The story (related in full at HotAir.org) is long and tangled, but the short version is this.
The California Air Resources Board (CARB) wanted to regulate diesel truck fumes, inherently believing them bad. So it sought the guidance of CARB employee Hien Tran, a fellow who received a PhD in “Applied Statistics” after sending in the proper number of Captain Crunch cereal boxtops (plus $1,000 smackeroos) to Thornhill University (“75 years of active contribution to human knowledge and higher education”1).
Yet somehow Tran forgot his degree’s origin and told his employers it came from UC Davis. It must have been the same sort of mental defect which allowed Tran to lead-author a paper which “proved” that diesel trucks caused “2,000 premature deaths” per year in the most populous left coast state. I remind readers that cause is a strong word.
This was the scientific evidence CARB needed. New regulations and rules and bureaucratic oversight and fees and requirements and forms and inspections and much more was passed into law. All was well.
Meanwhile, James Enstrom, an environmental sciences professor and researcher at UCLA, who went through the old-fashioned process of earning his PhD, wrote his own paper which said that diesel fumes and deaths had no relation. Since Enstrom reviewed every possible source, he wondered how Tran could come to the opposite conclusion using the same data.
This was how Enstrom discovered Tran to be a liar. He dutifully relayed his discoveries about Tran and his own published work to CARB who proceeded to—wait for it—ignore it. That’s not quite true. They set it aside until after they had passed the new regulations, after which the CARB Chairman Mary Nichols (a lawyer) admitted Tran’s fraud. But the new regulations were already law. What more could she do?
Tran received a fine and demotion but kept his job (and cushy California retirement package). Via open disclosure laws, California has released Tran’s disciplinary letter, in which it states the State stands by Tran’s results (“both their methodology and the rigorous peer and scientific review process”), though the State admonishes him for lying about his credentials. Tran does have a Master’s in statistics from UC Davis and did begin the PhD program there, but dropped out. His PhD advisor was contacted and said he had no idea what became of Tran.
Enstrom’s bosses at UCLA did not appreciate his meddling into settled science (we imagine he was told “The debate is over”) and so they fired him. Yet before Enstrom’s “controversial” work was generally known, UCLA School of Medicine Assistant Dean for Academic Affairs Richard H. Gold was able to say, in an Entrom’s annual review, “Dr. Enstrom’s research is fully aligned with the department’s mission.”
But after Enstrom complained about Tran and CARB, UCLA fired him saying Enstrom’s “research failed to accord with the department’s mission.” Surely coincidentally, Chairman Nichols and the second-ranking member of CARB are also UCLA professors.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) took Enstrom’s case and has asked UCLA to reinstate Enstrom. FIRE’s website has a trove of documents on the matter.
UCLA, being a “UC”, receives a bunch of money from the State of California, including various grants and contracts from CARB. UCLA’s decision to fire Enstrom could not have been easy. They had to balance the need for integrity and the need for cash flow. With an enormous number of administrators, each with large staffs (I believe they outnumber full-time professors), UCLA could not afford to let the flow become a trickle. Thus, regardless of whatever other reasons they had, UCLA at least did the fiscally responsible thing.
1Intriguingly, their site is no longer up; I used Google Cache to retrieve the quote. Whois tells us the site belongs to Thornhill University at 155-8171 Yonge Street, Thornhill, Ontario L3T 2C6. It is administered by Fariba Mosleh, firstname.lastname@example.org. I emailed Mosleh to ask whether Tran’s case had anything to do with the site closing. I did not receive a reply.