Charles Battig, M.D.
Wikipedia gives the following definition: “Bullying is the use of force, threat, or coercion to abuse, intimidate, or aggressively impose domination over others. The behavior is often repeated and habitual. One essential prerequisite is the perception, by the bully or by others, of an imbalance of social or physical power. Behaviors used to assert such domination can include verbal harassment or threat, physical assault or coercion, and such acts may be directed repeatedly towards particular targets.”
A search on Google provides multiple websites devoted to the topic. They include Federal websites, medical and psychological websites, and private organizations, including: http://www.stopbullying.gov/, http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/bullying.html, and http://www.pacer.org/bullying/.
Unarguably bullying is recognized as a serious social, medical, and psychological ill. It is therefore puzzling to see such widespread bullying employed at multiple levels in our Federal Government and beyond.
Yet, ever since President Theodore Roosevelt, the Commander-in-Chief has historically employed the “bully pulpit.” The current administration has become particularly enamored with the concept, as many have noted. The IRS and EPA have their own track records of regulatory actions taken which fit the bullying definition. The FCC has suggested an interest in monitoring the media, prompting fears of potential media bullying.
Here in Virginia, local governments have taken to bullying their citizens under the guise of protecting the environment, as exemplified by legal prosecution of a mother for unauthorized birthday parties on her farmland.
The field of scientific research would seem remote from these political, power-play activities, but the real-world record is quite sadly otherwise. If the concept of bullying is extended to the medical research field, then there exists bullying of data. Raw data are tortured till they give the answer sought. Legions of computers troll the data looking for desired associations to bolster pet hypotheses. Negative findings are bullied into silence, lest they draw attention to inconsistencies in crafted correlations already favored by the bully.
The once-trusted scientific research process has stumbled enough to have drawn attention from even the Wall Street Journal. The 2007 article notes: “Dr. Ioannidis is an epidemiologist who studies research methods at the University of Ioannina School of Medicine in Greece and Tufts University in Medford, Mass. In a series of influential analytical reports, he has documented how, in thousands of peer-reviewed research papers published every year, there may be so much less than meets the eye…These flawed findings, for the most part, stem not from fraud or formal misconduct, but from more mundane misbehavior: miscalculation, poor study design or self-serving data analysis. ‘There is an increasing concern that in modern research, false findings may be the majority or even the vast majority of published research claims,’ Dr. Ioannidis said. ‘A new claim about a research finding is more likely to be false than true.’”
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CNN had its own take in 2011 which included: “John Budd’s research also shows an increase [of faulty research] over time. He’s a professor at the University of Missouri who spent years studying why publications are retracted. He found that between 1997 and 2008, 47% of the articles were pulled because of ‘misconduct or presumed misconduct.’”
As reported in the NY Times, patient harm has been directly linked to such data tampering in the case of researcher Andrew Wakefield, who had claimed: “to have found a link between the [measles] vaccine gastrointestinal problems found in many autistic children and autism itself. His work was subsequently discredited, and the BMJ, a British medical journal, concluded that flaws in his scientific study were not honest mistakes but an “elaborate fraud.”
In the case of clean air standards, the big bully on the scene seems to be the EPA. In an era of increasingly clean air standards and documented ever-cleaner air, certain anomalies stand out. One is the claimed increase in childhood asthma even as air quality has continuously improved. Cleaner air correlated with increased asthma? Indoor air may be more polluted than outdoor air.
EPA funded studies include those done by the American Lung Association, and the American Cancer Society. The EPA has placed reliance on two air quality studies: the Harvard Six Cities Study (HSCS) and the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Prevention Study II (CPS II). Both studies began in the 1980s, and linked information on individuals to air pollution data obtained from monitoring stations…notably outdoor air monitors. From these studies, the EPA concluded that fine dust particles were a health hazard and required new levels of regulation. In 1997 the first-ever Clean Air Act regulations on particulate matter smaller than 2.5 microns in diameter were promulgated by the EPA. Not emphasized was the fact that the composition of this particulate matter varies across the country.
Most scientific results are expected to be made available to other researchers for further study and confirmation. The Harvard researchers promised the participants confidentiality, and claim on this account that the data could not be shared. Confidentiality agreements are common, and why a work-around in these two particular studies could not be accommodated remains an unanswered question. Similar refusal to make raw scientific data public has been a hallmark of radical environmentalists in the Climategate affair, and in the University of Virginia /M. Mann sequestering of publicly funded climate research.
As the EPA air quality standards have such wide-reaching cost impacts on the economy, it has been challenged by Congress to produce the raw data. Were the raw data bullied to give favored findings, and alternative explanations ignored? What level of relative risk was chosen to prove the air-quality health impact link?
In the interim, independent researchers have challenged the assumptions and methodology used by the EPA in establishing its claims. Former EPA chief Lisa Jackson testified September 22, 2011 before congress: “I was briefed not too long ago. If we could reduce particulate matter to healthy levels, it would have the same impact as finding a cure for cancer in our country.”
When Johns Hopkins-trained biostatistician Steve Milloy examined a similar cohort of residents in California by examining actual hospital admission records, he found “no correlation between changes in ambient PM2.5 and mortality” from any cause of death.” Other experts in statistical analysis have given similar testimony before Congress bemoaning the availability of EPA data for independent analysis.
Academic freedom morphs into academic bullying when favorite causes are threaten by non-conforming research findings. James Enstrom had been a member of the research faculty, UCLA School of Public Health, conducting epidemiological research there since 1973 until he published his studies challenging the California air quality bureaucracy claims of deadly air pollution. UCLA promptly responded by firing Enstrom, exercising its role as the big bully on campus.
Children are taught that bullying is unjust, yet they grow up to see themselves surrounded by a nation of bullies. Hypocrisy is learned at an early age.
Dr. Charles Battig, (online here) is a retired physician and electrical engineer. In the 1960s he served as “principal scientist in bio-medical monitoring systems” at North American Aviation Los Angeles in support of the Apollo Moon Mission. Later he served in the U.S. Public Health Service at NIH, Bethesda MD, in the biomedical engineering branch. Following teaching appointments in anesthesiology at UCLA and Mt. Sinai, NYC, he entered the private practice of anesthesiology until retirement.