Late last year, Stanton Glantz, a professor at University of California San Francisco and probably the world’s most prominent anti-vaping crusader, was sued for alleged sexual harassment, discrimination and other misconduct directed at a young woman he was supposed to be mentoring. As previously reported, the sexual misconduct allegations made the headlines but other aspects of the allegation pose a bigger threat to him and his multimillion dollar anti-tobacco enterprise. Unlike with #MeToo scandals in other industries, where some colleagues publicly demand that the accused step down and others at least offer “troubling if true” acknowledgments, tobacco controllers and other “public health” people were utterly silent. Two weeks ago, the San Francisco Examiner broke the story of a second similar lawsuit. As with the first, it is the less salacious details that pose bigger threats to Glantz. Also, as with the first lawsuit, tobacco controllers have have been silent, voicing no concern or acknowledgment about news of abuses in their house.
The new lawsuit was filed by Juliette Jackson, a former research assistant in Glantz’s shop. As with the first suit, by former Glantz postdoc Eunice Neeley, there are allegations of sexual misconduct and racial discrimination (Jackson is Native American and Neeley is African-American). These are certainly unacceptable behaviors for any employer, and more so for a professor whose job includes mentoring his underlings, not just exploiting their labor. But based on the specifics that have come out, it appears these accusations could easily be weathered by a professor who generates millions of dollars in profit for UCSF from federal anti-tobacco grants.
The specific sexual misconduct accusations have been limited to leering, inappropriate discussions (apparently impersonal and seemingly relatively infrequent) and unwanted hugs. These are fairly easy to deny or play down as innocent, and seem insufficient to force the university to ignore its financial interests and take action. The racial and sexual discrimination allegations center on subjecting the plaintiffs to higher standards than their white or male colleagues. This is again easy to deny or to defend based on claims about the situation (e.g., a claim that the quality of these individuals’ work genuinely demanded greater scrutiny). It is possible that these added up to Glantz creating an atmosphere of constant fear and oppression in his shop, but both the atmosphere and most of the specific claims are she-said-he-said. Those familiar with Glantz’s long history of concocting dishonest science and blatantly lying in the public arena, about vaping and other scientific topics, will probably not believe his defense. But he could probably sell the doubt to those who are not familiar with his casual disregard of the truth or have a financial interest in believing him.
In the Neeley case, as previously reported, the potentially more solid accusation is about Glantz stealing credit for a paper that Neeley wrote, submitting it to a journal without her permission and without including her as an author. Exactly how this will play out in a civil suit is unknown, but in the court of academic opinion this ought to finish Glantz. Unlike the she-said-he-said nature of the other allegations, these allegations indicate that there is a clear paper trail. The Examiner reported that the Jackson also alleges that when both plaintiffs pointed out plagiarism and errors in the work of another of Glantz’s junior researchers, Glantz became verbally abusive toward them. The abuse might be difficult to prove, but the allegations about plagiarism might also be backed by a paper trail and Glantz allowing it to happen would represent unforgivable misconduct by the standards of academia.
As with the Neeley case, the allegation in the Jackson case that could be most damaging is non-salacious. According to the Examiner article, Jackson claims that Glantz hired her in order to get a National Institutes of Health grant that focused on Native Americans, though she was hired to work on a different project. Glantz then reassigned Jackson to work on the NIH grant, it is claimed, but quickly reassigned her away from it. Jackson’s lawsuit describes this as “fraudulent,” based on her not actually being involved in the research. A lot depends on details that are yet to emerge, but if Glantz misrepresented Jackson’s role or status in the grant application is a way that might have affected his chances of getting U.S. government funds, it could be serious trouble. Moreover, there are standard procedures for changing how grant money is spent, such as no longer paying for the time of a particular individual who included by name on the grant. Funding agencies generally give permission for such changes and it is merely a matter of paperwork, but this might have been an exception. It is also possible Glantz did not even do the paperwork to advise NIH of the change.
Part of Jackson’s allegation is the Glantz told her, in a heated moment, that she was only hired because of her Native American status (presumably to get the grant). While this is a terrible thing to tell someone, and is unbecoming an academic mentor or any decent human being, it is (assuming the other claims are accurate) ultimately a truthful communication. Admitting it does not appear to be actionable. After all, universities openly engage in such favoritism toward particular racial minorities as a matter of public record.
An additional aspect of both of the lawsuits are complaints about UCSF’s inaction following internal complaints and claims of retaliation against the plaintiffs as a result of those complaints. The strength of these complaints is impossible to assess based on available information. They could result in monetary settlements for the plaintiffs and could embarrass the university. They seem less likely to affect Glantz himself. Spin in the Examiner article implies that the sexual harassment allegations might stick despite the specific allegations being difficult to prove and less heinous than many #MeToo scandals. There is growing concern about such problems at UCSF and about claims that they have long been endemic there.
One thing that will probably not happen is anyone in tobacco control expressing a word of concern about the harassment allegations, nor about the allegations about Glantz stealing someone’s work, defrauding the NIH or protecting a plagiarist. As previously reported, there was not a word about the matter from the tobacco control community when the Neeley allegations became public. There was silence rather than outrage, including from another tobacco controller at UCSF who is an outspoken supporter of other #MeToo claims. There was not so much as a single public defense of Glantz or a weak “troubling if true” statement. Again with this second round of allegations, there has been only silence.
Given that the tobacco control code of omerta protects Glantz from criticism of his dishonest research papers and public statements about vaping — just as it did when he produced blatant junk science about smoking for decades — it is not terribly surprising the movement ignores claims that he abused young researchers. Still, it rather stunning that tobacco control creates such a crime-syndicate-level of fear in its ranks that not a single individual with a conscience has dared speak up.