The academic scandal hiding within the Stanton Glantz sexual harassment scandal

by Carl V Phillips

By now you have probably heard about the lawsuit against Glantz by his former postdoc, Eunice Neeley. Buzzfeed broke the story here, which (like other reports) appears to be based entirely on the complaint filed in a California court (available here). There appear to be no public statements, other than the blanket denial that Glantz posted to his university blog, which was picked up in at least one press report.

I am fascinated by several details that were too subtle for the newspaper reporters.

First, Glantz’s post in itself — using a university resource — may be yet another transgression. He declares, “I… deny every claim reported to be included in this lawsuit.” He notes that Neeley made a complaint to the university earlier this year and that someone else (presumably another junior researcher who was a Glantz protege[*] or employee) filed another complaint. He describes some details of the university investigation and repeats his denial. He does so just before — get this! — he writes, “Under University of California policy I am not supposed to discuss this investigation until it has been concluded and I have and will continue to respect that policy.” We know Glantz is not the sharpest tool, but you might think he would notice that the previous sentences in the same short document were him discussing this investigation before it concluded.

[*Dear reporters: The counterpart word for “mentor” is “protege”, “advisee”, or “student”. There is no such word as “mentee”, except perhaps as a misspelling of a flavor descriptor. That construction would only work if “mentor” meant “someone who ments”. Seriously, weren’t most of you English majors?]

Also the court complaint says (at 26) that Glantz had already talked publicly about the complaint against him and “boasted” about his defense. So we have a rather undisciplined defendant here. Not a big surprise.

Caveat: I am obviously just working from the complaint document, which might contain inaccurate assertions, though it also might fail to mention damning information that will come out later. Feel free to sprinkle these through as necessary: alleged, alleged, alleged, alleged, if true, if true, if true, claimed, claimed, reported.

First, the headline complaints themselves, those about sexual harassment, were not on the level of recent scandals that included coerced sex acts, aggressive unwanted propositions and …um… displays, and criminal battery (I assume few would suggest the unwanted hugs by Glantz, which were not described being of an overtly sexual nature, are an example of battery). The sexual harassment complaints against Glantz are a pattern of boorish leering, a few instances of gratuitous and discomfiting sexual stories or analogies, the hugs, and some vague hearsay claims. That is basically it.

That is not to dismiss these, of course, let alone say they were acceptable. There is no queue, such that complaints of less heinous harassment need to wait their turn. The sooner we have lots of muscular #MeToo actions like this, the better for our society. The acts Glantz is accused of might still violate laws, university rules, or grant funders’ rules (I offer no opinion on whether they do). It is obvious why someone would dislike this experience and want to escape from it. Any decent employer, upon hearing of this, would order the supervisor to stop doing such things and respect the junior employee’s request for reassignment.

Still, the claims are about the vulgarity, ickiness, and insensitivity that women endure as a result of merely being in the same room as creeps, not assault or exploitation that was facilitated by the abuse of power. It is difficult to imagine these allegations (by themselves) taking out a senior professor. I have witnessed academic shops where bawdy talk by everyone was the norm and no one seemed to mind (though perhaps it is relevant that these were headed by women; a sensible male professor will stay out of any such conversations even if they are common banter among his advisees). If Glantz were sensible, he would have made this all go away with an apology and an “I did not realize… but from now on….” (Spoiler: Glantz is not sensible.)

The racism (if that is even the right word) complaints are weak tea. The lawyer writing the complaint made a big deal about racism issues (Neeley is black), for obvious reasons. But the specifics offered are merely: one story of what might have been (though it seems quite possible it was not) a stupid “you are black, so I just assumed you…”-type suggestion; an unsubstantiated assertion that papers by Neeley and another nonwhite postdoc were subject to more review and editing than their peers (which is pretty much impossible to measure, let alone to rule out a defense that their papers simply needed more editing); and a statement that seems to be Glantz telling another nonwhite researcher in the shop she was a diversity hire.

