Genocide-denying director of the SMC awarded an OBE
Saturday, 15 June 2013 13:15
Fiona Fox, the CEO of the (London) Science Media Centre, has today been awarded an OBE (Order Of The British Empire) for "services to science".
As a science blogger has noted, those "services" primarily involve operating as the gatekeeper between science and the public. He also notes that the bestowing of this honour completely ignores Fox's failure to apologise for her denial of "the Rwandan Genocide as part of a political group that made a habit of such things."
It isn't just the genocide denial, however, that makes the awarding of this establishment accolade a complete disgrace, but the fact that the genocide denial is symptomatic of a lack of ethics apparent elsewhere in Fox's record - see the two items below.
It's a record that also demonstrates that Fox is anything but fussy about truth and evidence when it comes to pushing her ideological agenda, which is a revealing characteristic for someone appointed to play a leading role in overseeing science communication in the UK.
Just how brilliantly the SMC under Fox has managed to manipulate the media on issues like GM is analysed here:
Only yesterday, Jonathan Leake, the science and environment editor of The Sunday Times, asked on Twitter, "Whenever scientists question GM the SMC lines up experts to knock them down. Why??" He told the SMC, "Scientists should be able to monitor [this technology] without fear of ridicule by your experts."
That seems unlikely to happen on Fiona Fox's watch.
What you should know about Fiona Fox:
1.Fiona Fox - LobbyWatch profile
2.Science Media Centre Director Made Fake Call
1.Fiona Fox - LobbyWatch profile
Fiona Fox is the director of the Science Media Centre (SMC). Despite having no previous background in science or science communication, Fox has been afforded, since her appointment in December 2001, the status of expert...
Within a matter of months of Fox becoming director, the SMC was embroiled in controversy over its activities. It was accused of operating as 'a sort of Mandelsonian rapid rebuttal unit'  and of employing 'some of the clumsiest spin techniques of New Labour' . There have also been controversies about both the SMC's funding and Fox's background.
According to the profile provided by the SMC, Fox previously ran 'the media operation at the National Council for One Parent Families' and was 'Head of Media at CAFOD, the Catholic aid agency'. In addition, the SMC says, Fox 'has written extensively for newspapers and publications, authored several policy papers and contributed to books on humanitarian aid'. 
What they do not say is that throughout much of that time Fox led a double life. It's one which seriously undermines the SMC's claims to be open, rational, balanced and independent, not to mention its being in the business of ensuring the 'that the public gets access to all sides of the debate about controversial issues.'
It's a double life that connects the SMC's director to the inner circles of a political network that compares environmentalists to Nazis and eulogises GM crops and cloning. More disturbingly it is a network whose members have a long history of infiltrating media organisations and science-related lobby groups in order to promote their own agenda. It is also a network that has targeted certain media organisations and sought to discredit them or their journalists.
Denying genocide in Rwanda
Fox's double life was first exposed after an article entitled 'Massacring the truth in Rwanda' appeared in the December 1995 issue of Living Marxism . The magazine subsequently reported receiving 'a stream of outraged letters from the Nazi-hunters of the prestigious Simon Wiesenthal Center in Jerusalem, the Rwandan embassy, the London-based African Rights group and others.'
Rakiya Omaar and Alex de Waal of African Rights wrote to the magazine to express their outrage at the article:
'Investigating crimes against humanity gives one a high threshold of shock. But the article by Fiona Foster on Rwanda (Massacring the truth in Rwanda, December 1995) was the sort of writing that we never expected to appear in print. We each read it with a growing sense of outrage, leaving us at the end simply numb. Had your paper been entitled Living Fascism we might have been less surprised, but even then we would have expected something a little more circumspect. Not only do you make an apologia for the genocide – the first to appear in print in a widely sold English language publication – but go so far as to question its very reality. This is not only an affront to the truth, in defiance of the fundamentals of humanity, but deeply offensive to the survivors of the third indisputable genocide of this century.'
