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Welding Litigation – Another Positive Example of Litigation-Generated Science

July 11th, 2017

In a recent post1, I noted Samuel Tarry’s valuable article2 for its helpful, contrarian discussion of the importance of some scientific articles with litigation provenances. Public health debates can spill over to the courtroom, and developments in the courtroom can, on occasion, inform and even resolve those public health debates that gave rise to the litigation. Tarry provided an account of three such articles, and I provided a brief account of another article, a published meta-analysis, from the welding fume litigation.

The welding litigation actually accounted for several studies, but in this post, I detail the background of another published study, this one an epidemiologic study by a noted Harvard epidemiologist. Not every expert witness’s report has the making of a published paper. In theory, if the expert witness has conducted a systematic review, and reached a conclusion that is not populated among already published papers, we might well expect that the witness had achieved the “least publishable unit.” The reality is that most causal claims are not based upon what could even remotely be called a systematic review. Given the lack of credibility to the causal claim, rebuttal reports are likely to have little interest to serious scientists.

Martin Wells

In the welding fume cases, one of plaintiffs’ hired expert witnesses, Martin Wells, a statistician, proffered an analysis of Parkinson’s disease (PD) mortality among welders and welding tradesmen. Using the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) database, Wells aggregated data from 1993 to 1999, for PD among welders and compared this to PD mortality among non-welders. Wells claimed to find an increased risk of PD mortality among younger (under age 65 at death) welders and welding tradesmen in this dataset.

The defense sought discovery of Wells’s methods and materials, and obtained the underlying data from the NCHS. Wells had no protocol, no pre-stated commitment to which years in the dataset he would use, and no pre-stated statistical analysis plan. At a Rule 702 hearing, Wells was unable to state how many welders were included in his analysis, why he selected some years but not others, or why he had selected age 65 as the cut off. His analyses appeared to be pure data dredging.

As the defense discovered, the NCHS dataset contained mortality data for many more years than the limited range employed by Wells in his analysis. Working with an expert witness at the Harvard School of Public Health, the defense discovered that Wells had gerrymandered the years included (and excluded) in his analysis in a way that just happened to generate a marginally, nominally statistically significant association.

NCHS Welder Age Distribution

The defense was thus able to show that the data overall, and in each year, were very sparse. For most years, the value was either 0 or 1, for PD deaths under age 65. Because of the huge denominators, however, the calculated mortality odds ratios were nominally statistically significant. The value of four PD deaths in 1998 is clearly an outlier. If the value were three rather than four, the statistical significance of the calculated OR would have been lost. Alternatively, a simple sensitivity test suggests that if instead of overall n = 7, n were 6, statistical significance would have been lost. The chart below, prepared at the time with help from Dr. David Schwartzof Innovative Science solutions, shows the actual number of “underlying cause” PD deaths that were in the dataset for each year in the NCHS dataset, and how sparse and granular” these data were:

A couple of years later, the Wells’ litigation analysis showed up as a manuscript, with only minor changes in its analyses, and with authors listed as Martin T. Wells and Katherine W. Eisenberg, in the editorial offices of Neurology. Katherine W. Eisenberg, AB and Martin T. Wells, Ph.D., “A Mortality Odds Ratio Study of Welders and Parkinson Disease.” Wells disclosed that he had testified for plaintiffs in the welding fume litigation, but Eisenberg declared no conflicts. Having only an undergraduate degree, and attending medical school at the time of submission, Ms. Eisenberg would not seem to have had the opportunity to accumulate any conflicts of interest. Undisclosed to the editors of Neurology, however, was that Ms. Eisenberg was the daughter of Theodore (Ted) Eisenberg, a lawyer who taught at Cornell University and who represented plaintiffs in the same welding MDL as the one in which Wells testified. Inquiring minds might have wondered whether Ms. Eisenberg’s tuition, room, and board were subsidized by Ted’s earnings in the welding fume and other litigations. Ted Eisenberg and Martin Wells had collaborated on many other projects, but in the welding fume litigation, Ted worked as an attorney for MDL welding plaintiffs, and Martin Wells was compensated handsomely as an expert witness. The acknowledgment at the end of the manuscript thanked Theodore Eisenberg for his thoughtful comments and discussion, without noting that he had been a paid member of the plaintiff’s litigation team. Nor did Wells and Eisenberg tells the Neurology editors that the article had grown out of Wells’ 2005 litigation report in the welding MDL.

The disclosure lapses and oversights by Wells and the younger Eisenberg proved harmless error because Neurology rejected the Wells and Eisenberg paper for publication, and it was never submitted elsewhere. The paper used the same restricted set of years of NCHS data, 1993-1999. The defense had already shown, through its own expert witness’s rebuttal report, that the manuscript’s analysis achieved statistical significance only because it omitted years from the analysis. For instance, if the authors had analyzed 1992 through 1999, their Parkinson’s disease mortality point estimate for younger welding tradesmen would no longer have been statistically significant.

Robert Park

One reason that Wells and Eisenberg may have abandoned their gerrymandered statistical analysis of the NCHS dataset was that an ostensibly independent group3 of investigators published a paper that presented a competing analysis. Robert M. Park, Paul A. Schulte, Joseph D. Bowman, James T. Walker, Stephen C. Bondy, Michael G. Yost, Jennifer A. Touchstone, and Mustafa Dosemeci, “Potential Occupational Risks for Neurodegenerative Diseases,” 48 Am. J. Ind. Med. 63 (2005) [cited as Park (2005)]. The authors accessed the same NCHS dataset, and looked at hundreds of different occupations, including welding tradesmen, and four neurodegenerative diseases.

Park, et al., claimed that they looked at occupations that had previously shown elevated proportional mortality ratios (PMR) in a previous publication of the NIOSH. A few other occupations were included; in all their were hundreds of independent analyses, without any adjustment for multiple testing. Welding occupations4 were included “[b]ecause of reports of Parkinsonism in welders [Racette et al.,, 2001; Levy and Nassetta, 2003], possibly attributable to manganese exposure (from welding rods and steel alloys)… .”5 Racette was a consultant for the Lawsuit Industry, which had been funded his research on parkinsonism among welders. Levy was a testifying expert witness for Lawsuit, Inc. A betting person would conclude that Park had consulted with Wells and Eisenberg, and their colleagues.

These authors looked at four neurological degenerative diseases (NDDs), Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, motor neuron disease, and pre-senile dementia. The authors looked at NCHS death certificate occupational information from 1992 to 1998, which was remarkable because Wells had insisted that 1992 somehow was not available for inclusion in his analyses. During 1992 to 1998, in 22 states, there were 2,614,346 deaths with 33,678 from Parkinson’s diseases. (p. 65b). Then for each of the four disease outcomes, the authors conducted an analysis for deaths below age 65. For the welding tradesmen, none of the four NDDs showed any associations. Park went on to conduct subgroup analyses for each of the four NDDs for death below age 65. In these subgroup analyses for welding tradesmen, the authors purported to find only an association only with Parkinson’s disease:

Of the four NDDs under study, only PD was associated with occupations where arc-welding of steel is performed, and only for the 20 PD deaths below age 65 (MOR=1.77, 95% CI=1.08-2.75) (Table V).”

Park (2005), at 70.

