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Softpanorama Lysenkoism and PseudoScience Bulletin, 2004

"It tends to be all accurate,
but not in an over-all context."
Donald Rumsfeld

[Nov 30, 2004] Creationism's strange evolution By Tony Norman

Religious obscurantism is an important part of "cargo cult science" and more often then not  transforms into Lysenkoism.  The hero of the story " guest speaker, a middle-aged academic from the local creationist think-tank. Lanky and professorial, he regaled us with stories about how he decimated evolutionists in debates across the country." is 100% match for a typical Lysenko follower. He know that he is wrong and he enjoys it, despising "unwashed masses".

A long time ago, while mulling over the insanity of becoming a Christian, I attended a Bible study deep in the heart of the San Fernando Valley. It was early spring 1979, and I wasn't eager to throw in my lot with the crew of perky believers who wandered around campus perpetually turning the other cheek.

A classmate invited me to attend the Bible study off campus because he suspected my faith was wavering even before it got off the ground. "You have a lot of questions," he said as we drove through a generic Southern California suburb at dusk looking for his friend's house. "Let's see if we can get a few of them answered so you can make a decision for the Lord."

We were the last to arrive. Every square inch of living room was filled with righteous virgins who wore gingham dresses or polo shirts that smelled of apple pie and soap. I stood in the dining room near the kitchen with other stragglers feeling alienated from the whole thing. Looking around, it wasn't hard to figure out that whatever happened between me and God wasn't going to involve these people, that was for damn sure.

Standing in the center of the room was the evening's guest speaker, a middle-aged academic from the local creationist think-tank. Lanky and professorial, he regaled us with stories about how he decimated evolutionists in debates across the country.

Occasionally he punctuated his monologue with "Darwinism is a lie" and "Carbon-14 dating is scientifically untenable." He insisted that no one was obligated to believe anything as intellectually shoddy as evolution in 1979. The world was a little over 10,000 years old if it was a day, a proposition he was willing to prove with chalk and a blackboard if necessary.

During the question-and-answer period, mine was the only hand that shot up. I asked him about the dinosaurs, imagining that it was probably the first time anyone ever bothered asking such an obvious question.

"Dinosaurs? What about them?" he said, as if expecting me to fill in the geological record in the dim recesses of my own brain. "Isn't it obvious that humans and dinosaurs co-existed until Noah's flood swept them away? Secular science is in denial about human footprints found side-by-side with dinosaur tracks on ancient river beds in Texas. Evolution can't explain it. Creationism can."

I smiled wanly and looked at my watch. Several outrageous leaps of faith are part of the package when one becomes a believer -- the most preposterous being the odd business of Jesus rising from the dead -- but there was no way I would consider "The Flintstones" closer to truth than Charles Darwin. Dino going for walks with Fred 8,000 years B.C. is a miracle even more staggering than the Resurrection.

My friend wasn't in a hurry to leave, though. He didn't need much convincing that the Earth was barely older than one of the ancient fruitcakes that circulate uneaten during the holidays.

Still, I give the creationist from 25 years ago more credit for intellectual honesty than proponents of "intelligent design" theory who are attempting to smuggle creationism into public schools by questioning the viability of evolution.

There was a time when creationists readily conceded that their "theory" was based on a literal reading of Scripture that traces the origin of mankind back to the chronology found in Genesis. There was none of this semantic hoohah about evolution being a "theory and not a fact" that impresses so many good Christian folk today.

These days, neo-creationists obscure the religious roots of intelligent design even though they know their "science" couldn't stand apart from biblical revelation. Presenting intelligent design as a religiously neutral theory is a bigger lie than any so-called inconsistency found in Darwinism.

At the root of this shell game is an embarrassment about God's ability to work through nature using the evolutionary process. Will someone explain why a 15 billion-year-old universe is any less miraculous than the one conjured up in biblical poetry? As Jimmy Fallon once cracked on "Saturday Night Live," the only compromise between the two will be an eventual agreement to start calling dinosaurs "Jesus Horses."

[Dec 3, 2004] Make a dash for freedom by Simon Jenkins

Universities must assert their independence of the Government and behave like private institutions

UNLIKE Sir Harry Kroto, I am not returning my honorary degree to Exeter University because its chemistry department is to close. Instead I shall take the degree from the drawer and make it a shrine to academic autonomy. I have no objection to chemistry, queen of the sciences. But when a university finally summons the courage to reorder its priorities and say “boo” to the academic lobbyists, I cheer.

That also goes for other closures: for Exeter’s Italian department, for the Cambridge School of Architecture, for East Asian studies at Durham, for music at Reading and for yet more chemistry at Queen Mary’s and King’s College London. Condemned as below par by peer group assessment, they are starved of central grant. Exeter’s chemistry department is losing £3 million a year. This, says the vice-chancellor with reason, “just can’t go on”.

Sir Harry is a former president of the Royal Society of Chemistry. Chemistry, he claims, makes a £5 billion profit for the nation, so it needs more subsidy. Why? Why not find Exeter’s shortfall from the capacious pockets of his Royal Society, or from drug companies fat on NHS procurement? That is what an American would do. Instead, Sir Harry pours abuse on Exeter for redirecting its money to what he dismisses as “candyfloss studies with minimal use to this country’s future”. In those he includes my own profession of journalism.

I disagree. If forced, I would put the state of the nation’s journalism ahead of chemistry in the canon of public interest. Sir Harry implies that subsidy should not go to subjects that do not contribute directly to the economy, in research or in manpower. To him scholarship is about efficiency, not humanity. But his enthusiasm for efficiency wanes when he addresses failing departments in provincial universities. Then Sir Harry is all for soppy tradition. I am suspicious of any profession claiming subsidy because of the national interest. I am even more suspicious when this involves insulting as candyfloss vocations freely chosen by young people desperate to make a living.

The truth is blazoned across every newspaper advertisement column. Britain does not need more chemists from every county in England. Whatever political correctness dictates, it appears to need more administrators, lawyers, accountants, internet designers, media practitioners and business graduates. As for research, the days are over when 30 academies could expect to do fully-funded nuclear physics. Exeter’s cathedral may be irreplaceable. Its chemistry department is matched by others in Bristol, Bath and Plymouth, in the South West alone.

The more important question is who should decide. On radio yesterday, Kim Howells, the Higher Education Minister, stunned his audience by saying that universities were “completely independent bodies”. He is clearly new to his job. Mr Howells should be told that he awards Exeter its research grants. He counts academic references to measure its productivity. He tells Exeter how much it may charge in fees. He indicates the social background required of Exeter’s students. Mr Howells makes Lenin seem a wimp. Higher education in Britain is wildly centralised. Charles Clarke, the Education Secretary, wants universities to discriminate in favour of the poor and the dumb. Yet he will not let them discriminate against the rich by charging them higher fees, since he is afraid that scholarships and means tests might humiliate the poor. He is all screwed up.

Mr Clarke is more chary of interfering in academic research, but not very. He wants, rightly, to concentrate resources on centres of excellence. The only subject departments likely to survive are those to which he awards a rating of 5 or 5*. Those ranked 4 or below face assisted euthanasia unless they can find private sponsors. In other words, Mr Howells’s universities are about as independent as the Ritz guest who cannot pay his bill and finds himself sleeping in the gutter.

I wonder how long universities will tolerate being so beholden to Mr Clarke and his colleagues? Subject departments are closing nationwide, sign that the costly duplications of the 1980s and 1990s are over. The good news is that painful decisions are at last being taken by vice-chancellors and their boards. Departments no longer have tenure by virtue of antiquity. They can no longer rely on their subject lobbies to look after them in Whitehall.

Needless to say, Mr Clarke is already plotting to undermine this autonomy. He has signalled that he wants to “protect subjects of strategic importance” from any attempted rationalisation. He wants Arabic, Turkish, Asian languages and anything to do with science declared protected species. He adds “creative industries” and anything to do with Europe. We must hope that the barmy return to postwar manpower planning is nothing but a brainstorm in a control freak. If Mr Clarke really means it, the vice-chancellors should resign en masse and tell him to send in apparatchiks.

Universities ought to throw Mr Howells’s boast of “independence” back in his face. They should assert their autonomy and behave like the private institutions that they legally are. They should fix their own fees, offer their own scholarships and fund their own research. If the Government wants to pay for bursaries or research, as it will, fine. But the contracts should be open and unconditional. That is how American universities are run, and successfully. They teach and study what students and the marketplace demand.

Every year ministers humiliate universities with another regulator, target or burst of jeering. Vice-chancellors meekly turn the other cheek, terrified of losing cash. They are sliding towards the state dependence of their continental counterparts. Nor do the rich institutions give any lead. For years I have heard the grandees of Oxford, Cambridge and London threaten a dash for freedom. But they never do it. They are brave for a day, a gutless bunch. Small wonder ministers treat them with contempt.

simon.jenkins@thetimes.co.uk

[Dec  1, 2004]  Keep politics out of science

Chicago Tribune

Some of the nation's top scientists and engineers have raised disturbing questions about how much of a role politics is playing in science, starting with the selection of scientists and engineers to serve on the some 500 committees that advise the White House and federal agencies in various scientific fields.

Over the past year, scientists and others have complained about the political vetting of advisory committee nominees, especially in controversial areas such as climate change and reproductive medicine. The Union of Concerned Scientists is one of the critics. More than 5,000 scientists, including 48 Nobel Prize winners, signed a letter charging the Bush administration has undermined the scientific advisory process.

The National Academy of Sciences, chaired by former Republican U.S. Rep. John Porter of Illinois, issued a report earlier this month criticizing the practice of political vetting as inappropriate. Scientists who are nominated to serve on those committees should be selected for their scientific expertise, their professional credentials and their personal integrity, Porter said.

It's also very troubling that Dr. David Graham, a 20-year veteran of the Food and Drug Administration, said last week that he's getting pressure because he told members of Congress at a recent hearing that the FDA ignored his warnings about the drug Vioxx. Graham said he's being "exiled" from his job in the Office of Drug Safety.

A related dust-up concerns Dr. Curt Furberg, a prominent drug safety expert and professor of public health sciences at Wake Forest University. He was removed from an FDA advisory panel meeting scheduled for next year on Vioxx and other arthritis drugs because of comments he made earlier this month suggesting that the entire class of medications may be unsafe.

Furberg interpreted the move as an attempt to silence his criticism. An FDA spokeswoman insisted his removal was a "routine procedure" that resulted from an "intellectual" conflict of interest. That was an odd pronouncement, since the airing of intellectual differences is supposed to be the point of advisory committee hearings.

After the Wall Street Journal reported on Furberg's exclusion from the committee, Dr. Lester Crawford, the acting FDA commissioner, issued a statement. "The advisory committee preparation process is still under way," it said, and therefore it was "premature" to suggest that Furberg could not participate. A spokesman for White House science adviser John Marburger also insisted that the administration has no intention of stifling scientific dissent. That's somewhat reassuring. It is also the law. Federal law requires that advisory committee membership reflect a balanced viewpoint and independent judgment.

That has to be the rule, not the exception. The Bush administration needs to keep politics out of the scientific advisory process.

[Oct 14, 2004] Tamotsu Shibutani Obit

On August 8, 2004, Tamotsu (Tom) Shibutani died quietly in his sleep from heart failure at age 83. He greatly contributed to the understanding mass disinformation with his work Improvised News: A Sociological Study of Rumor (1966). His famous first book, Society and Personality (1961) became a major success and was translated into Russian and Spanish. In it he identified three distinct definitions for the concept of reference group: groups that serve as points of reference, groups to which we aspire; and groups whose perceptions are assumed by the individual or "actor".  A set of reference groups is closely related to an individual's "significant others" - those who are directly responsible for the internalization of norms . Shibutani first used  the concept of reference group as a tool to explain inconsistant and contradictory behavior typical for most people. He noted "The inconsistency in behavior as a person moves from one social context to another is accounted for in terms of a change in reference groups..."

Shibutani also examined social status in reference groups. An individual's behavior is therefore directly related to the actual or anticipated reactions of the group for which he or she is performing. What's less expected, however, is the fact that many people may assume opinions and perspectives of groups with which they've never directly interacted, and which may, in fact, not even exist. To illustrate, Shibutani uses the example of individuals striving to improve their status. He says these individuals are more motivated by the thoughts and actions of persons in the social strata to which they aspire to than the opinions in the group to which they belong. Many people attempt to live up to the standards of social circles to which they aspire through the various media of mass communication. He stated that "There are as many reference groups for each person as there are communication channels in which he participates".
 

On August 8, 2004, Tamotsu (Tom) Shibutani died quietly in his sleep from heart failure at age 83. Tom wrote several very influential books and his contributions to sociology are immeasurable. Although his intellect was impressive, he was a humble man, giving unstintingly to others while assiduously avoiding the limelight. We have lost one of sociology's stellar contributors.

Tom was born in Stockton, California, in 1920, as the only child of two first-generation Japanese immigrants. For many, the American Dream is for children of immigrants to take advantage of a free public education and reach positions of respectability, and Tom did. He entered Stockton Junior College at age 18, where he was deeply impressed with John Dewey's work, and he became a pragmatist for the rest of his life. At the age of 20, Tom transferred to the University of California at Berkeley, where he further broadened his intellectual horizons. As Tom finished his undergraduate degree, W.I. Thomas and Dorothy Thomas (his mentors) encouraged him to enter graduate school at the University of Chicago, where he found Louis Wirth's courses to be especially impressive, along with courses from Everett Hughes, Herbert Blumer, and others.

During World War II, Tom spent two years in the Army, and then continued his education at Chicago on the GI Bill. (Later we wrote The Derelicts of Company K [1978] to reveal the absurdities he experienced during the war.) He earned his Ph.D. in 1948 and was given an instructorship at the University of Chicago. In 1951, Tom moved to the University of California at Berkeley and began to synthesize many of the ideas he had been developing for years. His famous first book, Society and Personality (1961) became a major success and was translated into Russian and Spanish. The book presents a conceptual scheme developed from the work of Dewey, Mead, and the Chicago School.

In 1961, Tom came to the University of California at Santa Barbara and began working with Kian M. Kwan on ethnic relationships. Together they published Ethnic Stratification in 1965, presenting a theory based on data drawn from around the world, covering 5000 years of history. Extensive data support their conclusion that most ethnic groups that initially experience hostility eventually learn to live with each other over time.

Tom's next book, Improvised News: A Sociological Study of Rumor (1966), demonstrated that rumors are not merely the result of faulty communication. In ambiguous situations, people often respond like pragmatic problem-solvers, pooling their intellectual resources-which include accurate data, guesses, beliefs, speculation-constructing consensus from whatever sources that are available. Since much of life is filled with ambiguity, this book is of much greater importance than is suggested by describing it as a study of rumor. Many of the most crucial personal, group, governmental and international decisions have to be made with inexact information. The increasingly rapid pace of social and environmental change necessitates increasingly rapid decision making amidst a flood of information, making the study of collective information processing in ambiguous situations critical.
Social Processes (1986) reflects the sophistication of a maturing scholar in synthesizing macro and micro theoretical perspectives. This book blends Tom's expertise in social psychology with observations about whole social systems to generate empirically testable propositions for solving many problems of current social interest.

In 1984 Tom was elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and in 1998 he was honored with the George Herbert Mead Award from the Society for the Study of Symbolic Interaction.

Tom loved grappling with ideas and writing, saying of his own work: "The pragmatic search for answers to questions is not always an orderly process. Side projects have frequently intruded that disrupted current projects. Some of these looked like they could be handled in several months or a year; but took five or ten or fifteen years to complete." This is why Tom has a succession of different books on disparate subjects and different areas of specialization. When asked why he has written few articles, he replied: "The books say it all."

Tom is survived by his wife, Sandra, along with countless friends, colleagues and former students. He is greatly missed for his wise and caring ways, which leave wonderful memories for all of us who knew him.

[Sept 20, 2004] Lexington Herald-Leader/Psychological theory and the Kerry medal debate

It is truly puzzling when otherwise sensible people refuse to accept hard evidence when it runs counter to their own opinions and beliefs.

This odd behavior was partly explained in When Prophecy Fails, widely considered a landmark in American social science.

The book reported the efforts of psychologists who infiltrated a religious group that was predicting the end of the world.

The group followed the lead of their spiritual leader, who was in touch with mythical entities called the Guardians who had promised to save the group from the disaster that was going to befall the entire world.

When the appointed day came for the disaster, the prophecy failed spectacularly. The researchers, being rational people, thought that the failure of the prophecy would break up the group and discredit its leader.

Instead the opposite happened. The group became more cohesive and began proselytizing, seeking new members, where before they had been secretive and exclusive.

One of the researchers, Leon Festinger, developed a theory that he called cognitive dissonance. It describes what happens when we see or hear something that is logically contrary to our own beliefs.

If I am a smoker and my doctor tells me that smoking causes cancer, I quit going to that doctor, read material that questions the research and regale others with stories about my Uncle Charlie, who smoked like a chimney and lived to be 90.

The theory of cognitive dissonance is no longer popular in psychology but still explains a great deal of some of the most puzzling political phenomena we are seeing during this election.

If you are a supporter of President Bush, you have already come to terms with the fact that his powerful family enabled him to evade combat duty in the Vietnam War, and that in Washington there stands a somber black wall with the names of thousands of young Americans whose families were not rich enough or influential enough to keep them out of it.

You have also accepted that he didn't show up for his drug test and had to quit flying as a result and that it looks as if he didn't finish his enlistment agreement. This is tough to accept, but most of the Republican faithful managed it.

So then what do the Democrats do? They nominate a candidate who not only went to Vietnam but also was wounded there and saved a fellow sailor's life. The contrast between Bush and Kerry is highly "dissonant" as Festinger termed it. We could ignore Bush's sorry record if his opponent was someone like Howard Dean, who also evaded service in Vietnam, but the facts of Kerry's service are just too much.

One of the principal predictions of dissonance theory is disbelief in one of the dissonant elements. So how do you not believe in events that are well documented in Navy records?

The Silver Star is an impressive medal, and very few get it. The sailor Kerry saved has testified eloquently about Kerry's heroism, and the official report of the action reads like an adventure novel. This is also hard to believe if your candidate and his vice president are draft evaders.

So Bush supporters have said that the officer who wrote the citation now denies it and that Kerry wrote the report himself. If that account were true, it means that the officer signed a false document, a behavior much frowned on by the Navy. It is not only an insult to Kerry but to the Navy in which he served. But it gives supporters of Bush a way to reduce their psychological discomfort that acceptance of the facts would create.

Looking at the situation in light of cognitive dissonance, we can see why these stories are so popular with Bush supporters and why otherwise sensible people believe fantastic allegations from Swift Boat Veterans for Truth that are inconsistent and incomplete. The stories reduce the dissonance, and the fact that the commercials are paid for by rich Bush pals from Texas is not even considered.

Festinger's theory also predicted that people who experience high levels of dissonance will attempt to persuade others that their view of the world is the correct one. Putting it plainly, it states that the more noise you make about your beliefs, the more likely it is that you are uncertain about them yourself.

I am sure that this applies to Democrats as well as Republicans, but it certainly gives us some insight into the controversy about Kerry's medals.

[Aug 24, 2004] Guardian Unlimited Guardian daily comment Four days in California  by Jonathan Steele

US sociologists are finally challenging the intellectual stranglehold of economists
The Guardian

In the ocean-fed air and mild August sunshine of America's most beautiful city, optimism flows easy. But the real mood-lift these past few days was in the windowless conference rooms of two downtown mega-hotels. More than 5,000 American sociologists, plus a few foreign scholars, held their largest and, many said, most vibrant annual convention for years.

Bush and Kerry were campaigning through nearby states. Their soundbites were rarely mentioned, but the lack of serious debate is one reason for US sociology's new political engagement after decades of quiet since the 60s.

The profession's centre of gravity is moving left. There is a drive to inject ethical standards into the analysis of what most agree is a US society becoming increasingly polarised beneath its veneer of shared consumerism.

Above all, sociologists are starting to challenge the intellectual stranglehold of American economists who have managed to get the neo-liberal model of competitive individualism and corporate globalisation to dominate public discourse and policy-making for the past 20 years.

Words like "empire" and "inequality" popped up frequently at this conference after their post-Vietnam war dormancy. New phrases like "the corporate state" and "global apartheid" appeared.

Half the world's PhDs in sociology are taken at American universities. The US has 13,000 career sociologists, a potential for extraordinary intellectual hegemony. They flexed their muscles last year, becoming the only US professional association to oppose the invasion of Iraq. A few unions denounced the war and even the normally conservative trade union federation, the AFL-CIO, passed a mildly worded vote of criticism. But with the exception of the sociologists, America's professions were coy about raising their collective voice.

It was no accident that this year's conference theme was "public sociologies". It was chosen by the American Sociological Association's president, Michael Burawoy, a modest Mancunian ethnographer and sociologist who emigrated in the 70s. He distinguishes public sociology from professional sociology, which he describes as work aimed primarily for academic journals and peer review - "solving puzzles". It also differs from policy sociology, which is "solving problems" for mainly government or business.

Public sociology, by contrast, is a conversation with society about values. Burawoy is careful to argue that it does not have a single orientation since a third of the sociologists who voted rejected the anti-war motion. He also insists that the three types - professional, policy and public - are inter-dependent. Without rigorous scholarly standards no public sociology will be taken seriously.

Most controversially, Burawoy wants to "provincialise" American sociology. This may sound odd since US intellectual life has long been scarred by insularity. Burawoy means his slogan provocatively. The famous "end of history" claim that US liberal democracy and market capitalism were the only models left was a sign, in his view, that many Americans were trying to universalise the particular. They should realise their culture is not always preferred else where. To make the point, he invited high-profile foreigners like Arundhati Roy, the anti-globalisation campaigner, and Mary Robinson, a former UN human rights commissioner.

Sociologists' relations with the state vary in time and place. The South Africans and east Europeans present were ex-dissidents who described how the advent of democratic and legitimate governments in their countries had brought new problems. Debate narrowed, intellectuals were less in demand and disappointment with rising social inequality and the new governments' economic policies was leading to public apathy.