Omaar and de Waal, who now works for the U.N., describe the article as 'shoddy journalism' and the ideas advanced in it as 'absurd'. All of which 'would matter less if you were not dealing with one of the greatest crimes of the century, and playing into the hands of genocidal killers'. Omaar and de Waal subsequently established that 'Fiona Foster', the author of the article, was Fiona Fox, then a press officer for CAFOD.
Those trying to understand Fox's bid, in the words of a Guardian article, 'to rewrite history in favour of the murderers', have focussed on her media role at a Catholic aid agency, linking this to the embarrassment of the Church over the role of some priests and bishops in the mass murder. What has received less attention is the nature of Fox's relationship with Living Marxism.
By the time of the Rwandan article Fox had, in fact, been regularly writing for the monthly review of the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) for at least two and a half years. Living Marxism was first published in 1987 and although the LM archive only goes back to 1992 and not all issues are accessible, it is clear that Fox's articles in Living Marxism stretch from at least 1992 to 1999, ie to not long before it was forced into closure. Indeed, prior to her Rwanda article, Fox was one of Living Marxism's most prolific contributors, on one occasion even contributing two articles to a single issue (LM 75).
Her use of the Fiona Foster alias may have reflected a need to keep her Living Marxism connections hidden, although the use of aliases was also a standard practice among leading RCP supporters. These aliases typically involved retaining first names and altering surnames. For instance, Frank Furedi was Frank Richards, James Hughes was James Heartfield, Joan Hoey was Joan Phillips, Keith Teare was Keith Tompson and Claire Fox, Fiona's sister, was Claire Foster.
The main focus of most of Fiona Fox's articles was the troubles in Northern Ireland. In her pieces Fox makes reference to both the Irish Freedom Movement and the Campaign Against Militarism, both of which were front groups for the RCP. The line Fox advances in the articles is precisely that of the RCP which unequivocally supported the IRA in its armed struggle against 'British imperialism'.
According to a former RCP supporter, Fiona Fox became the head of the Irish Freedom Movement which had a position of never condemning the IRA even when it committed terrorist atrocities aimed at civilian targets. In the end, her support for the 'armed struggle' was to outflank even that of the IRA.
After the start of the peace process, Fox's articles provided a platform for the dissident republican Tommy McKearney (See: Irish republican speaks out – LM 66, April 94 Opposing the 'peace process' - LM 75, January 95). Like the RCP, McKearney saw the peace process as 'a historic defeat for the liberation movement', or as he puts it in one of Fox's pieces, 'a cynical ploy to dupe the republican movement' into surrendering unconditionally to the British.
'"First and foremost I don't believe that it is a peace process at all." That was how Tommy McKearney, a former IRA prisoner of war, began his speech to the Campaign Against Militarism conference at Wembley in March 1994. He concluded by calling on his audience to expose Britain as a warmonger not a peacemaker in Ireland.'
In spite of providing a platform for someone who was opposing the peace process in Ireland, in June 2003 Fiona Fox [http://www.terrorismresearch.net/chairbiographies.htm chaired] a session at the two day conference Communicating the War on Terror which took place at the Royal Institution, as did Bruno Waterfield and Bill Durodie, who organised the conference for the Centre for Defence Studies at Kings College London. All have had connections to RCP/LM as had conference speakers like Frank Furedi, Phil Hammond, Michael Fitzpatrick and Mick Hume, LM's former editor. LM contributor and Assistant Director of Sense About Science, Ellen Raphael helped Durodie organise the event. Their LM connections do not appear to have been disclosed to conference participants or fellow contributors.
Fox's last article for LM, which was on Africa, was in 1999 but she appears to have continued her connection with the group, chairing a meeting, for example, for the Institute of Ideas (IoI), the organisation formed by her sister Claire when LM was sued out of existence, in February 2002.
Claire Fox's LM connections and role within the RCP have been much more public than her sister's, but interestingly in terms of Living Marxism, Claire Fox's contributions to Living Marxism do not begin until December 1993 – eighteen months after her sister's – and they are at first only very intermittent.
