PubMed Refutes Courtroom Historians

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.”).

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