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

PubMed Refutes Courtroom Historians

February 11th, 2018

Professors Rosner and Markowitz, labor historians, or historians laboring in courtrooms, have made a second career out of testifying about other people’s motivations. Consider their pronouncement:

In the postwar era, professionals, industry, government, and a conservative labor movement tried to bury silicosis as an issue.”

David Rosner & Gerald Markowitz, Deadly Dust: Silicosis and the Politics of Occupational Disease in the Twentieth Century America 213 (Princeton 1991); Gerald Markowitz & David Rosner, “Why Is Silicosis So Important?” Chap. 1, at 27, in Paul-André Rosental, ed., Silicosis: A World History (2017). Their accusation is remarkable for any number of reasons,1 but the most remarkable is that their claim is unverified, but readily falsified.2

Previously, I have pointed to searches in Google’s Ngram Book viewer as well as in the National Library of Medicine’s database (PubMed) on silicosis. The PubMed website has now started to provide a csv file, with articles counts by year, which can be opened in programs such as LibreOffice Calc, Excel, etc, and then used to generate charts of the publication counts over time. 

Here is a chart generated form a simple search on <silicosis> in PubMed, with years aggregated over roughly 11 year intervals:

The chart shows that the “professionals,” presumably physicians and scientists were most busy publishing on, not burying, the silicosis issue exactly when Rosner and Markowitz claimed them to be actively suppressing. Many of the included publications grew out of industry, labor, and government interests and concerns. In their book and in their courtroom performances,, Rosner and Markowitz provide mostly innuendo without evidence, but their claim is falsifiable and false.

To be sure, the low count in the 1940s may well result from the relatively fewer journals included in the PubMed database, as well as the growth in the number of biomedical journals after the 1940s. The Post-War era certainly presented distractions in the form of other issues, including the development of antibiotics, chemotherapies for tuberculosis, the spread of poliomyelitis and the development of vaccines for this and other viral diseases, radiation exposure and illnesses, tobacco-related cancers, and other chronic diseases. Given the exponential expansion in scope of public health, the continued interest in silicosis after World War II, documented in the PubMed statistics, is remarkable for its intensity, pace Rosner and Markowitz.

1Conspiracy Theories: Historians, In and Out of Court(April 17, 2013). Not the least of the reasons the group calumny is pertinent is the extent to which it keeps the authors gainfully employed as expert witnesses in litigation.

2 See also CDC, “Ten Great Public Health Achievements – United States, 1900 – 1999,” 48(12) CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 241 (April 02, 1999)(“Work-related health problems, such as coal workers’ pneumoconiosis (black lung), and silicosis — common at the beginning of the century — have come under better control.”).

Fake Friends and Fake Followers

January 28th, 2018

In the Black Mirror production of Nosedive, based upon a short story by Charlie Brooker, a young woman named Lacie lives in a world in which social media approval metrics determine social, economic, and political opportunities. Every interaction is graded on a scale from one to five. Lacie’s approval rating is slipping, thus jeopardizing her participation in her friend’s wedding, and she is determined to improve her rating. She tries her best to be “nice,” and then enlists a ratings coach, but her efforts cannot stop her approval rating from its nosedive. Perhaps if Lacie had greater financial resources, she could have improved her ratings by paying people to like her on social media.

Would people really pay for the appearance of social approval? “Celebrities, athletes, pundits and politicians have millions of fake followers,” and they paid for them. Thus announces the New York Times in an exposé of the practice of paying for followers on social media.1 Perhaps even the President has paid for fake followers who are mere bots. Maybe bots are the only friends he has.

Although I am skeptical of the utility of Facebook and Twitter, I have come reluctantly to admit that these and other social media – even blogs – have some utility if properly used. The business of buying followers, however, is just plain sick.

Finally, Eric Schneiderman has announced an investigation into an issue of some importance. He is investigating Devumi, a company that he claims sells fake followers on social media. The company is alleged to have created over 55,000 bots based upon living people and their identifying features.2

Stealing identities and selling fake followers is deplorable, and Scheiderman’s crusade is a laudable exercise of prosecutorial discretion. But so is buying fake followers to lard up one’s social media metrics. The crime involves two separate criminal acts, and we should not lose sight of the fraudulent nature of the representations about inflated number of followers. It takes two parties to enter the contract to defraud the public. Devumi’s clients may well be in pari delicto.