Fiona Fox's presence in the SMC also needs to be seen in the context of LM contributors holding senior positions, in a series of organisations which lobby on issues related to biotechnology, e.g. Sense About Science (managing director: Tracey Brown; director: Ellen Raphael), Genetic Interest Group (former policy director: John Gillott), Progress Educational Trust (former director: Juliet Tizzard), and the Scientific Alliance (advisor: Bill Durodie).
This background has to be an immense cause for concern in relation to Fox's role as director of the SMC. Fox's Green College Lecture was titled, 'The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth: so where does that leave journalism?' But neither Fox nor the Science Media Centre have been willing to disclose any of the truth about her long years of involvement with a network of extremists who engage in infiltration of media organisations and science-related lobby groups in order to promote their own agenda. It is also a network which eulogises GM crops and cloning and is extremely hostile towards their critics.
Fox's own journalism might also suggest that she is none too fussy about either truth or openness when it comes to pushing her agenda. It is perhaps revealing that someone whose own journalism has been called 'shoddy' and 'an affront to the truth', and has proved enormously controversial, has been selected as the director of an organisation which claims the role of making sure that controversial scientific issues like GM crops are reported accurately in the media.
 Ronan Bennett, The conspiracy to undermine the truth about our GM drama, The Guardian, 2 June 2002, accessed March 22 2009
 Alan Rusbridger, Fields of ire, The Guardian, 7 June 2002 accessed March 22 2009
 Staff, Science Media Centre website, version placed in web archive 17 January 2004, accessed March 2009
 Massacring the truth in Rwanda, LM, December 1995, accessed in web archive March 23 2009
2.Science Media Centre Director Made Fake Call
Fiona Fox, the Director of Britain's pro-GM Science Media Centre, is in the news. It's as a result of the disgraced former Labour politician Jim Devine being ordered to pay his former office manager 35,000 pounds in damages after she won an employment tribunal claim against him. Devine is already facing a criminal trial over allegations he fiddled his expenses as an MP.
A key part of Devine's former office manager's case centered around a hoax call. The telephone call was made to the office manager by a friend of Devine posing as a journalist looking into MPs' expenses.
Eventually the office manager realised the call had been a hoax. But this was only after she came across an e-mail to Devine marked urgent from Fiona Fox, Director of the Science Media Centre. The e-mail was mostly about the Human Fertility and Embryology Bill but at the end was a PS referring to the hoax call Fox had made to Devine's office manager.
Fox and Devine seem to have struck up their close friendship while working together to win public support for animal-human hybrid embryos during the passage of the Embryology Bill. The fact that Devine was a Catholic was particularly useful, and he even brokered a special meeting between the head of the Catholic Church in Scotland and scientific supporters of hybrid embryos.
The Science Media Centre was involved in co-ordinating the media work in support of the Embryology Bill, and Fox and her collaborators were particularly anxious not to see the Bill bogged down by public opposition, as happened with GM.
Fox's involvement in the Devine hoax has not gone unnoticed in science communication circles. Ian Sample, the science correspondent of The Guardian, has written:
"Though appalling from the off, it was not the top line [of the employment tribunal story] that shocked many of my colleagues most. What came as a surprise was the revelation far down the story that the fake call in question was made by Fiona Fox, head of the Science Media Centre in London, a prominent venue for press conferences on all matters scientific and medical. Otherwise articulate people who read the story struggled to say more than three letters: WTF?"
But before anyone assumes that the Director of the Science Media Centre doing such a bizarre favour for an allegedly corrupt politician, is just some otherwise inexplicable lapse of judgement, they should probe a little deeper into Fox's extraordinary background.
Fox has consistently led a double life that includes even more shameful "lapses of judgement" made in the interests of her ideological agenda.
