Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Controversy Over Enstrom Firing Highlighted on Fox News Website; UCLA Reinstates Enstrom's Job Until Appeals Process is Concluded

The firing of Dr. James Enstrom after 36 years of continuous employment as a researcher at the UCLA School of Public Health, on the grounds that his research is no longer aligned with the mission of the department in which he works, is highlighted in an article on the Fox News web site.

The article quotes me as pointing out the implications of this story for academic freedom and scientific integrity: "Dr. Michael Siegel, professor and associate chairman at Boston University's School of Public Health, says the reasoning raises some red flags. "The mission of the department is to study the impacts of the environment on human health and that's exactly what Enstrom does," Siegel told "…What the department appears to be saying is it's not the nature of his research but the nature of his findings." Siegel says he doesn't even agree with a lot of Enstrom's findings, but he agrees with his right to relay them without fear of losing his job. "The significance of this is a threat to academic freedom and it's also a threat to academic science," Siegel said. "If scientists have to produce work that meets a certain view to keep their jobs, researchers are going to stop publishing negative findings for fear of being fired."

The Rest of the Story

The good news is that UCLA has decided to reinstate Dr. Enstrom to his position until the appeals process is completed, or until March 31 of next year, whichever comes first. This ensures that Dr. Enstrom will have the opportunity to contest his non-reappointment and to present any evidence relevant to the issue of whether the grounds for his termination were valid.

It is unclear whether the threat by several state legislators to hold a hearing in Sacramento on the issue played a role in the University's decision to reinstate Dr. Enstrom pending his appeal, but it is normal policy to allow an individual to retain their position while the appeals process is being conducted.

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