Saturday, February 27, 2010

UCLA HIV Modeler in '05:
'Threatening Students, Harassing Faculty'?

Sally Blower, the UCLA mathematician at the center of a continuing two-month controversy over her dubious study alleging drug-resistant HIV strains in San Francisco, has quite a stormy and tempestuous history. Much of it is only now coming to light, as gay and AIDS activists demand accountability from her and UCLA.

In the April 1, 2005, edition of Science magazine, Blower was the subject of an article detailing some of her troubles at the university. Science reported:

[Blower was accused] of threatening students and harassing faculty, according to documents supplied [by her and her husband, UCLA geneticist Nelson Freimer]. Blower, who left the University of California, San Francisco, 5 years ago with Freimer after accusing the university of gender discrimination, says the charges are false. [...]

The charges are only the latest storm surrounding Blower. On 12 November 2004, the dean of the UCLA School of Medicine, Gerald Levey, served Blower notice that she was barred from entering the biomathematics administrative offices pending resolution of charges filed in June. The November letter accused Blower of causing hives and increased blood pressure in two department administrators because she refused to leave their offices until security was summoned.

No word on whether that was drug-resistant hives. Heh. Blower denied these and other allegations of serious misconduct, and Science included quotes from several of her defenders at UCLA. She did confess to some bad behavior:

Blower does admit to sending "rude e-mails" to members of her department but says she wouldn't have done so if they had responded to her inquiries for financial information and for room scheduling, so she could hold classes.

That's interesting, because she has not responded to inquiries from myself and gay political artist and health advocate Clinton Fein, for information about her latest questionable HIV math model.

Science also reports some of the factors that contributed to her gaining employment with UCLA. Apparently it wasn't her credentials alone that secured her 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.

Because of confidentiality rules, the university was unable to present its side of the controversies and charges to Science. A few days after that article was printed, the UCLA Daily Bruin newspaper shed more light on other problems Blower was facing:

A comprehensive document that cited the charges against her first surfaced in June 2004, Blower said, adding she was asked to submit a written response in rebuttal within 10 days.

Blower said she has filed countercharges against Meyer, William Friedman, an associate dean of the School of Medicine, and Elliot Landaw, the chairman of the biomathematics department. She declined to discuss the specifics of the charges, but said they were filed because she felt she was not included in the department’s graduate program and was being ignored altogether.

So how was all this resolved? It was not until October 2006, more than a year after Science first reported on the troubles, that Blower and UCLA reached a settlement. A terse statement from the university press office summed up the resolution, emphasis mine:

Professor Blower acknowledges that over the course of several years her behavior was at times inappropriate, causing harm to her colleagues and discord in her department, and that her disparaging statements about the Department of Biomathematics, its members and students, and the University were unwarranted.

Professor Blower further acknowledges that she has not been the subject of gender discrimination, retaliation, harassment or improper exclusion from departmental activities.

Based on these acknowledgements, as well as on Professor Blower's separation from the Department of Biomathematics, and other personal factors, Professor Blower and the university have resolved the dispute and have agreed to make no further public statements.

What a pity that details of the resolution are shrouded in silence and secrecy. And those Blower-created problems from 2004 - 2006 at UCLA were hardly her sole troubles within the UC system. She also had sour relations with colleagues in 2000 at UCSF. One of the UCSF professors who battled with her, laid out his side of a controversy involving lab space in a public email:

Shortly after the letter was sent, Dr. Blower failed to show up at a scheduled meeting with me to discuss the situation and what her space requirements would be. She adamantly refused to move out of the loaned space or to consider alternative space. In short, she did not contribute to constructive efforts at solving the problem at hand.

That last part, about her being uncooperative in finding solutions in 2000, is the same egotistical dynamic I am seeing in 2010. Blower has done nothing to respectfully engage the gay and AIDS communities of San Francisco, to solve the stigmatizing controversy whipped up by her confusing drug-resistant HIV strain allegations dumped on us in January.

Make no mistake about it. Sally Blower is an irresponsible and deeply unethical researcher, who still owes the city of San Francisco an open discussion about her newest confusing AIDS math model.

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