Probe nails scientists in GM crop scandal
Tuesday, 18 December 2012 13:36
1.Indian research council in GM crop scandal
2.Probe nails scientists in GM cotton scandal
1.Indian research council in GM crop scandal
Farming News (UK), 17 December 2012
A committee set up to investigate a scandal surrounding India's first public-sector GM crop (a genetically modified cotton plant), have indicted scientists involved for deliberately misleading regulators.
The crop in question is Bikaneri Narma-Bt cotton, known as BN-Bt cotton. The plant was designed to kill insect pests by releasing Bt toxins and released for sale in 2009. It was developed by a number of research organisations working with the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR). Developers claimed to have used a novel gene sequence created 'in-house,' however, the cotton seeds were withdrawn from sale in December 2011, after they were found to contain a gene patented in the United States by agribusiness Monsanto.
The committee investigating the scandal was set up by ICAR itself. In its report, published last week, the committee accused ICAR and two research institutions involved in producing the crop of "scientific, institutional and ethical failure". The committee euphemistically said scientists at the institutions in New Delhi, Nagpur and Dharwad had 'contaminated' the seeds with Monsanto's MON-531 gene and claimed to have created a new gene, BNLA106.
Although evidence of another gene in one of the early samples of BN-Bt was present, the panel of investigators said they could not prove that this was BNLA106 and requested further tests be carried out.
The panel also discovered evidence of a cover-up, suggesting the cotton's developers were aware of the 'contamination'. It also indicted two scientists for conflict of interest, as they had been involved in both developing the GM seed and later approving its commercial release.
The seeds had been released to compete against GM seeds sold by agribusinesses; the publicly-developed BN-Bt seeds were available at a fraction of the price and seed from the crops could be saved and reused, which major agribusinesses do not allow. However, seed company Mahyco, a partner of Monsanto in India, complained that the BN-Bt contained a gene developed by Monsanto.
However, the gene in question is used widely in GM crops sold in India as the 1985 patent on MON-531 has expired.
The scandal raises questions about the regulation of GM crops and biosecurity in one of the world's major agricultural producers, where the technology is still highly controversial.
Strong voices oppose GM crops in India and maintain that patent laws should not be applied to seeds. Delhi-based sustainable food expert Dr Vandana Shiva has said that current trends in industrial agriculture, including patenting seeds present a "serious risk to the future of the world's seed and food security," as they limit growers' access to seeds, either by copyrighting genetically modified seeds as new organisms or protecting a certain breeding method, which prevents the saving and exchange of seeds.
She maintains that, in addition to the food security implications, locally adapted and culturally important crop varieties are suffering as a result of the use of patent laws.
In the UK, sustainable farming advocates have reacted strongly to the unequivocal support for GM shown by Environment minister Owen Paterson during an interview last week. Several interest groups have warned of a potential industry-backed push to introduce GM crops into the UK; although EU regulations covering GM remain strict and the devolved governments of Wales and Scotland oppose the technology, the Westminster government is a supporter of GM within Europe.
Soil Association Scotland director Laura Stewart responded to Mr Paterson's assertions that the introduction of GM crops would benefit the UK, and that concerns over the technology are "humbug." She said, "Studies have demonstrated that GM crops do not offer a sustainable solution. Instead, they lock farmers into depending on costly inputs from a handful of powerful chemical companies and, undoubtedly, bring the production of food further under corporate control."
Summarising a number of reservations held over GM crops, Stewart added, "Instead of reducing pesticide use, data from the US suggests that more potent chemicals are used on these crops than on non-GM alternatives… Once GM crops are out in the environment, they cannot be contained, so they deny that choice. Meanwhile, regulators don't undertake good enough safety checks or even ask whether new technologies are in the public interest."
2.Probe nails scientists in GM cotton scandal
The Telegraph, December 17 2012
Nagpur, Dec. 16: An expert committee probing a scandal relating to India’s first public sector-developed genetically modified (GM) cotton has indicted the scientists involved for foul play.
The Indian Council of Agricultural Research, which oversaw the project, admitted last year that the Bikaneri Narma-Bt (BN-Bt) cotton contained not an “indigenously” created gene sequence as claimed but a gene patented by US firm Monsanto.
