Egilman Instigates Kerfuffle at McGill University

Last February, the Canadian Broadcast Corporation unleashed a one-sided, twenty minute investigative journalistic film on the Quebec asbestos industry.  All allegations from the plaintiffs’ litigation world were accepted as true, and the asbestos mining industry was cast as a manufacturer of doubt and deception.  See Fatal Deception(Feb 2, 2012). 

The narrator raises the suggestion that the Canadian federal government is relying upon “junk science” to justify support for continuing exports of chrysotile and for reopening the Quebec mines.  This CBC production features Dr. David Egilman, holding forth on his views on the relationship between McGill University, Professor Corbett Macdonald, and the Quebec asbestos industry. Mostly, Egilman is permitted to define the issues and provide the “answers,” although the CBC film does give some air time to Professor Bruce Case, who points out that Egilman is not a scientist, but rather a social critic. When Professor Case was asked on air how he would respond to Egilman in response to his allegations, Case responded, “I wouldn’t give Dr. Egilman the time of day…because he’s not an honorable person.”

For over a decade, Egilman has been pressing his allegations that asbestos research conducted by McGill University investigators was tainted.  In September 2012, McGill University’s Research Integrity Officer, Abraham Fuks, reported that the Egilman allegations were baseless and unsupported.  Consultation Report to Dean David Eidelman (Sept. 23, 2012). See Egilman’s Allegations Against McDonald and His Epidemiologic Research Are Baseless (Oct. 20, 2012).  Egilman responded to Professor Fuks’ report by labeling it “a shameful cover-up.”  Eric Andrew-Gee, “Asbestos debate rages on at the Faculty Club:  American researcher attacks McGill’s asbestos investigation,” The McGill Daily (Jan. 10, 2013).

The Egilman show apparently kicked off the new year at the McGill University Faculty Club, earlier this month, with a shouting match.  According to the University’s newspaper, Egilman called MacDonald’s research on the Quebec chrysotile miners and millers “garbage,” and he called upon McGill University to retract the paper.

Egilman’s argument took the high road and the low road:  He understandably objected to McGill’s and MacDonald’s refusal to share mineralogical data about tremolite content of asbestos from the Thetford Mines.  Of course, the sad state of epidemiology today is that there is no mechanism for requiring data sharing, and the authors of pro-plaintiff studies have consistently refused to share data, and have fought subpoenas tooth and nail.

But then there was the low road. According to the McGill Daily, Egilman lapsed into name calling.  During his presentation, Egilman referred to McGill’s Professor Fuks as Inspector Fox and included a cartoon in his slideshow of a henhouse guarded by a grinning fox.  “Fuks, by the way, is German for Fox,” Egilman said.

One of the McGill professors chided Egilman for his ad hominem attack on Professor Fuks, and pointed out that Egilman could have made his points without personal attacks. Egilman responded “I could have, but it’s funny.” Id.

Egilman called upon his audience to evaluate his claims against those of Professors Case and Fuks. “One of us is an asshole,” he announced. Id. Indeed. Just perform the iterative disjunctive syllogism; it’s a matter of elimination.  For a more scholarly analysis of assholes, see Aaron James, Assholes:  A Theory (2012).

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