The exact nature of the subgroup was obscure, to say the least. Remarkably, Park and his colleagues had not calculated an odds ratio for welding tradesmen under age 65 at death compared with non-welding tradesmen under age 65 at death. The table’s legend attempts to explain the authors’ calculation:

Adjusted for age, race, gender, region and SES. Model contains multiplicative terms for exposure and for exposure if age at death <65; thus MOR is estimate for deaths occurring age 65+, and MOR, age <65 is estimate of enhanced risk: age <65 versus age 65+”

In other words, Park looked to see whether welding tradesmen who died at a younger age (below age 65) were more likely to have a PD cause of death than welding tradesmen who died an older age (over age 65). The meaning of this internal comparison is totally unclear, but it cannot represent a comparison of welder’s with non-welders. Indeed, every time, Park and his colleagues calculated and reported this strange odds ratio for any occupational group in the published paper, the odds ratio was elevated. If the odds ratio means anything, it is that younger Parkinson’s patients, regardless of occupation, are more likely to die of their neurological disease than older patients. Older men, regardless of occupation, are more likely to die of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and other chronic diseases. Furthermore, this age association within (not between) an occupational groups may be nothing other than a reflection of the greater severity of early-onset Parkinson’s disease in anyone, regardless of their occupation.

Like the manuscript by Eisenberg and Wells, the Park paper was an exercise in data dredging. The Park study reported increased odds ratios for Parkinson’s disease among the following groups on the primary analysis:

biological, medical scientists [MOR 2.04 (95% CI, 1.37-2.92)]

clergy [MOR 1.79 (95% CI, 1.58-2.02)]

religious workers [MOR 1.70 (95% CI, 1.27-2.21)]

college teachers [MOR 1.61 (95% CI, 1.39-1.85)]

social workers [MOR 1.44 (95% CI, 1.14-1.80)]

As noted above, the Park paper reported all of the internal mortality odds ratios for below versus above age 65, within occupational groups were nominally statistically significantly elevated. Nonetheless, the Park authors were on a mission, and determined to make something out of nothing, at least when it came to welding and Parkinson’s disease among younger patients. The authors’ conclusion reflected stunningly poor scholarship:

Studies in the US, Europe, and Korea implicate manganese fumes from arc-welding of steel in the development of a Parkinson’s-like disorder, probably a manifestation of manganism [Sjogren et al., 1990; Kim et al., 1999; Luccini, et al., 1999; Moon et al., 1999]. The observation here that PD mortality is elevated among workers with likely manganese exposures from welding, below age 65 (based on 20 deaths), supports the welding-Parkinsonism connection.”

Park (2005) at 73.

Stunningly bad because the cited papers by Sjogren, Luccini, Kim, and Moon did not examine Parkinson’s disease as an outcome; indeed, they did not even examine a parkinsonian movement disorder. More egregious, however, was the authors’ assertion that their analysis, which compared the odds of Parkinson’s disease mortality between welders under age 65 to that mortality for welders over age 65, supported an association between welding and “Parkinsonism.” 

Every time the authors conducted this analysis internal to an occupational group, they found an elevation among under age 65 deaths compared with over age 65 deaths within the occupational group. They did not report comparisons of any age-defined subgroup of a single occupational group with similarly aged mortality in the remaining dataset.

Elan Louis

The plaintiffs’ lawyers used the Park paper as “evidence” of an association that they claimed was causal. They were aided by a cadre of expert witnesses who could cite to a paper’s conclusions, but could not understand its methods. Occasionally, one of the plaintiffs’ expert witnesses would confess ignorance about exactly what Robert Park had done in this paper. Elan Louis, one of the better qualified expert witnesses on the side of claimants, for instance, testified in the plaintiffs’ attempt to certify a national medical monitoring class action for welding tradesmen. His testimony about what to make of the Park paper was more honest than most of the plaintiffs’ expert witnesses:

Q. My question to you is, is it true that that 1.77 point estimate of risk, is not a comparison of this welder and allied tradesmen under this age 65 mortality, compared with non-welders and allied tradesmen who die under age 65?

A. I think it’s not clear that the footnote — I think that the footnote is not clearly written. When you read the footnote, you didn’t read the punctuation that there are semicolons and colons and commas in the same sentence. And it’s not a well constructed sentence. And I’ve gone through this sentence many times. And I’ve gone through this sentence with Ted Eisenberg many times. This is a topic of our discussion. One of the topics of our discussions. And it’s not clear from this sentence that that’s the appropriate interpretation. *  *  *  However, the footnote, because it’s so poorly written, it obscures what he actually did. And then I think it opens up alternative interpretations.

Q. And if we can pursue that for a moment. If you look at other tables for other occupational titles, or exposure related variables, is it true that every time that Mr. Park reports on that MOR age under 65, that the estimate is elevated and statistically significantly so?

A. Yes. And he uses the same footnote every time. He’s obviously cut and paste that footnote every single time, down to the punctuation is exactly the same. And I would agree that if you look for example at table 4, the mortality odds ratios are elevated in that manner for Parkinson’s Disease, with reference to farming, with reference to pesticides, and with reference to farmers excluding horticultural deaths.

Deposition testimony of Elan Louis, at p. 401-04, in Steele v. A. O. Smith Corp., no. 1:03 CV-17000, MDL 1535 (Jan. 18, 2007). Other less qualified, or less honest expert witnesses on the plaintiffs’ side were content to cite Park (2005) as support for their causal opinions.

Meir Stampfer

The empathetic MDL trial judge denied the plaintiffs’ request for class certification in Steele, but individual personal injury cases continued to be litigated. Steele v. A.O. Smith Corp., 245 F.R.D. 279 (N.D. Ohio 2007) (denying class certification); In re Welding Fume Prods. Liab. Litig., No. 1:03-CV-17000, MDL 1535, 2008 WL 3166309 (N.D. Ohio Aug. 4, 2008) (striking pendent state-law class actions claims)

Although Elan Louis was honest enough to acknowledge his own confusion about the Park paper, other expert witnesses continued to rely upon it, and plaintiffs’ counsel continued to cite the paper in their briefs and to use the apparently elevated point estimate for welders in their cross-examinations of defense expert witnesses. With the NCHS data in hand (on a DVD), defense counsel returned to Meir Stampfer, who had helped them unravel the Martin Wells’ litigation analysis. The question for Professor Stampfer was whether Park’s reported point estimate for PD mortality odds ratio was truly a comparison of welders versus non-welders, or whether it was some uninformative internal comparison of younger welders versus older welders.

The one certainty available to the defense is that it had the same dataset that had been used by Martin Wells in the earlier litigation analysis, and now by Robert Park and his colleagues in their published analysis. Using the NCHS dataset, and Park’s definition of a welder or a welding tradesman, Professor Stampfer calculated PD mortality odds ratios for each definition, as well as for each definition for deaths under age 65. None of these analyses yielded statistically significant associations. Park’s curious results could not be replicated from the NCHS dataset.

For welders, the overall PD mortality odds ratio (MOR) was 0.85 (95% CI, 0.77–0.94), for years 1985 through 1999, in the NCHS dataset. If the definition of welders was expanded to including welding tradesmen, as used by Robert Park, the MOR was 0.83 (95% CI, 0.78–0.88) for all years available in the NCHS dataset.