Jacklyn Cock, author of a path-breaking exposure of the plight of domestic workers in South Africa, called on sociologists to stand in solidarity with the new social movements. But she warned against romanticising civil society in the struggle against globalisation's injustices. "The real issue of our time is how to reinvent the state," she said.

Her point applies with greatest force in the US. Behind the rhetoric of small government, the US has created a monster state where political, economic and media power is dominated by corporations. America's political scientists ought to be taking the leading role in analysing this distortion of democracy but, according to their sociology rivals, their profession is in a conservative phase. It churns out graduates for the foreign service rather than critics who want to reform the system. Sociologists have to move alone.

Four days in California are not going to change the world. But it was hard not to feel that something big is stirring in US academic life. The dominance of Reaganomics is under serious intellectual challenge. Clinton's third way is rejected as neoliberalism in a different guise - welfare-cutting, support for the out-sourcing of US jobs and unfair "free" trade.

The foreign subjects of America's global empire have been restless for years. Now some of the sharpest minds are raising questions. Even if John Kerry wins control of the White House, the rebellion is unlikely to stop.

[Aug. 16, 2004] MSNBC - Bush policies stir up scientific debate By Matt Crenson

Bush policies stir up scientific debate. Is the White House distortingthe scientific aspect of policymaking? Controversy rises in election year
Aug. 16, 2004

With more than 4,000 scientists, including 48 Nobel Prize winners, having signed a statement opposing the Bush administration's use of scientific advice, this election year is seeing a new development in the uneasy relationship between science and politics.

In the past, individual scientists and science organizations have occasionally piped up to oppose specific federal policies such as Ronald Reagan's Star Wars missile defense plan. But this is the first time that a broad spectrum of the scientific community has expressed opposition to a president's overall science policy.

Last November, President Bush gave physicist Richard Garwin a medal for his "valuable scientific advice on important questions of national security." Just three months later, Garwin signed the statement condemning the administration for misusing, suppressing and distorting scientific advice.

Feud intensifying
Scientists' feud with the Bush administration, building for almost four years, has intensified this election year. The White House has sacked prominent scientists from presidential advisory committees, science advocacy groups have released lengthy catalogs of alleged scientific abuses by the administration, and both sides have traded accusations at meetings and in the pages of research journals.

"People are shocked by what's going on," said Kurt Gottfried, a Cornell University physicist and chairman of the Union of Concerned Scientists, which has been in the vanguard of the campaign against the administration's science policy. Although generally not political, the group — which advocates for use of accurate scientific information in policymaking — has occasionally taken liberal positions, such as opposition to nuclear weapons.

Administration officials dismiss the scientists' concerns as misguided and accuse them of playing politics — of attempting to undermine Bush administration policies by claiming they are based on bad science.

"I don't like to see science exploited for political purposes, and I think that's happening here," presidential science adviser John H. Marburger III said in a telephone interview.

Politics and policy
Some scientists critical of the Bush administration make no secret that they would like to see the president defeated; in a separate letter (PDF file), four dozen Nobel laureates have endorsed John Kerry for president.

But signers of the declaration include scientists with ties to both Republican and Democratic administrations: Lewis Branscomb, a Harvard University professor, headed the federal Bureau of Standards in the Nixon administration. Russell Train was director of the Environmental Protection Agency under Presidents Nixon and Ford and supported George H. W. Bush during the 1988 presidential campaign. Physicists Neal Lane and John Gibbons were both science advisers to President Clinton.

Scientists' disapproval of Bush has not gone unnoticed by the Kerry campaign. This month the Democrats used the third anniversary of Bush's decision to limit federal funding for stem cell research as an opportunity to question the president's commitment to science.

"At this very moment, some of our most pioneering cures and treatments are right at our fingertips, but because of the stem cell ban, they remain beyond our reach," Kerry said in an Aug. 7 radio address, two days before the anniversary.

How science works

Incorporating science into government has always been a sensitive proposition, given the vast differences between them.

Scientists collect evidence and conduct experiments to arrive at an objective description of reality — to describe the world as it is rather than as we might want it to be.

Government, on the other hand, is about anything but objective truth. It deals with gray areas, competing values, the allocation of limited resources. It is conducted by debate and negotiation. Far from striving for ultimate truths, it seeks compromises that a majority can live with.

When these conflicting paradigms come together, disagreements are inevitable.

For example, when a panel of experts, by a 28-0 vote, declared a drug safe for over-the-counter sales in December, they expected the Food and Drug Administration to approve it for nonprescription use soon thereafter.

But six months later the agency disagreed, citing a lack of data about the safety of the drug for 11- to 14-year-old girls.

Three physicians on the FDA advisory panel protested in an editorial published by the New England Journal of Medicine, claiming the agency was distorting the scientific evidence for political reasons.

The drug in question: a morning-after contraceptive known as Plan B.

"A treatment for any other condition, from hangnail to headache to heart disease, with a similar record of safety and efficacy would be approved quickly," the protesting panel members wrote.

Who provides advice?

The federal government relies on hundreds of scientific and technical panels for advice on a wide range of policy issues. Advisers range from wildlife biologists who provide expertise on endangered species to physicists who help guide the development of new weaponry.

Incorporating scientific advice into policymaking involves an implied contract of trust between government officials and scientists. Scientists trust that their advice will be weighed honestly, without attempts to distort, deny or refute it. Government officials trust that scientists will not inject personal opinions or a political agenda into their advice.

From time to time, both sides are accused of breaking that trust. In July, for example, a panel of experts sharply lowered the recommended cholesterol level for patients at risk of heart disease. Consumer groups challenged the recommendation, pointing out that some panel members have financial ties to companies that make cholesterol-lowering drugs.

In the larger dispute, scientists charge that the Bush administration has violated its side of the bargain in two ways: By manipulating scientific information to suit political purposes and by applying a political litmus test to membership on scientific advisory committees.

Hot spots in science policy

The conflict usually centers on scientific advice involving politically contentious subjects such as reproductive health, drug policy and the environment.

Climate scientists, for example, complain they have been frustrated in their attempts to include full and accurate information about global warming in official government reports — a charge the administration denies.

The administration also finds itself at odds with many medical researchers over use of embryonic stem cells. Bush, concerned that harvesting the cells requires the destruction of human embryos, decided in 2001 to restrict federally funded research to a few dozen existing cell lines. But medical researchers, believing stem cells offer a key to curing many debilitating diseases, say the decision severely hampers their work.

"I don't get the sense that science was particularly part of the decision making," said Elizabeth Blackburn, a University of California, San Francisco biologist.

Marburger, Bush's science adviser, sees it differently: "The really important questions here are ethical questions; they're not science questions."

Democrats further politicized stem cell research when they invited Ron Reagan, son of the late president, to speak at their convention in Boston this summer.

"We can choose between the future and the past, between reason and ignorance, between true compassion and mere ideology," Reagan said in his speech, urging the audience to "cast a vote for embryonic stem cell research."

Strategies for argument

In any argument people will emphasize information that supports their position and ignore contrary evidence, said Roger Pielke, Jr., a science policy expert at the University of Colorado in Boulder. He calls the strategy "cherrypicking" and considers it a legitimate debating tactic.

"That is different than actually going out and manufacturing or altering the scientific process in a way that guarantees the result will agree with your point of view," Pielke said.

Bush's critics say his administration is doing just that when it screens scientific advisers based on their political views. They argue that when it comes to science, professional qualifications should trump party affiliation.

Blackburn became a cause celebre for many scientists who felt her dismissal from the President's Council on Bioethics in February was retribution for her disagreements with the administration over stem cells and other issues.

Gerald T. Keusch, associate dean for global health at Boston University, says he resigned as director of the National Institute of Health's Fogarty International Center last year after the administration shot down 19 of his 26 picks for advisory positions.

He said one candidate was turned down because she had served on the board of a nonprofit organization dedicated to international reproductive health, another because she supported a woman's right to an abortion.

"I was hopping mad," Keusch said.

Political litmus test?

Dr. D.A. Henderson, a biological weapons expert, said that when President Bush's father chose him for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, it didn't matter that he was a Democrat and that his wife was president of Planned Parenthood of Maryland. All that counted was his expertise.

"I can't imagine that happening today," said Henderson, although he has worked in the last three administrations and now advises the Secretary of Health and Human Services.

Marburger dismisses such notions: "I can say from personal experience that the accusation of a litmus test that must be met before someone can serve on an advisory panel is preposterous," he said in an April response to the Union of Concerned Scientists statement.

As proof, he offered himself. He's a Democrat.
 

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

[July 19, 2004] When scientists cheat, the results are sobering BY ROBERT COHEN

STAR-LEDGER

A New Jersey scientist seemed to be finding promising clues on how problems with human brain cells can lead to epilepsy and mental retardation.

But when a colleague cried foul in 2002 and warned officials that some of the data were phony, Brand Hoffmann's work on the research, funded by the National Institutes of Health, fell apart.

Admitting he fabricated portions of his study, the assistant professor at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey became one of a small number of scientists -- fewer than 20 in an average year -- to be caught cheating and formally barred from federally funded research.

Many experts believe scientific misconduct is more widespread than those numbers suggest. And they say the government, which spends tens of billions of dollars annually on research, has been slow to adopt guidelines issued 3 1/2 years ago to improve reporting and oversight of bad science.

"Incidents of scientific misconduct are underreported, but how seriously we don't know," said Chris Pascal, director of the Office of Research Integrity, which reviews scientific misconduct allegations for the Department of Health and Human Services.

"Some studies suggest 40 to 50 percent of researchers are aware of misconduct but have not reported it," said Nicholas Steneck, a history professor at the University of Michigan who has written extensively on the subject. "There is underreporting because the scientific community isn't as vigilant as it ought to be and because the federal definition of misconduct is fairly narrow."

The government relies on universities and research institutions to report misdeeds and to conduct their own investigations. Federal authorities then review findings and issue reprimands or bans on new grants.

Experts said the willingness to investigate and report improprieties varies by university, and that the level of scrutiny also varies among government agencies.

The Office of Research Integrity, which monitors cheating for HHS agencies such as NIH, the Public Health Service and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, receives about 150 to 200 reports a year of misconduct and issues findings of wrongdoing in only about a dozen cases a year.

The National Science Foundation, another major source of federal money, receives about 100 misconduct complaints a year, but has banned just 11 individuals from further involvement in government-backed research since 2000. Unlike the Office of Research Integrity, the NSF does not publicly name the individuals it bans or their universities. It only does so if there is a criminal conviction or the case is considered unusually serious.

David Wright, head of research ethics at Michigan State University, said he believes the incidence of cheating is relatively low even with the possibility some cases go undetected. He said the rigorous scientific peer review process often shines the spotlight on problems and acts as a deterrent.

But when there is fraud, Wright said, it's a serious matter. It "corrupts" the scientific record, undermines public trust and can have "catastrophic" consequences in some cases, such as distorting the results of a human clinical trial on a new drug.

SELF-POLICING

In the Hoffmann case, a UMDNJ research integrity committee received allegations the scientist used fabricated data in his study of how cell malformations affect brain development.

The university began its own inquiry, notified the federal Office of Research Integrity and issued two reports verifying the charges. The government reviewed those findings and in February concluded that Hoffmann "engaged in scientific misconduct by falsifying and fabricating research data."

It said one falsified manuscript had been submitted but not published in the Journal of Cell Biology, while another was published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.

Hoffmann, who consented to an agreement barring him from any involvement in federally funded research for three years, left the university in 2002 and returned to his native Germany. He could not be located for comment.

UMDNJ spokeswoman Susan Preston said the university takes the issue of scientific integrity seriously, adding the Hoffmann case shows its monitoring system works.

In other recent cases, the Office of Research Integrity found:

  • University of Florida professor Craig Gelband fabricated data to show a gene therapy treatment for high blood pressure was working when the original information showed no significant results.
  • Justin Radolf, a physician and professor at the University of Connecticut Health Center, falsified and fabricated data in NIH-supported research that had "the potential to mislead grant reviewers and the scientific community about an area of research that could have led to the prevention of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and other tick-transmitted diseases."
  • Vickie Hanneken, a clinical research associate at Decatur Memorial Hospital in Illinois, falsified or fabricated data involving 35 participants in a prostate cancer clinical trial supported by the National Cancer Institute. The falsified data had the potential to cause completely erroneous conclusions on the effect of treating patients with a new prostate cancer therapy involving selenium and vitamin E.
  • Pat Palmer, an assistant research scientist at the University of Iowa, fabricated records for at least six interviews of autism patient families involved in an NIH study. She also fabricated her academic credentials and lied to the government when she claimed she was the co-author of at 10 published scientific articles.

    Records made available under the Freedom of Information Act show that of the 11 NSF cases barring scientists from new grants since 2000, six dealt with plagiarism, one with fabrication of data and four with financial fraud.

    SLOW GOING

    In late 2000, the Clinton administration issued guidelines to create a common government-wide definition for scientific misconduct and uniform policies to handle investigations.

    The government now defines research misconduct as "fabrication, falsification or plagiarism in proposing, performing, or reviewing research, or in reporting research results."

    The rules were supposed to be in place by the end of 2001, but to date only a handful of agencies have complied. The departments of energy, defense and veterans affairs as well as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration are among those behind schedule.

    Clifford Gabriel, a deputy associate director of the White House Office of Science and Technology, said some departments have had difficulties adopting the new rules but are now making progress. Even without using these guidelines, he said, "cases are not falling through the cracks."

    But the University of Michigan's Steneck said the delay shows the issue is "on the back burner."

    "This is not a high priority for most agencies," Steneck said. "If it were a priority, it would get done."

  • Op-Ed Columnist Maestro of Chutzpah

    Part of the genius of George Bush's political operatives is their ability to persuade people (Colin Powell, Tony Blair) to betray their principles, to say and do things they will later regret, in support of a presumed shared cause. Paul O'Neill, Bush's first treasury secretary, falls into the same category: he was a moderate Republican who for a time played good soldier, defending the Bush tax cuts despite private qualms, to help the new president -- a man he thought shared his values -- by giving him an early political victory. And guess what: O'Neill was a close friend of Greenspan's.

    You see, although the rest of the government is running huge deficits — and never did run much of a surplus — the Social Security system is currently taking in much more money than it spends. Thanks to those surpluses, the program is fully financed at least through 2042. The cost of securing the program's future for many decades after that would be modest — a small fraction of the revenue that will be lost if the Bush tax cuts are made permanent.

    And the reason Social Security is in fairly good shape is that during the 1980's the Greenspan commission persuaded Congress to increase the payroll tax, which supports the program.

    The payroll tax is regressive: it falls much more heavily on middle- and lower-income families than it does on the rich. In fact, according to Congressional Budget Office estimates, families near the middle of the income distribution pay almost twice as much in payroll taxes as in income taxes. Yet people were willing to accept a regressive tax increase to sustain Social Security.

    Now the joke's on them. Mr. Greenspan pushed through an increase in taxes on working Americans, generating a Social Security surplus. Then he used that surplus to argue for tax cuts that deliver very little relief to most people, but are worth a lot to those making more than $300,000 a year. And now that those tax cuts have contributed to a soaring deficit, he wants to cut Social Security benefits.

    The point, of course, is that if anyone had tried to sell this package honestly — "Let's raise taxes and cut benefits for working families so we can give big tax cuts to the rich!" — voters would have been outraged. So the class warriors of the right engaged in bait-and-switch.

    There are three lessons in this tale.

    First, "starving the beast" is no longer a hypothetical scenario — it's happening as we speak. For decades, conservatives have sought tax cuts, not because they're affordable, but because they aren't. Tax cuts lead to budget deficits, and deficits offer an excuse to squeeze government spending.

    Second, squeezing spending doesn't mean cutting back on wasteful programs nobody wants. Social Security and Medicare are the targets because that's where the money is. We might add that ideologues on the right have never given up on their hope of doing away with Social Security altogether. If Mr. Bush wins in November, we can be sure that they will move forward on privatization — the creation of personal retirement accounts. These will be sold as a way to "save" Social Security (from a nonexistent crisis), but will, in fact, undermine its finances. And that, of course, is the point.

    Finally, the right-wing corruption of our government system — the partisan takeover of institutions that are supposed to be nonpolitical — continues, and even extends to the Federal Reserve.

    The Bush White House has made it clear that it will destroy the careers of scientists, budget experts, intelligence operatives and even military officers who don't toe the line. But Mr. Greenspan should have been immune to such pressures, and he should have understood that the peculiarity of his position — as an unelected official who wields immense power — carries with it an obligation to stand above the fray. By using his office to promote a partisan agenda, he has betrayed his institution, and the nation.

    [Jun 4, 2004] New America Foundation article -1527- A Dose of Denial

    Tracy Patton had just arrived at a community theater rehearsal in August 2000 when she felt such a searing explosion in the back of her head that it knocked her to her knees.

    At the hospital in Louisville, Ky., doctors said Patton, then 37, had suffered a catastrophic stroke, and they predicted she wouldn't survive the night.

    Patton defied the odds. But nearly four years later, she is so overwhelmed by simple tasks that she must post a "personal hygiene checklist" in her bathroom to remind herself to brush her teeth and flush the toilet.

    At 15, Tricia Newenham was full of promise when she suffered her stroke in October 2000 while hanging out in her bedroom with a cousin. A Down East Mainer from a family of woodsmen and lobstermen, she had been named her middle school's student of the year and was on track to become the first Newenham to attend college.

    She spent a month in a coma, and emerged totally blind and profoundly mentally impaired. When reminiscing about her former self, about her prom dates and nights at the movies, she dissolves into inconsolable sobbing, condemned to remember just enough of what her life was like then to understand how much less it is now.

    Only hours before these devastating strokes, each victim had washed down a seemingly innocuous over-the-counter cold medicine, one of billions of doses consumed annually nationwide.

    The medicines contained phenylpropanolamine, or PPA, the active ingredient in scores of popular nonprescription decongestants and diet aids until November 2000, when the Food nd Drug Administration declared PPA unsafe and asked drug companies to stop selling it.

    By then, the drug industry had spent more than two decades fending off growing evidence of a possible link between PPA and hemorrhagic stroke. But Patton and Newenham were among hundreds of PPA consumers who suffered attacks after a landmark study -- sponsored by the drug industry itself -- concluded in October 1999 that the use of PPA was associated with an increased risk of that deadliest form of stroke.

    Recently obtained internal company documents show that rather than alerting the public during cold season, drug makers launched a yearlong campaign to keep the results quiet and stall government regulation. By the time the FDA acted, 13 months and hundreds of strokes later, the companies had reformulated their brand names with little interruption in sales. The market for PPA has been estimated at $500 million to $1 billion annually.

    In the interim, Americans continued to purchase PPA products right off the shelf and assume they were safe.

    "It never even dawned on us," said Tim A. Bybee, Newenham's stepfather, speaking of the Triaminic cold syrup Tricia took shortly before her stroke. "It was in the store. Everyone uses it. It must be all right."

    The Times reviewed thousands of pages of documents produced through discovery in PPA lawsuits and obtained from the FDA through a Freedom of Information Act request. The documents demonstrate that the pharmaceutical industry consistently challenged any notion that PPA could be dangerous and dismissed evidence to the contrary. They also show that the manufacturers assured the public that PPA was safe even as some FDA scientists and industry officials were raising concerns.

    As early as 1982, an FDA report warned that PPA had "the ability to cause cardiovascular effects, cerebral hemorrhage and cardiac arrhythmias." Two years later, a memo from the medical services department at Sandoz Pharmaceuticals, which made the PPA products Triaminic and Tavist-D, referred to PPA as "an agent known to cause hypertension and stroke."

    Yet the drug companies accelerated their marketing of PPA, winning FDA approval to sell prescription PPA products on an over-the-counter basis and introducing flavorful new formulas for children.

    Upon learning that the 1999 study had found a stroke link, the drug makers opened a relentless assault on its methodology and on the integrity of the Yale University researchers who conducted it. They did so despite having paid for the five-year, $5-million study themselves, approving its protocol and handpicking investigators who had previously expressed skepticism about a link between PPA and stroke.

    Some documents show that the companies hoped to survive the 2000 cold season without pulling PPA products. Rarely do the internal memos indicate concern by corporate officials that PPA might pose a threat to the public.

    Early in November 2000, for instance, two weeks after an FDA advisory panel concluded that PPA could be hazardous, an official with Bayer, which made Alka-Seltzer Plus with PPA, drafted a proposed "PPA Crisis Action Plan." Its stated objectives: "Delay mandatory implementation of FDA recommendation. Blunt PR impact by highlighting questionable study conclusions as they pertain to cough/cold products. Begin shipping PPA-free product as soon as possible."

    Terry O. Tottenham, a lawyer for Bayer, said the plan was not implemented. But records and interviews show the industry largely followed that course.

    The FDA eventually recommended the withdrawal of more than 100 PPA products, including popular cough and cold brands such as Robitussin CF and Dimetapp, and appetite suppressants such as Dexatrim and Acutrim. FDA officials said they did not move faster because the industry's efforts to discredit the Yale results effectively delayed the delivery of a final report.

    "There were obvious concerns that we weren't getting the data because it was being held up by the people who sponsored the study," said Dr. Charles J. Ganley, director of the FDA's Division of Over-the-Counter Drug Products.

    Left in the Dark

    Once the FDA stepped in, the manufacturers issued press releases, posted notices on websites and wrote letters to doctors, pharmacists and retailers advising them of the agency's action. But after the products were withdrawn, neither the companies nor the FDA mounted major advertising or direct-mail campaigns to warn Americans they might have dangerous products in their handbags and homes.

    A survey commissioned by plaintiffs in lawsuits over PPA estimated that 3.5 million U.S. households still possessed PPA formulations a full 15 months after the withdrawals were requested in November 2000.

    The wife of a Mississippi stroke victim says she purchased Alka-Seltzer Plus with PPA from a convenience store in April 2001, six months after it was supposed to have been removed. Her 45-year-old husband took two packets over two days, began convulsing, and now is confined to a wheelchair, according to his lawyer. Both the retailer and the wholesaler have testified in depositions that they were never alerted by Bayer or the FDA. The couple are suing Bayer and Double Quick Inc., the retailer.