Let us hope that when Schneiderman opens the books at Devumi, he will have the fortitude to tell us which “celebrities, athletes, pundits, and politicians” have been juking their stats. Schneiderman’s investigation has the promise of making Eliot Spitzer’s commercial transactions look like child’s play. Inquiring minds want to know who would buy a friend or a follower.

1 Nicholas Confessore, Gabriel J.X. Dance, Richard Harris, and Mark Hansen, “The Follower Factory: Everyone wants to be popular online. Some even pay for it. Inside social media’s black market,” N.Y. Times (Jan. 27, 2018).

2 Nicholas Confessore, “New York Attorney General to Investigate Firm That Sells Fake Followers,” N.Y. Times (Jan. 27, 2018).

Manufacturing Consent

December 2nd, 2017

David Michaels along with other “political” scientists, and the lawsuit industry, have worked assiduously over the last several decades to delegitimize discussion, debate, and controversy over scientific claims.1 Their key goals have been to attempt to disqualify manufacturing industry and any scientist with the slightest manufacturing industry contact. Their attempts to disqualify other interlocutors is, however, highly asymmetrical. If those with connections to manufacturing industry criticize studies or causal conclusions, then we hear that the criticism is corrupt. If those with connections to manufacturing industry embrace studies that show favored associations, or causal conclusions, then we hear that the embrace of advocacy positions was an “admission,” reluctantly given but “forced” by overwhelming evidence. In other words, the attempts to disqualify interlocutors are made only when the speakers articulate criticism of the claims of advocacy science.

David Zaruk has argued that the techniques used to squelch criticism of advocacy science bear an uncanny resemblance to the techniques used by fascists generally. See David Zaruk, “Ten Practices Linking Environmentalism with Fascism,” Riskmonger (Dec. 2, 2017). Although Zaruk’s argument may appear hyperbolic, there is no denying that advocacy scientists (not merely in the field of environmentalism) have used the rhetorical devices that are used by intellectual bullies everywhere. In the case of advocacy scientists, one of their key maneuvers has been to privilege advocacy scientists who speak for their favored positions, for the lawsuit industry, and for self-styled public interest groups by ignoring their potential conflicts of interest, while diminishing the substantive content of all “opposition” voices by pejoratively characterizing their opponents’ motivation as “manufacturing doubt.” Of course, the deepest irony is that before there was manufacturing doubt, there was manufacturing consent.2 The unkindest thing that can, and must be said, of the current enthusiasm for attacking dissident scientists is not that the attacks are fascist, but that they are unscientific.

The likes of David Michaels have sought to manufacture consent on various health effects issues, by selectively and asymmetrically accusing scientists of conflicts of interest, or trying to pervert the course of science. These attacks on “dissidents” assume the truth of the contested causal conclusions, and then proceed to call out the dissidents for casting doubt on the “truth” in favor of falsehood. What this mobbing of dissidents ignores is the basic normative structure of science, which requires doubt.

One of the first sociologists of science, Robert Merton, described four institutional imperatives of science: universality, communitarianism, disinterestedness, and “organized skepticism.”3 Scientists are committed to methodologies and an institutional ethos that require searching scrutiny of claims to scientific knowledge. The scientific advocates who would silence criticism with accusations of “manufacturing doubt” ignore the epistemic importance of dissent and disagreement in science. The prevalent attempts to squelch dissent as “manufacturing doubt” is thus unscientific and dangerous.4

1 See, e.g., David Michaels, Doubt is Their Product: How Industry’s War on Science Threatens Your Health (2008); David Michaels, “Manufactured Uncertainty: Protecting Public Health in the Age of Contested Science and Product Defense,” 1076 Ann. N.Y. Acad. Sci. 149 (2006); David Michaels, “Mercenary Epidemiology – Data Reanalysis and Reinterpretation for Sponsors with Financial Interest in the Outcome,” 16 Ann. Epidemiol. 583 (2006); David Michaels & Celeste Monforton, “Manufacturing Uncertainty: Contested Science and the Protection of the Public’s Health and Environment,” 95 Amer. J. Public Health S39 (2005); David Michaels, “Doubt is their Product,” 292 Sci. Amer. 74 (June 2005).