When Stampfer conducted an age-restricted analysis, which properly compared welders or welding tradesmen with non-welding tradesmen, with death under age 65, he similarly obtained no associations for PD MOR. For the years 1985-1991, death under 65 from PD, Stampfer found MORs 0.99 (95% CI, 0.44–2.22) for just welders, and 0.83 (95% CI, 0.48–1.44) all welding tradesmen.

And for 1992-1999, the years used by Park (2005), and similar to the date range used by Martin Wells, for PD deaths at under age 65, for welders only, Stampfer found a MOR of 1.44 (95% CI, 0.79–2.62), and for all welding tradesmen, 1.20 (95% CI, 0.79–1.84)

None of Park’s slicing, dicing, and subgrouping of welding and PD results could be replicated. Although Dr. Stampfer submitted a report in Steele, there remained the problem that Park (2005) was a peer-reviewed paper, and that plaintiffs’ counsel, expert witnesses, and other published papers were citing it for its claimed results and errant discussion. The defense asked Dr. Stampfer whether the “least publishable unit” had been achieved, and Stampfer reluctantly agreed. He wrote up his analysis, and published it in 2009, with an appropriate disclosure6. Meir J. Stampfer, “Welding Occupations and Mortality from Parkinson’s Disease and Other Neurodegenerative Diseases Among United States Men, 1985–1999,” 6 J. Occup. & Envt’l Hygiene 267 (2009).

Professor Stampfer’s paper may not be the most important contribution to the epidemiology of Parkinson’s disease, but it corrected the distortions and misrepresentations of data in Robert Park’s paper. His paper has since been cited by well-known researchers in support of their conclusion that there is no association between welding and Parkinson’s disease7. Park’s paper has been criticized on PubPeer, with no rebuttal8.

Almost comically, Park has cited Stampfer’s study tendentiously for a claim that there is a healthy worker bias present in the available epidemiology of welding and PD, without noting, or responding to, the devastating criticism of his own Park (2005) work:

For a mortality study of neurodegenerative disease deaths in the United States during 1985 – 1999, Stampfer [61] used the Cause of Death database of the US National Center for Health Statistics and observed adjusted mortality odds ratios for PD of 0.85 (95% CI, 0.77 – 0.94) and 0.83 (95% CI, 0.78 – 0.88) in welders, using two definitions of welding occupations [61]. This supports the presence of a significant HWE [healthy worker effect] among welders. An even stronger effect was observed in welders for motor neuron disease (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, OR 0.71, 95% CI, 0.56 – 0.89), a chronic condition that clearly would affect welders’ ability to work.”

Robert M. Park, “Neurobehavioral Deficits and Parkinsonism in Occupations with Manganese Exposure: A Review of Methodological Issues in the Epidemiological Literature,” 4 Safety & Health at Work 123, 126 (2013). Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis has a sudden onset, usually in middle age, without any real prodomal signs or symptoms, which would keep a young man from entering welding as a trade. Just shows you can get any opinion published in a peer-reviewed journal, somewhere. Stampfer’s paper, along with Mortimer’s meta-analysis helped put the kabosh on welding fume litigation.


A few weeks ago, the Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of a class action that was attempted based upon claims of environmental manganese exposure. Abrams v. Nucor Steel Marion, Inc., Case No. 3:13 CV 137, 2015 WL 6872511 (N. D. Ohio Nov. 9, 2015) (finding testimony of neurologist Jonathan Rutchik to be nugatory, and excluding his proffered opinions), aff’d, 2017 U.S. App. LEXIS 9323 (6th Cir. May 25, 2017). Class plaintiffs employed one of the regulators, Jonathan Rutchik, from the welding fume parkinsonism litigation).

2 Samuel L. Tarry, Jr., “Can Litigation-Generated Science Promote Public Health?” 33 Am. J. Trial Advocacy 315 (2009)

3 Ostensibly, but not really. Robert M. Park was an employee of NIOSH, but he had spent most of his career working as an employee for the United Autoworkers labor union. The paper acknowledged help from Ed Baker, David Savitz, and Kyle Steenland. Baker is a colleague and associate of B.S. Levy, who was an expert witness for plaintiffs in the welding fume litigation, as well as many others. The article was published in the “red” journal, the American Journal of Industrial Medicine.

4 The welding tradesmen included in the analyses were welders and cutters, boilermakers, structural metal workers, millwrights, plumbers, pipefitters, and steamfitters. Robert M. Park, Paul A. Schulte, Joseph D. Bowman, James T. Walker, Stephen C. Bondy, Michael G. Yost, Jennifer A. Touchstone, and Mustafa Dosemeci, “Potential Occupational Risks for Neurodegenerative Diseases,” 48 Am. J. Ind. Med. 63, 65a, ¶2 (2005).

5 Id.

6 “The project was supported in part through a consulting agreement with a group of manufacturers of welding consumables who had no role in the analysis, or in preparing this report, did not see any draft of this manuscript prior to submission for publication, and had no control over any aspect of the work or its publication.” Stampfer, at 272.

7 Karin Wirdefeldt, Hans-Olov Adami, Philip Cole, Dimitrios Trichopoulos, and Jack Mandel, “Epidemiology and etiology of Parkinson’s disease: a review of the evidence,” 26 Eur. J. Epidemiol. S1 (2011).

8 The criticisms can be found at <>, last visited on July 10, 2017.

Samuel Tarry’s Protreptic for Litigation-Sponsored Publications

July 9th, 2017

Litigation-related research has been the punching bag of self-appointed public health advocates for some time. Remarkably, and perhaps not surprising to readers of this blog, many of the most strident critics have deep ties to the lawsuit industry, and have served the plaintiffs’ bar loyally and zealously for many years.1,2,3,4 And many of these critics have ignored or feigned ignorance of the litigation provenance of much research that they hold dear, such as Irving Selikoff’s asbestos research undertaken for the asbestos workers’ union and its legal advocates. These critics’ campaign is an exquisite study in hypocrisy.

For some time, I have argued that the standards for conflict-of-interest disclosures should be applied symmetrically and comprehensively to include positional conflicts, public health and environmental advocacy, as well as litigation consulting or testifying for any party. Conflicts should be disclosed, but they should not become a facile excuse or false justification for dismissing research, regardless of the party that sponsored it.5 Scientific studies should be interpreted scientifically – that is carefully, thoroughly, and rigorously – regardless whether they are conducted and published by industry-sponsored, union-sponsored, or Lord help us, even lawyer-sponsored scientists.

Several years ago, a defense lawyer, Samuel Tarry, published a case series of industry-sponsored research or analysis, which grew out of litigation, but made substantial contributions to the scientific understanding of claimed health risks. See Samuel L. Tarry, Jr., “Can Litigation-Generated Science Promote Public Health?” 33 Am. J. Trial Advocacy 315 (2009). Tarry’s paper is a helpful corrective to the biased (and often conflicted) criticisms of industry-sponsored research and analysis by the lawsuit industry and its scientific allies and consultants. It an ocean of uninformative papers about “Daubert,” Tarry’s paper stands out and should be required reading for all lawyers who practice in the area of “health effects litigation.”