The committee has also indicted the ICAR for scientific, institutional and ethical failure.
Indirectly, the probe report raises doubts on the efficacy of India’s bio-safety regulatory mechanism, considering the ease with which it was fooled about the GM cotton’s genetic composition, although the bio-safety clearance itself is not under question.
The five-member probe panel was set up by the ICAR itself and was headed by Sudhir Sopory, JNU vice-chancellor and plant biologist. It handed in its 129-page report in August but the ICAR made it public only yesterday,
On February 6 this year, The Telegraph had reported how BN-Bt was released commercially in mid-2009 and planted extensively. The seeds were not only far cheaper than other available GM cotton seeds but, unlike the rest, didn’t need to be bought every year — they could be reused from the previous year’s plants.
But in December 2009, the ICAR suddenly withdrew the seeds. In December 2011, it acknowledged that the gene sequence in the BN-Bt had not been developed in-house. The gene used was Mon-531, available in 2,000-odd cotton seed varieties sold in the Indian market (because Monsanto’s 1985 patent on it has expired).
With private sector Bt cotton seeds flooding the market, BN-Bt was developed as a collaborative public sector effort by the National Research Centre on Plant Biotechnology (NRCPB), New Delhi; University of Agricultural Sciences, Dharwad; and the Central Institute for Cotton Research, Nagpur.
The results were published by the principal scientists in Current Science in 2007. According to this paper, the Dharwad university developed BN-Bt using an in-house gene sequence, BNLA106, developed from the cry1Ac gene-construct provided by the Delhi institute.
The Nagpur institute carried out the bio-safety and field trials and later sold the seeds to farmers after the regulator, the Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC), approved their commercialisation.
That the seeds contained Mon-531 and not BNLA106 came to light after two scientists from the Dharwad institution filed an RTI query.
The Sopory panel has confirmed that the “contamination” — which appears to be a euphemism for foul play — by Mon-531 happened before the commercialisation but went undetected by the GEAC.
It said the only Bt gene found in the BN-Bt samples from the fields was Mon-531, but a “purified” sample provided by the Dharwad institute — when the scandal first broke — had a gene sequence other than Mon-531. The panel said it could not verify if this was BNLA106 and suggested third-party verification.
It cited another anomaly. The cry1Ac gene was developed by Illimar Altosaar of the University of Ottawa and obtained by R.P. Sharma, former director of the Delhi institute, by signing a material transfer agreement (MTA) that allows only educational use. In 2006, Sharma tried to negotiate a freedom-to-operate agreement — which would have allowed other uses — with Altosaar but failed for reasons that remain unclear.
But in 2006, the ICAR decided that Sharma had signed the MTA in his “personal capacity”, that a freedom-to-operate agreement was not necessary, and that the gene construct would be referred to as an “NRCPB construct”.
The committee said, “It was a violation of the MTA and, to say the least, unethical.”
GMO pig study scientists reply to Monsanto
Friday, 14 June 2013 22:04
NOTE: Monsanto has released a few comments on the Carman et al study, which showed increased severe stomach inflammation and uterine abnormality in pigs fed GM feed.
Carman and colleagues have answered the Monsanto critique (below). More answers to critics can be read at: gmojudycarman.org
A specific reply to Monsanto
Dr Judy Carman and co-authors
GMOJudyCarman.org, 13 June 2013
Monsanto (M): Some of the factors reported as different between the test and control groups appear to be in the normal range of observation for both.
Answer Summary: Monsanto provided no proof for this statement. Carman et al used adequate sample sizes, appropriate statistical tests and generated reliable findings.
Detailed Answer: Monsanto do not back up their assertion with any data. That is, they do not provide an officially-endorsed normal range for uterus weights for pigs, nor do they provide an officially-endorsed normal level of stomach inflammation in pigs. In fact, they provide no data at all.
