NATIONAL ACADEMY OF MEDICINE ELECTS HISTORIAN GERALD MARKOWITZ, DISTINGUISHED PROFESSOR AT JOHN JAY COLLEGE OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE

The National Academy of Medicine – the independent branch of the National Academy of Sciences that advises the nation on critical medical and health issues – today announced that Distinguished Professor Gerald E. Markowitz of John Jay College of Criminal Justice and the CUNY Graduate Center has been elected a member of the academy. This is among the highest honors in the field, granted to people with exceptional professional achievements and a commitment to service.

“I’m thrilled,” Markowitz said. “As a historian, I feel incredibly honored to be recognized by the National Academy of Medicine. It is a recognition that the story of great doctors is not the whole story of medicine, and that the extraordinary contributions of people in the field are enhanced by the fact that workers and community activists have really pushed the medical professionals and the public health profession to recognize dangers that might have escaped their notice or not gotten the attention they deserve.”

CUNY Chancellor James B. Milliken praised Markowitz’s lifetime of achievement. “His impressive body of work on critical aspects of public health – particularly occupational safety and environmental health – without question merits his election to the National Academy of Medicine. His scholarship, his activism and his passion have long enriched the education of students at John Jay and the CUNY Graduate Center,” the Chancellor said.

The National Academy of Medicine is charged with providing unbiased, evidence-based information and advice on health and science policy to policymakers, professionals and the public at large on a wide range of biomedical issues, medicine and health. “At a time when science is being denigrated and undermined in some quarters, the vital role our national academies is more important than ever,” the Chancellor added.

Markowitz began teaching at John Jay in 1970. He has received numerous federal and private grants, including from the National Science Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Milbank Memorial Fund. The American Public Health Association awarded him its 2000 Arthur J. Viseltear Prize for Outstanding Work in the History of the Public Health.

He is well known for books and papers on occupational safety and health, particularly for those co-written with David Rosner, a former CUNY Distinguished Professor who is now at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and previously was elected to the National Academy of Medicine. Rosner trained as a medical historian and Markowitz trained as a political economist and social historian. They write sitting side-by-side at the computer, “sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph,” Markowitz says.

Their books include Lead Wars: The Politics of Science and the Fate of America’s Children (University of California Press/ Milbank Memorial Fund, 2013); The Contested Boundaries of American Public Health (Rutgers University Press, 2008); Are We Ready?: Public Health since 9/11 (University of California Press/Milbank Books on Health and the Public, 2006); Children, Race, and Power: Kenneth and Mamie Clark’s Northside Center (University Press of Virginia, 1996); Deadly Dust: Silicosis and the Politics of Occupational Disease in Twentieth Century America (Princeton University Press, 1991; paperback 1994; noted as “Outstanding Academic Book of 1991” by Choice); Dying for Work (edited essays, Indiana University Press, 1989); and Slaves of the Depression: Workers’ Letters about Life on the Job (Cornell University Press, 1987).

Reviewing Deceit and Denial: The Deadly Politics of Industrial Pollution (University of California Press/Milbank Books on Health and the Public, 2002), the New England Journal of Medicine wrote: “Markowitz and Rosner show that the lead industry in the United States was well aware of the hazard decades before the publication of … [a 1943 journal] article by Byers and Lord but chose to respond to it primarily as a public-relations problem.”

That book led to Markowitz and Rosner spending three days on the witness stand in a 2013 in a lawsuit which resulted in a landmark $1.1 billion judgment against three major companies, which were ordered to remove lead paint from 4.7 million older homes in a number of California cities. Lead paint was banned in 1978, but still remains a threat to children, who tend to eat the sweet-tasting paint chips in countless buildings across the country.

“How is it that a problem for children that is totally preventable has not been prevented in the U.S.?” Markowitz asks. “The shorthand answer is: We don’t value some lives as much as we value others. Because lead poisoning is perceived as a problem of poverty and children of color, it does not achieve the kind of attention it should, despite the fact that childhood lead poisoning is an equal opportunity danger to all children and affects all children.”

Markowitz says that he and Rosner are now writing Building the Worlds That Kill Us, which examines how the physical, social and economic worlds we have built since the 19th-century “produce the kinds of diseases that are the predominant diseases of the era.” Take, for example, the trail of infectious diseases in the 19th century that followed the routes of an increasing number of commercial travelers, or the explosion of tuberculosis in jam-packed, urban areas in the early 20th century. “Today, with the extraordinary amount of environment pollution and the development of new chemicals and techniques, you have diseases of long latency. We have new endocrine disruptions [such as from artificial estrogens], even from the paper receipts from the cash register receipts that we handle every day.”

The City University of New York is the nation’s leading urban public university. Founded in 1847, the University comprises 24 institutions: 11 senior colleges, seven community colleges, William E. Macaulay Honors College at CUNY, CUNY Graduate Center, CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, CUNY School of Law, CUNY School of Professional Studies and CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy. The University serves more than 272,000 degree-seeking students. College Now, the University’s academic enrichment program, is offered at CUNY campuses and more than 400 high schools throughout the five boroughs. The University offers online baccalaureate and master’s degrees through the School of Professional Studies.
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