    Even now, the industry's attacks on the study it commissioned are its primary defense against more than 2,500 lawsuits filed by plaintiffs who say they suffered strokes shortly after taking products with PPA.

    Spokespersons for each of the major manufacturers of PPA products said in interviews or written responses that they continued to believe PPA was safe, despite the study's findings.

    "We did not believe then, nor do we believe now, that PPA was dangerous," wrote Tottenham, the Bayer lawyer. "In fact, we believe the PPA in those medications was safe and effective and did not, in any way, cause or contribute to hemorrhagic stroke or any other circulatory disease, when used as directed." Tottenham said that there was "no valid scientific evidence" of an association and that the Yale study, when "properly analyzed, does nothing to change this conclusion."

    The Consumer Healthcare Products Assn. (CHPA), the leading nonprescription drug trade group, declined to comment for this article.

    But its former longtime president, James D. Cope, who took a previously scheduled retirement shortly after the study's completion, said the drug companies would have been well-advised to accept the findings. "Industry was convinced that if a proper study would be done, the results would come out where they wanted them: safe and effective," he said. "It didn't. And since it didn't, and they designed the best study they could, I think they have to live with it."

    The manufacturers include some of the largest drug companies in the world -- Bayer; Novartis, which absorbed Sandoz in a merger; Wyeth, which makes Dimetapp and Robitussin CF; GlaxoSmithKline, which makes Contac; and the former Thompson Medical Co., which made Dexatrim until Chattem Inc. bought the line late in 1998.

    Doctors and scientists cannot say for sure that PPA caused Patton, Newenham or any other victim to have a stroke. Many of those who suffered strokes after taking PPA were particularly susceptible to blood pressure spikes because they suffered from one of several conditions affecting tens of millions of Americans.

    Some had hypertension, which afflicts one in five Americans. Patton was among the estimated 3% of Americans with cerebral aneurysms, which can pop if blood pressure rises suddenly. Newenham had an arteriovenous malformation, a circulatory defect that can make vessels prone to rupture. Neither Patton nor Newenham knew about their conditions before their strokes.

    If PPA had been a lifesaving drug, the benefits might have more clearly outweighed the risks to such a large segment of the population. But though it unclogged countless stuffy noses and helped millions of dieters shed a few pounds, PPA was neither essential nor irreplaceable.

    What made it worth fighting for were its sales, estimated at several billion doses a year. In a deposition, Robert G. Donovan, the former head of Sandoz Consumer Health Care, said the profitability of the company's two PPA products was about 75% to 80% of revenue.

    Years before the Yale Hemorrhagic Stroke Project, clinical studies and individual cases published in medical journals began to raise concerns about PPA.

    Sandoz was among several companies that considered reformulating their cold products with comparably effective ingredients, primarily pseudoephedrine, which had been used safely for years and gained final FDA approval in 1994. But pseudoephedrine cost more than PPA. And it had a bitter taste that was more difficult to mask, an important consideration for the pediatric market. The manufacturers concluded there was no reason to switch.

    "There appears to be little, if any, upside business potential in reformulating from both a consumer and professional standpoint," wrote the marketing director of pediatric cough and cold products for Sandoz in a 1988 memo included in litigation records.

    "Few consumers are aware of [over-the-counter] cough/cold products' active ingredients," he wrote. "Fewer still would be aware of any safety issues with PPA."

    In depositions, many industry officials have tried to shift responsibility to the FDA.

    "My assumption was that if there was an issue of safety, supported by sound evidence, that the Food and Drug Administration would exercise their responsibility and take the product off the market," Donovan testified. But FDA officials said that until they received the final results of the industry study, there was not sufficient evidence of PPA's dangers to take it off the market or demand prominent stroke warnings on labels.

    The agency does not require manufacturers to report cases of adverse reactions to certain drugs, like PPA, that have long been available over the counter. That makes it virtually impossible to track potentially dangerous trends as they develop.

    Some companies provide such data voluntarily, but research has shown that underreporting is widespread.

    As a result, there are no reliable figures for how many strokes may have been associated with PPA use. But in 2000, FDA epidemiologists estimated that between 200 and 500 hemorrhagic strokes a year could be attributed to PPA in people 18 to 49.

    Although products with PPA are no longer for sale, Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat who held hearings on PPA safety as a congressman in 1990, said in an interview that he hoped FDA officials would learn from the PPA experience.

    "In 1990, there was already essentially a decade of evidence that PPA could be causing health problems, and it was 10 years after I opened up these hearings that PPA came off the shelf," he said. "There are real human consequences of slow, stalling tactics. Loved ones don't come back, disabilities don't disappear, just because PPA is off the shelf after years of foot-dragging."

    The 'Big Soldier'

    Tracy Patton could never have imagined such a tentative life.

    Though only 5 feet 2, she was the first player off the bench for her Scottsburg, Ind., high school basketball team when it went to the state semifinals. She held the town's high school long jump record -- 16 feet, 8 inches -- and won a track and field scholarship to college. Before her stroke, she mowed the yards at seven of her father's rental properties every week.

    Whenever Patton faced adversity as a child, when she skinned a knee or was dragged to the dentist, her father would tell her to "be a big soldier," and she took his instruction to heart. Within her family and in her job as the director of a foster care agency, she had a reputation for determination and grit.

    Patton says that on the drive to nearby Louisville for her play rehearsal that night, she took a single tablet of Tavist-D to unclog her sinuses. She hemorrhaged an hour later.

    At the hospital, Patton's doctor told family members to expect the worst, and advised them to say their goodbyes. "She'll probably bleed out," he said. "We'll try to make her as comfortable as we can." To their astonishment, just before sunrise, she began to wake from her coma.

    The surgeons cut a scythe-shaped incision in her head, repaired her aneurysm with two metal clips and inserted three metal plates in her skull. She lost 85% of the vision in her left eye, leaving her to view the world as if through Vaseline-smeared glasses.

    These days, Patton struggles with simple math and the concept of time. She keeps a printed inventory of her own odd behaviors: "I have been found talking to pictures on the wall. I have 'thanked' myself after I have poured myself a drink." One day, she thought she saw a reindeer driving a car.

    Patton, who is single, tries to present a patina of normalcy, but her daily routine taxes her strength. She has recurring nightmares, often about brains. "Shopping for brains, brains of all shapes and colors and sizes, brains in jars," she said. "And then there's brain surgery. They want me to go in and look at other people having brain surgery. I wake up in a panic."

    Patton still holds down her job, where her office computer has been programmed with large-print type. But she acknowledges she is able to work only because a colleague has assumed many of her responsibilities. "She does it all and acts like I did it," Patton said. "We hide it really well."

    On the day she came home from the hospital, a month after her stroke, Patton celebrated her 38th birthday with family and friends. She held an ice pack to her head as her sister, Kim, read her cards aloud and handed her gifts -- a scented candle, a collectible race car, and, most utilitarian, a collection of hats. Then Kim presented the cake she had baked in the shape of a brain. "Can you imagine how many times it took me to make gray icing?" she asked with a laugh.

    But the day's most meaningful gift came from her father. It was a simple sliver of silver, and he had had it engraved: "#1 Big Soldier."

    Hidden Dangers

    Researchers estimate that hemorrhagic strokes, which occur when blood vessels rupture and bleed into the brain, kill more than a third of all victims within a month and leave more than a third of survivors severely disabled. They account for only 12% to 17% of the 700,000 strokes in the U.S. each year, according to the American Stroke Assn., but play a disproportionate role in making stroke America's third leading killer.

    Phenylpropanolamine, which was first synthesized around 1910, is one of a class of drugs that stimulate the sympathetic nervous system, not unlike amphetamine and cocaine. It also can constrict blood vessels and increase the force of heart contractions. By narrowing blood vessels in nasal mucous membranes, PPA allows air passages to open up. The very same mechanism can, according to the FDA, produce transient spikes in blood pressure.

    Whether PPA can raise blood pressure to dangerous levels has been the subject of extensive debate. After dozens of studies and case reports, the cumulative weight of scientific evidence suggests that PPA is not necessarily dangerous to everybody, but that it can trigger lethal reactions in some.

    Studies found that the degree of blood pressure elevation attributable to PPA depended on the type and quantity of product taken, whether it was taken in combination with stimulants like caffeine, whether the patient was otherwise susceptible to high blood pressure, and whether it was consumed while upright or lying down, when the impact apparently is greatest.

    Of particular concern was that PPA could produce adverse effects in quantities that were only two or three times the FDA's recommended dosing limits -- 150 milligrams per day for decongestants and 75 milligrams per day for diet drugs.

    The FDA takes the position that over-the-counter drugs, while not risk-free, should be "relatively hard to get in trouble with," said Dr. Robert J. Temple, the agency's associate director for medical policy.

    Some researchers, many of them bankrolled by drug manufacturers, have held that PPA has minimal effects on blood pressure. Most prominent is Dr. George L. Blackburn, whose chair in nutrition medicine at Harvard was endowed by the founder of Thompson Medical Co., which created Dexatrim. Another is Dr. John P. Morgan, who was Thompson Medical's part-time medical director and who defended PPA in a 1985 text that was heavily underwritten by the company.

    Morgan acknowledged in an interview that he was paid "an enormous amount of money" over the years by Thompson. "I know some people thought that influenced the research, but that was not the case," he said. He added that he still did not believe PPA caused strokes. "But I've always been afraid I'd be proved wrong," he said. "Maybe it does."

    When the FDA began evaluating PPA in the 1970s, the agency's expert panels recommended it be categorized as safe and effective, while also noting reports of "idiosyncratic reactions of central nervous system stimulation and/or blood pressure rise." There was enough uncertainty about safety to keep the agency from issuing a final ruling, placing PPA in a regulatory limbo that allowed its continued marketing.

    As the body of research about PPA's potential hazards expanded, the industry maintained there was no health risk. In 1989, the Proprietary Assn. -- a forerunner of the CHPA -- declared in a statement that PPA was safe, and asserted that "clinically recommended doses of PPA produce no clinically significant changes in blood pressure, heart rate or EKG."

    But even as the companies were publicly defending PPA, one internal report after the next referred to its potential dangers.

    In 1989, for instance, a manager in the Sandoz medical services department wrote that both PPA and pseudoephedrine were "viable for use" in over-the-counter products but that "each have had dire outcomes in small doses." The manager then added: "It isn't only abuse or overdoses which cause problems. Adverse effects are rare but can be serious."

    By 1996, a confidential Sandoz "safety update" warned: "It is conceivable that the intake of drugs containing this active ingredient predisposes to or even causes cerebrovascular accidents."

    Some manufacturers had begun exploring the possibility of reformulating their brands with other ingredients in the early 1980s. But at Dorsey Laboratories, a division of Sandoz, officials calculated in 1983 that a switch to pseudoephedrine, which was more than twice as expensive as PPA, would cost $1.4 million. Furthermore, a company marketing survey concluded that awareness of PPA's possible side effects was not yet widespread among physicians and pharmacists.

    "Based on the reaction of these professionals, reformulation to pseudoephedrine is not an urgent matter," wrote a staffer in Dorsey's marketing research division.

    Birth of a Study

    In 1990, prompted by reports of PPA's dangers and its growing use in diet drugs, then-Rep. Wyden held his hearings. Some of the testimony was devastating.

    After enumerating a laundry list of ailments, including cerebral hemorrhage, that had been associated with PPA in medical literature, Dr. Thaddeus E. Prout, then the chairman of medicine at Greater Baltimore Medical Center, issued a challenge: "I defy anyone to find another unregulated drug that has such a record of disaster." Prout, an authority on drugs, blamed the FDA for not moving against PPA. "Thousands of people will suffer as a result of our negligence," he predicted.

    From the FDA's vantage point, the only way to truly determine whether PPA users were at disproportionate risk of stroke was to conduct an extensive epidemiologic study. But since the agency does not itself sponsor research for drug reviews, it had to rely on PPA manufacturers to investigate the safety of their own products.

    There was incentive for the companies as well. A long-term study would keep PPA on the market, at least temporarily.

    The industry sponsors -- Thompson Medical and Ciba Consumer Pharmaceuticals (then the maker of the diet drug Acutrim) -- were involved in all major methodological decisions, as was the CHPA. They chose investigators who were highly credible with the FDA, but who also were known to be skeptical of any connection between PPA and stroke.

    Lawrence M. Brass, the Yale neurologist initially enlisted for the study, said in an interview that he told the industry sponsors in an early meeting that he "really didn't see a lot of evidence for an association."

    Similarly, the sponsors approved Dr. Louis C. Lasagna, who had endorsed PPA's safety in a 1988 textbook, as chairman of the study's three-member oversight committee.

    In April 1994, as the investigators and the companies applied the finishing touches to the study's design, Timothy R. Dring, Ciba's assistant director of regulatory affairs, wrote to one of the Yale researchers that the protocol "will serve our research purposes quite admirably."

    At the same time, Dexatrim's maker, Thompson Medical, broke with the rest of the industry by disclosing on labels that there had been reports that stroke and other conditions "might be associated" with PPA.

    It seemed a purely defensive move. Thompson's president, Daniel N. Horwitz, stressed in a letter to the FDA that the company "in no way believes that these reports are correct." And CHPA officials made it clear that they disagreed with the decision.

    The companies not only continued to sell their products, but also introduced new PPA brands, like Bayer's Alka-Seltzer Plus children's cold medicine with "fizzy fresh cherry taste."

    Unexpected Findings

    To the astonishment of the drug companies, the study conducted by its handpicked researchers using their industry-approved protocol produced bombshell results.

    An examination of 702 stroke cases in people 18 to 49 years old identified 27 victims, mostly women, who had taken PPA shortly before their attacks. Their experience was compared to a control group of 1,376 people.

    The most significant finding was that women who had taken an appetite suppressant with PPA were 16 times more likely to have a stroke within three days than those in a control group who had not taken any.

    The study also found that the risk of stroke was three times greater for women who had used PPA products for the first time in the last 24 hours. "First use" meant that the subject had not taken a PPA product in the previous two weeks. All the first-users in the study had taken PPA cough and cold remedies.

    In their final report to the FDA, the investigators concluded that "the association of PPA with risk for hemorrhagic stroke is present for both customary indications for PPA (as a cough-cold remedy and an appetite suppressant)."

    For all subjects -- regardless of gender, the type of product taken or the timing of ingestion -- the risk of stroke increased by 50%. But that finding, like some others, fell short of statistical significance.

    Upon learning the results on Oct. 17, 1999, the members of the study's oversight committee -- including Lasagna, who had previously written so confidently about PPA's safety -- unanimously approved the findings and instructed the researchers to notify the FDA immediately.

    The next day they did, placing telephone calls to officials at the agency and to the leaders of the trade association. Industry officials feared that the study would prompt FDA action against all forms of PPA, and began mounting a counteroffensive.

    Even before the Yale results were disclosed, the industry had started considering worst-case scenarios. "We need to be thinking offense here not just defense," wrote John Incledon, vice president of the respiratory business unit of Wyeth's Whitehall-Robins Healthcare division, in an e-mail to a colleague on Oct. 6, 1999. "The timing of this is ideal for news stations to pick up on it in droves. It's Yale, it's cold season and it's in children's products."

    Once the study was finished, the FDA asked the doctors to summarize their findings in a letter. Dr. R. William Soller, then the senior vice president of the CHPA, wrote to one of the researchers to insist that any report to the FDA stress PPA's overall safety record. The next day, he wrote again, this time warning that the Yale investigators may have violated their contract by communicating results to the FDA before fully vetting them with the industry sponsors. Two days later, a lawyer for Novartis accused the Yale doctors in a letter of committing "a serious breach" by prematurely disclosing the results.

    The doctors were taken aback. "We contend that we were in full compliance with the contract," Dr. Walter N. Kernan, one of the Yale researchers, said in an interview. "Neither the university nor the investigators were going to allow anything to get between us and what we perceived as the best interest of the public."

    The FDA, meanwhile, told the researchers that any communication with the agency would have to be public. It quickly scheduled an open meeting of its Nonprescription Drugs Advisory Committee, a panel of experts whose recommendations were almost always endorsed by the FDA commissioner.

    But the doctors said their data needed further refining and analysis before public release. And the industry told the FDA it could not prepare a public defense so quickly.

    In the end, the panel's meeting was pushed off by more than 10 months, with much of that time marked by parrying between the Yale doctors and the industry over the research methods they had agreed to five years earlier. In the meantime, the public remained unaware of the study's findings, and products with PPA stayed on the market.

    "I think the companies wished that we'd never reach the final stage," said Dr. Ralph I. Horwitz, a clinical epidemiologist who helped lead the Yale team, "because the longer the process was underway, they were able to avoid finally dealing with the consequences of the research."

    Horwitz, who is now dean of the Medical School at Case Western Reserve University, said the delay left issues of consumer safety in suspension. "I do think that had they been able to see the study findings as soon as the data were available, that the FDA would have felt obliged to issue a warning in the interest of public health and safety," he said.

    The FDA's Ganley said the agency could not act without a final report. "Why would we put out something like that when we didn't really have the data in hand?" he asked. "We would be criticized, and justifiably so."

    Circling the Wagons

    As the clock ticked toward some form of FDA regulation, the companies enlisted a battalion of consultants to analyze the study. They hired a public relations firm, Ruder Finn, which suggested in a draft memo that the industry argue that PPA-related jumps in blood pressure were "within the range of increases associated with routine daily activities, such as climbing stairs or mowing the lawn," according to correspondence from CHPA's Totman.

    One Bayer memo about a meeting of an industrywide PPA task force said it had been noted that the FDA's Temple had an unfavorable position on PPA and that "efforts should be made to steer the media away from him."

    At Chattanooga, Tenn.-based Chattem, which had just bought Dexatrim, President A. Alexander Taylor II wrote to Soller that he feared "an avalanche of negative publicity" if the study were to become public before it could be reviewed by the industry sponsors.

    Taylor appealed to his home-state senator, Tennessee Republican Bill Frist, a physician, to intervene with the FDA. Taylor began a Feb. 4, 2000, letter by mentioning that a prominent Frist donor served on the Chattem board of directors and that the company's chief executive officer was the brother of a Frist county reelection chairman. "I am a very proud contributor to your current campaign," Taylor continued.

    "A few more months of study before any public release of this data will not harm the public health, and may benefit it," he wrote.

    Frist never responded. "It fell on deaf ears," Taylor said in a deposition.

    As the months passed, the companies saw that it was time to reformulate.

    In December 1999, Novartis had kick-started its efforts to remake Triaminic with pseudoephedrine. Wyeth also set a quick timetable for reconstituting Dimetapp, then slowed down as the FDA postponed its advisory committee meeting.

    "It appears that we have a bit more time than we originally expected on a decision from the FDA on PPA," wrote Wyeth's senior product manager for Dimetapp in an April 2000 memo. "By launching in January 2001 instead of September 2000 (the peak of the cough/cold season), we will be able to better manage open stock and display inventories."

    In May, a draft memo from Wyeth's Whitehall-Robins division addressed whether retailers should return stocks of Robitussin CF when they began receiving shipments of PPA-free replacements. The answer: "NO. Again, the decision to reformulate was voluntary. Therefore, current stock is perfectly safe and effective for use. We will not be accepting returned product for the new formula."

    David E. Dukes, a lawyer for Wyeth, stressed in an interview that the companies and the FDA were still evaluating the Yale study at that point. "At the senior levels, where decisions were being made about Dimetapp and Robitussin CF, safety was the primary concern," he said.

    Meanwhile, even the consultants brought in by industry found it difficult to dismiss the study's conclusions.

    Dr. James Lewis, a University of Pennsylvania epidemiologist who had been commissioned by Bayer, wrote that the Yale researchers showed "fairly convincing evidence of an association between PPA use and the risk of hemorrhagic stroke."

    Like other consultants hired to critique the study, however, he also guided his client toward a strategy for attacking the fragility of the findings. With such a small number of PPA-related stroke cases, he wrote, any methodological bias could affect the statistical significance of a result.

    The industry seized on that approach. "We came out and said we don't like our own study," said Cope, the former CHPA president. "It's predictable: If the results don't come out the way you like, since there's no such thing as a bulletproof study, you point out the weaknesses in it."

    Under increasing pressure from the FDA, the Yale doctors submitted their final report on May 10, 2000. Though they stopped short of saying PPA could cause hemorrhagic stroke, they later emphasized that "causation is one explanation for that association."

    The FDA staff quickly sided with the researchers. An FDA statistician praised the study as one of the best he had reviewed in the last decade. A pair of FDA epidemiologists were so persuaded that they took the unusual step of recommending that PPA-containing appetite suppressants be banned as over-the-counter products.

    "The study demonstrated a statistically significant increased risk of hemorrhagic stroke among both appetite suppressant users and first time users of PPA as a cough/cold remedy," their report concluded. The recommendation for a ban infuriated industry officials, who complained it would unfairly sway the advisory panel, now scheduled to meet on Oct. 19.

    At the advisory committee meeting, Dr. Noel S. Weiss, a University of Washington epidemiologist who had been hired by the CHPA, honed in on the disparity in the study's findings for different types of products. "Why an association with appetite suppressant drugs and not for colds and such when the typical doses given for colds are higher than for appetite suppressants?" he asked.

    But the attack on the study was so broad that it ultimately undercut the industry's cause, FDA officials said. "They essentially trashed the study, even though they are the ones who designed it and financed it," Ganley said.

    The advisory panel voted unanimously, with a few abstentions, that PPA could not be considered safe. A few weeks later, the agency told manufacturers it expected to classify PPA as not safe for over-the-counter use and asked that they voluntarily discontinue marketing the products. The evidence of an association, while not conclusive, had been persuasive.

    "If someone wanted you to swear it must be true, I wouldn't do that," said the FDA's Temple. "But we thought it was enough. Look, if the drug were lifesaving, if it was something of immense value and had no replacements, you'd have to think about it. But it wasn't."

    Stolen Youth

    Tricia Newenham suffered her stroke the week before the advisory committee met. As her neurosurgeon prepared to remove the damaged tissue from her brain, he warned her parents she might not survive her eight hours on the table. Three days later, before a second operation to remove a blood clot, her mother had her baptized, just in case.

    Tricia made it through, but she would never be the same.