This is not to say that any of the above is ok. What Glantz said and did was stupid. Really really stupid, and rude and gross. It would be stupid in any setting, but an academic advisor has higher standards. If Glantz really did these things (and it is really difficult to fathom why someone would make these particular details), but somehow did not understand the harm they were causing, he should have — upon receiving the first complaint about them — tripped over himself apologizing to Neeley and the others, promising to stop but still offering to make it easy for her and others to transfer to other advisors, and then staying out of their lives if that is what they seemed to want, and issuing a solemn statement of concern and promises to everyone in his shop.

If he did not really commit the alleged acts, he should still have apologized for whatever disaster did inspire the allegations, and still helped Neeley find another mentor if that was what she wanted. If he demonstrated he is not decent enough to do one of these, the university should have pushed him to. Note that it is possible that some of this happened — the complaint does not deny there were such attempts to fix the problem, and it is not as if the plaintiff’s attorney is going to volunteer that there were.

Regardless of the seriousness of the original behavior and any hypothetical attempts to fix the problem, what happened next — much more than the salacious allegations from the headlines — is why Glantz must be forced to resign, and the university should be on the hook for a payout.

The complaint chronicles how Glantz, after he was no longer Neeley’s supervisor, demanded that he still have an authorship role (both credit and contribution) in the paper she had written under him. Indeed, what he was demanding was lead-author control over it. This was a whole additional level of stupid, as well as making the hypothetical scenario (that he or the university sincerely tried to fix this) seem extremely unlikely. This was not some landmark paper that represented a scientific innovation by Glantz that he would understandably not want to give away. It appears to be just another iteration of the silly conspiracy stories about the tobacco industry, the amateurish cherrypicking historiography, that Glantz and his minions have written at least a dozen times before. This perfectly demonstrates his clueless arrogance (I suspect that narcissism would be the technical diagnosis) when he did not cut his losses and just give the worthless paper away. No. One. Would. Care.

What is worse, he demanded to be a coauthor on her future papers. This is where the story in the complaint gets more subtly interesting. He was either demanding that he keep working closely with her and have major influence over her, despite what had happened, or he was basically insisting she commit academic fraud on his behalf: to make him an author of papers he did not substantially contribute to.

And apparently not content to keep the academic fraud vague and deniable, Glantz marched on.

The complaint says he reneged on a promise to let Neeley be the corresponding author for their paper, demanding that role for himself. Even if there had been no such promise, and even setting aside that he was no longer her advisor and was a fool to not be contrite and conceding, it was properly up to her. She wrote the paper, and a postdoc is plenty senior to make the decision and take whatever role she wants. In addition, Glantz insisted on adding one of the in-house commentators to the paper as an author for what the complaint implies (though is very sloppy about actually saying) are mere reviewer comments, not worthy of authorship.

[Aside: Fake authorship is a major problem in public health publishing. Because the actual value (or total lack thereof) of someone’s papers is pretty much ignored, only numbers count. An unearned authorship still adds to the numbers. I have known researchers who struck a deal to include each other as authors on every paper, despite a complete lack of involvement. I quite enjoy asking anyone who has “authored” hundreds of papers — often more than ten per year — if they have even read them all. (They have not.)]

Apparently the university backed Glantz’s insistence that Neeley still had to work with him on the first paper and yield to his decisions about it. Stupid, stupid, stupid. The complaint spins this as a method to manufacture excuses to deny Neeley authorship of the paper, given that she was strongly averse to having any dealings with Glantz anymore. And, sure enough, a bit later Glantz went ahead and submitted the paper under his name, without telling Neeley or including her as an author. The complaint also says that Neeley heard that Glantz was planning to steal another paper she had written or was writing.

This (assuming it is true) is bright-line academic fraud. It is the worst kind of plagiarism and an unforgivable violation of his duties. Whatever one thinks of the seriousness of the headline rude and gross behavior, and whatever one thinks of an academic not endeavoring to make amends for hurting his protege even if accidentally, there is no getting out of this. The university has to force him to retire (or better still, overtly dismiss him), and his funders have to pull their funding. Importantly, unlike most of the acts alleged in the complaint, Glantz’s submission of Neeley’s paper without her permission or name is easy to demonstrate using evidence beyond mere eyewitness testimony.

