Monday, October 8, 2018

A succinct reminder of relevant Harran/Sangji facts

The comments in Jyllian Kemsley's article about the conclusion of the legal proceedings around Professor Harran's deferred prosecution are the usual mix of informed speculation and (very) uninformed opinion. I agree with much of this comment from safety consultant Neal Langerman (scroll to the bottom): 
I am appalled by the opinions based on ignoring well-published facts. Jyllian Kemsley has done outstanding factual reporting of this entire story. Please go to the SAFETY ZONE and read the entire background before you develop and vocalize an opinion.
  1. Sheri was an employee, NOT A STUDENT. Thus, Cal/OSHA had jurisdiction.
  2. Sheri was hired to assist the lab in purchasing and installing Agilent instrumentation, with which she had extensive experience as an undergrad.
  3. While she had little experience with organic synthesis, she asked for and was given by Prof. Harran a synthetic project to work on in addition to her instrumentation work.
  4. She received no documented training of any type on handling tBuLi. Professor Harran did watch her handle an air-sensitive catalyst successfully, before turning her loose on the tBuLi project.
  5. Professor Harran was in the building the day of the fire and had instructed her to perform a 3-fold scale-up of the reaction she had done in October. He was in his office at the time of the fire.
K. P. Jamison (September 26, 2018 2:37 PM) asked if any "modelling" was done regarding outcomes if other PPE had been worn. Yes, though until today it has never been discussed. During the investigation, with the actual medical records in hand, we considered how events might have played out if she had been wearing an FR lab coat as well as all cotton clothing and various other options. While skin burns likely would have been reduced, the pulmonary injuries likely would have been the same. We never definitively decided if an FR lab coat would have changed the ultimate outcome. 
Bottom line: The PI is the "Captain of the Ship" and is ultimately responsible for all events on the ship. As a long-retired PI, I say to anyone in that position, you are responsible for your people. Protect them as if they were your children and family.
I think my only potential quibble is to the extent to which it is true that American PIs are treated as "the captains of their ship" and "ultimately responsible" for the outcomes in their laboratories. As a ideal, I think it's a good one.

The extent to which, for example, the US Navy holds its ship captains responsible for events under their command and how "loss of confidence" means a constant stream (one a week? one a month?) of fired Navy ship captains - that's certainly not the case for US science academia. Rather than court-martial by UCLA prosecuting authorities, Professor Harran was defended to the utmost against the Los Angeles District Attorney by his institution, including the Regents of the University of California taking on much of the legal responsibility for what happened in the Harran laboratory. Quite a difference, there. 


  1. I'm curious, since I keep seeing very different takes on point 4. My understanding was that it was accepted that she had been trained on this procedure on a smaller scale by a post-doc the first time she did it. Is the disagreement related to (a) the thoroughness of the training, (b) whether it was documented, or (c) whether it happened at all?

    1. There was someone upthread who was asserting "Having stated the above, the Professor had demonstrated the correct and proper technique to this chemist for its safe handling and transfer." I think this is what Dr. Langerman was responding to.

      It's been a while, but I think the answers to your questions are found in the following links:

  2. UCLA and the UC Board of Regents were required by their own policies (Regents Policy 4202) to provide for Prof. Harran's legal defense. Please stop acting like UCLA and the UC Regents paid millions of dollars for Prof. Harran's defense out of the kindness of their heart or some other motive other than legal obligation. If they could have thrown him under the bus they would have. Most universities have indemnification policies for their faculty, but are amending it to allow for university review. Based on the edit date of the UC Policy, March 25, 2010, if a similar incident were to occur, UC might not have to provide the legal funds for a similar incident in the future.

    1. What amount of wrongdoing is needed so that a university is free from the requirement to defend the guilty party? The Harran lab had a documented history of safety violations, and Sangji died because of lax lab safety.

    2. "If they could have thrown him under the bus they would have."

      Uh, what evidence do you have of this, Anon347P?

  3. This is Anon347PM. First common sense. Why would any university (especially public university with tax payer money) willingly pay ~4 million dollars for legal fees in which they were able to settle for 0.5-1 million? Also their CHO, Michael Wheatley, was fired shortly after. This likely had something to do with Cal/OSHA citing his qualifications in a subsequent violation. However I guarantee and I'm sure everyone would agree UCLA could have sent him to CHO training and complete a certified CHO exam for a lot less than 4 million dollars, instead they cut him loose. No criminal charges were brought against Mr. Wheatley so we can only speculate whether UC would have provided a defense for him, I'd argue they would have to given the indemnification policy.


looks like Blogger doesn't work with anonymous comments from Chrome browsers at the moment - works in Microsoft Edge, or from Chrome with a Blogger account - sorry! CJ 3/21/20