    Before her stroke, she stood a gangly 5 feet 6 and weighed 106 pounds. She was becoming a woman, and had developed a serious case of the boycrazies (login: kissable98; password: puckerup). She never left her house in Steuben, Maine, without her hair and makeup just right. She had given up basketball and softball and swimming in vanity over her skinny legs.

    Now 18, Newenham weighs 196 pounds, the consequence of medication and a captive life in which junk food provides a rare escape. Once a promising artist who had imagined a career in design, she passes the time rocking gently in a blue recliner, listening to the drone of soap operas.

    Newenham can brush her teeth and wash her hands, but she does not always know when to stop. Clinging fast to her femininity, she insists on shaving her own legs, but leaves them scabby with cuts.

    She hears a lot and comprehends much, but she has difficulty processing thought and even more in communicating it. When asked a question, she struggles to find the most economical answer, usually a word or two, often a guttural "I don't know," with little intonation.

    Is she in physical pain? "No." Is she angry? "No." Is she sad? "No." Is she frustrated? "Yeah."

    What are her favorite things to do? "Sleep and eat." What does she like to eat? "Chop suey." What else? "I don't know."

    What does she remember about her old life? "Boys."

    Is she content or bored with her life? "I get bored." What does she wish she were doing? "I don't know. Going out with friends."

    And then she begins to cry. And cry and cry.

    While Newenham lingered in a coma after her stroke, the doctors advised her parents to consider a nursing home. Even if Tricia came to, she would not be the daughter they had known.

    But ever so slowly, Tricia started waking up. First, a tear would form in the crease of her eye. Sometimes, when her mother talked to her, Tricia would reward her with a muffled, choking cry.

    Patricia Bybee told the doctors she was taking her daughter home. "I just sensed that she was in there," she said. Two months later, Tricia had spoken her first word: "M-m-m-om." Three months after that, she could walk.

    When the paramedics came to the house on the day of the stroke, they asked Bybee what medications Tricia had taken. "Only Triaminic," she said. It was months later, after the FDA had asked drug companies to withdraw their PPA products, that she learned of the possible connection between cold medicines and stroke.

    Bybee, a nurse's assistant, and her husband, Tim, a plumber, went deep into debt to pay off medical bills. They say a settlement reached last year with Novartis will relieve their debts and cover the cost of Tricia's attendance at a school for the blind near Boston.

    After three years, they have slowly adapted to their new reality, and lowered their expectations.

    "We would give anything to have her back the way she was," said Tim Bybee. "But we have grown to love her and accept her the way she is."

    Softening the Blow

    The withdrawal of PPA was a tough loss for the companies, but they had succeeded brilliantly in minimizing the impact. The study's long duration bought five years to market PPA products without restriction. And the post-study delay provided time to formulate products without PPA, which began shipping within days of the withdrawal.

    Throughout, the manufacturers remained defiant.

    As late as Oct. 25, 2000, six days after the FDA advisory committee voted that PPA was unsafe, Novartis' director of medical affairs sought to reassure doctors about the safety of PPA, particularly for children, who he pointed out were not included in the Yale study.

    "As you know, hemorrhagic stroke is exceedingly rare in the pediatric population," Dr. Geoffrey Ross wrote.

    "Particular to the pediatric population, PPA plays a significant role in reducing missed school days and in promoting effective symptom relief."

    The researchers submitted a scientific article on their PPA study to the New England Journal of Medicine, reporting a statistically significant risk of stroke for women taking PPA diet drugs and a possible association between decongestant use and stroke in women. The Journal considered the findings important enough to post the article on its website Nov. 6, six weeks before it came out in print.

    The same day, the FDA issued a public health advisory that consumers should not use PPA products. Health officials in a number of countries, from Canada to Malaysia, quickly followed suit.

    Finding herself stuck with millions of dollars' worth of useless pills Chattem's Dexatrim brand manager suggested to a colleague in an e-mail -- produced by the company for litigation -- that they sell the inventory to a sampling and promotion company known as Box of Brands.

    Andrea M. Crouch, the vice president of toiletries marketing, responded enthusiastically. "I think using Box of Brands is an excellent idea!" she wrote. "I see no downside -- so what if they divert! I will be surprised if they don't have a problem with PPA but let's go for it!"

    Crews Townsend, a lawyer for Chattem, called the proposal "part of the brainstorming process" and said the company never sold its Dexatrim inventory to Box of Brands. Instead, he said, it was destroyed.

    At Wyeth, gallows humor set in. When a speech was drafted for an executive to deliver at an awards banquet several weeks before Christmas 2000, it included a line about the need to dispose of large quantities of Dimetapp and Robitussin CF: "When you're sorting this year's holiday gift list by 'naughty and nice,' don't think 'lump of coal,' think 'product with PPA.' " By the time a final draft had been prepared, that opening had been replaced by an off-color joke about the 2000 presidential campaign, according to a copy provided by lawyers for Wyeth.

    Virtually all of the firms took one-time accounting losses because of the withdrawals -- $80 million for Wyeth, $54 million for Bayer, $50 million for Novartis and $8 million for Chattem, according to corporate filings and statements.

    But for the most part, the losses were short-lived. Thanks to the quick reformulation and shipment of PPA-free Dimetapp, domestic sales of the product rose 50% in the first quarter of 2001. Meanwhile, 2001 sales of Dexatrim Natural, the non-PPA version of Chattem's diet aid, "more than made up for lost sales" due to the discontinuation of Dexatrim with PPA, according to an annual report.

    The Battle Continues

    Chattem announced in December that it would seek to settle most of its 332 PPA lawsuits. It had already agreed last year to pay $3.5 million to Jennifer Villarreal, a Texas hairstylist who collapsed at a gym on March 6, 2000, allegedly after taking a Dexatrim pill.

    The company also said it had reached settlements with insurers who alleged in lawsuits that Chattem had applied for liability policies without disclosing the Yale results. Townsend, the Chattem lawyer, said the settlements did not indicate that the company had changed its belief that Dexatrim with PPA was a safe and effective product.

    Novartis agreed to make payments to Tricia Newenham and her family last year on the condition that the terms remained confidential, according to her mother. Novartis would not answer questions about Newenham, and neither Novartis nor the other companies would disclose details about other settlements.

    Thousands of plaintiffs, including Tracy Patton, have lawsuits pending against PPA drug makers, but only a few of those cases have made it to trial. This year, juries in New Jersey and California rejected claims by plaintiffs that Novartis products had caused their strokes. In both trials, the victims had had a variety of risk factors for stroke, and their strokes occurred before the Yale study was completed.

    "Our company is extremely gratified that two diverse juries, from opposite ends of the country, reached the same conclusions after an exhaustive airing of all the evidence," said Nancy Fitzsimmons, vice president for global communications of Novartis Consumer Health.

    The industry's efforts to discredit the Yale study have continued in court, with defense lawyers trying to poke holes in enough of the study's PPA-related stroke cases to negate its findings.

    The dispute has become increasingly personal. Drug company lawyers have hypothesized a conspiracy that has the Yale doctors manipulating data to strengthen their chances of finding an association. Such a finding, the industry lawyers suggest, would help the researchers win promotions and publication in a top journal.

    "Those investigators were very vulnerable to human frailty, to human desires and human error; driven by a desire to succeed, to obtain recognition," said Jan E. Dodd, a lawyer for Novartis, in her closing argument in the California trial.

    In constructing their theory, defense lawyers have focused on a midcourse shift by the researchers in defining when a stroke begins.

    In one case, the investigators set the onset of a stroke one hour after the patient had taken PPA, even though the patient had begun suffering a headache -- potentially an early sign of stroke -- six days earlier. The companies have made much of a 1998 e-mail sent by Yale researcher Kernan to his colleagues saying the strategy of shifting the time of onset "effectively increases our likelihood of finding an association" between PPA and hemorrhagic stroke.

    Kernan said in an interview that he was just stating the obvious, and not suggesting that data could be tweaked to produce a desired result.

    "Sloppy research does not get you promoted at Yale," he said. "Lack of integrity gets you fired. The investigators had no stake in the outcome of the research."

    Brass, the Yale neurologist, joked that given the drug industry's financial support for friendly scientists, the researchers would have had more incentive to skew the study in PPA's favor. "If we were thinking payoff, we should have shown PPA as safe," he said. "I would have had a chair. Yale would have a whole division dedicated to the study of obesity. But we don't fix studies. We just do them."

    Some in academic medicine worry that the industry's attacks on the Yale doctors might discourage researchers from pursuing similar studies. "With the amount of hassle and harassment that they had to endure, I'm sure the next time they're asked to undertake something like this, they'll wonder if it's worth the cost," said former FDA Commissioner David A. Kessler, now the dean of medicine at UC San Francisco.

    The Yale doctors, said Horwitz, clearly were naive about the industry's willingness to assail their integrity. "I love arguing about the science," he said, "but this is outrageous, especially considering who was making the accusations. It was their study."

    [May 24, 2004] USATODAY.com - History lesson GOP must stop Bush  By Carl Bernstein

    Thirty years ago, a Republican president, facing impeachment by the House of Representatives and conviction by the Senate, was forced to resign because of unprecedented crimes he and his aides committed against the Constitution and people of the United States. Ultimately, Richard Nixon left office voluntarily because courageous leaders of the Republican Party put principle above party and acted with heroism in defense of the Constitution and rule of law.

    "What did the president know and when did he know it?" a Republican senator — Howard Baker of Tennessee — famously asked of Nixon 30 springtimes ago.

    Today, confronted by the graphic horrors of Abu Ghraib prison, by ginned-up intelligence to justify war, by 652 American deaths since presidential operatives declared "Mission Accomplished," Republican leaders have yet to suggest that George W. Bush be held responsible for the disaster in Iraq and that perhaps he, not just Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, is ill-suited for his job.

    Having read the report of Major Gen. Antonio Taguba, I expect Baker's question will resound again in another congressional investigation. The equally relevant question is whether Republicans will, Pavlov-like, continue to defend their president with ideological and partisan reflex, or remember the example of principled predecessors who pursued truth at another dark moment.

    Today, the issue may not be high crimes and misdemeanors, but rather Bush's failure, or inability, to lead competently and honestly.

    "You are courageously leading our nation in the war against terror," Bush told Rumsfeld in a Wizard-of-Oz moment May 10, as Vice President Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell and senior generals looked on. "You are a strong secretary of Defense, and our nation owes you a debt of gratitude." The scene recalled another Oz moment: Nixon praising his enablers, Bob Haldeman and John Ehrlichman, as "two of the finest public servants I've ever known."

    Sidestepping the Constitution

    Like Nixon, this president decided the Constitution could be bent on his watch. Terrorism justified it, and Rumsfeld's Pentagon promoted policies making inevitable what happened at Abu Ghraib — and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The legal justification for ignoring the Geneva Conventions regarding humane treatment of prisoners was enunciated in a memo to Bush, dated Jan. 25, 2002, from the White House counsel.

    "As you have said, the war against terrorism is a new kind of war," Alberto Gonzales wrote Bush. "In my judgment, this new paradigm renders obsolete Geneva's strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions." Quaint.

    Since January, Bush and Rumsfeld have been aware of credible complaints of systematic torture. In March, Taguba's report reached Rumsfeld. Yet neither Bush nor his Defense secretary expressed concern publicly or leveled with Congress until photographic evidence of an American Gulag, possessed for months by the administration, was broadcast to the world.

    Rumsfeld then explained, "You read it, as I say, it's one thing. You see these photographs and it's just unbelievable. ... It wasn't three-dimensional. It wasn't video. It wasn't color. It was quite a different thing." But the report also described atrocities never photographed or taped that were, often, even worse than the pictures — just as Nixon's actions were frequently far worse than his tapes recorded.

    It was Barry Goldwater, the revered conservative, who convinced Nixon that he must resign or face certain conviction by the Senate — and perhaps jail. Goldwater delivered his message in person, at the White House, accompanied by Republican congressional leaders.

    Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee likewise put principle above party to cast votes for articles of impeachment. On the eve of his mission, Goldwater told his wife that it might cost him his Senate seat on Election Day. Instead, the courage of Republicans willing to dissociate their party from Nixon helped Ronald Reagan win the presidency six years later, unencumbered by Watergate.

    Another precedent is apt: In 1968, a few Democratic senators — J. William Fulbright, Eugene McCarthy, George McGovern and Robert F. Kennedy — challenged their party's torpor and insisted that President Lyndon Johnson be held accountable for his disastrous and disingenuous conduct of the Vietnam War, adding weight to public pressure, which, eventually, forced Johnson not to seek re-election.

    Today, the United States is confronted by another ill-considered war, conceived in ideological zeal and pursued with contempt for truth, disregard of history and an arrogant assertion of American power that has stunned and alienated much of the world, including traditional allies. At a juncture in history when the United States needed a president to intelligently and forcefully lead a real international campaign against terrorism and its causes, Bush decided instead to unilaterally declare war on a totalitarian state that never represented a terrorist threat; to claim exemption from international law regarding the treatment of prisoners; to suspend constitutional guarantees even to non-combatants at home and abroad; and to ignore sound military advice from the only member of his Cabinet — Powell — with the most requisite experience. Instead of using America's moral authority to lead a great global cause, Bush squandered it.

    In Republican cloakrooms, as in the Oval Office, response to catastrophe these days is more concerned with politics and PR than principle. Said Tom DeLay, House majority leader: "A full-fledged congressional investigation — that's like saying we need an investigation every time there's police brutality on the street."

    When politics topples principles

    To curtail any hint of dissension in the ranks, Bush scheduled a "pep rally" with congressional Republicans — speaking 35 minutes, after which, characteristically, he took no questions and lawmakers dutifully circled the wagons.

    What did George W. Bush know and when did he know it? Another wartime president, Harry Truman, observed that the buck stops at the president's desk, not the Pentagon.

    But among Republicans today, there seems to be scant interest in asking tough questions — or honoring the example of courageous leaders of Congress who, not long ago, stepped forward, setting principle before party, to hold accountable presidents who put their country in peril.

    Carl Bernstein's most recent book is a biography of John Paul II, His Holiness. He is co-author, with Bob Woodward, of All the President's Men and The Final Days.

    [May 24, 2004] The New York Times Opinion Op-Ed Contributor Why We Built the Ivory Tower By STANLEY FISH
     

     

    After nearly five decades in academia, and five and a half years as a dean at a public university, I exit with a three-part piece of wisdom for those who work in higher education: do your job; don't try to do someone else's job, as you are unlikely to be qualified; and don't let anyone else do your job. In other words, don't confuse your academic obligations with the obligation to save the world; that's not your job as an academic; and don't surrender your academic obligations to the agenda of any non-academic constituency — parents, legislators, trustees or donors. In short, don't cross the boundary between academic work and partisan advocacy, whether the advocacy is yours or someone else's.

    Marx famously said that our job is not to interpret the world, but to change it. In the academy, however, it is exactly the reverse: our job is not to change the world, but to interpret it. While academic labors might in some instances play a role in real-world politics — if, say, the Supreme Court cites your book on the way to a decision — it should not be the design or aim of academics to play that role.

    While academics in general will agree that a university should not dance to the tune of external constituencies, they will most likely resist the injunction to police the boundary between academic work and political work. They will resist because they simply don't believe in the boundary — they believe that all activities are inherently political, and an injunction to avoid politics is meaningless and futile.

    Now there is some truth to that, but it is not a truth that goes very far. And it certainly doesn't go where those who proclaim it would want it to go. It is true that no form of work — including even the work of, say, natural science — stands apart from the political, social and economic concerns that underlie the structures and practices of a society. This does not mean, however, that there is no difference between academic labors and partisan labors, or that there is no difference between, for example, analyzing the history of welfare reform — a history that would necessarily include opinions pro and con — and urging students to go out and work for welfare reform or for its reversal.

    Analyzing welfare reform in an academic context is a political action in the sense that any conclusion a scholar might reach will be one another scholar might dispute. (That, after all, is what political means: subject to dispute.) But such a dispute between scholars will not be political in the everyday sense of the word, because each side will represent different academic approaches, not different partisan agendas.

    My point is not that academics should refrain from being political in an absolute sense — that is impossible — but that they should engage in politics appropriate to the enterprise they signed onto. And that means arguing about (and voting on) things like curriculum, department leadership, the direction of research, the content and manner of teaching, establishing standards — everything that is relevant to the responsibilities we take on when we accept a paycheck. These responsibilities include meeting classes, keeping up in the discipline, assigning and correcting papers, opening up new areas of scholarship, and so on.

    This is a long list, but there are many in academia who would add to it the larger (or so they would say) tasks of "forming character" and "fashioning citizens." A few years ago, the presidents of nearly 500 universities issued a declaration on the "Civic Responsibility of Higher Education." It called for colleges and universities to take responsibility for helping students "realize the values and skills of our democratic society."

    Derek Bok, the former president of Harvard and one of the forces behind the declaration, has urged his colleagues to "consider civic responsibility as an explicit and important aim of college education." In January, some 1,300 administrators met in Washington under the auspices of the Association of American Colleges and Universities to take up this topic: "What practices provide students with the knowledge and commitments to be socially responsible citizens?" That's not a bad question, but the answers to it should not be the content of a college or university course.

    No doubt, the practices of responsible citizenship and moral behavior should be encouraged in our young adults — but it's not the business of the university to do so, except when the morality in question is the morality that penalizes cheating, plagiarizing and shoddy teaching, and the desired citizenship is defined not by the demands of democracy, but by the demands of the academy.

    This is so not because these practices are political, but because they are the political tasks that belong properly to other institutions. Universities could engage in moral and civic education only by deciding in advance which of the competing views of morality and citizenship is the right one, and then devoting academic resources and energy to the task of realizing it. But that task would deform (by replacing) the true task of academic work: the search for truth and the dissemination of it through teaching.

    The idea that universities should be in the business of forming character and fashioning citizens is often supported by the claim that academic work should not be hermetically sealed or kept separate from the realm of values. But the search for truth is its own value, and fidelity to it mandates the accompanying values of responsibility in pedagogy and scholarship.

    Performing academic work responsibly and at the highest level is a job big enough for any scholar and for any institution. And, as I look around, it does not seem to me that we academics do that job so well that we can now take it upon ourselves to do everyone else's job too. We should look to the practices in our own shop, narrowly conceived, before we set out to alter the entire world by forming moral character, or fashioning democratic citizens, or combating globalization, or embracing globalization, or anything else.

    One would like to think that even the exaggerated sense of virtue that is so much a part of the academic mentality has its limits. If we aim low and stick to the tasks we are paid to perform, we might actually get something done.

    Stanley Fish will step down next month as dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

    A Place for Politics on Campus? (5 Letters)


    Published: May 24, 2004

    To the Editor:

    I find Stanley Fish's suggestion that an academic's place is in the ivory tower and not politics dangerous ("Why We Built the Ivory Tower," Op-Ed, May 21). As I finish my doctorate, and turn toward a career in academia, I cringe to hear this respected academic say that my civic duty ends at the voting booth.

    One should never let political conviction corrupt one's objectivity within an academic discipline. But political discourse would be much poorer if such noted academics as Albert Einstein, Cornel West and Jane Goodall thought as Mr. Fish does.

    As members of a free society, academics have the right and obligation to contribute to the national dialogue on all matters.  

    DANIEL M. RATNER
    Cambridge, Mass., May 21, 2004

    To the Editor:

    Stanley Fish's call for colleges and universities to "aim low" and stop encouraging citizenship overlooks the teaching value of applying knowledge to real situations and reflecting on them with the disciplines of classroom, lab and library.

    Today's students care about the social issues of their world, else why would we be seeing large campus majorities doing volunteer work? Far fewer students, however, vote. Getting a taste of social concerns by undertaking modest service projects as part of classes that put such projects in larger contexts, as my university's faculty now requires, is one tool for closing that gap.

    Campuses with this approach are modeling the habits, skills and excitement of taking part in the democratic process, whatever side one may end up on.  

    DAVID A. CAPUTO
    President, Pace University
    New York, May 21, 2004

    To the Editor:

    I disagree with Stanley Fish's conclusion that schools have no role to play in enabling individuals to make a success of self-government.

    The welfare of a democracy depends in great part on the understanding and capability of its citizens. Carrying out their responsibilities intelligently calls for familiarity with essential materials in mathematics, natural science, social science, history, literature, philosophy, music and art, all taught to strengthen skills of reading, writing, analysis, interpretation and evaluation.

    Thus does liberal education help meet not only "the demands of the academy," as Mr. Fish proposes, but also what he dismisses as "the demands of democracy."

    STEVEN M. CAHN
    New York, May 21, 2004
    The writer is a professor of philosophy at CUNY Graduate Center.

    To the Editor:

    I was trained in American political history, but my scholarly life was changed by the conflicts of the 1960's. I retrained myself as a social historian to research struggles in American society but remained committed as a teacher to investigating the history of American politics with undergraduates until retirement.

    Teach-ins on the Vietnam War and the first Persian Gulf war outside the classroom allowed students to participate in the university model of the free exchange of ideas. As a teacher and a scholar, I was pursuing not Stanley Fish's notion of "truth," but the inseparable connection between knowledge and democratic values.

    MARY H. BLEWETT
    Lowell, Mass., May 21, 2004
    The writer is emerita professor of history, University of Massachusetts at Lowell.

    To the Editor:

    As a retired — and still recovering — academic, I agree with Stanley Fish that "the search for truth is its own value," and I, too, think the university should encourage responsible citizenship and questioning of moral values when "the morality in question" involves plagiarism, cheating and "shoddy teaching."

    But I also believe it's important to speak to related issues in today's news: the Iraq war, Americans' abusive treatment of prisoners, and the government's role in how 9/11 came to pass. If we do not speak up, we are complicit in (and appear to condone) these highly immoral events.

    JULIA WOLF MAZOW

    [Apr  27, 2004] MSNBC - ‘Access of Evil’  By Brian Braiker 

    We call it the ‘access of evil’: Trading truth for access.
    April 26 | Newsweek.

