Over the years, David Michaels, the George Washington epidemiologist who is President Obama’s pick to head OSHA, has developed a reputation as a fair-minded proponent of using the best available science to protect workers and the environment. As Effect Measure points out, Michaels has made important scientific contributions in the area of popcorn workers lung and beryllium poisoning. He has also championed the cause of workers who became ill after working in nuclear weapons programs, and he has pushed for transparency in the disclosure of conflicts of interest among scientists taking money from chemical and drug manufacturers.
So it should come as no surprise to hear that these corporations and their rightwing attack dogs are trying to scuttle Michaels’ nomination with typically outrageous smears. In one of the least egregious examples, a recent editorial in The Washington Times accused Michaels of being “virulently anti-business” and “an anti-gun zealot.” What someone’s position on guns has to do with an agency that is supposed to protect people in the workplace, I don’t know. (While there’s no question that better gun control laws would protect workers from colleagues who go postal, such legislation would certainly not be coming out of OSHA).
The Times editorial goes on to say that if appointed to OSHA, Michaels would be overly aggressive in enforcing workplace safety regulations. As far as I’m concerned, that sounds like an endorsement for the guy.
But don’t take my word for it. Michaels deserves the appointment for a host of reasons (beyond the ones mentioned above). To begin with, he already has executive branch experience, having served as Assistant Secretary for Environment, Safety and Health at the Department of Energy in the Clinton years.
In 2006, Michaels received the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s Scientific Freedom and Responsibility Award for his “commitment to obtain justice for workers whose health suffered from working in nuclear weapons programs, and for advocating scientific integrity in public policy making.” And in November, Sigma Xi, the Scientific Research Society, will give him the John P. McGovern Science and Society Award.
Full disclosure: David Michaels invited me to speak to George Washington’s School of Public Health while I was on my book tour for Side Effects. But that’s not why I’m writing this blog. Michaels’ scientific credentials and his record of championing people harmed in the workplace speaks for themselves.