Creators of ToxicDocs Show Off Their Biases

Columbia Magazine’s most recent issue includes a laudatory story about David Rosner, a professor of history in Columbia University.1 The “story” focuses on Rosner’s website, ToxicDocs, which has become his and Gerald Markowitz’s clearing house for what they assert are industry’s misdeeds in the realm of public health.

What the magazine’s story chooses not to discuss is the provenance of the ToxicDocs website in Rosner and Markowitz’s long collaboration with the lawsuit industry in a variety of litigation endeavors. And what you will not find on ToxicDocs are documents of the many misdeeds of the sponsoring lawsuit industry’s misdeeds, such as unlawful and unethical screenings, evidentiary frauds, specious claiming, and misleading and incompetent medical advice to its clients. Nor will you find much in the way of context for the manufacturing industry’s documents.

Media coverage of ToxicDocs from last year provides some further insight into the provenance of the website.2 According one account, Rosner and Markowitz (collectively Rosnowitz) bristled when they were attacked for their litigation work by historian Philip Scranton, a professor in Rutgers University. Scranton showed that Rosnowitz were guilty of a variety of professional sins, from “overgeneralization and failure to corroborate” to “selectively appropriat[ing] information.” Although the radical left came to Rosnowitz’s defense by labeling Scranton a “hired gun,” that charge range rather hollow when Scranton was a well-regarded historian, and Rosnowitz were long-term hired guns for the lawsuit industry.3

And so these leftist historians felt the need to defend their long-term collaboration with the lawsuit industry by putting what they believed were incriminating documents on line at their website, ToxicDocs.4 The problem, however, with Rosnowitz’s response to the Scranton critique is that their website suffers from all the undue selectivity, lack of context, and bias, which afflict their courtroom work, and which validated Scranton’s report. Most important, the reader will not find anything on ToxicDocs that challenges the misdeeds of the lawsuit industry, which has employed them for so many years.

In February 2018, the Journal of Public Health Policy (vol. 39, no. 1) published a series of editorials lauding ToxicDocs.5 Remarkably, not a single paper by Rosnowitz, and their associates, Robert Proctor, David Wegman, or Anthony Robbins mentioned their service to the lawsuit industry or the extent of their income from that service. Sheldon Whitehouse wrote an editorial, in which he disclosed his having served as Rhode Island’s Attorney General, but failed to disclose that he had worked in lockstep with the plaintiffs’ firm, Motley Rice, and that he had hired Rosnowitz, in Rhode Island’s lawsuit against major paint manufacturers. For those observers who are in a moral panic over “industry” conflicts of interest, please note the conflicts of lawsuit industrial complex.

1 Carla Cantor, “ToxicDocs Exposes Industry MisdeedsColumbia Magazine (Summer 2019).

2 Tik Root, “In, a Treasure Trove of Industry Secrets,” Undark (Jan. 10, 2018).

3 See, e.g., Jon Wiener, “Cancer, Chemicals and History: Companies try to discredit the experts,” The Nation (Jan. 20, 2005).

4 SeeToxicHistorians Sponsor ToxicDocs” (Feb. 1, 2018); “David Rosner’s Document Repository” (July 23, 2017).

5 Anthony Robbins & Phyllis Freeman, “ToxicDocs ( goes live: A giant step toward leveling the playing field for efforts to combat toxic exposures,” 39 J. Pub. Health Policy 1 (2018); David Rosner, Gerald Markowitz, and Merlin Chowkwanyun, “ToxicDocs ( from history buried in stacks of paper to open, searchable archives online,” 39 J. Pub. Health Policy 4 (2018); Stéphane Horel, “Browsing a corporation’s mind,” 39 J. Pub. Health Policy 12 (2018); Christer Hogstedt & David H. Wegman, “ToxicDocs and the fight against biased public health science worldwide,” 39 J. Pub. Health Policy 15 (2018); Joch McCulloch, “Archival sources on asbestos and silicosis in Southern Africa and Australia,” 39 J. Pub. Health Policy 18 (2018); Sheldon Whitehouse, “ToxicDocs: using the US legal system to confront industries’ systematic counterattacks against public health,” 39 J. Pub. Health Policy 22 (2018); Robert N. Proctor, “God is watching: history in the age of near-infinite digital archives,” 39 J. Pub. Health Policy 24 (2018); Elena N. Naumova, “The value of not being lost in our digital world,” 39 J. Pub. Health Policy 27 (2018); Nicholas Freudenberg, “ToxicDocs: a new resource for assessing the impact of corporate practices on health,” 39 J. Pub. Health Policy 30 (2018).

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