    Depending on your own brand of politics, you either view Amy Goodman as a crusader, a kook, a nuisance, a threat, or a hero. But one thing is almost irrefutable: she has courage. In nearly 10 years as the controversial host of the liberal Pacifica Radio network’s “Democracy Now!” program, Goodman has witnessed (and narrowly escaped) a massacre in East Timor, been threatened by Nigeria’s “kill ’n’ go” military police while trespassing on Chevron’s oil fields and reported for several straight days from ground zero after the September 11 attacks.

    Now, with her new book “Exception to the Rulers: Exposing Oily Politicians, War Profiteers and the Media that Love Them” (Hyperion), she is going toe-to-toe with the Bush administration and mainstream media. She has written the book, she tells NEWSWEEK, because, “the media
    has reached an all-time low. The lies take lives. ‘Exception to the rulers’ should be the motto of every news organization.” She describes what she calls the “disinformation two-step,” in which an administration “leaks” information to reporters, after which those officials refer to the published accounts to bolster their assertions. Sound dubious? If the reaction she and her co-author—her brother, David Goodman—have gotten on their 70-city book tour is any indication, they’re not the only ones who feel this way: More than 1,000 people came out to hear her speak in New York City and in California at Fresno, Berkeley, Santa Barbara and Santa Cruz. More than 2,000 people came out to her book signing in Los Angeles, which doubled as Pacifica’s 55th birthday party and fundraiser.

    As Big Media goes ever more corporate, says Goodman, the public hungers for independent outlets. Her program may be proof of that: “Democracy Now!” has grown astronomically in a short period. Two years ago it was on several dozen community radio stations. Today, it can be heard and seen on more than 225 Pacifica Radio stations and affiliates, including a few National Public Radio stations and public access television. Goodman spoke with NEWSWEEK’s Brian Braiker about what she sees as the corruption of mainstream media. Excerpts:

    NEWSWEEK: Thank you for talking to someone in the mainstream media.
    Amy Goodman: [Laughs] I do it all the time. I’m going on Fox tomorrow [April 23].

    You’re in St. Louis right now. How is your book tour going?
    The response is so strong. It is astounding, the hunger for independent voices [in the media] right now. That small group of pundits that we see in network after network who know so little about so much now have been fully exposed. With not finding the weapons of mass destruction, you have these pundits wringing their hands [saying] “How did we get it so wrong?” Well, why not invite into the studio someone who did get it right, who questioned the credibility [of the intelligence about Iraq] more than a year ago? More importantly, why weren’t they invited in more than a year ago? We’re not talking about this shocking revelation that no one could have predicted. Many people outside of and inside the establishment were saying it wasn’t true. They were just marginalized by the press.

    I do recall reading in mainstream media dissenting voices along the road to war.
    I am sure you will find examples. But the question is, “What is the drumbeat coverage? What is the headline coverage? Who’s being interviewed on the front pages of the newspapers of the day?” Or, is there a reference on an inner page in an inside story that says, ‘there is some dissenting opinion, however; some weapons inspectors are questioning whether they are really there…’ in the 28th paragraph? One can always find that, but what sinks into the consciousness are the headline stories. If you have a media that is mainly there as a megaphone for those in power—the president, the vice president, the secretary of State—constantly hammering away at weapons of mass destruction with the occasional—and I mean occasional—question, that is what sinks into people’s consciousness. And that’s why it’s so shocking when things aren’t found later.

    This is the ‘disinformation two-step’ you mention in your book? 
    Yeah. Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, the media watch group in New York, did this study in the week leading up to [Secretary of State] Colin Powell giving his address in the U.N. [in Feb. 2003], his push for war, and the week afterwards. They looked at the four major nightly newscasts—CBS, NBC, ABC and PBS’s NewsHour with Jim Lehrer—and of the 393 interviews done around war, three were with anti-war representatives. Three of almost 400! This is a media beating the drum for war. This at a time of the week leading up to the largest mass global protest in history, [on] Feb. 15 [last year]. This at a time when at least half the people in this country were saying ‘no’ to the invasion, were saying “at least give more time to diplomacy and inspections.” You have a media completely out of step with mainstream America, a media that has its own point of view, that is pushing it forward and what they’re doing is simply acting as spokespeople for the administration—and that’s unforgivable.

    I know a lot of reporters, and every last one of them would quit before letting some outside source dictate the news to them.

    I’m not sure what you mean by “outside interests dictate.” The question is, why would you have that case where on four major nightly newscasts—with all of the questions that people had in this country, tremendous skepticism and all of the evidence that suggested otherwise-[only] three of almost 400 interviews with anti-war representatives? Outright censorship, where someone says, “You will not do this because we don’t want to have this view,”—that rarely occurs. It is much more an atmosphere of self-censorship. What are the stories that you propose that will most [get] you ahead and what are sort of looked at askance? I don’t think it’s obvious.

    In your book, you fault the media for asking softball questions in return for access to those in power.

    Right. We call it the ‘access of evil’: Trading truth for access.

    Have you ever felt or heard that your outspokenness has cost you access to anyone?

    Journalists being outspoken—that’s not very rare in this country. I can tell you what most journalists think because they’re on television. If you’re saying the fact that I am critical of the administration costs me access versus those reporters that grandstand for the administration and they get the leaks, I have to question their role as journalists. That’s what we see on television on a regular basis now….You can either give validity to a dissenting point of view or you can shunt it aside. Unfortunately the media, which I do believe should be a sanctuary for dissent, should be a forum for the full diversity of views, just beats the drums for war. That’s a serious abdication of our responsibility.

    At what point does the line blur, or should it be blurred, between this vision of journalism and advocacy or activism?

    In terms of advocacy, establishment media are the model, advocating for war day after day. I think the issue is being fair and accurate. I think it’s fine to know a journalist’s point of view, but they have to be fair and accurate and bring you the full diversity of opinion.

    The president was getting some pretty tough questions at his most recent press conference.

    I think what matters is last year, on the eve of the war, [at] the president’s news conference, he hardly got any tough questions. I think how the press works is it reflects the establishment consensus. Let’s not forget [Democratic senators] John Kerry, John Edwards—they voted for war. The Democrats joined with the Republicans in voting for war, so the establishment media followed suit. They closed ranks, hardly providing any forum for dissenting views. This year is different. This year is an election year and the Democrats are trying to distinguish themselves from the Republicans. Yes, they are criticizing Bush [about] the invasion. And the media reflects the Democratic-Republican spectrum. Very often it’s so narrow as to be almost nonexistent and the media presents an almost monolithic view. Then there are times like now, that there’s an opening, and so you do see more debate reflected.

    In your opinion, why is it there are so many right-wing radio hosts, but something like Air America really has to struggle to get off the ground. Is there not a market for it?

    I think that the airwaves largely reflect the views of their owners. You have, for example, Clear Channel, which owns more than 1,200 radio stations. The Bush-connected networks have benefited enormously from the change of laws [facilitating] media consolidations

    Economist.com Science and the Bush administration

    The Bush administration has been accused of manipulating science. It is now fighting back

    HOWEVER much its practitioners might wish otherwise, science is inevitably political. A lot of it is funded by taxpayers. Most of it has enormous—if often under-appreciated—effects on humanity. That, after all, is why taxpayers are called upon to fund it in the first place. Which science gets done, and how its results are applied, are thus legitimate concerns of governments and their policymakers. But one thing that scientists like to think really does distinguish their discipline from many other human endeavours is its honesty. Partly because they are taught to think that way, and partly because nature cannot be cheated, and thus scientists who cheat will be found out, science sees itself as a moral cut above most professions. This may be self-serving or a delusion, but it nevertheless means that scientists react badly to threats to their intellectual integrity. So when such a threat is perceived to come from the world's biggest funder of scientific research—the American government—things can turn nasty.

    ... ... ...

    These are serious accusations. Suppressing research into stem cells is causing that research to move abroad, which will damage America's biotechnology industry. But that will not be fatal to America's future, and opponents of stem-cell research might argue that it is a price worth paying for their beliefs. Monkeying with defence is a different matter. America's current military prowess has been achieved, in large part, because the country has listened to and lauded its physicists and engineers. Spending billions on technology that most of them believe will not work is, at the least, a dubious approach. Politicians can cheat nature no more effectively than scientists can.

    [March 4, 2004] Bush's Dark Age The End of Science Intervention Magazine War, Politics, Culture By Frederick Sweet

    The Bush Administration's dangerous misuse and suppression of government supported science is threatening the security of the nation.

    A group of leading American scientists, including over a dozen Nobel Prize laureates, have made public their 46-page report, "Scientific Integrity in Policymaking: An Investigation into the Bush Administration's Misuse of Science." The highly detailed report gives alarming examples of the Bush Administration's misuse of science that have already cost American lives, and foretells of soon-to-arrive national disasters directly caused by the Administration's wholesale ideological distortion of science.

    The scathing report opens with Part I: Suppression and Distortion of Research Findings at Federal Agencies. The section headings are: "Distorting and Suppressing Climate Change Research; Censoring Information on Air Quality; Distorting Scientific Knowledge on Reproductive Health Issues [Abstinence-only Education, HIV/AIDS, Breast Cancer]; Suppressing Analysis on Airborne Bacteria; Misrepresenting Evidence on Iraq’s Aluminum Tubes; Manipulation of Science Regarding the Endangered Species Act; Manipulating the Scientific Process on Forest Management; OMB Rulemaking on 'Peer Review'." This only takes the reader to page 16 of the report.

    The report criticizes Bush's subversion of American science, continuing with, Part II: Undermining the Quality and Integrity of the Appointment Process. Here we are told the frightening details of "Dismissal of Nuclear Weapons and Arms Control Panels; Underqualified Candidates in Health Advisory Roles; and Political Litmus Tests on Workplace Safety Panel" to cite just a few examples. This takes us only half way through the report.

    Part II, begins with a quote: "The real issue here is that we are allowing scientific advisory committees to be contaminated by people who have clear bias, clear financial conflicts that will not allow them to make unbiased scientific decisions." This was written by Dr. Bruce Lanphear, Director of the Children’s Environmental Health Center at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. The highly qualified Lanphear's nomination to an advisory committee had been scuttled by the Bush administration. His replacement was an unqualified industrial "scientist" who was not concerned about the dangers to children of high levels of lead and mercury.

    In the report's conclusion, Part III: An Unprecedented Pattern of Behavior, it begins, "No administration has been above inserting politics into science from time to time. However, a considerable number of individuals who have served in positions directly involved in the federal government’s use of scientific knowledge and expertise have asserted that the Bush administration is, to an unprecedented degree [emphasis added], distorting and manipulating the science meant to assist the formation and implementation of policy.

    In Part III, Dr. Marvin Goldberger -- and expert on nuclear technology -- is quoted, poignantly. Goldberger is former president of the California Institute of Technology who had advised both Republican and Democratic administrations on nuclear weapons. He compares the attitude of the Bush administration to those he has served by stating, "Politics plays no role in scientists’ search for understanding and applications of the laws of nature. To ignore or marginalize scientific input to policy decisions, where relevant, on the basis of politics is to endanger our national economic and military security."

    The federal government increasingly relies on impartial researchers for the critical role they play in gathering and analyzing specialized data. But Bush has been working hard to make the opposite to occur. Growing numbers of scientists, policy makers, and technical specialists both inside and outside the government are reporting that the Bush administration has suppressed or distorted the scientific analyses of federal agencies to bring these results in line with administration policy. Moreover, the experts complain that irregularities in the appointment of scientific advisors and advisory panels are threatening to upset the legally mandated balance of these bodies. "Scientific Integrity in Policymaking. An Investigation into the Bush Administration's Misuse of Science," provides the scary details of the catastrophic results.

    Our national security and public safety relies very heavily on superior science and technology. By Bush subverting the nation's science as a tool for his very small but powerful group's political agenda, he succeeded in fashioning himself into a greater threat to America's well being than the still active cohorts of the Middle Eastern terrorists who struck our nation on 9/11.

    To read the report, Scientific Integrity in Policymaking: An Investigation into the Bush Administration's Misuse of Science.

    (Posted Friday, March 4, 2004)

    Frederick Sweet is Professor of Reproductive Biology in Obstetrics and Gynecology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

    Hirsch Addresses State Board

    The enormous problem faced in basing policy on research is that it is almost impossible to make educational policy that is not based on research. Almost every educational practice that has ever been pursued has been supported with data by somebody. I don't know a single failed policy, ranging from the naturalistic teaching of reading, to the open classroom, to the teaching of abstract set-theory in third-grade math that hasn't been research-based. Experts have advocated almost every conceivable practice short of inflicting permanent bodily harm.

    So we need to discriminate between reliable and unreliable research. And of course my recommendation is going to be that only reliable research should guide policy. Now it is possible to give some rules of thumb for determining scientific reliability, but there is no formula adequate to all situations. The distinguished sociologist of science, Stephen Cole in his Harvard Press book, called Making Science has found a continuous spectrum of reliability in most of the natural and social sciences. At the core of each discipline, there develops a consensus of the learned, and this consensus is highly dependable. It is close enough to being right that you can bet your life and your children's lives on that core. But out at the edge, on the frontier of the discipline, there is a lot of disagreement, and we can't tell for sure which rival theory is right. When lawmakers say that education policy should be based on research, the spirit of the law implies reliable, consensus research. Any other interpretation would mean, and has meant, carrying out unwarranted human experimentation on our own children.

    If this distinction between core and non-core research is rightly understood, and if its implications are followed in California, then I think the days of faddism, guruism, partisanship, and unwarranted experimentation may be numbered. I'm not saying that research can decide the aims of education. In a democracy, those are decided by the people. But core science can determine how best to achieve them. Take reading. As a people we have decided that we want all our children to read well. Mainstream research has been saying for some years that a naturalistic approach cannot achieve that goal for all children. The reasons why that core research was not heeded is a subject for intellectual and social history, some of which I traced in my recent book, The Schools We Need & Why We Don't Have Them.

    I was forced to conclude that in the field of psychology, which is the key field for education research, much of what is accepted within the educational community has been required to conform to a so-called "constructivist" ideology that does not represent the consensus in mainstream psychology, and is almost certainly incorrect. One distinguished psychologist who receives grants from the education division of the National Science Foundation (NSF) expressed dismay at the ideological, anti-empirical sermons, as he called them, which he hears at the education division of NSF meetings in psychology.

    Insistence upon ideological conformity makes for unreliable science. It hinders the best research from getting disseminated to the education world -- to journalists, policy makers, publishers, teachers, and administrators. As a result, there is an information gap regarding the findings of mainstream psychology as applied to education.

    This is a situation that is reminiscent of what happened to biology in the Soviet Union under Lysenkoism, which is a theory that bears similarities to constructivism. In Stalin's day, Lysenko was the powerful bureaucrat-scientist who controlled Soviet biological research, and declined to fund any that didn't conform to the received ideology, which consisted in the view that nurture can transform nature. During the Lysenko period, the dominance of this ideology over disinterested research not only retarded Soviet biology, it caused mass starvation. There are analogies lurking in that history. Over the door of every board of education should be posted the watchword: "Remember Lysenko."

    [Benson2004] When science was thwarted before Michael Benson IHT Scientists and Bush

    LJUBLJANA, Slovenia For anyone who ever spent time in the old Soviet Union, the recent statement by 60 of the top scientists in the United States had an eerie ring of déjà vu. The accusatory statement, which included 20 Nobel laureates among its issuers, charges that the Bush administration has systematically distorted scientific facts in pursuit of its policy goals. The name of Lysenko, the quack mid-century Soviet botanist, comes to mind.

    In the 1930s, Trofim Lysenko postulated that hereditary changes to plants could be triggered by environmental changes - for example, by exposing seed grain to extreme temperatures. He insisted that this theory, which rejected widely accepted chromosome theories of heredity, directly corresponded to Marxism. He was rapidly promoted within the Stalinist hierarchy and in short order effectively became the science czar of the Soviet Union. Under him, bona fide geneticists were denounced as advocates of a doctrine synonymous with fascism. Lysenko was personally responsible for the deportation to the gulag of many talented scientists who didn't agree with his theories.

    Lysenko was, of course, just a symptom of a far larger disease, in which the reigning Soviet ideology, which insisted that its doctrines were firmly grounded in objectively verifiable scientific fact, warped the realities surrounding it to justify its own totalitarian rule and agenda.

    Two decades after Lysenko was finally denounced by Nikita Khrushchev in the late 1970s, the Soviet media still featured a steady diet of contented workers and gleaming combines. The reality, as everyone knew, was different; decrepit, sluggish industries, an agricultural sector that had to import increasing amounts of wheat from the United States, widespread alcoholism and despair, a dead-end command economy.

    The Bush administration, needless to say, is not the old Soviet regime, and a Lysenko could never gain such power in the United States. Still, in the statement of the American scientists there are troubling echoes of the damage ideology can wreak. Like the old Soviet Union, which invaded Afghanistan on the basis of a sort of inverted version of the Western domino theory, the Bush regime attacked Iraq with the shakiest of justifications, and like the Soviet Union of the 1980s, the United States is now bogged down in a bloody and expensive war that is drawing infuriated mujahadeen from across the Muslim world.

    The Soviet system essentially ignored fundamental economic realities, bankrupting itself in a fruitless attempt to keep up with the United States militarily; the Bush administration likewise seems to believe that it can spend as much as it wants on flawed missile defense schemes and an open-ended global war on terror while legislating massive tax cuts that benefit the wealthiest part of the population.

    The Soviet Union cranked out reams of strident propaganda in which non-Socialist states were depicted as despotic outposts of capitalist exploitation, with Moscow and its allies the gleaming hope for mankind; the Bush administration's black-and-white division of the planet into those for and against us provides a chilling reprise.

    The KGB conducted surveillance on its population without even a pretense of judicial oversight; although obviously not comparable with Stalinist methods, the Bush administration's Patriot Act (an Orwellian name if ever there was one) similarly gives a wide latitude to the FBI to conduct domestic surveillance at will and without much legal recourse.

    To circle back to science, last week's "J'accuse" by America's leading scientists underlines, among other things, a perilous danger. Although there is now a scientific consensus that industrial effluents are the leading cause of a (similarly unquestionable) global warming trend, the White House simply dismisses the evidence. And here again we have to keep the Lysenko example in mind.

    In the same way that the Bush administration exaggerated intelligence on Iraq, emphasizing extreme worst-case scenarios to make its case for war, it ignores overwhelming evidence that global warming is gathering force, stressing those few studies which call it into question.

    In the end, as the French filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard said, reality has a way of taking its revenge. The Soviet Union finally disintegrated under the weight of its internal contradictions, a victim of the discrepancy between its ideologically distorted views and reigning reality.

    Kurt Gottfried, chairman of the board of directors at the Union of Concerned Scientists and a signer of the accusatory study, was quoted in The New York Times as saying that the administration's attitude toward science could place the long-term prosperity of the United States at risk. Despite the spooky Soviet overtones of the Bush administration, United States remains a strong democracy. We need to lose this creeping latter-day variant of Lysenkoism that has moved well beyond the current administration's dealing with scientific and ecological issues to taint American politics and diplomacy across the board.

    FSO Editorials Tainted Research Lysenkoism - American Style by Antal E. Fekete  06-10-2003

    Religion, the drug of exploited masses?

    All power-structures in human society face the problem of keeping the majority of population both in relative poverty and in dutiful submissiveness, so that the power-elite could enjoy relative affluence undisturbed by popular unrest. Karl Marx suggested that capitalist society has solved this problem by calling upon religion to promise people rich rewards in the transcendental world as compensation for deprivations in this valley of wailing, provided only that they are borne with peaceful resignation. As there is no way to assess scientifically the validity of its teachings, the claims of religion can never be proved or disproved. Concerning the genuineness of its promises, to the faithful no proof is necessary and, to the non-believer, no proof is sufficient.

    Be that as it may, Marxist anti-religious propaganda had one undesirable side effect for the power-elite. From now on it has to call upon science, rather than religion, to deliver the promise to the masses that would keep them satisfied with their lot. Clearly, in this case, there are scientific methods available to test the validity of claims with which a restless population can be kept at bay. While reward for meekness may not be postponed to the after-life, it may still be removed sufficiently in time so that the ultimate validity of the promise cannot be tested, at least not in one’s lifetime.

    The enfant terrible of Soviet biology

    An outstanding example of this was the demand of the Soviet government under Stalin upon biology to disown classical genetics, and to deliver pseudo-scientific principles to the effect that it is possible to transmit acquired traits biologically, along with inherited ones, perhaps not to the next, but certainly to some other future generation. The Soviet regime needed to propagate this fable in order to keep a nearly starving population in check with promises of fabulous increases in agricultural productivity and abundance of food production at some unspecified future date. Soviet propagandists found a willing collaborator in the person of Trofim Denisovich Lysenko (born in Karlovka, Ukraine, in 1898), the enfant terrible of Soviet genetics. On the basis of a borrowed discovery that the phases of plant growth can be accelerated by small doses of low temperature, Lysenko built up a quasi-scientific creed, combining Darwinism with the Michurinian thesis that heredity can be changed by good husbandry. However, this effort was more in line with Marxism than with genuine scientific theorizing. Failing to obtain scientific recognition and pre-eminence in the usual manner Lysenko, with the approval of the Communist Party, declared that the accepted Mendelian theory of genetics was in error. Outstanding Soviet scientists who resisted Lysenko’s methods and theories were banished or, worse still, sent to the Gulag never to be heard from again. In 1949 Lysenko was awarded the Order of Lenin as well as the Stalin Prize for his book Agrobiology published a year earlier. With the rise of Khrushchev and his agricultural policies Lysenko faded from the limelight, but was reinstated in 1958. Finally he resigned from the presidency of the Academy of Agricultural Sciences of which he was in charge between 1938 and 1956, then again between 1958 and 1962, on grounds of ill health. In 1965, after Khrushchev’s downfall, Lysenko was also relieved of his post as head of the Institute of Genetics.

    Our term “lysenkoism” will refer to the servile, not to say obsequious attitude of scientists ready to cave in to the demands of the powers-that-be, even at the price of betraying the integrity of their own discipline. Under lysenkoism scientists are intimidated and forced to profess and propagate tenets that they would reject on purely scientific grounds. It is generally assumed that lysenkoism is possible only under a regime of brutal dictatorship. Scientists, at least when it comes to their confirmed scientific beliefs, have the probity of obeying incorruptible standards. They will not adopt a hidden agenda, nor will they knowingly abet misinformation or expound false theories in the hope of official approbation and personal glory. They are supposed to abhor pusillanimous or sycophantic behavior.

