There's Something About Mary

DEC. 30, 2010

By K. LLOYD BILLINGSLEY

The Sacramento Bee is publishing an eight-part series on “Californians to watch in 2011.” The Dec. 28 profile of Mary Nichols by Rick Daysog fails to mention key reasons why Californians might want to keep a close watch on the California Air Resources Board (CARB) boss. The reasons include the indulgence of scientific fraud and a cover-up.

In 2007, when CARB named Hien Tran, manager of the Health and Ecosystems Assessment Section in CARB’s Research Division, the state agency announced that Tran had earned a Ph.D. in statistics from the University of California at Davis. This was untrue – in fact, Tran had purchased his Ph.D. from Thornhill University, a degree mill located in a New York City office of the United Parcel Service (UPS).

A scientist with an actual earned Ph.D. from the University of California told CalWatchdog that such falsification of credentials usually ends a career. But CARB boss Mary Nichols insisted the ethical lapse was just “a very annoying distraction” and, at the time, said nothing to CARB board members, the press or legislators. Hien Tran was suspended, then demoted, but CARB opted to keep him on staff.

Tran was the author of “Methodology for Estimating Premature Deaths Associated with Long-term Exposure to Fine Airborne Particulate Matter in California.” Dr. S. Stanley Young, assistant director of Bioinformatics at the National Institute of Statistical Sciences, told one CARB member that the reasoning in Tran’s report was “too flawed to be done by a capable statistician.”

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger also took no action against Nichols over the Ph.D. fakery and ensuing cover-up. No legislator has called for Nichols’ resignation; indeed, she “hopes to oversee climate change work for ex-boss Brown,” according to the headline of the glowing Bee profile.

In the accompanying photo, Nichols wears a stylish red jacket and necklace, and poses carefully coiffed and smiling in a rustic setting. The profile cites Bonnie Holmes-Gen, senior policy director for the American Lung Association (ALA) of California, that Nichols has the credibility and politically savvy “that makes her a very strong leader.”

The Bee profile also cites Mark Baldassare, president of the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), a reliable defender of government policy. “Mary is someone who is very knowledgeable about the issues and who is committed to carry out those policies,” Baldassare told the Bee. Governor-elect Brown is not cited in the piece but Nichols describes him as “the most energetic 72-year old I’ve ever met.”

The two go way back. In 1979, then-governor Brown appointed Nichols to chair CARB. Nichols, an attorney, worked for the EPA during the Clinton administration. She is also a veteran of the Center for Law in the Public Interest, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Environment Now Foundation.

From 1993 to 2003 Nichols served the administration of Gray Davis as Secretary of the California Resources Agency. She was Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s pick to head CARB, charged with implementing AB 32, the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006.

The Bee profile says Brown “is widely expected to reappoint Nichols as chairwoman of the California Air Resources Board as he pushes ahead with the state’s landmark greenhouse gas reduction policy.” Which means the scientific fraud issue may follow her into a new term.

James Enstrom, a researcher with the UCLA School of Public Health, earned a Ph.D. in physics from Stanford. In 2005, Enstrom authored a study that found no evidence that PM2.5, dust and soot from diesel exhaust, causes premature deaths. Enstrom charged that Hien Tran’s study ignored key evidence, and he played a major role in exposing Tran’s bogus Ph.D.

UCLA, where Enstrom earned postdoctoral certification in epidemiology in 1976, is trying to get rid of him. Nichols is a professor-in-residence at UCLA and before Schwarzenegger appointed her CARB boss, she served as director of the UCLA Institute of the Environment. Assemblyman Dan Logue, R-Linda, and other legislators raise the possibility of hearings to investigate the action against Enstrom. Those hearings could consider whether CARB pressured UCLA to dump its long-time researcher.

Enstrom had been slated to get his walking papers Aug. 30 but an ongoing grievance procedure has pushed that to March 30, 2011, according to the UCLA Department of Public Health.

3 comments

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  1. GoneWithTheWind
    GoneWithTheWind 30 December, 2010, 07:42

    I think a fake PHD is a perfect match for the fake California government run by fake legislators elected by fake ballots by fake citizens from another country.

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  2. ExPFC Wintergreen
    ExPFC Wintergreen 30 December, 2010, 09:51

    Nichols will always be a charter member of the protected ruling environmental elite in Sacramento. They have full protection from all the statewide media and the leadership of both houses. But the WSPA, CCEEB, oil companies, utilities, water agencies, truckers, and others with a stake in the outcome of horrible legislative policies enacted in the capitol bear some of the blame because for at least the last two decades, they have played go along get along with these radicals, further empowering them, and making it clear that they are no match for those who wish to totally eliminate industry and commerce, except for their own personal enjoyment

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  3. StevefromSacto
    StevefromSacto 5 January, 2011, 12:04

    On the other hand:

    According to the conventional wisdom that liberals accept climate change and conservatives don’t, Kerry Emanuel is an oxymoron.

