In Fairness to UCLA
In their 2,500-word article “California Deal Tightens Lab Safety,” Jyllian Kemsley and Michael Torrice fail to give even passing mention to UCLA’s substantial efforts to improve lab safety—which have become a model for other institutions—since the tragic December 2008 accident and long before the Los Angeles County district attorney ever filed charges (C&EN, Aug. 13, page 34).
This leaves your readers with the wholly false impression that if not for the DA’s actions, the University of California, Los Angeles, never would have done anything to improve lab safety. Furthermore, in an article with 27 hyperlinks, not one links to UCLA’s widely circulated statement on the matter. In the end, UCLA is afforded nothing more than a single throwaway line in the last paragraph. The same goes for a July 27 C&EN Online Latest News post, “University of California Reaches Agreement in Connection with Charges in Lab Researcher’s Death.” That’s especially disappointing since UCLA has worked hard to give Kemsley open access to our actions and accomplishments over the course of her extensive reporting on this issue. She knows full well how hard we’ve worked, but she chooses to completely ignore it.
As a former journalist, I’m not naive enough to expect advocacy for our side from any news organization, but I do expect fairness.
By Steve RiteaI have a few responses to this rather silly note, which I suspect is a perfunctory protest on the part of UCLA. (Only UCLA cares about UCLA's image; I suspect, from the chemistry community's point of view, that UCLA is a side player in all of this, and it's Professor Harran and his fate that the most of us are really interested in.)
- First, please quit calling yourselves "a model for other institutions." It would be a lot more effective to try to quote other people calling you that. It has happened, I think, and it would offer you a little more credibility than repeated self-praise.
- Regarding UCLA's actions between the death of Ms. Sangji and the DA's actions, I think it's nonsense to think that any of your actions are purely self-motivated by sorrow. You were caught with crummy lab safety conditions beforehand, you knew some kind of legal action was probable and you decide to try to clean up your act. Yay! As for your actions, this is what the settlement with the Los Angeles District Attorney says:
"In response to the events that caused the death of Ms. Sheharbano Sangji, the Regents have implemented a comprehensive training and safety compliance program at UCLA. Among these corrective and remedial measures taken, UCLA’s Office of Environmental Health and Safety (“EH&S”) has produced a safety video setting forth the safe and compliant workplace practices in the handling and transfer of pyrophorics, including tert-Butyllithium. Standard Operating Procedures have been established and implemented for researchers working with hazardous chemical agents; personal protective equipment including fire resistant lab coats is mandatory for researchers working with pyrophorics.
The Regents have made a substantial, comprehensive, and good faith effort to bring their laboratory safety practices and procedures into compliance with Title 8 and the California Code of Regulations for employee safety. (emphasis mine)"
CJ here: Let me be the first to congratulate you all for following the law more closely now! Let me also congratulate you for not robbing any banks this weekend!
- I'm also less than impressed with your open access for Ms. Kemsley; after all, you guys are a state institution and you're covered under the California Public Records Act. Once again, you're congratulating yourselves for following the law. Good job.
- You complain about Ms. Kemsley not linking to your press release. But let me point out what is missing from both your press release and Chancellor Block' e-mail -- that your institution has admitted responsibility for the condition of the Harran laboratory at the time of Ms. Sangji's death:
"Acceptance of Responsibility for the Statement of Facts. For purposes of this agreement only, the Regents acknowledge and accept responsibility for the conditions under which the laboratory was operated on December 29, 2008 as set forth above.Mr. Ritea, until UCLA acknowledges their responsibility for the conditions that led to Ms. Sangji's death somewhere other than a legal agreement with people with coercive power, I'm going to put a low value on your press releases. They're just an exercise in self-congratulation, and not much more than that.