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

Two Schools of Thought for Warning Standards

September 19th, 2020

In products liability litigation over designs and warnings, a supplier or manufacturer is typically held to the knowledge and expertise of an expert in the relevant field. Experts, especially in the early days of understanding a newly identified putative risk, may disagree on the quality and quantity of evidence in support of the claimed risk. And of course they may dispute whether the claimed risk exists at all, or the criteria by which the risk should be established. Unfortunately, the law offers little help in answering the obvious question of which expert or group of experts, and which criteria, of all the experts and criteria in the world, are the appropriate reference standards. The point of adverting to experts is, no doubt, that the law knows nothing about causal claims unless there is admissible and sufficient evidence of the risk, typically from a qualified expert, serving as an expert witness, who proffers an opinion about causal claim.

The standard formulation evades the necessity of confronting the epistemic standard for knowledge of the risk by pointing to some expert’s or group of experts’ opinion. Rather than looking directly at whether the causal claim is “true, justified belief,” the law asks whether expert witnesses hold such opinions. This maneuver has several inherent risks of its own. First, it transmutes factfinding into an exercise in the sociology or sampling of expert witnesses. In the case of claims that involve long latencies between the exposure to the putative risk and the manifestation of harm, this sociological exercise becomes one of intellectual history. One of the reasons that the Frye standard was so difficult in practice was its insistence that courts ascertain whether a particular claim or a use of scientific device was “generally accepted.” The assessment of the relevant expert’s knowledge of risk has generally not gone well in litigation contexts. Second, the maneuver of looking to experts’ opinions introduces a different kind of risk; that is, the maneuver risks diluting the standard for warning, “knowledge and expertise” to subjective opinion, hunches, conjecture, and the like.

An analogue of the standard for warning of risks may be found in the law of medical malpractice. Historically, American law relied heavily upon generally held opinions as the measure of knowledge, which were incorporated into standards of reasonable professional care. The law that governs litigation over the quality of medical care in many states resolves this issue by providing a defense under the “Two Schools of Thought Doctrine.”[1] A physician does not deviate from the standard of care simply because many or even most physicians reject the approach he or she took in the care and treatment of the aggrieved patient’s problem. As long as a substantial minority of physicians would have concurred in the judgment of the defendant physician, the claim of malpractice fails.

Pennsylvania confronted the nose-counting problem in Jones v. Chidester, by passing the buck to the jury. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that a physician would escape liability if his medical treatment received the support of a “considerable number” of medical experts.[2] The court allocated to the jury the factual determination how many recognized and respected medical experts were needed to create a “school of thought,” but it left completely unclear how a jury would make such a determination.[3]

The law’s lassitude in relying upon professional custom and opinion, rather than whether the custom had sound evidentiary and methodological foundations, might be taken as deference to, and protection of, the medical profession. Or, less charitably, this reliance might be taken as intellectual laziness to avoid engagement with the intellectual basis for the custom or the school of thought. Indeed, the continuing validity of the “nose-counting” approach may certainly be questioned in the era of “evidence-based medicine,” which rejects custom as the basis for medical interventions in favor of the novelty of evidence itself.[4]

If the Two Schools Doctrine should be good law, it has obvious implications for the standard of design or warning in products cases, as well as for the standard of causation. How can a judge or jury impose liability upon a manufacturer for failing to warn about a risk that “a school of thought” among scientists believes is not a risk? An even more extreme disparity arises when the jury or judge comes to the belief that a manufacturer deserves to be punished for failing to warn about supposed risks when many scientists and even regulators do not believe exist.

It is a mystery.

[1]        See, e.g., MacDonald v. United States, 767 F. Supp. 1295, 1308 (M.D. Pa. 1991) (outlining the history and development of the two-schools doctrine under Pennsylvania law); Young v. United States, 574 F. Supp. 571, 581 (D. Del. 1983) (holding that medical profession’s acceptance of alternative appropriate remedies is a complete defense to claim of negligence for failing to use another remedy);  Scheuler v. Strelinger, 204 A.2d 577, 204 A.2d 577, 585  (1964).

