Monday, March 22, 2010

UCLA Apologizes, If They Offended
Anyone With HIV Math Model

Recently, I wrote up complaint to several people at UCLA above Sally Blower, the math modeler who's created two-months of controversy, and I asked her superiors to investigate her research and the stigmatization stemming from her model, study and the UCLA press office's news release.

At the same time, gay health writer Clinton Fein was delving into a few of the myriad and extensive controversies surrounding Blower's previous and current research, and her stormy tenure at both UCSF and UCLA. Fein wrote two great, detailed essays, posted here and here, that the university simply couldn't ignore.

Late last week, UCLA Vice Chancellor for Research, Dr. Roberto Peccei, responded with a limp response that tepidly apologized for all the trouble caused by Blower and UCLA, with a huge caveat along the lines of "if anyone took offense" language. I guess a weak apology is better than none, right?

But this note from Peccei is not enough to make the lingering questions about Blower's research and the UCLA press office's role in creating the controversy go away.

Peccei and his UCLA colleagues can keep repeating how much they respect Blower and stand by her, how fabulous it is her work was published in a scientific journal, but I believe one reason why the apology was finally made was to show Blower's husband, Nelson Freimer, that UCLA is working to defend his wife. The Peccei apology was not copied to Blower, but instead was copied to Freimer.

In Science magazine of April 1, 2005, it was reported that Freimer, a rising star in the filed of genetics much sought-after by UCLA, that his working for the university was contingent on his wife getting a position:

Blower joined the biomathematics department in 2000 after she and her husband struck a deal with UCLA. The university was aggressively recruiting Freimer, who said he would come only if his wife was also offered a tenured position.

I must also point out what key component is sorely missing from this UCLA apology, and has been missing since January when Blower's work was first published and raising questions from many institutions and people in San Francisco. Nowhere in this note does Peccei explain what Blower is doing to address the problems of drug resistance among people with AIDS here.

Blower has done nothing that I'm aware of to find solutions for PWAs with resistance in SF, nor has she lifted a finger to deal with the frightening conclusion of her math model:

"Consequently, currently circulating [AIDS drug]-resistant strains in San Francisco pose a great and immediate threat to global public health."

What happened was Blower and UCLA made their alarmist claims, threw their study down from their ivory tower, and said let others solve the problems. In short, PWAs in San Francisco and our medical conditions were used by Blower to advance her academic career. The last thing on her twisted agenda is working with PWAs, the SF Department of Health, nurses and doctors in clinics dealing with actual living and breathing PWAs, a creating solutions.

Thanks to Blower, UCLA once-sterling research reputation in San Francisco gay and AIDS communities has been severely tarnished. It will take concrete actions, respectful community engagement, and a genuine and unequivocal apology to restore that reputation.

Here is Peccei's note:

I am writing to you regarding the recent publication in Science entitled “Evolutionary Dynamics of Complex Networks of Drug-resistant Strains: the Case of San Francisco” by Professor Sally Blower, current and former members of her research group (Dr. Robert Smith, Mr. Justin Okano, and Ms. Erin Bodine) and her clinical collaborator, Professor James Kahn at UCSF.

I understand that this research paper has caused consternation among some and even the suggestion that it should be withdrawn. The paper was thoroughly peer-reviewed and draws its conclusions from a rigorous data-driven mathematical modeling study. There is no reason for the paper to be withdrawn. Professor Blower is a distinguished member of the faculty at UCLA and a valued colleague within the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. The University fully supports Professor Blower and the published research.

I can assure you that UCLA never intended to offend anyone within the LGBT community in San Francisco and I apologize to any who may have been. UCLA has been and remains sensitive to the concerns of the LGBT community and, indeed, undertakes a wide variety of research that directly and indirectly benefits that community.

I also would appreciate it if you would communicate directly with me, and me alone, on this matter.

1 comment:

Greg Milward said...

What an arrogant response: Be happy for the sensitivity we show to the LGBT community and ONLY communicate with me.

That would make me copy even more people on any correspondence to this pontificating jerk.

Keep up the fight---it's fascinating reading here in the midwest..:)