Tarry presented a brief summary of the litigation context for three publications that deserve to remembered and used as exemplars of important, sound, scientific publications that helped changed the course of litigations, as well as the scientific community’s appreciation of prior misleading contentions and publications. His three case studies grew out of the silicone-gel breast implant litigation, the latex allergy litigation, and the never-ending asbestos litigation.

1. Silicone

There are some glib characterizations of the silicone gel breast implant litigation as having had no evidentiary basis. A more careful assessment would allow that there was some evidence, much of it fraudulent and irrelevant. See, e.g., Hon. Jack B. Weinstein, “Preliminary Reflections on Administration of Complex Litigation” 2009 Cardozo L. Rev. de novo 1, 14 (2009) (describing plaintiffs’ expert witnesses in the silicone gel breast implant litigation as “charlatans” and the litigation as largely based upon fraud). The lawsuit industry worked primarily through so-called support groups, which in turn funded friendly, advocate physicians, who in turn testified for plaintiffs and their lawyers in personal injury cases.

When the defendants, such as Dow Corning, reacted by sponsoring serious epidemiologic analyses of the issue whether exposure to silicone gel was associated with specific autoimmune or connective tissue diseases, the plaintiffs’ bar mounted a conflict-of-interest witch hunt over industry funding.6 Ultimately, the source of funding became obviously irrelevant; the concordance between industry-funded and all high quality research on the litigation claims was undeniable. Obvious that is to court-appointed expert witnesses7, and to a blue-ribbon panel of experts in the Institute of Medicine8.

2. Latex Hypersensitivity

Tarry’s second example comes from the latex hypersensitivity litigation. Whatever evidentiary basis may have existed for isolated cases of latex allergy, the plaintiffs’ bar had taken and expanded into a full-scale mass tort. A defense expert witness, Dr. David Garabrant, a physician and an epidemiologist, published a meta-analysis and systematic review of the extant scientific evidence. David H. Garabrant & Sarah Schweitzer, “Epidemiology of latex sensitization and allergies in health care workers,” 110 J. Allergy & Clin. Immunol. S82 (2002). Garabrant’s formal, systematic review documented his litigation opinions that the risk of latex hypersensitivity was much lower than claimed and not the widespread hazard asserted by plaintiffs and their retained expert witnesses. Although Garabrant’s review did not totally end the litigation and public health debate about latex, it went a long way toward ending both.

3. Fraudulent Asbestos-Induced Radiography

I still recall, sitting at my desk, my secretary coming into my office to tell me excitedly that a recent crop of silicosis claimants had had previous asbestosis claims. When I asked how she knew, she showed me the computer print out for closed files for another client. Some of the names were so distinctive that the probability that there were two men with the same name was minuscule. When we obtained the closed files from storage, sure enough, the social security numbers matched, as did all other pertinent data, except that what had been called asbestosis previously was now called silicosis.

My secretary’s astute observation was mirrored in the judicial proceedings of Judge Janis Graham Jack, who presided over MDL 1553. Judge Jack, however, discovered something even more egregious: in some cases, a single physician interpreted a single chest radiograph as showing either asbestosis or silicosis, but not both. The two, alternative diagnoses were recorded in two, separate reports, for two different litigation cases against different defendants. This fraudulent practice, as well as others, are documented in Judge Jack’s extraordinary, thorough opinion. See In re Silica Prods. Liab. Litig., 398 F. Supp. 2d 563 (S.D. Tex. 2005)9.

The revelations of fraud in Judge Jack’s opinion were not entirely surprising. As everyone involved in asbestos litigation has always known, there is a disturbing degree of subjectivity in the interpretation of chest radiographs for pneumoconiosis. The federal government has long been aware of this problem, and through the Centers for Disease Control and the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, has tried to subdue extreme subjectivity by creating a pneumoconiosis classification schemed for chest radiographs known as the “B-reader” system. Unfortunately, B-reader certification meant only that physicians could achieve inter-observer and intra-observer reproducibility of interpretations on the examination, but they were free to peddle extreme interpretations for litigation. Indeed, the B-reader certification system exacerbated the problem by creating a credential that was marketed to advance the credibility of some of the most biased, over-reading physicians in asbestos, silica, and coal pneumoconiosis litigation.

Tarry’s third example is a study conducted under the leadership of the late Joseph Gitlin, at Johns Hopkins Medical School. With funding from defendants and insurers, Dr. Joseph Gitlin conducted a concordance study of films that had been read by predatory radiologists and physicians as showing pneumoconiosis. The readers in his study found a very low level of positive films (less than 5%), despite their having been interpreted as showing pneumoconiosis by the litigation physicians. See Joseph N. Gitlin, Leroy L. Cook, Otha W. Linton, and Elizabeth Garrett-Mayer, “Comparison of ‘B’ Readers’ Interpretations of Chest Radiographs for Asbestos Related Changes,” 11 Acad. Radiol. 843 (2004); Marjorie Centofanti, “With thousands of asbestos workers demanding compensation for lung disease, a radiology researcher here finds that most cases lack merit,” Hopkins Medicine (2006). As with the Sokol hoax, the practitioners of post-modern medicine cried “foul,” and decried industry sponsorship, but the disparity between courtroom and hospital medicine was sufficient proof for most disinterested observers that there was a need to fix the litigation process.

Meretricious Mensuration10 – Manganese Litigation Example

Tarry’s examples are important reminders that corporate sponsorship, whether from the plaintiffs’ lawsuit industry or from manufacturing industry, does not necessarily render research tainted or unreliable. Although lawyers often confront exaggerated or false claims, and witness important, helpful correctives in the form of litigation-sponsored studies, the demands of legal practice and “the next case” typically prevent lawyers from documenting the scientific depredations and their rebuttals. Sadly, unlike litigations such as those involving Bendectin and silicone, the chronicles of fraud and exaggeration are mostly closed books in closed files in closed offices. These examples need the light of day and a fresh breeze to disseminate them widely in both the scientific and legal communities, so that all may have a healthy appreciation for the value of appropriately conducted studies generated in litigation contexts.

As I have intimated elsewhere, the welding fume litigation is a great example of specious claiming, which ultimately was unhorsed by publications inspired or funded by the defense. In the typical welding fume case, plaintiff claimed that exposure to manganese in welding fume caused Parkinson’s disease or manganism. Although manganism sounds as though it must be a disease that can be caused only by manganese, in the hands of plaintiffs’ expert witnesses, manganism became whatever ailment plaintiffs claimed to have suffered. Circularity and perfect definitional precision were achieved by semantic fiat.

The Sanchez-Ramos Meta-Analysis

Manganese Madness was largely the creation of the Litigation Industry, under the dubious leadership of Dickie Scruggs & Company. Although the plaintiffs enjoyed a strong tail wind in the courtroom of an empathetic judge, they had difficulties in persuading juries and ultimately decamped from MDL 1535, in favor of more lucrative targets. In their last hurrah, however, plaintiffs retained a neurologist, Juan Sanchez-Ramos, who proffered a biased, invalid synthesis, which he billed as a meta-analysis11.