[2]        Jones v. Chidester, 531 Pa. 31, 610 A.2d 964, 967 (1992).

[3]        See, e.g., Dailey, “The Two Schools of Thought and Informed Consent Doctrine in Pennsylvania,” 98 Dickenson L. Rev. 713 (1994); Douglas Rader Brown, “Panacea or Pandora’s Box: The ‘Two Schools of Medical Thought’ Doctrine after Jones v. Chidester, 610 A.2d 964 (Pa. 1992),” 44 J. Urban & Contemp. Law 223 (1993).

[4]           See Terence M. Davidson & Christopher P. Guzelian, “Evidence-Based Medicine (EBM): The (Only) Means for Distinguishing Knowledge of Medical Causation from Expert Opinion in the Courtroom,” 47 Trial & Insur. Prac. L. J. 741 (2012) (discussing the advent of evidence-based medicine and its implications for medical education an practice).

Big Blue versus Asbestos Fiber Type Egalitarianism

July 16th, 2020

The differential potency for causing mesothelioma among asbestos varieties is well established. In the year 2000, John Hodgson of the Epidemiology and Medical Statistics Unit, in the British Health and Safety Executive, published an analysis of the relative potency for different asbestos minerals. The published analysis showed that the estimated ratio of excess mesothelioma mortality for the same exposure in fiber/milliliter – years was 1:100:500 for chrysotile, amosite and crocidolite, respectively.[1] The analysis was recently updated by David Garabrant, who charitably considered some mixed exposure cohorts as chrysotile only,[2] with the result of slightly less extreme relative risks for amosite and crocidolite.[3]

The lawsuit industry’s expert witnesses have long been afraid to acknowledge the differential potency of chrysotile (with or without tremolite contamination) and the commercial amphibole fibers, amosite and crocidolite.[4] Why? First, by lumping the fiber types together, they obtain risk ratios for mesothelioma for all workers, regardless of the nature of their specific exposures. Their quest to seek compensation and obtain bans of all asbestos works better by simplification and exaggeration of risk. Second, they knew in the early days of the asbestos litigation in the United States that the South African amphibole suppliers were beyond the reach of courts and litigants in American courts. They were alert to the litigation risk that the Canadian mining companies would escape liability because the overwhelming bulk of the risk derived from South African amphibole fiber. Later cases involved chrysotile-only products that did not cause the level of exposures seen from friable insulation and cloth materials. A differential in risk for low-exposure chrysotile products raised serious questions whether such products could contribute substantially to a given case of mesothelioma, for which there was also exposure to amosite and crocidolite. Interestingly, some companies, concerned about losing contribution from low-exposure chrysotile products, took similar positions. Third, the exaggerated risks of all fibers helps advance their “each and every fiber” (or cumulative) causation theory, which they invoke to claim that even fleeting exposures from asbestos-containing products are “substantial contributing factors.” Consider how that argument goes when one product is akin to drinking 750 ml. of whiskey, and another is the equivalent of 1.5 ml. A man drinks a fifth of whiskey at one bar, and a thimble full of whiskey at the second. Most juries can see that the thimble was not substantial factor in contributing to the man’s drunkenness. Still, if you were the company that sold the whole bottle, you would love to have the thimble seller pay a 50% share; no? If you were the drunkard, and the seller of the bottle of whiskey was now a “bankruptcy trust,” obtaining a pro-rate share against the thimble seller would be lovely.

The extent to which crocidolite asbestos contributed to the horrific burden of mesothelioma was muddled by the writings of Irving John Selikoff. Before Selikoff wrote anything about any asbestos type and cancer, in 1960, in a remarkable case series, Christopher Wagner and colleagues showed a strong relationship between mesothelioma and crocidolite (blue) asbestos. Selikoff may not have had any first-hand knowledge of the unique potency of “big blue,” but he had been a regular testifier in workman’s compensation cases for UNARCO (Union Asbestos & Rubber Company) workers throughout the 1950s.[5]