    Emanuel sees himself as a conservative. He believes marriage is between a man and a woman. He backs a strong military. He almost always votes Republican and admires Ronald Reagan.

    Emanuel is also a highly regarded professor of atmospheric science at MIT. And based on his work on hurricanes and the research of his peers, Emanuel has concluded that the scientific data show a powerful link between greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.

    “There was never a light-bulb moment but a gradual realization based on the evidence,” Emanuel said. “I became convinced by the basic physics and by the better and better observation of the climate that it was changing and it was a risk that had to be considered.”

    As a politically conservative climatologist who accepts the broad scientific consensus on global warming, Emanuel occupies a position shared by only a few scientists.

    In much the same role that marriage and abortion played in previous election cycles, denial of climate change has now become a litmus test for the right.

    The vast majority of Republicans elected to Congress during the midterm election doubt climate science, and senior congressional conservatives — Republican and Democrat — have vowed to fight Obama administration efforts to curtail greenhouse gas emissions.

    That’s why scientists such as Emanuel rattle the political pigeonholes. Some are speaking out, using their expertise and conservative credentials to challenge what many researchers consider widespread distortions about climate change.

    Texas Tech atmospheric scientist Katharine Hayhoe is an evangelical Christian who travels widely talking to conservative audiences and wrote a book with her husband, a pastor and former climate change denier, explaining climate change to skeptics.

    A physicist by training, John Cook is an evangelical Christian who runs the website skepticalscience.com, which seeks to debunk climate change deniers’ arguments. Barry Bickmore is a Mormon, a professor of geochemistry at Brigham Young University and the blogger behind Anti-Climate Change Extremism in Utah, where he recently rebuked Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) for his climate views and posted editorials mentioning his Republican affiliation.

    Emanuel waded into the fray early last year. He wrote a letter to the Wall Street Journal criticizing a friend and colleague for dismissing the evidence of climate change and clinging “to the agenda of denial.” Then Emanuel added his name to the Climate Science Rapid Response Team, a website run by scientists to provide accurate information from top researchers in climate-related fields.

    “I’ve always rebelled against the thinking that ideology can trump fact,” said Emanuel, 55. “The people who call themselves conservative these days aren’t conservative by my definition. I think they’re quite radical.”

    Paradoxically, over the last 40 years, it was conservative Republican administrations that pushed through the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and the signing of the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Air Act.

    But today, most conservatives have lined up against scientists — and transformed what started out as a technical issue into one dominated by ideology and sometimes religion.

    “Kerry is a self-avowed conservative,” said Michael Mann, a climate scientist who called Emanuel “a leading light” in the field. “But that has no bearing on his view that human-caused climate change is a reality — that, after all, is a scientific issue, not a political issue,” he said.

    A 2009 poll by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press found that only 6% of scientists called themselves Republicans, compared with 55% who identified themselves as Democrats.

    A separate October 2009 Pew survey showed a marked decline from 18 months earlier in the number of people who accept global warming, with only a third of Republican respondents saying they saw solid evidence of climate change, the lowest percentage among any partisan group.

    “Conservatives tend to gravitate to skepticism because conservatives are inherently suspicious of an expanding government taking more and more of their money and liberty,” wrote James M. Taylor, senior fellow in environment policy at the Heartland Institute, a conservative think tank in Chicago.

    “On the other hand, liberals tend to gravitate to alarmism because they have little fear of an expansive government and tend to welcome government replacing private individuals or corporations as key drivers of the global economy,” he said.

    Emanuel dislikes applying the word “skeptic” to those who deny climate change. He says all scientists are skeptical; that’s the nature of the field. His own innate skepticism meant that it took him longer than his colleagues to be persuaded of climate change, Emanuel said.

    He remembers thinking it ridiculous when a noted climatologist told Congress in 1988 that he was all but certain that the climate was changing. Yet, as analyses of climate data advanced through the 1990s and Emanuel found a relationship between hurricanes and climate change in his own work, he came to see a link between greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.

    Climate change deniers, including many in Congress, contend that because the science is not “settled,” the government should not act to curtail greenhouse gases.

    “Scientists are being asked to prove beyond any reasonable doubt that there is an imminent danger before we as a society do anything,” Emanuel said. “The parallel to that is saying, ‘You won’t buy property insurance unless I can prove to you that your house will catch on fire right now.’ ”

    Although more scientists are pushing back against climate change denial, Emanuel is not convinced it can help, given the corporate interests and the weight of the GOP arrayed against them. All of this is making him reconsider his political loyalties: For the first time in his life, he voted for a Democrat, Barack Obama, in 2008.

    “I am a rare example of a Republican scientist, but I am seriously thinking about changing affiliation owing to the Republicans’ increasingly anti-science stance,” he wrote in an e-mail. “The best way to elevate the number of Republican scientists is to get Republican politicians to stop beating up on science and scientists.”

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