School: Milken Institute School of Public Health
Department: Environmental and Occupational Health
David Michaels PhD, MPH, is an epidemiologist and professor at the George Washington University School of Public Health. He has held high-level, Senate-confirmed public health positions in the administrations of President Barack Obama (in which he was Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health) and President Bill Clinton (Assistant Secretary of Energy for Environment, Safety and Health). He joined the faculty at GW in 2001.
Dr. Michaels is a leader in efforts to protect the integrity of the science underpinning public health and environmental protections. His most recent book on the subject The Triumph of Doubt: Dark Money and the Science of Deception (Oxford University Press, 2020) was called “a tour de force” by the reviewer in Science Magazine and “a brave and important book,” by the reviewer in Nature. He is also the author of Doubt is Their Product, which was published by Oxford University Press in 2008 and will be reissued in soft cover by the publisher in 2023. The reviewer in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives (the journal of the U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health Science) wrote the book is “a powerful argument for the need to reinforce our ethical responsibilities to protect human and environmental health even when it requires regulation and increased costs.” The reviewer in the journal Nature called the book “a powerful, thorough indictment of the way big business has ignored, suppressed or distorted vital scientific evidence to the detriment of the public’s health.
In addition to articles in Science, JAMA, the International Journal of Epidemiology, the American Journal of Public Health, and numerous other journals. Dr. Michaels was guest editor of a special issue on Scientific Evidence and Public Policy in the American Journal of Public Health, two issues of Law and Contemporary Problems: Sequestered Science: The Consequences of Undisclosed Knowledge and Conventions in Science and Law, and a mini-monograph entitled Science for Regulation and Litigation published in Environmental Health Perspectives. From 2019 through 2022,
Nominated by President Barack Obama and unanimously confirmed by the US Senate, Dr. Michaels served as Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA from 2009 - January 2017, and was the longest serving administrator in OSHA's history. Under his leadership, OSHA strengthened exposure standards for silica and beryllium, and issued new rules on safety, injury and illness record-keeping and reporting, and hazard communications. He launched OSHA’s Temporary Workers Initiative; greatly increased the agency’s activities protecting healthcare workers; expanded OSHA's activities to protect whistleblowers under Sarbanes-Oxley, Dodd-Frank, and 19 other financial, environmental, transportation, and public health laws; and issued OSHA's first compliance guide and recommended practices for employers for preventing and addressing workplace retaliation.
Since leaving OSHA and returning to GWU, much of Dr. Michaels' work has centered on the relationship between safety and health management systems, operational excellence and sustainability. He has lectured extensively on the topic and, during his work at OSHA, directed the agency's first activities on sustainability in environment, social and governance (ESG).
Michaels served as Chair of the Executive Committee of the US National Toxicology Program (NTP) from 2011 to 2017, and was a member of the NTP’s Board of Scientific Counselors 2018-2022.During the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Michaels focused much of his work on improving the protection of workers exposed to SARS-CoV-2. He served on two National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine’s expert panels: one that developed a Framework for Equitable Allocation of Vaccine for the Novel Coronavirus and a second that examined Respiratory Protection for the Public and Workers Without Respiratory Protection Programs at their Workplaces. He was a member of the Biden-Harris Transition COVID-19 Advisory Board and the Lancet COVID-19 Commission’s Task Force on Safe Work, Safe School, and Safe Travel. Dr. Michaels is also an author of Getting to and Sustaining the Next Normal: A Roadmap for Living with COVID.
Earlier in his career, he was nominated by President Bill Clinton and unanimously confirmed by the Senate to serve as the Department of Energy's Assistant Secretary for Environment, Safety and Health. Serving in the position 1998-2001, he had primary responsibility for protecting the health and safety of workers, the neighboring communities and the environment surrounding the nation's nuclear weapons facilities. Dr. Michaels was the chief architect of the historic initiative to compensate workers in the nuclear weapons complex who developed cancer or other diseases following exposure to radiation, beryllium and other hazards. Since its enactment in 2000, the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program (EEOICPA) has provided more than $24 billion in benefits to sick workers and their families. He also oversaw promulgation of two major public rules: Chronic Beryllium Disease Prevention and Nuclear Safety Management.
Throughout his career, Dr. Michaels has focused on the health of disadvantaged communities and the impact of infectious diseases on underserved populations. He founded and directed the Epidemiology Unit of the Montefiore-Rikers Island Health Service, the first such unit in a jail in the United States, conducting studies on tuberculosis, sexually-transmitted diseases, drug abuse, mental health, homelessness and HIV. In the early 1990s, Dr. Michaels developed a widely-cited mathematical model estimating the number of children and adolescents orphaned by HIV/AIDS.
Dr. Michaels received the American Association for the Advancement of Science's Scientific Freedom and Responsibility Award for his work on behalf of nuclear weapons workers and for his advocacy for scientific integrity. He is also the recipient of the American Public Health Association's David P. Rall Award for Advocacy in Public Health, the John P. McGovern Science and Society Award given by Sigma Xi, the Scientific Research Society, and the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists' William D. Wagner Award and William Steiger Memorial Award. Dr. Michaels is also a recipient of the George Washington University School of Public Health's Outstanding Faculty Achievement Award and the Axelrod Prize in Public Health awarded by the University at Albany School of Public Health.
Dr. Michaels is a graduate of the City College of New York and holds an MPH (Master of Public Health) and PhD from Columbia University.
Personal website: drdavidmichaels.com