It is important to understand that Monsanto are saying that the level of severe stomach inflammation seen in pigs fed the GM diet is normal in piggeries – ie that it's normal for a third of pigs to experience severe stomach inflammation in piggeries. This is a worrying animal welfare allegation about conditions in commercial piggeries and Monsanto needs to provide proof for their allegations.
It is also important to understand that the level of severe stomach inflammation in the GM-fed pigs was many times higher than in the non-GM fed pigs. Overall, GM-fed pigs had 2.6 times the level of stomach inflammation, with female pigs experiencing 2.2 times the rate and male pigs experiencing 4 times the rate. This is not “normal”.
M: The author’s speculation about differing uterine weights might be the result of pigs in estrus (heat) which would be complicated by the use of a pen design that had only 1 or 2 pens per treatment.
Answer Summary: Randomisation and proximate housing ensured estrus was not a confounding factor.
Detailed Answer: Two to six pens were actually used per dietary group, depending on the age of the pigs, not 1 or 2 as Monsanto says.
The weights of the uterus cannot be due to differing rates of estrus (heat) in the pigs, as pigs were thoroughly randomised before they began their diets. And then all the pens were placed very close to each other, so that pigs could touch snouts between pens. So, if estrus in one pig stimulated estrus in another pig in this study, then all the pigs in both dietary groups should have been in estrus together. Which means that estrus cannot be causing the differences that were seen between the GM-fed and the non-GM-fed groups.
By Monsanto suggesting that the rate of estrus was different between the GM-fed and non-GM-fed pigs, then, because of the way the study was conducted, with everything except for the GM aspect of the diet “randomised out” from having an effect on the results, Monsanto is actually suggesting that the GM diet caused a difference in the rates of estrus in pigs. This is a hypothesis that is both interesting and worrying for health and should be followed-up.
M: The results are due to poor animal husbandry practices, as shown by the fact that pigs died, even in the control group.
Answer Summary: The pigs in both groups were treated equally, humanely and within commercial piggery standards. Any assumption otherwise would be contesting the standards of the U.S. government and should be directed as a complaint to U.S. legislators.
Detailed answer: Pigs were housed under conditions that apply in commercial piggeries in the US. If Monsanto is suggesting that these pigs were subjected to inhumanely poor conditions, then they are also suggesting more widely that pigs in commercial piggeries in the US are subjected to those conditions as well. Pigs in commercial piggeries are housed in groups. They can and do get infectious diseases and there are indeed a number of infectious diseases that tend to occur in US commercial piggeries. Furthermore, pigs fight, bite, and harass each other. As a result, some pigs, particularly runts, can, and do, die. Piggery owners expect some pigs to die and they factor this into their financial returns. Indeed, if no pigs had died in this study, many US piggery owners would have found the results of the study rather incredible.
The number of pigs that died was essentially the same between the GM-fed and non-GM-fed pigs. All pigs that died underwent autopsies. In all cases, death was found to be due to things such as infectious diseases, ie things that were piggery-related. At no time did any pig handler or veterinarian note, or autopsy indicate, that there was anything treatment-related associated with any pig’s death, including intestinal or stomach problems. Moreover, the number of deaths were the same between groups, which adds weight to the evidence that there was no treatment-related aspect to these deaths.
All pigs, regardless of dietary group, were fed and treated the same way by experienced pig handlers that were blinded as to the dietary group of the pig so that any differences between the two dietary groups can only reasonably be due to the effect of the GM component of the diet.
A Silent Forest
Monday, 12 April 2010 10:00
The Growing Threat of Genetically Engineered Trees. This award winning documentary film explores the growing global threat of genetically engineered trees to our environment and to human health. The film features renowned geneticist and host of PBS' The Nature of Things David Suzuki, who explores the unknown and possibly disastrous consequences of improperly tested GE methods.(Total time 46:16)
Appeals Court backs whistleblower in GM virus case
Tuesday, 18 December 2012 13:33
NOTE: from SynBioWatch: Microbiologist Becky McClain, infected by a genetically engineered virus in a Pfizer lab, became the first whistleblower in the nation to try to shed light on the threats of biotechnology to workers and the public. Now, the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York, has validated her claims that Pfizer "acted willfully, maliciously, or with reckless indifference" concerning allegations that her free-speech rights had been violated and she had faced retaliation for raising safety concerns.