    “Why, that’s plain stealing, isn’t it, Mr. President?”

    It was thought that the freedom of expression for the individual guaranteed by the American Constitution would prevent Lysenkoism from spreading to the United States. Sadly, this hasn’t been the case. As the American government repudiated its domestic gold obligations in 1933 and, again, its foreign gold obligations in 1971, new generations of economists were all too eager to comply with the request to justify the breach of faith or, to put the matter somewhat less charitably, to find excuses for the government to have declared bankruptcy fraudulently. I use the adjective “fraudulent” advisedly. In both 1933 and 1971 the American government had ample gold resources to meet its obligations, as later auctions of U.S. Treasury gold would convincingly demonstrate. When asked by Franklin D. Roosevelt of his opinion regarding the matter, the great blind senator from Oklahoma, Thomas P. Gore, replied: “Why, that’s just plain stealing, isn’t it, Mr. President?” (See: Economics and the Public Welfare by Benjamin M. Anderson, second edition, 1979, Indianapolis: Liberty Press, p 317.) Roosevelt, using the excuse of the banking emergency, and appealing to the patriotic feelings of the citizenry, recalled the gold coins in circulation against payment in Federal Reserve notes. He stressed that the measure was to be “temporary”, and the gold should be returned to the rightful owners once the emergency has passed. But after the citizens complied, Roosevelt cried down the value of Federal Reserve notes (that is, he wrote up the value of gold in terms of paper) and nothing further was ever said about returning the gold to its rightful owners. This, and the later episode of dishonoring gold obligations under President Nixon in 1971 (also described as “temporary”), were instances of deliberate sabotage of the gold standard with the aim of “making America safe for socialism.”

    Paranoid Network Intruder Ministries Modern Lysenkoism

    Den Beste, Braniac, talks about solipsism, philisophical idealism, and what I've always called pseudointellectual Lysenkoism. Sarah at Trying to Grok makes her own commentary on the subject.

    Lysenkoism is a failed ideological belief in the inheritance of acquired traits. In the simplest form, let's say that we have a bunch of lab rats, and we want to make rats with no tails. The laws of inheritance as we know it require that we select rats with short tails and breed them, keeping two generations of rats and then repeating the process, only allowing rats with short tails to breed. Over time, the genes for short tails are selected over the genes for normal and longer tails, and we end up with a population of short tailed rats. Gradually, if we are patient, we can make rats with shorter and shorter tails until there is just a little nub, as long as we follow this process. But with Lysenkoism, championed by an unscientific but ideologically pure (read: Commie) individual named Trofim Denisovich Lysenko and based on the discredited theories of Lamarck, says that if we cut the tails of said rats, they will breed rats with no tails. It is the will of an organism that passes on traits to offspring...since we keep chopping the tails off rats they will develop no tails. This is nonsense, and anyone can try the experiment themselves, assuming PETA doesn't hear about it and burns down your lab.

    Lysenkoism is not a scientific theory...it is based on the Lamarck hypothesis of acquired traits, but goes a step further in that this concept, since it supports Marxism (well, really the Communist ideology of the old Soviet Union) and it ended up supplanting real science all throughout the Soviet Union. Data disproving Lysenkoism was discarded in favor of ideology, and many scientists who refused to sign on to this silliness were executed, sent to the hulag, or discredited. Eventually, all that was left was a core of sycophants who parroted the party line, and the science of genetics went a 100 year reversal. Mendel was not even mentioned among the acadamecians of the Soviet Union, because to base any hypothesis on Darwinian priciples and the role of genes in inheritance would invite death.

    As a direct result, the science of genetics in the Soviet Union is backward and infantile. The entire agricultural system of the Soviet Union was based on Lysenkoism, and as a result, it didn't work very well, and they were never able to adequately feed their citizens. Of course, the blame was placed on people rather than the underlying ideology, because the "theory" fit the ideals of the Party. In short, if you want it to be this way hard enough, then it WILL be that way eventually.

    The phrase pseudointellectual Lysenkoism is my own, and it may have been used elsewhere but I've never seen it. One may quibble over the phrasing, and that's fine, but I use it to describe the behavior of people who really should know better, and that of people who are honestly deluded by it. It describes the ideologies that are simply not based on empirical facts. Sometimes people will know better, but will spout this ideology to gain converts and convince others of the "truths" of their propositions.

    I do not lump religion in here. Personal and organized faiths are beyond the scope of what I describe, as long as they do not step into empirical bounds. Catholics are not covered, while creationism is. The Democrat/Republican platforms are not, while the more extreme political positions of say, PETA, are.

    Other examples include free energy, cold fusion proponents and other science frauds, all manner of paranormal activities, such as John Edward's spirit ramblings and Sylvia Brown's psychic phenomena, transcendental meditation, and othe rthings where nonsense is used as a basis of a belief structure, and that system is used for control, either monetary gain or just the people control. There are folks who sell trinkets that do not work but amass a great following, such as homeopathy, magnetic therapy, chiropractors, theraputic touch, aura cleansing, crystal healing and many others. People are duped into purchasing metal rods that are purported to locate gold, oil, water, even drugs and people, and these devices have no scientific basis for functioning. There are quasi-institutions that offer training in remote viewing, where for a large fee you can "learn" how to see things that are hidden or great distances away.

    None of these things work. There's no basis in fact for any of them, yet people believe. Perhaps it's because they want things to be different. I could be a lack of education. Most of it is just being taken in by carefully presented flim-flam.

    You'll technical jargon tossed around that has no meaning. Crystals tune you into the "vibrations" of the universe, and prevent harmful "vibrations" from affecting your health and well being. "Energy" is a word bandied about as if it means something outside the usual context. Pure water is marketed as having a special "molecular configuration", but it is never explained rationally how this can be so.

    Millions of dollars are wasted on such tripe. The only way to fight it is with education, but I tried this once. I find that most people simply do not want to think critically about such things. I don't know what to do about that anymore...I used to think I could teach others the tools of skepticism and the scientific method, but these apparent;y are hard tools to learn and master.

    I despair at the level of nonsense presented as fact. All I can say is read Feynman. Read Sagan. Go to the bookstore and buy books on critical thought. Science and empricism are tools that work, not beliefs that can be conveniently discarded because they threaten your worldview.

    Life is a precious, rare thing in the universe. It's big and empty out there, and there is no comfort to be found out there, but what you make of it. It's a shame to waste such potential as we have on nonsense.

    Neo-Lysenkoism, IQ, and the Press

    In effect, we see here Lysenkoism risen again: an effort to outlaw a field of science because it conflicts with a political dogma. To be sure, the new version is more limited in scope, and it does not use the punitive powers of a totalitarian state, as Trofim Lysenko did in the Soviet Union to suppress all of genetics between 1935 and 1965. But that is not necessary in our system: A chilling atmosphere is quite sufficient to prevent funding agencies, investigators, and graduate students from exploring a taboo area. And such Neo-Lysenkoist politicization of science, from both the left and the right, is likely to grow, as biology increasingly affects our lives--probing the secrets of our genes and our brain, reshaping our image of our origins and our nature, and adding new dimensions to our understanding of social behavior. When ideologically committed scientists try to suppress this knowledge they jeopardize a great deal, for without the ideal of objectivity science loses its strength.

    Because this feature of science is such a precious asset, the crucial lesson to be drawn from the case of Stephen Jay Gould is the danger of propagating political views under the guise of science. Moreover, this end was furthered, wittingly or not, by the many reviewers whose evaluations were virtually projective tests of their political convictions. For these reviews reflected enormous relief: A voice of scientific authority now assures us that biological diversity does not set serious limits to the goal of equality, and so we will not have to wrestle with the painful problem of refining what we mean by equality.

    In scientific journals editors take pains to seek reviewers who can bring true expertise to the evaluation of a book. It is all the more important for editors of literary publications to do likewise, for when a book speaks with scientific authority on a controversial social issue, the innocent lay reader particularly needs protection from propaganda. Science can make a great contribution toward solving our social problems by helping us to base our policies and judgments upon reality, rather than upon wish or conjecture. Because this influence is so powerful it is essential for such contributions to be judged critically, by the standards of science.

    Calpundit Conservative Lysenkoism

    CONSERVATIVE LYSENKOISM....The growing conservative assault on scientific results that don't support their preferred ideologies has become a common topic recently, and today Chris Mooney reports on an obscure new regulation that's poised to have an outsized impact on scientific research in America.

    The Data Quality Act, inserted quietly into an appropriations bill by a Republican lawmaker near the end of the Clinton administration, contains what appears to be a benign requirement: government funded studies should be peer reviewed only by independent scientists. The problem is that "independent" means scientists who are not also funded by the government, href="http://www.boston.com/news/globe/editorial_opinion/oped/articles/2003/12/07/science_for_special_interests/"> and as Anthony Robbins writes in the Boston Globe:

    To grasp the implications of this radical departure, one must recognize that in the United States there are effectively two pots of money that support science: one from government and one from industry. (A much smaller contribution comes from charitable foundations.) If one excludes scientists supported by the government, including most scientists based at universities, the remaining pool of reviewers will be largely from industry -- corporate political supporters of George W. Bush.

    The net result of the DQA is to reduce the influence of academic scientists and increase the influence of industry-backed scientists under the Alice in Wonderland notion that academic scientists are somehow less trustworthy. In plain English, scientists who work for tobacco companies ought to be the ones to review cigarette research and scientists who work for chemical companies ought to be the ones to pass judgment on environmental research.

    Bush's Lysenkoism Archive Entry From Brad DeLong's Webjournal

    The Bush administration's Lysenkoism. Mark Kleiman directs us to this analysis of the Bush administration by Winston Smith. He could have added a lot more examples from economic and social policy as well. The basic attitude seems to be, "There are people who say they are experts on both sides, so who the hell knows? Let's claim this is true: it will satisfy the Base."

    Science and the Postmodern Presidency

    [This post by CalPundit prompted me to post this, a shorter version of a longer piece I've been fiddling around with.]

    'Lysenkoism' is a vague term for a complex and fuzzy phenomenon. Roughly and for my purposes here, to engage in Lysekoism is to distort science in order to bring it into line with political orthodoxy.

    (A) It is well-known (though not well enough known) that the Bush administration is Lysenkoist, though it isn't often put in those terms. This administration has suppressed or distorted scientific conclusions about - among many other topics - global warming, the effectiveness of abstinence-only sex education, drilling in the ANWR, and air quality in Manhattan after 9/11 in order to force science to conform (or appear to conform) to the administration's antecedently-accepted political beliefs. Henry Waxman's Politics and Science website is an invaluable resource for information on the political distortion of science in the Bush administration.

    (B) It is also reasonably clear that the Bush administration distorted evidence about Iraq's WMDs and its links to al Qaeda in the run up to the Iraq war. This case is made persuasively in several places, most recently in a report by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, "WMD in Iraq: Evidence and Implications."

    What is usually overlooked, however, is that A and B are merely two instances of the same general phenomenon. Intelligence gathering and analysis is a kind of science. It is in particular a kind of social science, aiming, like so many other kinds of social science, to discern the beliefs, intentions and actions of certain groups of people. Of course intelligence agencies often study groups that prefer to conceal their beliefs and intentions from us and that want to hurt us; but, although this adds a certain practical element of urgency to the equation, it doesn't change anything fundamental: intelligence gathering and analysis, when done correctly, is in large part a kind of science, even if a more practical and less theoretical kind of science, more like the science of nutrition than astrophysics. And, of course, Lysenkoism itself is simply a particular instance of an even more general phenomenon we could call logical preposterism -- starting with your conclusion and evaluating evidence as good or bad depending on whether it supports this antecedently-accepted conclusion. Reasoning this way is preposterous in the literal sense of putting what is supposed to come last (the conclusion) first; in fact, it isn't really reasoning at all, but, rather, rationalization.

    In seeking to manipulate and distort the findings of our intelligence agencies about Iraq, the Bush Administration was merely doing what it has done since it took office - dogmatically distorting and suppressing evidence in the service of advancing conclusions arrived at for political reasons, and putting political pressure on experts to go along with the deception. What happened in the build-up to the Iraq war should have come as no surprise to those who had been observing the Administrationont>

    BBC/Can religion be blamed for war

    So why is religion a factor in war at all when all the main faiths have little time for violence and advocate peace?

    Because, it is suggested, leaders use differences over faith as a way of sowing hatred and mobilising support for political wars.

    As the American civil war leader Abraham Lincoln put it almost 150 years ago: "The will of God prevails.

    "In great contests, each party claims to act in accordance with the will of God. Both may be, but one must be wrong.

    "God cannot be for and against the same thing at the same time."

    [Feb 29, 2004] Op-Ed Columnist Sorry, Right Number

    Mr. McCain said he's expecting the same administration "obfuscation and delay" when he sits on Mr. Bush's hand-picked intelligence review board. "That's why I made sure I got subpoena power," he said. "No bureaucracy will willingly give you information that may be embarrassing to them."

    [Feb 29, 2004] The Observer/Beware smoking Guns

    Serious journalists like to pretend that we give the public all the news they need to know. The beneficial effects of competition ensure that broadsheets and up-market broadcasters are constantly bringing new products to the news market. What one organisation misses another provides to the fact-bloated consumer. The prosaic reality often falls short of this exalted ideal. Most of the time rivalry between journalists is more apparent than real. Everyone does what everyone else is doing; we cover the same stories and follow up each others' real or bogus exclusives. All that falls outside the loop formed by the media dog chasing its tail is ignored.

    [Benson2004] When science was thwarted before Michael Benson IHT Scientists and Bush

    LJUBLJANA, Slovenia For anyone who ever spent time in the old Soviet Union, the recent statement by 60 of the top scientists in the United States had an eerie ring of déjà vu. The accusatory statement, which included 20 Nobel laureates among its issuers, charges that the Bush administration has systematically distorted scientific facts in pursuit of its policy goals. The name of Lysenko, the quack mid-century Soviet botanist, comes to mind.

    In the 1930s, Trofim Lysenko postulated that hereditary changes to plants could be triggered by environmental changes - for example, by exposing seed grain to extreme temperatures. He insisted that this theory, which rejected widely accepted chromosome theories of heredity, directly corresponded to Marxism. He was rapidly promoted within the Stalinist hierarchy and in short order effectively became the science czar of the Soviet Union. Under him, bona fide geneticists were denounced as advocates of a doctrine synonymous with fascism. Lysenko was personally responsible for the deportation to the gulag of many talented scientists who didn't agree with his theories.

    Lysenko was, of course, just a symptom of a far larger disease, in which the reigning Soviet ideology, which insisted that its doctrines were firmly grounded in objectively verifiable scientific fact, warped the realities surrounding it to justify its own totalitarian rule and agenda.

    Two decades after Lysenko was finally denounced by Nikita Khrushchev in the late 1970s, the Soviet media still featured a steady diet of contented workers and gleaming combines. The reality, as everyone knew, was different; decrepit, sluggish industries, an agricultural sector that had to import increasing amounts of wheat from the United States, widespread alcoholism and despair, a dead-end command economy.

    The Bush administration, needless to say, is not the old Soviet regime, and a Lysenko could never gain such power in the United States. Still, in the statement of the American scientists there are troubling echoes of the damage ideology can wreak. Like the old Soviet Union, which invaded Afghanistan on the basis of a sort of inverted version of the Western domino theory, the Bush regime attacked Iraq with the shakiest of justifications, and like the Soviet Union of the 1980s, the United States is now bogged down in a bloody and expensive war that is drawing infuriated mujahadeen from across the Muslim world.

    The Soviet system essentially ignored fundamental economic realities, bankrupting itself in a fruitless attempt to keep up with the United States militarily; the Bush administration likewise seems to believe that it can spend as much as it wants on flawed missile defense schemes and an open-ended global war on terror while legislating massive tax cuts that benefit the wealthiest part of the population.

    The Soviet Union cranked out reams of strident propaganda in which non-Socialist states were depicted as despotic outposts of capitalist exploitation, with Moscow and its allies the gleaming hope for mankind; the Bush administration's black-and-white division of the planet into those for and against us provides a chilling reprise.

    The KGB conducted surveillance on its population without even a pretense of judicial oversight; although obviously not comparable with Stalinist methods, the Bush administration's Patriot Act (an Orwellian name if ever there was one) similarly gives a wide latitude to the FBI to conduct domestic surveillance at will and without much legal recourse.

    To circle back to science, last week's "J'accuse" by America's leading scientists underlines, among other things, a perilous danger. Although there is now a scientific consensus that industrial effluents are the leading cause of a (similarly unquestionable) global warming trend, the White House simply dismisses the evidence. And here again we have to keep the Lysenko example in mind.

    In the same way that the Bush administration exaggerated intelligence on Iraq, emphasizing extreme worst-case scenarios to make its case for war, it ignores overwhelming evidence that global warming is gathering force, stressing those few studies which call it into question.

    In the end, as the French filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard said, reality has a way of taking its revenge. The Soviet Union finally disintegrated under the weight of its internal contradictions, a victim of the discrepancy between its ideologically distorted views and reigning reality.

    Kurt Gottfried, chairman of the board of directors at the Union of Concerned Scientists and a signer of the accusatory study, was quoted in The New York Times as saying that the administration's attitude toward science could place the long-term prosperity of the United States at risk. Despite the spooky Soviet overtones of the Bush administration, United States remains a strong democracy. We need to lose this creeping latter-day variant of Lysenkoism that has moved well beyond the current administration's dealing with scientific and ecological issues to taint American politics and diplomacy across the board.

    The Threat of American Wahhabis Muqtedar Khan, PH.D.

    Article was featured in San Francisco Examiner (Nov 11, 2002), Detroit News (November 26, 2002) and the Muslim Observer.

    The tragedy of September 11 has now become an opportunity for political entrepreneurship. More and more people are using it to advance sectarian interests that are often at odds with America’s national interests. One group, more than anyone – American Wahhabis – is using September 11 to push its own fundamentalist politics with a vengeance.

    The word Wahhabi essentially identifies a rather narrow and bigoted interpretation of Islam. The Wahhabis are (1) oppose civil rights and justice for women and other minorities (2) are anti-secular and in favor of imposing religious law on others by force (3) and extremely intolerant of “others” who do not share their specific religious beliefs. Wahhabis, because of their intolerant outlook and allergy to liberal values and institutions, constantly indulge in a theology of hate.

    Unfortunately there is a similar group of bigoted religious fundamentalists in America who are undermining the secular character of America, subverting the peaceful message of Christianity and polluting the socio-cultural environment of America.  These American Wahhabis like their Muslim counterparts are intolerant of homosexuality, feminism, civil rights (ACLU), do not believe in the separation of Church and State and hate people of other faiths. Rev. Jerry Falwell, Rev. Pat Robertson and Rev. Franklin Graham are three of the most prominent, powerful and vocal representatives of American Wahhabis.

    Readers may recall that in the immediate aftermath of September 11, Reverend Jerry Falwell blamed abortionists, homosexuals, and the ACLU for angering God and indirectly causing the attacks of September 11. He later apologized for his statements when there was uproar from all sides of the political spectrum, including the President who called Farwell’s comments as “inappropriate”. His statement was a shameless and insensitive example of political opportunism that sought not only to politicize the tragedy of September 11 but also to incite hatred towards the groups that Rev. Falwell and his associates habitually target. If he was not strongly rebuked by nearly everyone who mattered, his crusade against ACLU, gays and feminists would have fed on the emotions related to September 11 and gained significant momentum.

    In the past few weeks American Wahhabis have unleashed a verbal assault on Islam and its religious symbols unmindful of the hate it is inciting against Muslim in America and the anti-American sentiments it is generating in the Muslim World. Rev. Falwell and Rev. Pat Robertson have called The Prophet of Islam a terrorist and argued that Islam and its teachings itself are the sources of violence. Rev. Franklin Graham has announced that Islam and its teaching are evil and wicked. Between them they have maintained a continuous discourse of hate against Islam and Muslims for the past few months. The refusal of American leadership, especially the President to rebuke them, has emboldened them to ratchet up the decibel levels of their theology of hate.

    Their comments have caused anger among Muslims worldwide, including religious riots in India that have led to five deaths. Many Pakistanis have reacted angrily and expressed their dismay by voting strongly in favor of a pro-Taliban and anti-American alliance in the recent elections in Pakistan.

    The problem with the American Wahhabis is not just their ideas and their hate mongering but the fact that they have a reasonably large following – sufficient to influence the electoral outcomes in American elections. By virtue of their votes and their fund raising capacity they exercise more power directly on American Congress and the President than the Mullahs of Saudi Arabia can over the decisions of their King.  Furthermore the close relationship between the President himself and Rev. Franklin Graham and other members of his administration, such as Attorney General Ashcroft, is extremely disturbing. It is not a coincidence that the first group to financially benefit from George Bush’s impulse to finance faith based programs was that of Rev. Pat Robertson. Is it possible that the very purpose of the Federal initiative to support faith based programs is to allow the American Wahhabis to intertwine its operations with those of the Federal government?

    Osama Bin Laden attacked America hoping to incite a massive retaliation against Muslim nations to actualize the false prophesy of a clash of civilizations. He was hoping that by inciting a brutal response from the US, he would succeed not only in uniting the 1.4 billion global Muslim community, but also winning them over to Wahhabism and its anti-western, anti-Christian posture.

    It seems that the American axis of hate – Revs. Falwell, Robertson and Graham – by repeatedly making hateful and abusive comments about Islam and Prophet Muhammad are determined to precipitate an Armageddon between America and the Muslim World.

    When Yigal Amir shocked the Western World by assassinating Israeli Prime Minister Rabin, American media and American leaders repeatedly emphasized that violence was the natural cause of hateful statements. They were all referring to the environment of intolerance that had been created in Israel by Jewish religious zealots who are opposed to peace. Their hateful comments eventually incited Yigal Amir to assassinate Rabin. We seem to have quickly forgotten that painful lesson and the memory of Rabin.