This action also reinforces the claims in the lawsuit that Glantz retaliated and the university abetted it. The cliche that the coverup is worse than the original crime is usually bullshit. But disturbingly often in sexual harassment cases, the abuse of accusers after they speak up — to cover up or just to punish them for standing up for themselves — seems to cause more harm than the original acts (not to imply the original acts are not harmful, obviously, nor to deny that sometimes they are extremely harmful).

Despite this, the #MeToo movement should hesitate to embrace Neeley as a poster victim. Boorishness and academic technicalities are not exactly the most tragic abuse stories we have heard recently. In addition, there is an intriguing cause of action stated in the lawsuit (at 71), about unjust enrichment. No details are explained, so maybe this is just a meaningless copy-paste of the lawyer’s standard boilerplate. But if not, the only apparent enrichment in sight is the $20 million that FDA gave Glantz to write stupid things about tobacco. Or, apparently, to hire people to write stupid things about tobacco that he puts his name on. If any of his actions were a violation of the terms of that contract (I have no idea) and if Neeley can get official federal whistleblower status (again, no idea) then she and her lawyer could collect millions if the feds sue University of California to pay back the grant money. It is better they get rich than the money be used to produce junk science, of course, but we are still not talking about selfless nobility.

[Update/Correction: The above paragraph incorrectly implies that the FDA grant is the only substantial funding Glantz has or had that is at risk for clawback or that might be subject to whistleblower awards. There are other big paychecks that also might. See the comments for more details.]

Or it could be quite the opposite, that Neeley is willing to expend her own resources just to retain control of her paper (as is demanded, as a matter of immediate relief, in the complaint), and all the demands for monetary compensation are just the lawyer looking to eke out his fee. We do not know at this point. However, we do know that there are no good guys in this story.

Neeley was, by choice, a Glantz acolyte and thus is presumably seeking a career producing junk science and riding the tobacco control gravy train. Everyone else in the story — the unnamed other victims and the senior researchers in Glantz’s shop who Neeley sought help from — were also in the business of producing anti-science that hurts a lot of people. Moreover, if(!) Glantz’s actions really were as long-standing and frequently-discussed as implied in the complaint, then the senior people are guilty of not speaking up about it to protect their proteges, and Neeley deserves moral credit as a whistleblower.

There is ultimately something very Praljak-like about this (the war criminal who recently poisoned himself, getting the last word, after being convicted in The Hague). If Glantz goes down for this — and it is hard to see how he does not unless there are transparent fabrications in the complaint — it lets him off way too easily. It will be because he was a clueless oaf, and did not know when to cut his losses. It will let him quietly skate away from the tremendous damage his junk science has caused.

If he gets deposed, he will just be asked about roving eyes and authorship credit. He will not be asked about how many different data and model combinations he ran, and then hid, before finding the one that created the “Helena miracle” illusion. Nor will he be asked about how many people have explained to him the glaring flaws in his e-cigarette analyses — confusing liquids and solids, ignoring obvious confounding, combining incommensurate results, etc. — and how many times he further repeated the same misinformation anyway.

As with Praljak’s suicide, it is a bit closer to justice than him just getting hit by a bus, but it is not enough. Still whatever puts and end to such a career — whether harassment and plagiarism charges, a human rights trial, suicide, or a bus — stops him from causing more harm, and that is what matters most.

26 responses to “The academic scandal hiding within the Stanton Glantz sexual harassment scandal

  1. Glantz’s world while not nice, seems to be also very childish-petty, he sounds like somebody who has ,somehow, never had to grow up- is at heart still a five year old chucking tantrums etc

  2. Not sure if you’re aware of the size of his operation at UCSF. A quick count and it’s close to 60 very expensive individuals, many female.

    Imagine trying to keep that lot gainfully employed, what with the genuine paucity of real projects – and ego’s that border on stratospheric.

    It beggars belief that only two individuals were treated this way, or that no one is willing to verify their claims.

    I suspect that when they feel the boss is weakened, they’ll pile in to loot the corpse.

    And there’s more to this than the $20 million you mention. The recent $2 a pack increase in tax in California was intended to allocate a large chunk to smoking cessation (ie Stan’s lot).

    It’s still in dispute, however even 5% of $1.2 billion is an awful lot of money (if I recall correctly, it was supposed to be 12.5%).

