Just when I think my "pointless scribbles" (as one of my "fans" recently said of my columns) really are that, something pops up that gives me heart.
Two state senators have taken on my quest to get answers out of UCLA about whether a professor acted unethically -- or worse -- by having cozy email confabs with activists opposed to a controversial soil fumigant when the professor was supposed to be an independent reviewer.
I'm talking about John Froines. And after reading the emails, I say his conduct looks pretty shady.
For their part, UCLA officials kept mum when I asked about Froines' emails last month. The Department of Pesticide Regulation, which hired Froines as the independent evaluator, basically followed suit.
UCLA's recalcitrance went further, though, as the school refused to produce all of Froines' emails regarding the fumigant, methyl iodide, when asked several times by an attorney and later by me.
Sen. Jean Fuller took note of my column and she and Republican caucus leader Bob Huff decided to see if they could do any better.
They sent a letter with a host of questions to UCLA.
I wish them the best of luck.
Either way, it's a great letter and this is my favorite part:
"UCLA's rationale for not providing these emails appears as it if may be in violation of government codes and statutes as pointed out by Jim Ewert, counsel for the California Newspaper Association, who told the Californian, 'This is the first time I have ever seen a public university cite the First Amendment to allow it to withhold otherwise disclosable documents.'
"Frankly, on its surface, UCLA's refusal to provide this information raises serious questions and suspicions about what is being withheld from the public and why."
Couldn't have said it better myself.
The letter, sent April 2 to UC Chancellor Gene Block, doesn't give UCLA a deadline to respond and Fuller said she and Sen. Huff haven't laid out all their next steps.
"The main thing was, we felt the school should be forthcoming and we didn't feel that they were," she said. "They need to answer your questions. If not you, then me. If not me, then as many people from the Senate as we can get to sign on to the letter."
Her general idea is to "incrementally raise the stakes with them. I expect it will get embarrassing after a point."
I contacted UCLA Friday afternoon to see what response, if any, officials had to the senators' letter. But I wasn't able to reach anyone before close of business.
To refresh your memory, last month, I wrote about how Froines chaired a supposedly independent panel in 2009 to evaluate the risks of methyl iodide. The fumigant is mostly used with strawberries and is intended to replace methyl bromide, which is harmful to the ozone layer.
For months before Froines held the panel's first hearing, he was in close email contact with activists opposed to methyl iodide.
Activists included Susan Kegley, a consulting scientist for Pesticide Action Network, who kept Froines abreast of political machinations in the governor's office, plans for a lawsuit and more.
At one point, in July 2009, Froines' assistant, Elinor Fanning, wrote to Kegley that Froines supported lobbying then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger against methyl iodide.
"But ... we have to remain behind the scenes at the moment. John has to protect his position as chair of the review committee for the time being."
Methyl iodide was approved by the Department of Pesticide Regulation in Dec. 2010. EarthJustice, an activist environmental group, quickly sued
Then Froines' panel came out with its evaluation of methyl iodide in February 2010, calling it "one of the most toxic chemicals on earth."
It may all seem moot at this point as methyl iodide's maker, Arysta LifeSciences pulled the chemical from the market in 2012.
But I think Froines, UCLA and the Department of Pesticide Regulation still have some explaining to do.
Not just because of Froines' 2009 email antics. But because he's still serving as chair of the Scientific Review Panel, which decrees which substances are toxic air contaminants.
That gives him a lot of power to decide what the California Air Resources Board can regulate.
And that has a direct impact on all our lives, from not being able to light fires on cold nights to paying more for goods transported by truck.
As chair of that committee, Froines is supposed to be an unbiased arbiter of facts, a judge of science only.
Those emails, however, show Froines is anything but unbiased.
I asked the UC's president's office whether the emails show a conflict. No response.
I asked the same of the Department of Pesticide Regulation and got: "Any activity that would undermine or corrupt the integrity of the peer review process would be of concern to the Department," from Chief Deputy Director Christoper Reardon.
Well, was the integrity of the process corrupted?
No one would answer me.
Maybe someone will answer Senators Fuller and Huff.
And by the way, I also asked UCLA for any emails between Froines and pesticide industry folks during the time he was supposed to be evaluating methyl iodide.
I got a letter earlier this month stating the school could find no such records.
Color me shocked.
Opinions expressed in this column are those of Lois Henry, not The Bakersfield Californian. Her column appears Wednesdays and Sundays. Comment at http://www.bakersfield.com, call her at 395-7373 or e-mail email@example.com