    It is only a matter of time when the repeated anti-Muslim and anti-Islam statements by the preachers of hate in America will result in some form of egregious violence against Muslims. Already there have been two instances where the police (California and Florida) arrested heavily armed would be terrorists planning bombing campaigns against Muslims. It seems that the American leadership, specially the President is waiting for something horrible to happen before he can reprimand Revs. Falwell, Robertson and Graham for their “inappropriate comments”.

    We live in very sensitive times. People’s insecurities are extremely heightened and their capacity to suffer pain, bigotry and injustice is being severely tested. We are facing the possibility of a global war between America and the Muslim World. And the primary cause for such a war, God-forbid, would not be oil, geopolitics or regime changes, but the intolerable and vicious hate speech unleashed by religious bigots who confuse self righteousness for righteousness and demonization for devotion.

    Since September 11 many Americans, including the author, have condemned the extremism of Muslim Wahhabis. It is time that America, especially President Bush, does the right thing and condemns the hatred preached by American Wahhabis.

    [Feb 22, 2004] Uses and Abuses of Science

    Although the Bush administration is hardly the first to politicize science, no administration in recent memory has so shamelessly distorted scientific findings for policy reasons or suppressed them when they conflict with political goals. This is the nub of an indictment delivered last week by more than 60 prominent scientists, including 20 Nobel laureates. Their statement was accompanied by a report published by the Union of Concerned Scientists, listing cases where the administration has manipulated science on environmental and other issues.

    President Bush's supporters promptly denounced the statement and the report as an overdrawn and politically motivated work issued in an election year by an advocacy group known for its liberal disposition. Tellingly, however, neither Mr. Bush's friends nor the White House denied that any of the incidents listed in the report — all had been reported before in newspapers, trade magazines and scientific journals — had occurred. The best they could muster was a lame rejoinder from Dr. John Marburger III, Mr. Bush's science adviser, who said that these were disconnected episodes reflecting normal bureaucratic disagreements, none of them adding up to a "a pattern" of distortion or disrespect for science.

    We respectfully urge Dr. Marburger to look again. On global warming alone, the administration belittled, misrepresented, altered or quashed multiple reports suggesting a clear link between greenhouse gas emissions and the burning of fossil fuels like coal and oil. A study detailing the impact of mercury emissions from power plants was sanitized to industry specifications. Another study suggesting that a Congressional clean-air bill would achieve greater pollution reductions than Mr. Bush's own plan, at approximately the same cost, was withheld. It does not take much effort to find a pattern of suppressing inconvenient facts that might force Mr. Bush's friends in the oil, gas and coal industries to spend more on pollution control.

    The report details similar shenanigans involving other agencies, including Agriculture, Interior and even, on reproductive health issues, the Centers for Disease Control. It also criticizes the administration for stacking advisory committees with industry representatives and disbanding panels that provided unwanted advice. Collected in one place, this material gives a portrait of governmentwide insensitivity to scientific standards that, unless corrected, will further undermine the administration's credibility and the morale of its scientists.

    [Feb 20, 2004] The Despoiling of America by By Katherine Yurica.

    Katherine Yurica was educated at East Los Angeles College, U.S.C. and the USC school of law. She worked as a consultant for Los Angeles County and as a news correspondent for Christianity Today plus as a freelance investigative reporter. She is the author of three books. She is also the publisher of the Yurica Report http://www.yuricareport.com

    Katherine Yurica recorded and transcribed 1,300 pages of Pat Robertson’s television show, The 700 Club covering several years in the mid 1980’s. In 1987 she conducted a study in response to informal inquiries from the staff of the Subcommittee on Oversight of the House Ways and Means Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives, which was investigating whether television and radio ministries were violating their tax-exempt status by conducting grass roots political appeals, endorsing candidates, and making political expenditures as defined under Section 527 of the IRS code. The Subcommittee on Oversight published Katherine's study in Federal Tax Rules Applicable to Tax-Exempt Organizations Involving Television Ministries on October 6, 1987, Serial 100-43. (Published in 1988.)

    A Machiavellian Religion Was Born

    American Christianity had already seen extremes. For Dominionists, perhaps the single most important event in the last half of the twentieth century occurred when the Reverend Jim Jones proved that the religious would follow their leader to Guyana and even further, to their deaths. That fact could hardly have escaped the notice of even the dullest of politically minded preachers.

    Indeed, Jim Jones’ surreal power over his congregants leaps out from the grave even today. If a man desired to change the laws in America—to undo Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal for instance, and allow corporations the unbridled freedom they enjoyed prior to the Great Depression (which included the freedom to defraud, pillage, and to destroy the land with impunity on the way to gathering great fortunes), what better way to proceed than to cloak the corruption within a religion? If a few men wanted to establish an American empire and control the entire world, what better vehicle to carry them to their goal than to place their agenda within the context of a religion? Jim Jones proved religious people would support even immoral political deeds if their leaders found a way to frame those deeds as “God’s Will.” The idea was brilliant. Its framers knew they could glorify greed, hate, nationalism and even a Christian empire with ease.[21]

    The religion the canny thinkers founded follows the reverse of communism and secular humanism, it poured political and economic ideology into a religion and that combustible mixture produced “Dominionism,” a new political faith that had the additional advantage of insulating the cult from attacks on its political agenda by giving its practitioners the covering to simply cry out, “You’re attacking me for my religious beliefs and that’s religious persecution!”[22]

    But how could a leader get away with a religious fraud that barely hides its destructive and false intent?

    Jim Jones’s history holds the answer. He not only proved the obvious fact that people are blinded by their religious beliefs and will only impute goodness, mercy, and religious motivations to their leader, but Jim Jones proved the efficacy of the basic teaching of Machiavelli: a leader must only appear to have the qualities of goodness—he need not actually possess those attributes.

    In fact, Machiavelli taught that it is dangerous for a leader to practice goodness. Instead, he must pretend to be good and then do the opposite. Machiavelli taught that a leader will succeed on appearances alone. A good leader puts his finger to the wind and changes course whenever it is expedient to do so. Machiavelli wrote this revealing passage that could be applied not only to false religious leaders but to a false President:  

    “Alexander VI did nothing else but deceive men, he thought of nothing else, and found the occasion for it; no man was ever more able to give assurances, or affirmed things with stronger oaths, and no man observed them less; however, he always succeeded in his deceptions, as he well knew this aspect of things.”

    “Everybody sees what you appear to be, few feel what you are, and those few will not dare to oppose themselves to the many, who have the majesty of the state to defend them; and in the actions of men, and especially of princes, from which there is no appeal, the end justifies the means.” (p. 93)

    Chillingly Machiavelli advises his readers:

    “Let a prince therefore aim at conquering and maintaining the state, and the means will always be judged honourable and praised by every one, for the vulgar is always taken by appearances and the issue of the event; and the world consists only of the vulgar, and the few who are not vulgar are isolated when the many have a rallying point in the prince.” (p. 94)

    Machiavelli also wrote how to govern dominions that previous to being occupied lived under their own laws. His words eerily reflect the Bush Administration’s decisions on how to rule Iraq:

    “When those states which have been acquired are accustomed to live at liberty under their own laws, there are three ways of holding them. The first is to despoil them;[23] the second is to go and live there in person; the third is to allow them to live under their own laws, taking tribute of them, and creating within the country a government composed of a few who will keep it friendly to you. Because this government, being created by the prince, knows that it cannot exist without his friendship and protection, and will do all it can to keep them. What is more, a city used to liberty can be more easily held by means of its citizens than in any other way, if you wish to preserve it.” (p. 46)

    However Machiavelli has second thoughts and follows with this caveat:

    “…. [I]n truth there is no sure method of holding them except by despoiling them. And whoever becomes the ruler of a free city and does not destroy it, can expect to be destroyed by it, for it can always find a motive for rebellion in the name of liberty and of its ancient usages…”[24] (p. 46)

    (The above quotes are from The Prince in the original Oxford University Press translation by Luigi Ricci, 1903; revised by E. R. P. Vincent, 1935)

    Machiavelli’s books, The Prince and The Discourses are not abstract treatises. Christian Gauss, who wrote an important introduction to the Oxford edition, called them by their rightful name: they are in fact a “concise manual—a handbook of those who would acquire or increase their political power.” Gauss tells us that a long line of kings and ministers and tyrants studied Machiavelli, including Mussolini, Hitler, Lenin and Stalin. 

    How Can Evil Deeds Be Reconciled With Christian Beliefs?

    It’s important to understand that the founders of Dominionism are sitting on the horns of a moral dilemma: How can a leader be both good and evil at the same time? For if biblical moral proscriptions are applicable to him, he will certainly suffer some form of censure. And if proscriptions are applicable, the leader could not lie to the citizenry with impunity or do evil so that “good” could be achieved. The answer to the dilemma of how a Dominionist leader could both do evil and still maintain his place of honor in the Christian community lies in the acceptance and adoption of the Calvinistic doctrine that James Hogg wrote about in The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner.  (W.W. Norton, N.Y. 1970.)

    This novel, published in 1824, is concerned with psychological aberration and as such, anticipates the literature of the twentieth century. The protagonist is a young man named Robert, who drenched in the religious bigotry of Calvinism, concluded that he was predestined before the beginning of the world to enter heaven, therefore no sin he committed would be held to his account. This freed Robert to become an assassin in the cause of Christ and His Church.

    Fifty years ago a variation on the concept was expressed disapprovingly as, “Once saved—always saved.” In this view, salvation had nothing to do with “good works or a holy life.” A drunk who had a born again experience would be among God’s chosen elect whether he stopped drinking or not. But the logical extension of the reasoning is the idea that Christianity could have within itself not ex-sinners but active sinners: as Christian murderers, Christian pedophiles, Christian rapists, Christian thieves, Christian arsonists, and every other kind of socio-pathological behavior possible. As we have sadly witnessed of late the concept is broadly accepted within the American churches.

    But the Dominionists needed the aberrant extension of Calvinism; they believe as did Calvin and John Knox that before the creation of the universe, all men were indeed predestined to be either among God’s elect or were unregenerate outcasts. And it is at this point Dominionists introduced a perversion to Calvinism—the same one James Hogg utilizes in his The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner—its technical name is “supralapsarianism.” It means essentially that the man called from before the foundation of the world to be one of the elect of God’s people, can do no wrong. No wonder then observers noted a definite religious swing in George W. Bush from Wesleyan theology to Calvinism early in his administration.[25]

    How comforting the Calvinistic idea of a “justified sinner” is when one is utilizing Machiavellian techniques to gain political control of a state. It’s more than comforting; it is a required doctrine for “Christians” who believe they must use evil to bring about good. It justifies lying, murder, fraud and all other criminal acts without the fuss of having to deal with guilt feelings or to feel remorse for the lives lost through executions, military actions, or assassinations.

    If this doctrine seems too wayward to believe as it might have done had I not heard a recent interview with a Pentecostal minister—rest assured the twisted doctrine is horribly alive and thriving in America today.

    The interview conducted by Brian Copeland a news talk show host for KGO, San Francisco on September 5, 2003, was with the Reverend Donald Spitz of Pensacola, Florida who is involved with a Pro Life group in Virginia and with the Army of God. The occasion was the execution of Paul Hill, another Pentecostal minister who murdered a doctor and his body guard outside an abortion clinic. Hill was caught and convicted of the crimes. Spitz admitted that he was Paul Hill’s spiritual counselor. He said Hill died with the conviction he had done the Lord’s work. Spitz who approved of the murder said, “Someone else is going to handle the publishing of Paul Hill’s book On How to Assassinate.”

    Spitz believed that Hill was completely justified in murdering the physician because, according to him, “twenty-six babies’ lives were saved by the killing.”  When Copeland pointed out that the scheduled abortions for the morning of the murders would have simply been postponed to another day—and that the lives of the fetuses were only extended for a day or so, Spitz refused to accept the argument.

    Not surprisingly, Spitz opposed the use of birth control methods. Copeland asked, “If a woman is raped should she be forced to carry the fetus to term?” Spitz said, “Yes.”

    “What if the pregnancy will kill the mother?” Spitz replied that under no circumstances could “the baby be killed.” When Spitz was asked, “Why haven’t you gone out and killed an abortionist?” he replied calmly, “God hasn’t told me to do the killing.”

    The Neo-Conservative Connection with Dominionists and Machiavelli

    I suspect that most Americans have never heard of Machiavelli, nevertheless, it should be no surprise to us that Machiavelli has been accepted, praised, and followed by the Neo-Conservatives in the White House and his precepts are blindly adopted by the so-called “Christian” Dominionists. Kevin Phillips tells us in his masterful book, American Dynasty that Karl Rove, political strategist for President George W. Bush, is a devotee of Machiavelli, just as Rove’s predecessor, Lee Atwater had been for the elder Bush.[26] In fact, there has been an incredible effort to dilute the immoral implications of Machiavelli’s teachings. Today’s best apologist for Machiavelli is one of the most influential voices in Washington with direct connections into the oval office.

    Michael A. Ledeen was a Senior Fellow with the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a counselor to the National Security Council and special counselor to former Secretary of State, Alexander Haig in 1985. His relationship with Pat Robertson goes back at least to the early 1980’s.[27]  Like Robertson, Ledeen was an advocate for military intervention in Nicaragua and for assistance to the Contras. (Ledeen was also involved in the Iran-Contra affair.)[28]

    Today, in 2004, Michael Ledeen is a fellow at the conservative think tank, the American Enterprise Institute and according to William O. Beeman of the Pacific News Service, “Ledeen has become the driving philosophical force behind the neoconservative movement and the military actions it has spawned.”[29]

    Ledeen made a number of appearances on the 700 Club show during the 1980’s. Always presented as a distinguished guest, Robertson interviewed him on April 30, 1985 and asked him on this occasion: “What would you recommend if you were going to advise the President [Ronald Reagan] as to foreign policy?”

    Ledeen responded:

    “The United States has to make clear to the world and above all to its own citizens, what our vital interests are. And then we must make it clear to everyone that we are prepared to fight and fight fiercely to defend those interests, so that people will not cross the lines that are likely to kick off a trip wire.” (Emphasis added.)

    If Ledeen’s advice sounds ruthless and Machiavellian—it may be because it is Machiavellian. (By definition his statement presupposes the existence of something or several things that are life threatening to the nation by the use of the word “vital.” Yet Ledeen asserts that which is life threatening must be made manifest or defined. If an interest must be defined, then it is not apparent; yet the nation will nevertheless ask its sons and daughters to fight and die for something that is not apparent. Therefore, whatever “interests” Ledeen wanted to be defined, cannot have been vital interests, which are apparent—so in reality he advised the President to call discretionary interests vital—which is a lie.)

    Be aware that Ledeen is in complete accord with Machiavellian thinking. And so is Pat Robertson.[30] Robertson agreed to virtually every nuance Ledeen presented. In fact, it’s not clear which of the two first proposed invading Syria, Iran and Iraq back in the 1980’s,[31] a refrain that also echoed in the reports of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), one of the major homes for neo-conservatives in 2000. Both Ledeen and Robertson targeted the same nations that PNAC lists as America’s greatest enemies in its paper, “Rebuilding America’s Defenses” (published in September 2000.)[32]

    In 1999, Ledeen published his book, Machiavelli on Modern Leadership: Why Machiavelli’s Iron Rules Are as Timely and Important Today as Five Centuries Ago. (Truman Talley Books, St. Martin’s Griffin, N.Y. 1999.) Here is a sample of how Ledeen smoothes rough edges and presents a modern Machiavelli:

    “In order to achieve the most noble accomplishments, the leader may have to ‘enter into evil.’ This is the chilling insight that has made Machiavelli so feared, admired, and challenging. It is why we are drawn to him still…” (p. 91)

    Again, Ledeen writes:

    “Just as the quest for peace at any price invites war and, worse than war, defeat and domination, so good acts sometimes advance the triumph of evil, as there are circumstances when only doing evil ensures the victory of a good cause.” (p. 93)

    Ledeen clearly believes “the end justifies the means,” but not all the time. He writes “Lying is evil,” but then contradictorily argues that it produced

     “a magnificent result,” and “is essential to the survival of nations and to the success of great enterprises.” (p. 95)

    Ledeen adds this tidbit:

    “All’s fair in war . . . and in love. Practicing deceit to fulfill your heart’s desire might be not only legitimate, but delicious!” (p. 95)

    William O. Beeman tells us about Michael Ledeen’s influence. Writing for the Pacific News Service he says:

    Ledeen’s ideas are repeated daily by such figures as Richard Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz…He basically believes that violence in the service of the spread of democracy is America’s manifest destiny. Consequently, he has become the philosophical legitimator of the American occupation of Iraq.”[33]

    In fact, Ledeen’s influence goes even further. The BBC, the Washington Post and Jim Lobe writing for the Asia Times report that Michael Ledeen is the only full-time international affairs analyst consulted by Karl Rove.[34] Ledeen has regular conversations with Rove. The Washington Post said, “More than once, Ledeen has seen his ideas faxed to Rove, become official policy or rhetoric.”[35]

    Leo Strauss the Father of Neo-Conservatism

    Leo Strauss was born in 1899 and died in 1973. He was a Jewish scholar who fled Germany when Hitler gained power. He eventually found refuge in the United States where he taught political science at the University of Chicago. He is most famous for resuscitating Machiavelli and introducing his principles as the guiding philosophy of the neo-conservative movement. Strauss has been called the godfather of Newt Gingrich’s “Contract with America.” More than any other man, Strauss breathed upon conservatism, inspiring it to rise from its atrophied condition and its natural dislike of change and to embrace an unbounded new political ideology that rides on the back of a revolutionary steed, hailing even radical change; hence the name Neo-Conservatives.

    The father of neo-conservatism had many “spiritual” children at the University of Chicago, among them: Paul Wolfowitz and Abram Shulsky, who received their doctorates under Strauss in 1972. Harry V. Jaffa was a student of Strauss and has an important connection to Dominionists like Pat Robertson as we shall see below. However, Strauss’s family of influence extended beyond his students to include faculty members in universities, and the people his students taught. Those prominent neo-conservatives who are most notable are: Justice Clarence Thomas, Robert Bork, Irving Kristol and his son William Kristol, Alan Keyes, William J. Bennett, J. Danforth Quayle, Allan Bloom, John Podhoertz, John T. Agresto, John Ashcroft, Newt Gingrich, Gary Bauer, Michael Ledeen and scores of others, many of whom hold important positions in George W. Bush’s White House and Defense Department.

    To understand the Straussian infusion of power that transformed an all but dead conservative realm, think of Nietzsche’s Overman come to life. Or better yet, think of the philosophy most unlike Christianity: Think of pure unmitigated evil. Strauss admits that Machiavelli is an evil man. But according to Strauss, his admission is a prerequisite to studying and reading Machiavelli: the acknowledgement is the safety net that keeps the reader from being corrupted. One is tempted to talk back to Strauss and point out an alternative: the admission could be the subterfuge that keeps a man from being ridiculed and rejected for espousing Machiavellian methods.

    In one of the most important books for our times, Shadia Drury’s Leo Strauss and the American Right, undertakes to explain the ideas behind Strauss’s huge influence and following. Strauss’s reputation, according to Drury, rests in large part on his view that “a real philosopher must communicate quietly, subtly, and secretly to the few who are fit to receive his message.” Strauss claims secrecy is necessary to avoid “persecution.”[36]

    In reading Strauss, one sometimes encounters coded contradictory ideas. For example, Strauss appears to respect Machiavelli because—as he points out—in contrast to other evil men, Machiavelli openly proclaimed opinions that others only secretly expressed behind closed doors. But we have just noted that Strauss teaches that secrecy is essential to the real philosopher. Strauss concluded, some would say that Machiavelli was after all, a patriot of sorts for he loved Italy more than he loved his own soul. Then Strauss warns, but if you call him a patriot, you “merely obscure something truly evil.”[37] So Strauss dances his way through the Machiavellian field of evil, his steps choreographed with duplicity and it’s opposite. The reader cannot let go.

    In Strauss’s view, Machiavelli sees that Christianity “has led the world into weakness,” which can only be offset by returning the world to the ancient practices of the past. (Implied is not a return to the pagan past, but rather a return to the more virulent world of the Old Testament). Strauss laments, “Machiavelli needed …a detailed discussion revealing the harmony between his political teaching and the teaching of the Bible.” [38]These statements of Strauss, by themselves, were sufficient to send neo-conservative Christians to search for correlations between Machiavellianism, radical conservatism and the scriptures.[39]

    Strauss’s teaching incorporated much of Machiavelli’s. Significantly, his philosophy is unfriendly to democracy—even antagonistic.  At the same time Strauss upheld the necessity for a national religion not because he favored religious practices, but because religion in his view is necessary in order to control the population. Since neo-conservatives influenced by Strauss are in control of the Bush administration, I have prepared a brief list that shows the radical unchristian basis of neo-conservatism. I am indebted to Shadia Drury’s book (Leo Strauss and the American Right) and published interviews for the following:

    First: Strauss believed that a leader had to perpetually deceive the citizens he ruled.

    Secondly: Those who lead must understand there is no morality, there is only the right of the superior to rule the inferior.

    Thirdly:  According to Drury, Religion “is the glue that holds society together.”[40] It is a handle by which the ruler can manipulate the masses. Any religion will do. Strauss is indifferent to them all.

    Fourthly: “Secular society…is the worst possible thing,” because it leads to individualism, liberalism, and relativism, all of which encourage dissent and rebellion. As Drury sums it up: “You want a crowd that you can manipulate like putty.”[41]

    Fifthly: “Strauss thinks that a political order can be stable only if it is united by an external threat; and following Machiavelli, he maintains that if no external threat exists, then one has to be manufactured.”[42]

    Sixthly: “In Strauss’s view, the trouble with liberal society is that it dispenses with noble lies and pious frauds. It tries to found society on secular rational foundations.”

    Strauss’s Student, Harry Jaffa on the 700 Club with Pat Robertson

    For four days in 1986, from July first through the fourth of July, Pat Robertson interviewed neo-conservative Dr. Harry Jaffa, a former student of Leo Strauss, on the 700 Club show. The topic was the importance of the Declaration of Independence. Joining with Jaffa was Robertson’s own man, Herb Titus, the Dean of CBN’s School of Public Policy. This series of interviews was one of the most important philosophical moments in the development of the political agenda and political philosophy of the Dominionists.