Appeals court backs scientist in Pfizer retaliation case
The Day, December 17 2012
Pfizer Inc. whistleblower Becky McClain’s legal battle to draw public attention to worker-safety issues came to an end Friday as an appeals court refused to overturn a $2.3 million verdict in favor of the former Groton-based scientist.
Pfizer said it is “evaluating its options” on whether to appeal the verdict to the U.S. Supreme Court. But McClain’s attorneys said no constitutional claim was associated with the case.
“Justice prevailed,” said attorney Bruce E. Newman, who represented McClain along with attorney Stephen J. Fitzgerald.
“We disagree with the court’s conclusion but respect its decision,” Pfizer said in a statement.
McClain, according to a three-judge panel of the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York, proved her claims that Pfizer “acted willfully, maliciously, or with reckless indifference” concerning allegations that her free-speech rights had been violated and she had faced retaliation for raising safety concerns.
One of McClain’s main concerns — that Pfizer had exposed her to an unsafe laboratory in Groton, leading to an illness from a novel virus that left her dangerously ill — never got a hearing in the courts. And McClain said she is unsure whether her message about needing to shore up regulations regarding the nation’s largely unregulated biotech labs is getting through, but she is glad to have the financial security to pursue better medical care.
“We’re happy,” McClain said in a phone interview. “But whistleblowers need swifter, quicker protections. Ten years is a long time to make it through something like this.”
McClain became ill in 2004, was fired by Pfizer in 2005 and filed her lawsuit the following year. In March 2010, an eight-person jury at U.S. District Court in Hartford decided that Pfizer should pay McClain $1.37 million, an amount that was increased by Judge Warren W. Eginton when he added in attorneys’ fees and punitive damages.
The New York-based court panel, which included retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, heard Pfizer’s appeal in October. McClain’s attorneys plan to file an additional claim against Pfizer to cover interest charges on the initial court award.
Pfizer claimed that the former Deep River resident, now living in Albuquerque, N.M., was fired after abandoning her job.
“Pfizer holds the health and safety of its colleagues and contractors among its highest priorities thereby reaffirming the earlier federal court decision that Ms. McClain’s allegations of work safety issues were completely without merit,” Pfizer said in its statement.
Pfizer referred to a judge’s decision to disallow a legal claim related to McClain’s concerns about being exposed to a dangerous virus. The judge who made the decision later disqualified herself from pursuing the case because of a conflict of interest.
McClain, a longtime molecular biologist at Pfizer’s Groton laboratories, claimed that Pfizer refused to hand over records showing the type of virus to which she was exposed. Pfizer said McClain was never exposed to a hazard, and therefore there were no records to hand over.
McClain filed a complaint with the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which investigated the claim but could not substantiate the safety problems. McClain said OSHA didn’t have the staff expertise to determine hazards on a molecular level. McClain was subsequently fired after taking a leave from work to fight her illness, which caused periodic paralysis, she said.
McClain said she still doesn’t understand why Pfizer didn’t address her safety concerns instead of trying to sweep them under the rug. She said her actions could have saved Pfizer money in the long run, in addition to protecting the public health and safety.
“Why would you retaliate against someone like that?” she said.
McClain, who has become a spokesman for worker safety groups nationwide, said she feels businesses such as Pfizer are becoming too influential in the academic community. The result, she said, is that academics are feeling constrained in speaking out about matters that might put lucrative partnerships with industry at risk.
Newman, McClain’s attorney, added that the case highlighted the work that still needs to be done nationwide to ensure that workers and the public are protected from biological hazards at laboratories.
“That is still an area that needs to be addressed by OSHA,” he said.
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