In a 1965 volume, which Selikoff edited, of proceedings of a 1965 conference, which which Selikoff chaired, Selikoff presented United States Department of Commerce statistics that showed for six years reported (1957-1962), crocidolite imports exceeded amosite imports.[6] In that same year, 1965, in a prominent article in the New England Journal of Medicine, Selikoff played down the role in causing mesotheliomas in the United States.[7]

“Crocidolite is a relative newcomer to the American asbestos-industry scheme. Thus, American imports of crocidolite (none is mined here) were less than 500 tons in 1935 and had reached a level of only 20,000 tons even in 1962. In contrast, chrysotile, the type of asbestos fiber widely used in the American asbestos industry, was imported at a level of 165,000 tons in 1935 and 650,000 tons in 1962.5

Selikoff thus chose to paint the mesothelioma problem as a dichotomy between blue asbestos and chrysotile, while leaving amosite out of the analysis completely. Indeed, the word “amosite” (or the word grunerite) does not appear in the New England Journal of Medicine article .

Aside from misleadingly framing the South Africa experience as limited to blue asbestos, and the United States experience as somehow limited to chrysotile, Selikoff presented the import statistics for amosite and crocidolite in a rather confusing way. In 1972, Selikoff presented a more revealing set of statistics about amphibole fiber imports, in the context of discussing whether amosite was carcinogenic (despite testifying in the UNARCO cases two decades earlier):

“Few data exist concerning the comparative neoplastic potential of the several kinds of asbestos in man. Some information is available for chrysotile,4 crocidolite,5 and anthophyllite.6 However, there has been no evidence to indicate whether or not the amosite variety is also carcinogenic.”[8]

Selikoff went on, in this 1972 article, to present more complete data on fiber type consumption in the United States, although still only estimates:

The 1972 article raises interesting questions about Selikoff’s own testimony in the 1950s New Jersey workman’s compensation cases on behalf of UNARCO workers.  Table 1, reproduced above from Selikoff’s 1972 article, also throws considerable doubt upon generalizations about what fiber types were commercially used by insulators and others throughout the 20th century, in the United States. We can see that for 1920 and 1925, there is an “other” category, which could be virtually anything, and no data about South African fibers, which could mean none or it could mean simply no data available. In 1930, 1935, and 1940, there are data for crocidolite and amosite combined. Throughout the 1930s, the “other” category grew considerably, introducing serious ambiguity and doubt into Selikoff’s argument. Selikoff’s 1965 article in the New England Journal of Medicine gave a distorted view of the supply issue, but to my knowledge, it has never been corrected.

From Table 1, above, we see crocidolite and amosite data segregated for the first time in 1945. And for that year, the supply of crocidolite (8,700 tons) was almost twice that of amosite (4,500 tons). There was certainly no warrant for claiming that insulators and American factory workers had no amosite or crocidolite exposure before and after World War II.

While these confusions were being put forward, other countries were acting to control the occupational hazards of asbestos by differentially banning crocidolite, and imposing stricter controls on chrysotile. Selikoff led the United States in a different direction. The photograph and text below is from the May 1966 issue of the Port of Houston Magazine, showing how blue asbestos was continuing to invade the United States, while Selikoff and many of his colleagues were pointing to chrysotile.

Port of Houston Magazine 21 (May 1966)

In a 1968 conference presentation, with the benefit of hindsight, Selikoff addressed the issue of the forseeability of widespread asbestos disease:

“At the outset of this presentation, I questioned whether asbestos might properly be included as an unanticipated environmental hazard. Yet the less iconoclastic among us might have countered with: it must have been-we could not have knowingly allowed this to come to pass! Surely the explanation lies in the length of the period that elapses between exposure and disease which kept us from really knowing the problem until now.