Sanchez-Ramos’s meta-analysis, such as it was, provoked professional disapproval and criticism from the defense expert witness, Dr. James Mortimer. Because the work product of Sanchez-Ramos was first disclosed in deposition, and not in his Rule 26 report, Dr. Mortimer undertook belatedly a proper meta-analysis.12 Even though Dr. Mortimer’s meta-analysis was done in response to the Sanchez-Ramos’s improper, tardy disclosure, the MDL judge ruled that Mortimer’s meta-analysis was too late. The effect, however, of Mortimer’s meta-analysis was clear in showing that welding had no positive association with Parkinson’s disease outcomes. The MDL 1535 resolved quickly thereafter, and with only slight encouragement, Dr. Mortimer published a further refined meta-analysis with two other leading neuro-epidemiologists. See James Mortimer, Amy Borenstein, and Lorene Nelson, “Associations of welding and manganese exposure with Parkinson disease: Review and meta-analysis,” 79 Neurology 1174 (2012). See also Manganese Meta-Analysis Further Undermines Reference Manual’s Toxicology Chapter(Oct. 15, 2012).

1 See, e.g., David Michaels & Celeste Monforton, “Manufacturing Uncertainty Contested Science and the Protection ofthe Public’s Health and Environment,” 95 Am. J. Pub. Health S39, S40 (2005); David Michaels & Celeste Monforton, “How Litigation Shapes the Scientific Literature: Asbestos and Disease Among Automobile Mechanics,” 15 J. L. & Policy 1137, 1165 (2007). Michaels had served as a plaintiffs’ paid expert witness in chemical exposure litigation, and Monforton had been employed by labor unions before these papers were published, without disclosure of conflicts.

2 Leslie Boden & David Ozonoff, “Litigation-Generated Science: Why Should We Care?” 116 Envt’l Health Persp. 121, 121 (2008) (arguing that systematic distortion of the scientific record will result from litigation-sponsored papers even with disclosure of conflicts of interest). Ozonoff had served as a hired plaintiffs’ expert witnesses on multiple occasion before the publication of this article, which was unadorned by disclosure.

3 Lennart Hardell, Martin J. Walker, Bo Walhjalt, Lee S. Friedman, and Elihu D. Richter, “Secret Ties to Industry and Conflicting Interest in Cancer Research,” 50 Am. J. Indus. Med. 227, 233 (2007) (criticizing “powerful industrial interests” for “undermining independent research on hazard and risk,” in a “red” journal that is controlled by allies of the lawsuit industry). Hardell was an expert witness for plaintiffs in mobile phone litigation in which plaintiffs claimed that non-ionizing radiation caused brain cancer. In federal litigation, Hardell was excluded as an expert witness when his proffered opinions were found to be scientifically unreliable. Newman v. Motorola, Inc., 218 F. Supp. 2d. 769, 777 (D. Md. 2002), aff’d, 78 Fed. Appx. 292 (4th Cir. 2003).

4 See David Egilman & Susanna Bohme, “IJOEH and the Critique of Bias,” 14 Internat’l J. Occup. & Envt’l Health 147, 148 (2008) (urging a Marxist critique that industry-sponsored research is necessarily motivated by profit considerations, and biased in favor of industry funders). Although Egilman usually gives a disclosure of his litigation activities, he typically characterizes those activities as having been for both plaintiffs and defendants, even though his testimonial work for defendants is minuscule.

5 Kenneth J. Rothman, “Conflict of Interest: The New McCarthyism in Science,” 269 J. Am. Med. Ass’n 2782 (1993).

6 See Charles H. Hennekens, I-Min Lee, Nancy R. Cook, Patricia R. Hebert, Elizabeth W. Karlson, Fran LaMotte; JoAnn E. Manson, and Julie E. Buring, “Self-reported Breast Implants and Connective- Tissue Diseases in Female Health Professionals: A Retrospective Cohort Study, 275 J. Am. Med. Ass’n 616-19 (1998) (analyzing established cohort for claimed associations, with funding from the National Institutes of Health and Dow Corning Corporation).

7 See Barbara Hulka, Betty Diamond, Nancy Kerkvliet & Peter Tugwell, “Silicone Breast Implants in Relation to Connective Tissue Diseases and Immunologic Dysfunction: A Report by a National Science Panel to the Hon. Sam Pointer Jr., MDL 926 (Nov. 30, 1998).” The court-appointed expert witnesses dedicated a great deal of their professional time to their task of evaluating the plaintiffs’ claims and the evidence. At the end of the process, they all published their litigation work in leading journals. See Barbara Hulka, Nancy Kerkvliet & Peter Tugwell, “Experience of a Scientific Panel Formed to Advise the Federal Judiciary on Silicone Breast Implants,” 342 New Engl. J. Med. 812 (2000); Esther C. Janowsky, Lawrence L. Kupper., and Barbara S. Hulka, “Meta-Analyses of the Relation between Silicone Breast Implants and the Risk of Connective-Tissue Diseases,” 342 New Engl. J. Med. 781 (2000); Peter Tugwell, George Wells, Joan Peterson, Vivian Welch, Jacqueline Page, Carolyn Davison, Jessie McGowan, David Ramroth, and Beverley Shea, “Do Silicone Breast Implants Cause Rheumatologic Disorders? A Systematic Review for a Court-Appointed National Science Panel,” 44 Arthritis & Rheumatism 2477 (2001).

8 Stuart Bondurant, Virginia Ernster, and Roger Herdman, eds., Safety of Silicone Breast Implants (Institute of Medicine) (Wash. D.C. 1999).

9 See also Lester Brickman, “On the Applicability of the Silica MDL Proceeding to Asbestos Litigation, 12 Conn. Insur. L. J. 289 (2006); Lester Brickman, “Disparities Between Asbestosis and Silicosis Claims Generated By Litigation Screenings and Clinical Studies,” 29 Cardozo L. Rev. 513 (2007).

10 This apt phraseology is due to the late Keith Morgan, whose wit, wisdom, and scientific acumen are greatly missed. See W. Keith C. Morgan, “Meretricious Mensuration,” 6 J. Eval. Clin. Practice 1 (2000).

11 See Deposition of Dr. Juan Sanchez-Ramos, in Street v. Lincoln Elec. Co., Case No. 1:06-cv-17026, 2011 WL 6008514 (N.D. Ohio May 17, 2011).

12 See Deposition of Dr. James Mortimer, in Street v. Lincoln Elec. Co., Case No. 1:06-cv-17026, 2011 WL 6008054 (N.D. Ohio June 29, 2011).

Belgian Waffles and Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc

June 22nd, 2017

In language that could well be a Sokol hoax on the vacuousness of post-modernist non-thinking, the Court of Justice of the European Union issued a press release to announce its judgment in N.W. v. Sanofi Pasteur MSD, Case C-621/15 (Luxembourg, 21 June 2017). With European hypersensitivity to public disclosure, and in recognition of the right to be forgotten, the plaintiffs are known only as the “W” family. Mr. J. W. received Sanofi’s hepatitis B vaccine between late 1998 and the middle of 1999. In the summer of 1999, Mr. W. began to experience symptoms, which led to a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis over a year later, in November 2000. J.W. and his family sued Sanofi Pasteur in 2006. J.W. died in 2012.