2 See generally Edward S. Herman & Noam Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent (1988).

3 Robert K. Merton, “The Normative Structure of Science,” in Robert K. Merton, The Sociology of Science: Theoretical and Empirical Investigations, chap. 13, at 267, 270 (1973).

4 See Inmaculada de Melo-Mmartín and Kristen Intemann, “Who’s afraid of dissent? Addressing concerns about undermining scientific consensus in public policy developments,” 22 Persp. on Science 593 (2014).

David Egilman and Friends Circle the Wagons at the International Journal of Occupational & Environmental Health

May 4th, 2017

Andrew Maier is an associate professor in the Department of Environmental Health, in the University of Cincinnati. Maier received his Ph.D. degree in toxicology, with a master’s degree in industrial health. He is a Certified Industrial Hygienest and has published widely on occupational health issues. Earlier this year, Maier was named the editor-in-chief of the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health (IJOEH). See Casey Allen, “Andy Maier Named Editor of Environmental Health Journal(Jan. 18, 2017).

Before Maier’s appointment, the IJOEH was, for the last several years, the vanity press for former editor-in-chief David Egilman and “The Lobby,” the expert witness brigade of the lawsuit industry. Egilman’s replacement with Andrew Maier apparently took place after the IJOEH was acquired by the scientific publishing company Taylor & Francis, from the former publisher, Maney.

The new owner, however, left the former IJOEH editorial board, largely a gaggle of Egilman friends and fellow travelers in place. Last week, the editorial board revoltingly wrote [contact information redacted] to Roger Horton, Chief Executive Officer of Taylor & Francis, to request that Egilman be restored to power, or that the current Editorial Board be empowered to choose Egilman’s successor. With Trump-like disdain for evidence, the Board characterized the new Editor as a “corporate consultant.” If Maier has consulted with corporations, his work appears to have rarely if ever landed him in a courtroom at the request of a corporate defendant. And with knickers tightly knotted, the Board also made several other demands for control over Board membership and journal content.

Andrew Watterson wrote to Horton on behalf of all current and former IJOEH Editorial Board members, a group heavily populated by plaintiffs’ litigation expert witnesses and “political” scientists, including among others:

Arthur Frank

Morris Greenberg

Barry S. Levy

David Madigan

Jock McCulloch

David Wegman

Barry Castleman

Peter Infante

Ron Melnick

Daniel Teitelbaum

None of the signatories apparently disclosed their affiliations as corporate consultants for the lawsuit industry.

Removing Egilman from control was bad enough, but the coup de grâce for the Lobby came earlier in April 2016, when Taylor & Francis notified Egilman that a paper that he had published in IJOEH was being withdrawn. According to the petitioners, the paper, “The production of corporate research to manufacture doubt about the health hazards of products: an overview of the Exponent Bakelite simulation study,” was removed without explanation. See Public health journal’s editorial board tells publisher they have ‘grave concerns’ over new editor,” Retraction Watch (April 27, 2017).

According to Taylor & Francis, the Egilman article was “published inadvertently, before the review process had been completed. On completing that review, it was decided the article was unsuitable for publication in the journal.” Id. Well, of course, Egilman’s article was unlikely to receive much analytical scrutiny at a journal where he was Editor-in-Chief, and where the Board was populated by his buddies. The same could be said for many articles published under Egilman’s tenure at the IJOEH. Taylor & Francis owes Egilman and the scientific and legal community a detailed statement of what was in the article, which was “unsuitable,” and why. Certainly, the law department at Taylor & Francis should make sure that it does not give Egilman and his former Board of Editors grounds for litigation. They are, after all, tight with the lawsuit industry. More important, Taylor & Francis owes Dr. Egilman, as well as the scientific and legal community, a full explanation of why the article in question was unsuitable for publication in the IJOEH.