Perhaps so. Indeed, I do not share the demonological theory of industrial hygiene history, in which industry is seen as callously exchanging human disease for profits. Rather, I would say industry shared the ignorance and lethargy of us all. The answer will come in these next several years. We have some reason for optimism. First, we have the law of averages on our side-sooner or later, some important environmental hazard is bound to be controlled. I suspect asbestos will be one. We have reason to believe that the dose-disease relationship is on our side-to the present, disease has been uncommon except with significant exposure. And our data suggest further that such significant exposure can be prevented, that we can learn to live and work with asbestos. All it will take is the doing -but herein lies another tale.”[9]

Selikoff’s position was especially generous to manufacturers who had used crocidolite after 1960, when Wagner alerted the community to para-occupational mesothelioma cases from blue asbestos exposure. Selikoff’s dismissal of the problem of blue asbestos as somehow a problem of English workers allowed the reality of blue asbestos use to be ignored, and then hidden with the myth of equal potency among all asbestos types. Twenty years after Selikoff’s New England Journal of Medicine article, no less an authority than Dr. Harriet Hardy would refer to mesothelioma as

 “A fatal malignancy [mesothelioma] associated with inhalation of a single form (crocidolite) of asbestos invaded the chest wall (pleura) and/or the abdominal wall.”[10]

It is time to acknowledge the harm caused by asbestos fiber type egalitarianism.

[1]  John T. Hodgson & Andrew A. Darnton, “The quantitative risks of mesothelioma and lung cancer in relation to asbestos exposure,” 14 Ann. Occup. Hygiene 565 (2000).

[2]  Misty J Hein, Leslie T Stayner, Everett Lehman & John M Dement, “Follow-up study of chrysotile textile workers: cohort mortality and exposure-response,” 64

Occup. & Envt’l Med. 616 (2007).

[3]  David H. Garabrant & Susan T. Pastula, “A comparison of asbestos fiber potency and elongate mineral particle (EMP) potency for mesothelioma in humans,” 361 Toxicology & Applied Pharmacol. 127 (2018) (“relative potency of chrysotile:amosite:crocidolite was 1:83:376”). See also D. Wayne Berman & Kenny S. Crump, “Update of Potency Factors for Asbestos-Related Lung Cancer and Mesothelioma,” 38(S1) Critical Reviews in Toxicology 1 (2008).

[4]  “Playing Hide the Substantial Factors in Asbestos Litigation” (Sept. 27, 2011); “Selikoff and the Mystery of the Disappearing Amphiboles” (Dec. 10. 2010).

[5]  “Historians Should Verify Not Vilify or Abilify – The Difficult Case of Irving Selikoff” (Jan. 4, 2014); “Selikoff and the Mystery of the Disappearing Testimony” (Dec. 3, 2010).

[6]  App. 3, Statistical Tables – Asbestos, prepared by T. May, United States Bureau of Mines, in I.J. Selikoff & J. Churg, eds., “Biological Effects of Asbestos,” 132 Ann. N.Y. Acad. Sci. at 753, Table 17 (1965).

[7]  Irving J. Selikoff, Jacob Churg, and E. Cuyler Hammond, Relation Between Exposure to Asbestos and Mesothelioma, 272 New Engl. J. Med. 560 (1965).

[8]  Irving John Selikoff, E. Cuyler Hammond & Jacob Churg, “Carcinogenicity of Amosite Asbestos,” 25 Arch. Envt’l Health 183, 183 (1972). The article contains no disclosure of conflicts of interest, despite Selikoff’s testifying role in UNARCO and other asbestos cases for claimants.

[9]  Irving John Selikoff, “Asbestos” 11 Environment 3, 7 (Mar. 1969) (presented at the Symposium on “Unanticipated Environmental Hazards Resulting from Technological Intrusions,” held by the American Association for the Advancement of Science Committee on Science in the Promotion of Human Welfare and the Scientists’ Institute for Public Information, at Dallas, Texas, on Dec. 28, 1968).

[10]  Harriet Hardy, M.D., Challenging Man-Made Disease:  The Memoirs of Harriet L. Hardy, M.D. 95 (1983). See alsoHarriet Hardy’s Views on Asbestos Issues” (Mar. 13, 2013).

More Rosner & Markowitz Faux History of Workplace Safety

July 9th, 2020

Historians, often of the subspecies social, labor, or Marxist, have frequently been recruited by the lawsuit industry to support their litigation efforts. One such historian, David Rosner, sometimes with his friend Gerald Markowitz, seems to show up everywhere, including the infamous Ingham case, in which he served largely as a compurgator and moralist.