The Ws filed their case in Paris, where the courts found for Sanofi Pasteur. The Cour d’Appel de Paris, impressed by the lack of scientific consensus to support W’s causal claim, held that the plaintiffs had failed to demonstrate causality. The Cour d’Appel de Paris court dismissed the W’s case. The dismissal was remarkable in the context of credulous French courts that had routinely recognized such claims. See C. Rougé-Maillart, N. Guillaume, N. Jousset, and M, Penneau, “Recognition by French courts of compensation for post-vaccination multiple sclerosis: the consequences with regard to expert practice,”47 Med. Sci. Law 185 (2007) (summarizing the course of M.S. and hepatitis B vaccination litigation in France). The Ws appealed further to the French Cour de Cassation (Court of Cassation), which punted to the EU Court of Justice, to ask whether the EU directive on liability for defective products required a different result than handed down by the Cour d’Appel.

The “Court of Justice” stated that the claimants had the burden of proof, but dubiously framed the causation issue as a choice between “certain and irrefutable evidence” and evidence of a “sufficiently high degree of probability.” What gives rise to sufficiently high degree of probability? In bold type, the EU press release announces that:

Where there is a lack of scientific consensus, the proof of the defect of the vaccine and of a causal link between the defect and the damage suffered may be made out by serious, specific and consistent evidence.”

But what is “serious, specific, and consistent evidence”? Scouring both the press release and the full decision of the Court provides one answer:

Anecdotes. Unspecified number of case reports of multiple sclerosis occurring in patients after vaccination, without regard to an anticipated or expected incidence of the disease in the vaccinated population suffices. The Court of Justice sums up the Ws’ case as a showing that:

The temporal proximity between the administering of a vaccine and the occurrence of a disease, the lack of personal and familial history of the person vaccinated and the existence of a significant number of reported cases of the disease occurring following such vaccines being administered may, where applicable, constitute sufficient evidence to make out such proof.”

The significant number of cases is never quantified or even described. The “sufficiently high probability” is never quantified or described. Presumably, the judges in Brussels can count, and the probability is some number greater than zero, but less than 1. The Court of Justice follows many other lay courts in falsely dichotomizing scientific disputes as involving either “certain, irrefutable” evidence or something less, and good enough for government (judicial) work. Even its representation of the Ws’ evidence as “serious, specific and consistent” and its suggestion of a “sufficiently high” probability are false, at least without spelling out the evidentiary base of the anecdotal evidence that is elevated to legally sufficient in the eyes of the Court of Justice. The Court fails to acknowledge, as a Court of Justice should, that large, high quality epidemiologic studies fail to find associations between hepatitis B vaccination and multiple sclerosis. See, e.g., Annette Langer-Gould, Lei Qian, Sara Y. Tartof, PhD; Sonu M. Brara, Steve J. Jacobsen, Brandon E. Beaber, Lina S. Sy, Chun Chao, Rulin Hechter, Hung Fu Tseng, “Vaccines and the Risk of Multiple Sclerosis and Other Central Nervous System Demyelinating Diseases,” 71 J. Am. Med. Ass’n Neurol. 1506 (2014); Miguel A. Hernán & Susan S. Jick, “Hepatitis B vaccination and multiple sclerosis: the jury is still out,” 15 Pharmacoepidemiology & Drug Safety 653 (2006).

The European right to be forgotten has apparently been extended to scientific evidence. There may be reasons more legitimate than racist xenophobia to exit the European Union.

The Slemp Case, Part 2 – Openings

June 10th, 2017

The Slemp Case, Part I – Jury Verdict for Plaintiff – 10 Initial Observations” (May 13, 2017)

The legal community is still trying to grasp the enormity of the $110M verdict against Johnson & Johnson, in the Slemp case. J & J says it will appeal, but resolution of legal issues will not necessarily clarify what happened factually in the Slemp case. Some legal commentators have attempted superficial analyses that try to correlate case outcomes with how cases are selected for trial in Missouri. In the five talc trials to date, plaintiffs have prevailed (with fulsome verdicts) in both cases in which plaintiffs’ counsel selected the case for trial. See Amy Rubenstein and Malerie Ma Roddy, “Talc Talk: 1 Of These Verdicts Is Not Like The Others,” Law360 (June 1, 2017). In the three other cases, selected by defense counsel, the defense has lost two of the three cases, again with outlandish verdicts. No statistical analysis of these correlations will suggest that the selection process is correlated with verdict outcome. If there is no general causation, then selection of plaintiff for trial should not correlate with outcome. More important, the Missouri verdicts cannot be reconciled with the ruling by Judge Johnson in the New Jersey talc cases. Carl v. Johnson & Johnson, No. ATL-L-6546-14, 2016 WL 4580145 (N.J. Super. Ct. Law Div., Atl. Cty., Sept. 2, 2016); see also “New Jersey Kemps Ovarian Cancer – Talc Cases” (Sept. 16, 2016).

A manufacturer is legally held to the standard of having expert knowledge of the hazards of a product, and warning about those hazards that are not common knowledge. The conflicts noted above, and the exculpatory views of various professional groups and federal and international agencies should mean, in a sane system of products liability law, that a manufacturer would have no liability in the ovarian cancer – talc cases. A recent review concluded:

While mechanistic, pathology, and animal studies do not support evidence for the carcinogenicity of talc on the ovarian epithelium 329, epidemiological studies have indicated an association with talc use and increased OC [ovarian cancer] risk.”

Brett M. Reid, Jennifer B. Permuth, Thomas A. Sellers, “Epidemiology of ovarian cancer: a review,” Cancer Biol. Med. 14 (2017). The authors went on, however, to note that the association was not consistently found among studies, and that the IARC had rejected the causal contention as having been shown. How on this evidence, can a manufacturer be held liable for not warning of a causal connection? And how could a manufacturer be found to have acted maliciously or outrageously, with substantial scientific support?

What is needed is careful, detailed evaluation of the actual evidence at trial. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the FDA, the NTP, and virtually every other agency and professional group that has addressed the question whether talc causes ovarian cancer, have declared that there is no causal connection established. Have the plantiffs in these cases hit a treasure trove of data not seen by the scientific and regulatory community? Or have plaintiffs exploited the weaknesses of the jury system, and advanced arguments and evidence that would never move a panel of disinterested scientists?

Meaningful analyses of the talc trials are not likely to happen from hipshot commentary. Fortunately, Courtroom View Network videotaped the Slemp trial from openings to return of verdict, which has created a rich resource for lawyers, legal analysts, political scientists, scientists, and regulators to judge the efficacy and content of courtroom presentations of complex scientific evidence.

Less is More, Except When Less is Just Less

There are two common, glib pronouncements you can often hear uttered in defense counsel confabulations. The first is “Less is More.” The second is “Let’s not get into weeds.” These generalizations cannot be tested with jury research in which both sides’ presentations are often no longer than 60 minutes, or so. Actual research of trial research rarely can move beyond anecdotal observations.

In Slemp, the defense case went took up two days. The plaintiffs’ case took 12 days. The plaintiff presented multiple medical expert witnesses, including two epidemiologists who have been involved in studying talc and ovarian cancer, and publishing on the issue, for decades. The defense presented just one expert witness, Dr. Warner Huh, a gynecologic oncologist. Dr. Huh claimed to have epidemiologic expertise by virtue of his work on studies on cervical cancer screening. Dr. Huh, as we will see, never explained how, when, and where he received training in epidemiologic study design and biostatistics. This defense strategy on expert witnesses requires careful analysis. Furthermore, the plaintiffs’ counsel presented a minimally qualified regulatory expert witness to serve primarily as a document reader. The defense effectively cross-examined this witness by showing his ignorance and selectivity in document reading and presentation. J & J, however, never called a fact witness, or corporate witness, to give viva voce testimony, that rebutted the innuendo, defamations, and characterizations of the company by plaintiffs’ counsel.

