning Disabilities Association of Maine; Made Safe Organic Consumers Association; Pesticide Action Network North America; Real Food Media; The 5 Gyres Institute; US Right to Know; Vermont Public Interest Research Group; Women’s Voices for the Earth; Ann Blake, PhD, Environmental & Public Health Consulting; Josh Freeman, MD (Emeritus Chair of Family Medicine, University of Kansas School of Medicine); Matthew Anderson, MD (Associate Professor, Dept. of Family and Social Medicine, Montefiore Medical Center); Martin Donohoe, MD, FACP (Adjunct Faculty, School of Community Health, Portland State University; Board of Advisors, Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility).

10 Addison County Independent,Middlebury College professor injured by protesters as she escorted controversial speaker” (Mar. 6, 2017); Editorial Board, “Smothering Speech at Middlebury,” N.Y. Times (Mar. 7, 2017); Katharine Q. Seelye, “Protesters Disrupt Speech by ‘Bell Curve’ Author at Vermont College,” N.Y. Times (Mar. 3, 2017).

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).