Given the role that such historians are permitted to play in high-stakes litigation, it is important to look at their more professional work in the journals for insights into their methodology. A couple of years ago, David Rosner and Gerald Markowitz, published a story about governmental regulation of workplace safety before the passage of the Occupational Health and Safety Act in 1970.[1] Their article is an interesting case study of how to bias an historical analysis by leaving out material facts, a modus operandi in their litigation work as well.

The abstract gives a brief flavor of their tendentious narrative:

“The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 and the Workers Right to Know laws later in that decade were signature moments in the history of occupational safety and health. We have examined how and why industry leaders came to accept that it was the obligation of business to provide information about the dangers to health of the materials that workers encountered. Informing workers about the hazards of the job had plagued labor–management relations and fed labor disputes, strikes, and even pitched battles during the turn of the century decades. Industry’s rhetorical embrace of the responsibility to inform was part of its argument that government regulation of the workplace was not necessary because private corporations were doing it.”

The authors attempt to tell a one-sided story that only “voluntary” warnings were assumed by employers before OSHA, without the force of law. The enterprise perpetuates a common myth of plaintiffs’ advocates that pre-OSHA occupational safety was based upon employers’ voluntary assumption of responsibility, and that it was not until the passage of the OSH Act that employers were subject to legal obligations to warn.

In terms of scholarship, Rosner and Markowitz break no new ground; indeed, the topic was presented with more historical acumen by scientists in an article that predated the Rosner and Markowitz article by a decade.[2] More damning, however, the historians laureate of the plaintiffs’ bar contradict their thesis that manufacturers had only voluntary commitments to their worker safety by pointing to the law of the 1930s, which placed a common law duty of care on employers:

“As one judge in the New Jersey Supreme Court opined at the time, ‘It was the duty of the defendant company to exercise reasonable care that the place in which it set the deceased at work . . . should be reasonably safe for the plaintiff, and free from latent dangers known to the defendant company, or discoverable by an ordinary prudent master, under the circumstances’.”[3]

Of course, legal historians are well aware that there has been a common law duty of reasonable care owed by “masters” (employers) to their “servants” (employees), including a duty to protect them from occupational hazards such as overexposure to dusts, including respirable crystalline silica.[4] There was nothing voluntary about the common law duty.

What makes Rosner and Markowitz’s account egregiously wrong is its complete omission of the extensive state governmental regulation of occupational exposures in advance of OSHA. Taking New York (where Rosner and Markowitz live and teach) as an example, we can see that the state had occupied the field of regulating workplace safety many decades before the enactment of OSHA.

The industrial use of crystalline silica provides an example of a “hot” issue in early 20th century industrial hygiene.  Initial efforts in New York state, starting as early as 1913, focused on the most prevalent industrial exposures, such as foundries, where whole grain and ground silica was used in metal casting and cleaning. New York’s long-recognized common law duty of employers to provide a safe workplace was statutorily codified in 1921.[5] By 1935, silicosis became a compensable disease under New York law, in all industrial settings.

New York’s efforts to protect industrial workers from silica exposure achieved national recognition in 1940, when LIFE magazine published a description of measures taken by the state to safeguard workers on an 85-mile tunnel aqueduct project. The project required thousands of workers to drill through quartzite rock (composed of almost entirely of crystalline silica). Intent on avoiding a repeat of the Hawk’s Nest tragedy, the state imposed safety measures on the project, including wet drilling, elaborate ventilation, and air sampling. LIFE declared the New York state precautions to be “[a] triumph of preventative medicine.”[6]

New York courts also have been in the forefront of recognizing the hazards of silica exposure, and addressing the legal implications of knowledge of those hazards. In 1944, New York’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, held, in a silicosis personal injury case, that:

“[i]t is a matter of common knowledge that it is injurious to the lungs and dangerous to health to work in silica dust, a fact which defendant was bound to know.”[7]

From the 1950s on, New York comprehensively regulated the use of crystalline silica in the industrial workplace. In 1956, New York promulgated “Industrial Code Rule No. 12 – Control of Air Contaminants,” which governed “all processes and operations releasing or disseminating air contaminants in any workroom or work space” (§ 12.1), and clearly defined the employer’s duties to protect workers, regardless of the industry sector or manufacturing process.