The Opening “Statements”

Perhaps it is best to begin at the beginning. Voir dire is not available at Courtroom View Network, but the opening statements are on line. There is a widespread myth that Hans Zeisel’s research established that most cases are won in the openings. Zeisel debunked that reading of his work, without disagreeing that the first impressions of opening statement can be powerful. See Hans Zeisel, “A Jury Hoax: The Superpower of the Opening Statement,” 14 Litigation 17 (Summer 1988). Inquiring minds might want to know how the openings statements went for the parties involved in Slemp.

Counsel for the plaintiff and for the two defendants (J & J, Imerys) all gave strong arguments that went well beyond stating what the evidence will show. All counsel worked hard to establish ethos and pathos, but plaintiff’s counsel excelled at creating the appearance of scientific logos, even when there was none. Defense counsel, on the other hand, tried to avoid talking about epidemiology for the most part. When the defense did discuss epidemiology, they made some disturbing, unnecessary mistakes.

Plaintiffs’ Opening

The plaintiff’s opening was noteworthy for its fear mongering. There are some authors who seem to want to take credit for a so-called reptile strategy, but fear mongering has been part of the dark side of rhetoric since at least the dawn of recorded history.1 Edmund Burke captured the sum and substance of the reptile strategy, which was so much on display in 18th century politics:

No passion so effectually robs the mind of all its powers of acting and reasoning as fear.”

Edmund Burke, A Philosophical Inquiry into The Origin of Our Ideas of The Sublime And Beautiful – With Several Other Additions at Sect. II. Terror (1757). Plaintiff’s counsel argued that all women, everywhere [including the women jurors and the male jurors’ female kin] are threatened by the evil corporate behemoth that sells baby powder. Women, everywhere, are developing ovarian cancer by the millions because they have used talcum powder. Only this jury can stop the carnage because regulators have ignored the situation. Regulators and the scientific establishment are venal, and J & J has bought them off. Steve Bannon would be proud.

The plaintiff’s counsel argued that J & J’s talcum powder contains not one, not two, but three carcinogens: talc, asbestos, and heavy metals. Talc, of course, is the focus of the claim and the trial, but what about the other two? Plaintiffs’ counsel did not advert to any evidence or opinion that heavy metals cause ovarian cancer; nor did he even slow down to say what heavy metals he was claiming were present. The evidence that asbestos causes ovarian cancer is perhaps marginally credible, but the causal conclusion is still doubtful. The studies that suggest an association are generally poorly done and heavily confounded. The real issue, however, with the asbestos claim, other than its effectiveness in instilling fear and knee-jerk reactions among lay jurors, is that it obscures an important issue whether the tremolite that sometimes accompanies talc in serpentine rock deposits is actually tremolite asbestos. Tremolite, as a mineral, has numerous crystallogaphic “habits,” including acicular fibers, angular particles, plates, etc.2 Some time ago, the federal government adopted a convention of counting anything as a “fiber,” if it were greater than 5 μm in length, and it had an aspect ratio of at least three to one. Another agency, the U.S. EPA adopted a minimal 5:1 aspect ratio, but both federal regulatory definitions disregard both mineralogical and biological considerations for what is a “fiber” with biological effects. Pace Melanie3, a thing is not a phallic system if it is just longer than it is wide, and a tremolite cleavage fragment is not a fiber, even if it is three times longer than wide.

There were other notable rhetorical moves in Plaintiff’s opening statement. In most other litigations, Plaintiffs run away from the need to rule out random error in studies that their expert witnesses proffer as support for causal claims. See, e.g., In re Zoloft (Sertraline Hydrochloride) Products Liability Litigation, U.S. Court of Appeals, 3rd Circuit, No. 16-2247 (June 2, 2017). In doing so, Plaintiffs often distort the consensus views about statistical significance, from the American Statistical Association4 and other groups. In the Slemp case, however, Plaintiff’s counsel swung to an opposite extreme by over-endorsing statistical significance as the apparent end-all and be-all for assessing causality. Study validity, whether internal or external, received no serious mention; bias in the studies relied upon was not discussed in any meaningful way.

To highlight the disingenuousness of the Plaintiffs’ opening with respect to failing to consider study validity and bias, and its over-endorsement of statistical significance, the Plaintiff later in the trial flashed sound bites from a report, commissioned by J & J, on the claimed causal connection. The report was by done other than Professor Kenneth Rothman, along with others. Professor Rothman has been in the forefront of criticizing the use of statistical significance testing as a bright-line criterion for causation. Rothman, along with Jonathan Samet (hardly a defense friendly epidemiologist) and Harris Pastides, reported, in 2000, that there was a “statistically significant” association, but demurred on causation because of the problem of study bias and validity:

A weighted average of the results from epidemiologic studies to date measuring the relation between talc and ovarian cancer risk gives an overall relative risk of 1.31, with a 95% confidence interval of 1.21-1.41. Bias and causation are competing explanations for the weak positive association observed. This weak association could be an underestimate of a stronger association if there are errors in measuring talc exposure that apply uniformly to all study subjects (non-differential misclassification). On the other hand, non-differential misclassification does not bias an association that is null to begin with, so postulating non-differential misclassification cannot shed light on whether the association results from a causal relation or not. Most of the published studies are interview-based case-control studies, subject to recall bias, which can readily give rise to associations of this magnitude. The evidence from these studies regarding recall bias is mixed. Uncontrolled confounding can also easily explain associations this weak; although no single confounding factor would seem to account for the overall effect, the combined effect of several such unidentified confounders could do so. In considering these competing explanations of bias and causation, the evidence in favor of a causal explanation is only the overall weak association of a relative risk of 1.31. The lack of a plausible biologic mechanism, on the other hand, weighs against a causal interpretation. Also weighing against a causal explanation is the dose-response pattern among talc users, which is an inverse trend for both duration of use and frequency of use. A causal relation would predict a positive trend, not an inverse trend. Based on these considerations, we suggest that the evidence to date does not indicate that talc can be ‘reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen’.”

Kenneth J. Rothman Harris Pastides Jonathan Samet, “Interpretation of Epidemiologic Studies on Talc and Ovarian Cancer,” (Nov. 28, 2000).

From a rhetorical perspective, one of the more interesting moves in Plaintiff’s opening was a pivot from causation to association. Without ever really discussing the standards or factors for inferring causation, Plaintiff’s counsel invoked regulatory standards and avoided addressing himself to the Missouri standard of causation. The standards for whether to warn and for determining cause in fact were conflated and confused, in what seemed liked a deliberate effort.

Defense Openings

J & J’s Opening

The defense strategies were apparent enough. The defense emphasized that Ms. Slemp had a serous borderline tumor (SBT). The emphasis appeared to be a plea of confession and avoidance. In other words, maybe there is something going on with talc and ovarian cancer, but this is an SBT, and it is different, so you do not need to worry too much about the more general claim that talc causes ovarian cancer. SBTs are a subset of epithelial ovarian tumors, often characterized as semi-malignant, with a more favorable outcome than other ovarian epithelial tumors. The defense also strived to shift the spotlight to Ms. Slemp and her strikingly poor health, preëxisting her cancer diagnosis, as well as her massive obesity and her heavy smoking, both risk factors for ovarian cancer.