    • Carl V Phillips

      Yes, good point. I should not have suggested that the one funding stream, though huge, was the only such in sight. The same observation probably applies to some of the others: a payoff for whistleblowers who show there was a violation of the contract.

      I was not actually aware that his shop was nearly that big. I had not looked, and if asked to guess I would have said half that. That is truly ridiculous. It also means that they are incredibly unproductive, per capita.

    • Scot, I believe that if you look back in history you’ll find that Glantz got his biggest kick off the launching pad in 1988 with a 25 cents/pack tax on cigarettes.

      Doesn’t sound like much, eh?


      and note where almost all of the tax is allocated to: Antismoking efforts.

      And guess who California’s most prominent leader in antismoking efforts was?


      ‘Nuff said. (Actually… not quite ” ‘Nuff said.” Don’t forget the ADDITIONAL 600 million to 1,000 million per year California gets from the Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) “smokers tax” of about 50 cents per pack. I don’t know the percentage given to the California Antismokers from that tax, but I’d be pretty surprised if it wasn’t up in the 25 million+ per year range.

      UCSF may be (note “may” … I do not know the figures on this) one of the few major universities in the world that gets more grant money for antismoking work than for military work.

      – MJM

  3. Wow! How is it that many health researchers are able to attach their names to studies that they have not personally worked on? Most people (myself included, until reading this blogpost) have no idea that this happens.

    • Carl V Phillips

      Yeah. The cases where someone makes no real contribution at all are the exception. These include the out-and-out fraud that I described (a termination-worthy offense, though hard to catch) and shop/lab PIs who oversee the operation, provide funding, maybe(!) were key in creating the data that is being analyzed, etc., and get credit on everything (often they do actually contribute to the content a little, sometimes they are very hands-on mentors who work closely with their student who is taking the lead, but sometimes they do not even see it).

      The cases of marginal authorship are much more common — close to a rule rather than an exception. Some cases are like the one in this story (if the complaint is accurate), putting someone’s name on as a purely tactical move to expand credit for a tiny contribution. But you see all those papers with like seven authors. And their story is typically something like: One of them really did 80% of the work specific to this paper. One is the senior person — see above. Three of them were involved in data gathering and cleaning and make comments on the paper and maybe add some content, but it is minimal. Another graduated and is gone, but played some role in the project, and gets an email of the paper, skims it and says “fine”. One is a statistician who adds some almost certainly worthless bells-and-whistles to the calculation and does not even look at the paper.

    • Jredheadgirl, if you’re a grad student then you need to do (and usually publish) original research of your own to get your doctorate. An unscrupulous mentor helps them glom up big buckos in research grants and, in return for technically spending a few minutes reading a draft and dotting an “i” somewhere the mentor can stick his/her name onto the paper as an author.

      That then allows them to not just pad out their CV, but also, whenever their research or expertise is publicly challenged they do “dick measurements” against their challenger and say, “Well, I am clearly a far more recognized authority in the field with my 217 published pieces of research while my opponent only has x#.”

      The grad students are perfectly happy to go along since the mentor will then give them an “A” in whatever course of his/hers they might be taking and that, along with publication on a paper with a Famous Named Author, will ensure their next grant in the eternal academic river of blood money.

      – MJM

      • That might be a little bit too cynical. But I will endorse the analogy between number of papers “authored” and a metric that mostly indicated personal insecurity.

  4. Carl, VERY well examined and presented!

    It would be nice if some enterprising investigative journalist was somehow able to actually tot up all the antismoking grant money he’s actually received himself, as well as the both the amount he was given control over in order to keep his slave barracks (grad students churning out research for him to add his name to) running, AND the total amount his “Professor of Medicine” title has brought to the University of California in appreciation for their generosity.

    I’d bet dollars to donuts that he ranks up in the top ten of the many thousands of income-producers the UC complex has corralled over the years — which nicely explains why such things as “The Great Helena Heart Miracle” and other such abominations have slid out untouched. The $20M from the FDA is peanuts compared to Glantz’s likely haul from the taxpayers et al over the years. I believe it was in 1988(?) that he got his first big payola from California’s outrageous levy of a 25 cent cigarette tax. At that time a 25 cent tax on a pack of smokes was seen as a VERY big thing, and while I no longer remember the figures I’m pretty sure that a good many millions went to Glantz and the Antismokers at a time when they were still surviving on mere tens of thousands.