Silica was specifically covered by these 1956 regulations. Section 12.2 of the Rule, “Responsibility of employers,” requires:

“Every employer shall observe and effect compliance with the provisions of this rule relating to prevention of air contamination and to providing, installing, operating and maintaining control or protective equipment, and shall instruct his employees as to the hazards of their work, the use of such control or protective equipment and their responsibility for complying with this rule.”

Section 12.25 specifically identified industrial processes that create “air contaminants,” such as free silica.

New York law imposed correlative obligations upon workers. Under § 12.3, the employee’s responsibility was to use the controls and equipment provided by his employer for his protection.

New York’s 1956 regulations, like the federal regulations that would follow in the early 1970s, focused on avoiding exposure to hazardous substances such as crystalline silica in the first instance. Section 12.7, “Prevention,” requires that

“[a]ll processes and operations where practicable shall be so conducted or controlled as to prevent avoidable creation of air contaminants.”

Section 12.9, General control methods, specifies “[o]ne or more of the following methods . . . control dangerous air contaminants:

  1. Substitution of a material which does not produce air contaminants;
  2. Local exhaust ventilation at the source of generation of the air contaminant;
  3. Dilution ventilation in any work space in which air contaminants are generated or released;
  4. Application of water or other wetting agent to prevent air contaminants;
  5. Other methods approved by the board.”

Section 12-29, “Maximum allowable concentrations – evidence of dangerous air contaminants,” provides that air contaminants in quantities greater than those listed “shall constitute prima-facie evidence that such contaminants are dangerous air contaminants.” In a chart entitled “Mineral Dusts,” the 1956 regulations specifically imposed a maximum exposure for free crystalline silica, depending upon the percentage concentration of silica in the total dust.

In 1958, New York revised Rule 12, with its extensive regulation of silica, to provide an even more detailed description of employer responsibilities of employers for air monitoring, ventilation, respiratory programs, and worker education. Section 12.6 of the 1958 Regulations, “Prevention of air contamination,” mandated that

“[a]ll operations producing air contaminants shall be so conducted that the generation, release or dissemination of air contaminants is kept at the lowest practicable level.”

Rule 12 was revised again in 1963, and in 1971, each time with greater specificity of the employer’s responsibility for safe handling of air contaminants, which was always defined to include silica dust. These state regulations never restricted their application to any particular industry. Crystalline silica was thus regulated in every industry conducted within New York.

New York state recruited and employed some of the leading scientists in the field of industrial hygiene and occupational medicine to serve in its Department of Labor’s Division of Industrial Hygiene. Leonard Greenberg, who was a graduate of Columbia College of Engineering, and who received his Ph.D. and M.D. degrees from Yale, served as the executive director of the New York State Division of Industrial Hygiene 1935 to 1952. He later served as an official on pollution control until 1969.[8] While at the New York Department of Labor, contributed widely to scientific publications on occupational health,[9] as did many other scientists under his supervision.[10]

Omission of material facts seems to be a key aspect of the faux historian’s methodology, and very useful in litigation if your conscience permits it.

[1]  David Rosner & Gerald Markowitz, “‘Educate the Individual . . . to a Sane Appreciation of the Risk’: A History of Industry’s Responsibility to Warn of Job Dangers Before the Occupational Safety and Health Administration,” 106 Am. J. Pub. Health 28 (2016).

[2]  See John L. Henshaw, Shannon H. Gaffney, Amy K. Madl , and Dennis J. Paustenbach, “The Employer’s Responsibility to Maintain a Safe and Healthful Work Environment: An Historical Review of Societal Expectations and Industrial Practices,” 19 Employee Responsibility & Rights J. 173 (2007).