On the positive side, J & J’s counsel anticipated and warned the jury that plaintiffs’ expert witnesses would be seriously challenged on their post-hoc analyses and their failing to share their causal conclusions with the scientific community. J & J’s counsel did engage on the general causation claim, but mostly to argue that most governmental agencies and professional organizations have refused to accept the causal claim. To the limited extent that J & J got into the “weeds,” it identified the Bradford Hill factors as the generally accepted decision procedure for reaching causal conclusions. So far, so good (except for the insistence upon referring to Sir Austin as Sir Bradford, as though Bradford was the man’s first name). What defense counsel did not say, astonishingly, is that Sir Austin’s nine factors require a necessary predicate that is satisfied when:

Our observations reveal an association between two variables, perfectly clear-cut and beyond what we would care to attribute to the play of chance.”

Austin Bradford Hill, “The Environment and Disease: Association or Causation?” 58 Proc. Royal Soc’y Med. 295, 295 (1965). See “Woodside & Davis on the Bradford Hill Considerations” (Aug. 23, 2013). To be sure, there are any number of studies on talc and ovarian cancer that satisfy Hill’s requirement of an association not attributable to the play of chance, but what is lacking is the clear-cut association; that is, the associations that are “statistically significant” have not ruled out bias and confounding. The defense opening did introduce the concept of recall bias, which plays an important part in undermining the validity of the available case-control studies. What the defense did not say, however, is that misclassification biases in cohort studies do not always bias towards the null, and even if they did, then the latest cohort study (with a hazard ratio below 1.0) would have had a risk ratio even lower than 1.0 than what was reported.

The defense did emphasize the absence of the Bradford Hill factors for plausibility and dose response. A more sophisticated analysis would have acknowledged what Sir Austin had over 60 years ago: plausibility or explanation is not necessary to infer causation. Not all the Bradford Hill factors are equal, and the defense diluted the analysis by falsely elevating one factor, plausibility, to the status of a necessary criterion.

The defense opening also had some dubious moves. It deprecated case-control studies as inferior to cohort studies, both as a general proposition and specifically with respect to talc. Case-control studies are generally harder to do, as the Plaintiffs’ bar learned when it based an entire mass tort litigation on a single case-control study, the so-called Yale Hemorrhagic Stroke Project.5 The Plaintiffs won the Daubert war6 in that litigation, but lost their jury trials because juries ultimately saw the methodological flaws that the MDL court disregarded. The general proposition that cohort studies are always superior to case-control studies, however, is doubtful. The defense did not need to stake out this claim, especially since it was not going to call an epidemiologist to testify.

Some of the claims that the defense committed to in its opening were as stunning as they were dubious. J & J’s counsel promised that he would show that talc has been proven safe. That claim is, however, beyond what the available science can show, especially with a plethora of statistically significant associations in case-control studies. J & J need only show that the plaintiffs’ claim has not been established, but it created an unnecessary burden of proving safety. The rhetorical value of the claim is obvious, but promising to show something that cannot be delivered seems like a recipe for disaster. $110 million is a disaster.

Then there was a defense claim that epidemiology cannot show that talc causes ovarian cancer. The claim was unclear as to whether epidemiology cannot establish general or specific causation, and vague as to whether the inability resulted from the weak, equivocal evidence in the instance of talc and ovarian cancer, or some deeper inability that stems from the nature of the evidence itself. Of course, given that there is an expected base rate of ovarian cancer in the general population, epidemiology will be required, even if it may not be sufficient. But if epidemiology alone is not sufficient, then what else is required? The defense never clarified its claim.

As for specific causation, the notion that epidemiology never informs individual patient predictions or causal assessments seems far fetched. If are dealing with a case of mesothelioma and occupational crocidolite exposure, with relative risks in the thousands, the attribution based upon the existence of a very high relative risk seems eminently reasonable. The same with maternal thalidomide use and an infant’s phocomelia, even though there is a baseline risk of phocomelia. Even in the case of a heavy smoker and lung cancer, with relative risks in the range of 20 to 40, inferring specific causation seems like a sound inference, especially in the absence of evidence that the risk is segregated in some subgroup of the population that suffers the outcome.

Imerys’s Opening

Counsel for Imerys also gave an opening statement, which started on common defense themes of the need to reserve judgment until all evidence is heard, and the need to consider context for statements. Imerys echoed the dubious claims that epidemiology can never inform inferences about individual patients, that epidemiology has determined that talc is safe, that cohort studies are always better than case-control studies, and that cohort studies are better because they have many thousand of women in them as opposed to “just a handful” in case-control studies.

Imerys, however, soon wandered into territory that affirmatively undermined J & J’s defense. First, it applauded itself for having warned of “possible causation,” which tended to concede the point to plaintiffs that there is a duty to warn of possibly caused outcomes. Second, Imerys appropriately urged its bulk supplier defense, which placed the spotlight on J & J’s alleged culpability.

The Imerys lawyer may have offended the Missouri jury by referring to talc as a mineral formed millions of years ago. A large percentage of Americans believe that the Earth was created less than 6,000 years ago. And yet, we still believe that allowing ordinary citizens to decide scientific issues is a good thing!

In its opening, Imerys also misstated the law to its own detriment. In discussing its obligations to warn, Imerys asserted that as a mining company it had to follow the rules established by OSHA. Actually, not. Mining companies are under the jurisdiction of the Mining Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), and OSHA Hazards Communication regulations did not apply to mining companies for the years involved in the Slemp case. See Memorandum from Patricia K. Clark, Director of OSHA Compliance Programs, to Regional Administrators re Hazard Communication and Mining Operations (Mar. 3, 1992).

1 See also Anthony Pratkanis & Elliot Aronson, Age of Propaganda: The Everyday Use and Abuse of Persuasion at 210 (2000) (“[A]ll other things being equal, the more frightened a person is by a communication, the more likely her or she is to take positive preventive action.”); H.L. Mencken, In Defence of Women § 13 “Women and the Emotions” (1923) (“The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, most of them imaginary.”); Conor Boyack, Feardom: How Politicians Exploit Your Emotions and What You Can Do to Stop Them (2014).

2 John W. Anthony, Richard A. Bideaux, Kenneth W. Bladh, and Monte C. Nichols, The Handbook of Mineralogy, vol. II (1995).

3 Melanie Safka, “Psychotherapy” (“A thing is a phallic symbol if it’s longer than it’s wide”).

4 Ronald L. Wasserstein & Nicole A. Lazar, “The ASA’s Statement on p-Values: Context, Process, and Purpose,” The American Statistician, available online (Mar. 7, 2016), in-press at DOI:10.1080/00031305.2016.1154108, <>.

5 Walter N. Kernan, Catherine M. Viscoli, et al., “Phenylpropanolamine and the Risk of Hemorrhagic Stroke,” 343 New Engl. J. Med. 1826 (2000).

6 See In re Phenylpropanolamine Prod. Liab. Litig., 289 F. 2d 1230 (2003).