    A **REAL** examination of his finances, not in terms of any outright embezzlement/etc but in terms of his grants and grad student galley-slaves and what it has all brought to him and to UCSF would be amazingly valuable in exposing one of the main drives behind the antismoking movement over the past 30 years.

    If all the monies were properly added up, I believe we’d be looking at Glantz having brought UCSF (and himself) not just 20 or 30 or even 50 million dollars over the last few decades, but actually in the range of SEVERAL HUNDRED MILLION DOLLARS in today’s dollars and that he may very well be the largest money magnet / top earner for UCSF coffers outside the Dept. of Defense in their entire history.

    Expanding the tie in to such things as the British Medical Journal’s willingness to publish such trash as Helena and their refusal to publish valid counter-research could be instructive indeed!

    – MJM

    Reference Addition — Important background References for a review of The Great Helena Abomination (a study that could conceivably serve as the “can-opener” into Glantz et al’s general research sloppiness after all those millions).





    5) “Changes in U.S. hospitalization and mortality rates following smoking bans” Shetty, K et al.


    – MJM

    • I agree that would be a worthy investigation. I am pretty sure I am not going to do it left to my own devices — not really my wheelhouse. I would be willing to collaborate on it, though.

  5. Thank you Carl, for so eloquently and precisely delineating what struck me was the real issue in the complaint. We now must face the question of how much of the junk coming out of his lair is similarly produced and defensible only on his “reputation”.

  6. Roberto Sussman

    Glantz is the symptom produced by decades of impunity, not the disease. The disease lies on the way tobacco and nicotine issues have been approached by medical faculties and regulation bodies. Only a profound rot in these institutions can explain how come such an incompetent and destructive character has been able to rise to such prominence with total impunity within (what is supposed to be) an academic community.

    The current Glantz affair uncovers very disturbing issues, such as the sweat shop exploitation of doctoral students and postgraduates, the usage of power to get authorship of academic work done by subordinates, the harassment (whether sexual, racial, or plain bullying) taking place in labs and academic spaces, the pettiness of measuring “performance” by counting paper numbers and citations, the big ego and petty politics of academia. However, without excusing Glantz’s behavior, it is necessary to recognize that all these misdemeanors and academic corruption occur in many institutions. It should not be (as far as I know) special nor unique at the Faculty of Medicine in UCSF.

    Glantz is merely the most “true believer” and media savvy provocateur within a well financed, powerful medical political lobbying machinery that has dominated tobacco control for decades. While part of this community is starting to express dissent and is genuinely concerned that tobacco control places more value on preserving an abstinence only orthodoxy over improving health, the majority still remains entrenched in this orthodoxy in which Glantz is still a respected voice. There are many individuals in this machinery who would condemn the current Glantz’s behavior in this scandal, yet still fully agree with him on policies and ideology and participate in the same conjunction of interests. It will be interesting to see how the machinery responds to this scandal.

  7. He seems to be trying to do to sugar what he did to tobacco.

    November 2016
    Sugar Industry and Coronary Heart Disease Research A Historical Analysis of Internal Industry Documents
    Cristin E. Kearns,; Laura A. Schmidt, Stanton A. Glantz, PhD

    “Together with other recent analyses of sugar industry documents, our findings suggest the industry sponsored a research program in the 1960s and 1970s that successfully cast doubt about the hazards of sucrose while promoting fat as the dietary culprit in CHD.”

    Sugar review: Rewriting history to expose a non-existent conspiracy
    “Last week, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published an historical analysis of internal sugar industry documents.”

  8. My comment on Dick Puddlecoat’s blog, was liken to a barroom slur, yours however, Carl Phillips is (Eloquence)!

    • Thanks. Scientific criticism can (should!) be ruthless and it is fine to speculate about motives, what happened behind the scenes, etc. Anyone publishing scientific claims is volunteering for that. If a criticism or speculation is wrong, a response can point that out.

      Out of concern for victims who did not volunteer to be victims (and that does included the accused if they are falsely accused, however unlikely that seems), this topic requires much greater care, sensitivity, and caution.