[3]  Rosner & Markowitz at 30 (quoting Frederick Willson, “The Very Least an Employer Should Know About Dust and Fume Diseases,” 62 Safety Engineering 317 (Nov. 1931) (quoting in turn an unidentified New Jersey court decision).

[4]  See, e.g., Bellows v. Merchants Dispatch Transp. Co., 257 A.D. 15 (4th Dept. 1939) (holding that employer failed to provide a safe work environment with proper ventilation to employee who contracted silicosis).

[5]  New York Labor Law § 200 (enacted 1921).

[6]  “Silicosis,” Life (April 1, 1940).

[7]  Sadowski v. Long Island R.R., 292 N.Y. 448, 456 (1944),

[8]  “Leonard Greenberg, Pollution Official, Dies,” New York Times (April 12, 1991).

[9]  See, e.g., Leonard Greenburg, “Pneumoconiosis,” 33 Am. J. Pub. Health 849 (1943); Leonard Greenburg, “The Dust Hazard in Tremolite Talc Mining,” 19 Yale J. Biology & Med. 481 (1947).

[10]  See, e.g., James D. Hackett, Silicosis, N.Y. Dep’t Labor & Industry Bull. 11 (Dec. 1932); Frieda S. Miller, Industrial Commissioner, “Detection and Control of Silicosis and Other Occupational Diseases” (1940); Adelaide Ross Smith, “Silicosis and Its Prevention, Special Bulletin No. 198,” (1946).

Counter Cancel Culture – Part II: The Fixing Science Conference

February 12th, 2020

So this is what it is like to be denounced? My ancestors fled the Czar’s lands before they could be tyrannized by denunciations of Stalin’s Soviets. The work of contemporary denunciators is surely much milder, but no more principled than the Soviet versions of yesteryear.

Now that I am back from the Fixing Science conference, sponsored by the Independent Institute and the National Association of Scholars (NAS), I can catch up with the media coverage of the event. I have already addressed Dr. Lenny Teytelman’s issues in an open letter to him. John Mashey is a computer scientist who has written critical essays on climate science denial. On the opening day of the NAS conference, he published online his take on the recent NAS’s conference on scientific irreproducibility.[1] Mashey acknowledges that the Fixing Science conference included “credible speakers who want to improve some areas of science hurt by the use of poor statistical methods or making irreproducible claims,” but his post devolves into scurrilous characterizations of several presenters. Alas, some of the ad hominems are tossed at me, and here is what I have to say about them.

Mashey misspells my name, “Schactman,” but that is a minor flaw of scholarship. He writes that I have “published much on evidence,” which is probably too laudatory. I am hardly a recognized scholar on the law of evidence, although I know something about this area, and have published in it.

Mashey tautologically declares that I “may or may not be a ‘product defense lawyer’ (akin to Louis Anthony Cox) defending companies against legitimate complaints.” Mashey seems unaware of how the rule of law works in our country. Plaintiffs file complaints, but the standard for the legitimacy of these complaints is VERY low. Courts require the parties to engage in discovery of their claims and defenses, and then courts address dispositive motions to dismiss either the claims or the defenses. So, sometimes after years of work, legitimate complaints are revealed to be bogus complaints, and then the courts will dismiss bogus complaints, and thus legitimate complaints become illegitimate complaints. In my 36 years at the bar, I am proud to have been able to show that a great many apparently legitimate complaints were anything but what they seemed.

Mashey finds me “worrying” and “concerning.” My children are sometimes concerned about me, and even worry about me, about I do not think that Mashey was trying to express solicitude for me.

Why worry? Well, David Michaels in his most recent book, Triumph of Doubt (2020), has an entire chapter on silica dust. And I, worrisomely, have written and spoken, about silica and silicosis litigation, sometimes in a way critical of the plaintiffs’ litigation claims. Apparently, Mashey does not worry that David Michaels may be an unreliable protagonist who worked as a paid witness for the lawsuit industry on many occasions before becoming the OSHA Administrator, in which position he ignored enforcement of existing silica regulations in order to devote a great deal of time, energy, and money to revising the silica regulations. The evidentiary warrant for Michaels’ new silica rule struck me then, and now, as slim, but the real victims, workers, suffered because Michaels was so intent on changing a rule in the face of decades of declining silicosis mortality, that he failed, in my view, to attend to specific instances of over-exposure.

