UCLA professor who was ousted after dustup over CARB science gets trial

By Charlie Morasch, Land Line contributing writer | 5/1/2014

An academic who publicly criticized science at the heart of several major diesel truck rules will get his day in court.

James Enstrom, an epidemiologist who clashed with the California Air Resources Board over findings about the effects of diesel pollution is suing former officials over his firing from the faculty at the University of California-Los Angeles. Enstrom says his opposition to scientific findings accepted by CARB put a target on his back among department faculty.

The suit is scheduled to go to trial Nov. 18 in U.S. District Court in Riverside, Calif.

Enstrom, who earned a Ph.D. in physics from Stanford University, worked for 35 years on the UCLA School of Public Health faculty as a researcher before being fired in 2010. Enstrom’s research conflicted with beliefs that diesel emissions are linked with early deaths for Californians.

According to the suit, Enstrom began a study in 2002 examining the relationship between particulate matter 2.5 and mortality in California. Published in 2005, his findings found no relationship between PM2.5 and total mortality in the state – representing the largest and most detailed study of the relationship between PM2.5 and total mortality in California that has been published in a peer-reviewed journal,” the suit states.

Enstrom’s viewpoint on particulate matter epidemiology made him in the minority among his colleagues at UCLA, the lawsuit says. In December 2008, only months after then UCLA law professor Mary Nichols was appointed to serve as CARB Chairman, Enstrom issued a series of public criticisms of science used by CARB to justify diesel truck regulations.

“In 2009, Dr. Enstrom’s long-time academic career as a research faculty member…was severely crippled and eventually ended after the Defendants initiated a series of actions designed to silence and ultimately terminate Dr. Enstrom in retaliation for his constitutionally protected speech and actions,” the complaint reads. “Additionally, Defendants discriminated against Dr. Enstrom based on his ideological and political affiliations and sought to purge an academic dissenter from their ranks.”

Among other claims, Enstrom exposed Hien Tran – then the lead author of CARB’s report on PM2.5 and premature death – as not having a Ph.D. from the University of California-Davis as Tran claimed. Tran later admitting to paying $1,000 for the Ph.D. from an Internet diploma mill in New York City. 

Enstrom also alleged serious unethical conduct by Nichols and then UCLA faculty member John Froines. Froines chaired the state’s Scientific Review Panel – a body Enstrom said included members that had served too many terms – which Enstrom claimed had damaged a fundamental tenet of the peer review process.

Froines and other members of the panel were removed around 2010.

By November 2009, Enstrom had been notified that his appointment as a researcher was under review. In April 2010, a vote of faculty at the school was taken to consider his appointment.

In 2010, he was told he had been let go because his research “is not aligned with the academic mission of the Department,” court documents state.

Enstrom is being represented by attorneys with the American Center for Law & Justice. Defendants include University of California President Mark Yudof, University of California Chancellor Gene Block, and several other current and former academic supervisors in the California education system.

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