  9. I am wondering if there might be a clause in whatever contract a researcher might sign which hands over ownership and control of all information to the university.

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  11. Well, this story was news to me and I must add that although the huge smile I’ll be having at least through Christmas feels great, that smile goes against Christian principle. Further evidence that I have much, much more improvement to do.
    … but I can’t help myself. :-)

  12. Roberto Sussman

    I’ve had second thoughts on my previous comment. It is important that you emphasize that Glantz indulged in plagiarism and in using his hierarchy to force authorship on work done by subordinates. While this is serious misbehavior, not all of those indulging in it are caught or reprehended. I wanted to point out that such practices are not the norm but (unfortunately) are not uncommon in academic circles, In fact, as a younger academic I witnessed directly such type of academic thuggery (though I was not the affected party).

    However, having said all this, I sense that this specific case has some uniquely disturbing angles not found in other cases of academics (in Caltech and Berkeley) that recently fell in disgrace after being accused of harassment and misconduct. Specifically, I refer to the degree of impunity that Glantz has enjoyed over a decades long period. This impunity is specially striking given Glantz’s unique toxic mixture of technical incompetence, obsessive fixation on hatred of “the industry” and the (alleged) influence on depiction of smoking in films, deliberate manipulation of data, deception and intransigence.

    Evidently, Glantz’s professorship rests much more on his activist politics and “funds monger” capacity than on his academic merit. Yet, the political activism he represents is quite powerful and pervasive and is shared and applauded by most of the health bureaucracy (and large segments of the population as well). Other academics in disgrace were just technically competent researchers who lacked such political and ideological machinery behind them. They misbehaved and were punished, but Glantz will (very likely) not be reprehended nor punished. His case will (very likely) be judged under much more lenient rules than other academics caught in such misdemeanors. I sense that, unfortunately, his misbehavior will be tolerated by the UCSF authorities and he will continue enjoying impunity to engage in producing more of the same junk science and activism. Glantz’s final demise cannot happen because of these accusations (even if they are proven to be completely factual and damning). Glantz’s impunity will only end once there is a shift in USA politics and in tobacco/nicotine policies towards a much more assertive and consistent form of harm reduction, something that seems to be still far away (and could be further delayed if democrats of the Chuck Schumer variety recover the White House in 2020).

    • Roberto
      Tend to agree particularly about, long-term impunity. Think that the TC system resembles a pyramid there is; a well entrenched, small number of people at the top and most of the ‘information flow’ or more precisely instructions, goes from the top, down.
      For example:
      Simon Chapman recently felt no hesitation about giving very misleading and easily refutable testimony to a Australian Parliamentary committee ( which in theory) could involve fines or even custodial sentences .
      Chapman clearly feels that he has a moral right to dictate what ‘reality ‘ is to everybody, including parliamentary committee members.

      • Chapman is a similar nut case and enjoys also limitless impunity. Perhaps the TC pyramid feels that any disciplinary action against such characters would set up an unwelcome precedent, which would in turn open new fronts, which in turn would force them to recognize all the many skeletons (corruption, junk science, greed) they have been hiding in their closet. In this respect TC reacts like the Catholic church reacted when high ranking priests were involved in acts of pedophilia. The latter were for a long time quietly admonished but without any serious consequences. It took a global tsunami of scandals and the resignation of a pope for the church to take a minimally corrective action.

        • Carl V Phillips

          See my next Daily Caller article for an observation about the tsunami tipping.

          Please note that pedophilia is a desire, not an action. They committed child molestation. Conflating the two risks punishing people for a predilection they have, no fault of their own, rather than trying to help them deal with it without committing deplorable acts. And the priests were not punished; they were just moved to somewhere where nobody knew or was likely to hear about what they had done.

  13. “It appears to be just another iteration of the silly conspiracy stories about the tobacco industry, the amateurish cherrypicking historiography, that Glantz and his minions have written at least a dozen times before.”

    Well put. But the mass media gobble that garbage up, and that is his value to Tobacco Control. He is engaged in PR, not scholarship, in the first place. And worrying about academic niceties seems like worrying about etiquette at a feeding trough.

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