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Dissident air pollution researcher sues university over firing

James Enstrom

Posted on behalf of Zoë Corbyn.

A controversial epidemiologist who lost his job is suing the University of California, Los Angeles claiming the decision is an attempt to “purge an academic dissenter” from its ranks after his work questioned the link between diesel particulates and deaths in Californians.

James Enstrom, a non-tenured researcher in the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, is due to finish work this month after over 35 years and a lengthy grievance procedure in which he challenged the university’s 2010 decision not to renew his appointment.

On 13 June he filed a lawsuit against the university and its administrators claiming it was retaliation for his criticism of UCLA air pollution research and his whistle-blowing activities.

Enstrom – who is seeking his job back and financial damages – is represented by lawyers from the American Center for Law and Justice, a conservative Christan organization which amongst other things has fought to protect the free speech rights of pro-life demonstrators.

Enstrom’s research has provoked fierce criticism in the past. A 2003 study, which received tobacco industry funding, played down the dangers of second-hand smoke. Questions were raised about whether the article, published in the British Medical Journal, involved scientific misconduct because it relied on purportedly faulty smoke-exposure data, though no formal inquiry or investigation was launched.

But it was his work which found no relationship between diesel particulates and mortality of Californians, including a 2005 study published in journal Inhalation Toxicology, which the lawsuit really claims is the wellspring of his termination.

He became an “aggressive and lone critic at UCLA of air pollution research” and spoke out against  “draconian” air quality regulations, which put him at odds with several senior faculty members and created embarrassing publicity for UCLA, claims the lawsuit. He also exposed wrongdoing on state air pollution boards which led to the removal of several members, it adds.

The ultimate result was a retaliatory campaigning against him that caused “permanent damage” to his reputation and “effectively ended” his career, it says. “Defendants discriminated against Dr. Enstrom based on his ideological and political affiliations and sought to purge an academic dissenter from their ranks,” it adds.

The university said in a statement that it planned to “vigorously contest” the lawsuit in court and Enstrom had been given a “full and fair” grievance hearing consistent with procedures for non-tenured academics.

“UCLA zealously protects the intellectual independence of members of our academic community and has long maintained that Enstrom’s political and scientific views and outside activities were not considered during his reappointment process,” the statement says.

The lawsuit claims UCLA violated Enstrom’s rights with regard to free speech and due process.

Enstrom’s lawyers said he was unavailable for comment.


  1. Report this comment

    Concerned Bruin said:

    In just the last two months, three lawsuits have been filed against the University of California by UCLA faculty members (Christian Head, Robert Pedowitz, and now James Enstrom), all describing retaliation, discrimination, and defamation at UCLA. These lawsuits come on the heels of recent felony allegations by the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office involving the wrongful death of a UCLA laboratory worker (Sheri Sangji) and the misuse of public funds by a UCLA Department Chair (Michael Lofchie). The University’s “position statements” should be considered within the context of a disturbing pattern of behavior at UCLA.

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    Michael Kovari said:

    From the facts presented in the lawsuit (and the lack of facts in the UCLA statement), it’s pretty obvious that he is being victimized for his scientific findings and his complaints against the dishonest procedures of the state air pollution board. Has any independent person reviewed his case on the internet?

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