Counter Cancel Culture – Part II: The Fixing Science Conference

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).

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