Mashey finds me concerning because two radical labor historians do not like me. (I think I am going eat a worm, ….) Mashey quotes at length from an article by these historians, criticizing me for having had the audacity to criticize them.[2] Oh my.

What Mashey does not tell his readers was that, as co-chair of a conference on silicosis litigation (along with a co-chair who was a plaintiffs’ lawyer), I invited historian Gerald Markowitz to speak and air his views on the history of silica regulation and litigation. In response, I delivered a paper that criticized, and I would dare say, rebutted many of Markowitz’s historical conclusions and his inferences from an incomplete, selectively assembled, and sometimes incorrect, set of historical facts. I later published my paper.

Mashey tells his readers that my criticisms, based not upon what I wrote, but upon the partisan cries of Rosner and Markowitz, “seems akin to Wood’s style of attack.” Well, if so, nicely done, Woods.

But does Mashey believe that his readers deserve to know that Rosner and Markowitz have testified repeatedly on behalf of the lawsuit industry, that is, those entrepreneurs who make lawsuits?[3] And that Rosner and Markowitz have been amply remunerated for their labors as partisan witnesses in these lawsuits?

And is Mashey worried or concerned that in the United States, silicosis litigation has been infused with fraud and deception, not by the defendants, but by the litigation industry that creates the lawsuits? Absent from Rosner and Markowitz’s historical narratives is any mention of the frauds that have led to dismissals of thousands of cases, and the professional defrocking of any number of physician witnesses.  In re Silica Products Liab. Litig., MDL No. 1553, 398 F. Supp. 2d 563 (S.D.Tex. 2005). Even the redoubtable expert witness for the plaintiffs’ bar, David S. Egilman, has published articles that point out the unethical and unlawful nature of the medico-legal screenings that gave rise to the silicosis litigation, which Michaels, Rosner, and Markowitz seem to support, or at the very least suppress any criticism of.[4]

So this is what it means to be denounced! Mashey’s piece is hardly advertisement for the intellectual honesty of those who would de-platform the NAS conference. He has selectively and inaccurately addressed my credentials. As just one example, and in an effort to diminish the NAS, he has omitted that I have received a grant from the NASEM to develop a teaching module on scientific causation. My finished paper is published online at the NASEM website.[5]

I do not know Mashey, but I leave it to you to judge him by his sour fruits.

[1]  John Mashey, “Dark-Moneyed Denialists Are Running ‘Fixing Science’ Symposium of Doubt,” Desmog Blog (Feb. 7, 2020).

[2]  David Rosner & Gerald Markowitz, “The Trials and Tribulations of Two Historians:  Adjudicating Responsibility for Pollution and Personal Harm, 53 Medical History 271, 280-81 (2009) (criticizing me for expressing the view that historians should not be permitted to testify and thereby circumvent the rules of evidence). See also David Rosner & Gerald 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) (same); D. Rosner, “Trials and Tribulations:  What Happens When Historians Enter the Courtroom,” 72 Law & Contemporary Problems 137, 152 (2009) (same). I once thought there was an academic standard that prohibited duplicative publication!

[3] I have been critical of Rosner and Markowitz on many occasions; they have never really responded to the substance of my criticisms. See, e.g., “How Testifying Historians Are Like Lawn-Mowing Dogs,” (May 15, 2010).

[4]  See David Egilman and Susanna Rankin Bohme, “Attorney-directed screenings can be hazardous,” 45 Am. J. Indus. Med. 305 (2004); David Egilman, “Asbestos screenings,” 42 Am. J. Indus. Med. 163 (2002).

[5]  “Drug-Induced Birth Defects: Exploring the Intersection of Regulation, Medicine, Science, and Law – An Educational Module” (2016) (A teaching module designed to help professional school students and others evaluate the role of science in decision-making, developed for the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine, and its Committee on Preparing the Next Generation of Policy Makers for Science-Based Decisions).