    Robertson found in Harry Jaffa, the champion he needed, whose reasoning would influence how the Constitution should be interpreted by conservatives and would provide a “Christian” view of the establishment of the United States that excluded the secular social contract view. Harry Jaffa would influence both Clarence Thomas (who would be appointed to the Supreme Court by President George Bush senior in 1991) and Antonin Scalia (who would be appointed to the Supreme Court by President Ronald Reagan on September 26, 1986).

    During the four days of interviews Jaffa and Titus agreed that the Declaration of Independence was the premier document and it superceded the Constitution. Titus said, “The Declaration…is the charter of the nation. It is what you might call the articles of incorporation, whereas the Constitution is the bylaws. The Constitution is the means by which to carry out the great purposes that are articulated in the Declaration.”

    Robertson asked: “Let’s assume that eighty percent of the people are just totally immoral, they want to live lives of gross licentiousness and they want to prey on one another, that’s what they want and they want a government to let them do it. How does that square with the Declaration of Independence and its consent of the governed?”

    Titus said, “Even the people can’t consent to give away that which God says is unalienable.”

    Robertson then asked, “The principles enunciated in the Declaration of Independence, how far have we gone from it and what can we do to redress some of these problems?”

    Jaffa responded cryptically:

    “I’d say that today, for example in the Attorney General’s [Edwin Meese’s] warfare with the liberals on the Supreme Court, in his appeal to original intent, he appeals to the text of the Constitution. Jefferson and Madison said together in 1825, ‘If you want to find the principles of the Constitution of the United States, you go first to the Declaration of Independence.’”

    First, Jaffa means by the term “original intent” that the Constitution must be interpreted according to what it meant when it was originally adopted. It is a revolutionary and brilliant idea that will allow the Dominionists to effectively repeal most of the judicial decisions made in the last century. [43]  

    econdly, if we take Jaffa and the Dominionists at their word and go to the Declaration of Independence, we can see just how radical the conservative revolution and Dominionism are. The only portion that is ever quoted publicly are these words:

    “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,”

    The quote stops in the middle of the sentence—the part that is never quoted is this:

    That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

    Dominionism then, takes its authority to overthrow the government of the United States from our own Declaration of Independence. By the time all Americans wake up to the Dominionist’s intent, it may be too late.

    Though Harry Jaffa speaks with a high minded sense of political righteousness, Shadia Drury exposes his Machiavellian side. Like Strauss, he “clearly believes that devious and illegal methods are justified when those in power are convinced of the rightness of their ends.”[44] Jaffa and Robertson saw eye to eye on more than one topic: for instance, Jaffa like his host Pat Robertson, found Oliver North to be a hero (and by extension Michael Ledeen) when both North and Ledeen went around the law to provide military aid to the contras.[45]

    Noble lies and perpetual war Leo Strauss, the neo-cons, and Iraq Danny Postel - openDemocracy

    By contrast, Shadia Drury, professor of political theory at the University of Regina in Saskatchewan, argues that the use of deception and manipulation in current US policy flow directly from the doctrines of the political philosopher Leo Strauss (1899-1973). His disciples include Paul Wolfowitz and other neo-conservatives who have driven much of the political agenda of the Bush administration.

    If Shadia Drury is right, then American policy-makers exercise deception with greater coherence than their British allies in Tony Blair’s 10 Downing Street. In the UK, a public inquiry is currently underway into the death of the biological weapons expert David Kelly. A central theme is also whether the government deceived the public, as a BBC reporter suggested.

    The inquiry has documented at least some of the ways the prime minister’s entourage ‘sexed up’ the presentation of intelligence on the Iraqi threat. But few doubt that in terms of their philosophy, if they have one, members of Blair’s staff believe they must be trusted as honest. Any apparent deceptions they may be involved in are for them matters of presentation or ‘spin’: attempts to project an honest gloss when surrounded by a dishonest media.

    The deep influence of Leo Strauss’s ideas on the current architects of US foreign policy has been referred to, if sporadically, in the press (hence an insider witticism about the influence of “Leo-cons”). Christopher Hitchens, an ardent advocate of the war, wrote unashamedly in November 2002 (in an article felicitously titled Machiavelli in Mesopotamia) that:

    “[p]art of the charm of the regime-change argument (from the point of view of its supporters) is that it depends on premises and objectives that cannot, at least by the administration, be publicly avowed. Since Paul Wolfowitz is from the intellectual school of Leo Strauss – and appears in fictional guise as such in Saul Bellow’s novel Ravelstein – one may even suppose that he enjoys this arcane and occluded aspect of the debate.”

    Perhaps no scholar has done as much to illuminate the Strauss phenomenon as Shadia Drury. For fifteen years she has been shining a heat lamp on the Straussians with such books as The Political Ideas of Leo Strauss (1988) and Leo Strauss and the American Right (1997). She is also the author of Alexandre Kojève: the Roots of Postmodern Politics (1994) and Terror and Civilization (forthcoming).

    She argues that the central claims of Straussian thought wield a crucial influence on men of power in the contemporary United States. She elaborates her argument in this interview.

    A natural order of inequality

    Danny Postel: You’ve argued that there is an important connection between the teachings of Leo Strauss and the Bush administration’s selling of the Iraq war. What is that connection?

    Shadia Drury: Leo Strauss was a great believer in the efficacy and usefulness of lies in politics. Public support for the Iraq war rested on lies about Iraq posing an imminent threat to the United States – the business about weapons of mass destruction and a fictitious alliance between al-Qaida and the Iraqi regime. Now that the lies have been exposed, Paul Wolfowitz and others in the war party are denying that these were the real reasons for the war.

    So what were the real reasons? Reorganising the balance of power in the Middle East in favour of Israel? Expanding American hegemony in the Arab world? Possibly. But these reasons would not have been sufficient in themselves to mobilise American support for the war. And the Straussian cabal in the administration realised that.

    Danny Postel: The neo-conservative vision is commonly taken to be about spreading democracy and liberal values globally. And when Strauss is mentioned in the press, he is typically described as a great defender of liberal democracy against totalitarian tyranny. You’ve written, however, that Strauss had a “profound antipathy to both liberalism and democracy.”

    Shadia Drury: The idea that Strauss was a great defender of liberal democracy is laughable. I suppose that Strauss’s disciples consider it a noble lie. Yet many in the media have been gullible enough to believe it.

    How could an admirer of Plato and Nietzsche be a liberal democrat? The ancient philosophers whom Strauss most cherished believed that the unwashed masses were not fit for either truth or liberty, and that giving them these sublime treasures would be like throwing pearls before swine. In contrast to modern political thinkers, the ancients denied that there is any natural right to liberty. Human beings are born neither free nor equal. The natural human condition, they held, is not one of freedom, but of subordination – and in Strauss’s estimation they were right in thinking so.

    Praising the wisdom of the ancients and condemning the folly of the moderns was the whole point of Strauss’s most famous book, Natural Right and History. The cover of the book sports the American Declaration of Independence. But the book is a celebration of nature – not the natural rights of man (as the appearance of the book would lead one to believe) but the natural order of domination and subordination.

    The necessity of lies

    Danny Postel: What is the relevance of Strauss’s interpretation of Plato’s notion of the noble lie?

    Shadia Drury: Strauss rarely spoke in his own name. He wrote as a commentator on the classical texts of political theory. But he was an extremely opinionated and dualistic commentator. The fundamental distinction that pervades and informs all of his work is that between the ancients and the moderns. Strauss divided the history of political thought into two camps: the ancients (like Plato) are wise and wily, whereas the moderns (like Locke and other liberals) are vulgar and foolish. Now, it seems to me eminently fair and reasonable to attribute to Strauss the ideas he attributes to his beloved ancients.

    In Plato’s dialogues, everyone assumes that Socrates is Plato’s mouthpiece. But Strauss argues in his book The City and Man (pp. 74-5, 77, 83-4, 97, 100, 111) that Thrasymachus is Plato’s real mouthpiece (on this point, see also M.F. Burnyeat, “Sphinx without a Secret”, New York Review of Books, 30 May 1985 [paid-for only]). So, we must surmise that Strauss shares the insights of the wise Plato (alias Thrasymachus) that justice is merely the interest of the stronger; that those in power make the rules in their own interests and call it justice.

    Leo Strauss repeatedly defends the political realism of Thrasymachus and Machiavelli (see, for example, his Natural Right and History, p. 106). This view of the world is clearly manifest in the foreign policy of the current administration in the United States.

    A second fundamental belief of Strauss’s ancients has to do with their insistence on the need for secrecy and the necessity of lies. In his book Persecution and the Art of Writing, Strauss outlines why secrecy is necessary. He argues that the wise must conceal their views for two reasons – to spare the people’s feelings and to protect the elite from possible reprisals.

    The people will not be happy to learn that there is only one natural right – the right of the superior to rule over the inferior, the master over the slave, the husband over the wife, and the wise few over the vulgar many. In On Tyranny, Strauss refers to this natural right as the “tyrannical teaching” of his beloved ancients. It is tyrannical in the classic sense of rule above rule or in the absence of law (p. 70).

    Now, the ancients were determined to keep this tyrannical teaching secret because the people are not likely to tolerate the fact that they are intended for subordination; indeed, they may very well turn their resentment against the superior few. Lies are thus necessary to protect the superior few from the persecution of the vulgar many.

    The effect of Strauss’s teaching is to convince his acolytes that they are the natural ruling elite and the persecuted few. And it does not take much intelligence for them to surmise that they are in a situation of great danger, especially in a world devoted to the modern ideas of equal rights and freedoms. Now more than ever, the wise few must proceed cautiously and with circumspection. So, they come to the conclusion that they have a moral justification to lie in order to avoid persecution. Strauss goes so far as to say that dissembling and deception – in effect, a culture of lies – is the peculiar justice of the wise.

    Strauss justifies his position by an appeal to Plato’s concept of the noble lie. But in truth, Strauss has a very impoverished conception of Plato’s noble lie. Plato thought that the noble lie is a story whose details are fictitious; but at the heart of it is a profound truth.

    In the myth of metals, for example, some people have golden souls – meaning that they are more capable of resisting the temptations of power. And these morally trustworthy types are the ones who are most fit to rule. The details are fictitious, but the moral of the story is that not all human beings are morally equal.

    In contrast to this reading of Plato, Strauss thinks that the superiority of the ruling philosophers is an intellectual superiority and not a moral one (Natural Right and History, p. 151). For many commentators who (like Karl Popper) have read Plato as a totalitarian, the logical consequence is to doubt that philosophers can be trusted with political power. Those who read him this way invariably reject him. Strauss is the only interpreter who gives a sinister reading to Plato, and then celebrates him.

    The dialectic of fear and tyranny

    Danny Postel: In the Straussian scheme of things, there are the wise few and the vulgar many. But there is also a third group – the gentlemen. Would you explain how they figure?

    Shadia Drury: There are indeed three types of men: the wise, the gentlemen, and the vulgar. The wise are the lovers of the harsh, unadulterated truth. They are capable of looking into the abyss without fear and trembling. They recognise neither God nor moral imperatives. They are devoted above all else to their own pursuit of the “higher” pleasures, which amount to consorting with their “puppies” or young initiates.

    The second type, the gentlemen, are lovers of honour and glory. They are the most ingratiating towards the conventions of their society – that is, the illusions of the cave. They are true believers in God, honour, and moral imperatives. They are ready and willing to embark on acts of great courage and self-sacrifice at a moment’s notice.

    The third type, the vulgar many, are lovers of wealth and pleasure. They are selfish, slothful, and indolent. They can be inspired to rise above their brutish existence only by fear of impending death or catastrophe.

    Like Plato, Strauss believed that the supreme political ideal is the rule of the wise. But the rule of the wise is unattainable in the real world. Now, according to the conventional wisdom, Plato realised this, and settled for the rule of law. But Strauss did not endorse this solution entirely. Nor did he think that it was Plato’s real solution – Strauss pointed to the “nocturnal council” in Plato’s Laws to illustrate his point.

    The real Platonic solution as understood by Strauss is the covert rule of the wise (see Strauss’s – The Argument and the Action of Plato’s Laws). This covert rule is facilitated by the overwhelming stupidity of the gentlemen. The more gullible and unperceptive they are, the easier it is for the wise to control and manipulate them. Supposedly, Xenophon makes that clear to us.

    For Strauss, the rule of the wise is not about classic conservative values like order, stability, justice, or respect for authority. The rule of the wise is intended as an antidote to modernity. Modernity is the age in which the vulgar many have triumphed. It is the age in which they have come closest to having exactly what their hearts desire – wealth, pleasure, and endless entertainment. But in getting just what they desire, they have unwittingly been reduced to beasts.

    Nowhere is this state of affairs more advanced than in America. And the global reach of American culture threatens to trivialise life and turn it into entertainment. This was as terrifying a spectre for Strauss as it was for Alexandre Kojève and Carl Schmitt.

    This is made clear in Strauss’s exchange with Kojève (reprinted in Strauss’s On Tyranny), and in his commentary on Schmitt’s The Concept of the Political (reprinted in Heinrich Meier, Carl Schmitt and Leo Strauss: The Hidden Dialogue). Kojève lamented the animalisation of man and Schmitt worried about the trivialisation of life. All three of them were convinced that liberal economics would turn life into entertainment and destroy politics; all three understood politics as a conflict between mutually hostile groups willing to fight each other to the death. In short, they all thought that man’s humanity depended on his willingness to rush naked into battle and headlong to his death. Only perpetual war can overturn the modern project, with its emphasis on self-preservation and “creature comforts.” Life can be politicised once more, and man’s humanity can be restored.

    This terrifying vision fits perfectly well with the desire for honour and glory that the neo-conservative gentlemen covet. It also fits very well with the religious sensibilities of gentlemen. The combination of religion and nationalism is the elixir that Strauss advocates as the way to turn natural, relaxed, hedonistic men into devout nationalists willing to fight and die for their God and country.

    I never imagined when I wrote my first book on Strauss that the unscrupulous elite that he elevates would ever come so close to political power, nor that the ominous tyranny of the wise would ever come so close to being realised in the political life of a great nation like the United States. But fear is the greatest ally of tyranny.

    Danny Postel: You’ve described Strauss as a nihilist.

    Shadia Drury: Strauss is a nihilist in the sense that he believes that there is no rational foundation for morality. He is an atheist, and he believes that in the absence of God, morality has no grounding. It’s all about benefiting others and oneself; there is no objective reason for doing so, only rewards and punishments in this life.

    But Strauss is not a nihilist if we mean by the term a denial that there is any truth, a belief that everything is interpretation. He does not deny that there is an independent reality. On the contrary, he thinks that independent reality consists in nature and its “order of rank” – the high and the low, the superior and the inferior. Like Nietzsche, he believes that the history of western civilisation has led to the triumph of the inferior, the rabble – something they both lamented profoundly.

    Danny Postel: This connection is curious, since Strauss is bedevilled by Nietzsche; and one of Strauss’s most famous students, Allan Bloom, fulminates profusely in his book The Closing of the American Mind against the influence of Nietzsche and Martin Heidegger.

    Shadia Drury: Strauss’s criticism of the existentialists, especially Heidegger, is that they tried to elicit an ethic out of the abyss. This was the ethic of resoluteness – choose whatever you like and be loyal to it to the death; its content does not matter. But Strauss’s reaction to moral nihilism was different. Nihilistic philosophers, he believes, should reinvent the Judæo-Christian God, but live like pagan gods themselves – taking pleasure in the games they play with each other as well as the games they play on ordinary mortals.

    The question of nihilism is complicated, but there is no doubt that Strauss’s reading of Plato entails that the philosophers should return to the cave and manipulate the images (in the form of media, magazines, newspapers). They know full well that the line they espouse is mendacious, but they are convinced that theirs are noble lies.

    The intoxication of perpetual war

    Danny Postel: You characterise the outlook of the Bush administration as a kind of realism, in the spirit of Thrasymachus and Machiavelli. But isn’t the real divide within the administration (and on the American right more generally) more complex: between foreign policy realists, who are pragmatists, and neo-conservatives, who see themselves as idealists – even moralists – on a mission to topple tyrants, and therefore in a struggle against realism?

    Shadia Drury: I think that the neo-conservatives are for the most part genuine in wanting to spread the American commercial model of liberal democracy around the globe. They are convinced that it is the best thing, not just for America, but for the world. Naturally, there is a tension between these “idealists” and the more hard-headed realists within the administration.

    I contend that the tensions and conflicts within the current administration reflect the differences between the surface teaching, which is appropriate for gentlemen, and the ‘nocturnal’ or covert teaching, which the philosophers alone are privy to. It is very unlikely for an ideology inspired by a secret teaching to be entirely coherent.

    The issue of nationalism is an example of this. The philosophers, wanting to secure the nation against its external enemies as well as its internal decadence, sloth, pleasure, and consumption, encourage a strong patriotic fervour among the honour-loving gentlemen who wield the reins of power. That strong nationalistic spirit consists in the belief that their nation and its values are the best in the world, and that all other cultures and their values are inferior in comparison.

    Irving Kristol, the father of neo-conservatism and a Strauss disciple, denounced nationalism in a 1973 essay; but in another essay written in 1983, he declared that the foreign policy of neo-conservatism must reflect its nationalist proclivities. A decade on, in a 1993 essay, he claimed that “religion, nationalism, and economic growth are the pillars of neoconservatism.” (See “The Coming ‘Conservative Century’”, in Neoconservatism: the autobiography of an idea, p. 365.)

    In Reflections of a Neoconservative (p. xiii), Kristol wrote that:

    “patriotism springs from love of the nation’s past; nationalism arises out of hope for the nation’s future, distinctive greatness…. Neoconservatives believe… that the goals of American foreign policy must go well beyond a narrow, too literal definition of ‘national security’. It is the national interest of a world power, as this is defined by a sense of national destiny … not a myopic national security”.

    The same sentiment was echoed by the doyen of contemporary Straussianism, Harry Jaffa, when he said that America is the “Zion that will light up all the world.”

    It is easy to see how this sort of thinking can get out of hand, and why hard-headed realists tend to find it naïve if not dangerous.

    But Strauss’s worries about America’s global aspirations are entirely different. Like Heidegger, Schmitt, and Kojève, Strauss would be more concerned that America would succeed in this enterprise than that it would fail. In that case, the “last man” would extinguish all hope for humanity (Nietzsche); the “night of the world” would be at hand (Heidegger); the animalisation of man would be complete (Kojève); and the trivialisation of life would be accomplished (Schmitt). That is what the success of America’s global aspirations meant to them.

    Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History and the Last Man is a popularisation of this viewpoint. It sees the coming catastrophe of American global power as inevitable, and seeks to make the best of a bad situation. It is far from a celebration of American dominance.

    On this perverse view of the world, if America fails to achieve her “national destiny”, and is mired in perpetual war, then all is well. Man’s humanity, defined in terms of struggle to the death, is rescued from extinction. But men like Heidegger, Schmitt, Kojève, and Strauss expect the worst. They expect that the universal spread of the spirit of commerce would soften manners and emasculate man. To my mind, this fascistic glorification of death and violence springs from a profound inability to celebrate life, joy, and the sheer thrill of existence.

    To be clear, Strauss was not as hostile to democracy as he was to liberalism. This is because he recognises that the vulgar masses have numbers on their side, and the sheer power of numbers cannot be completely ignored. Whatever can be done to bring the masses along is legitimate. If you can use democracy to turn the masses against their own liberty, this is a great triumph. It is the sort of tactic that neo-conservatives use consistently, and in some cases very successfully.

    [Feb 16, 2004] Op-Ed Columnist The Five Sisters by By WILLIAM SAFIRE

    WASHINGTON — If one huge corporation controlled both the production and the dissemination of most of our news and entertainment, couldn't it rule the world?

    Can't happen here, you say; America is the land of competition that generates new technology to ensure a diversity of voices. But consider how a supine Congress and a feckless majority of the Federal Communications Commission have been failing to protect our access to a variety of news, views and entertainment.

    The media giant known as Viacom-CBS-MTV just showed us how it controls both content and communication of the sexiest Super Bowl. The five other big sisters that now bestride the world are (1) Murdoch-FoxTV-HarperCollins-WeeklyStandard-NewYorkPost-LondonTimes-DirecTV; (2) G.E.-NBC-Universal-Vivendi; (3) Time-Warner-CNN-AOL; (4) Disney-ABC-ESPN; and (5) the biggest cable company, Comcast.

    As predicted here in an "Office Pool" over two years ago, Comcast has just bid to take over Disney (Ed Bleier, then of Warner Bros., was my prescient source). If the $50 billion deal is successful, the six giants would shrink to five, with Disney-Comcast becoming the biggest.

    Would Rupert Murdoch stand for being merely No. 2? Not on your life. He would take over a competitor, perhaps the Time-Warner-CNN-AOL combine, making him biggest again. Meanwhile, cash-rich Microsoft — which already owns 7 percent of Comcast and is a partner of G.E.'s MSNBC — would swallow both Disney-ABC and G.E.-NBC. Then there would be three, on the way to one.

    You say the U.S. government would never allow that? The Horatius lollygagging at the bridge is the F.C.C.'s Michael Powell, who never met a merger he didn't like. Cowering next to him is General Roundheels at the Bush Justice Department's Pro-Trust Division, which last year waved through Murdoch's takeover of DirecTV. (Joel Klein, Last of the Trustbusters, now teaches school in New York.)

    But what of the Senate, guardian of free speech? There was Powell last week before Chairman John McCain's Commerce Committee, currying favor with cultural conservatives by pretending to be outraged over Janet Jackson's "costume reveal." The F.C.C. chairman, looking stern, pledged "ruthless and rigorous scrutiny" of any Comcast bid to merge Disney-ABC-ESPN into a huge DisCast. Media giants — always willing to agree to cosmetic "restrictions" on their way to amalgamation — chuckled at the notion of a "ruthless Mike."

    McCain's plaintive question to Powell — "Where will it all end?" — is too little, too late. This senatorial apostle of deregulation, who last week called the world's attention to the media concentration that helps subvert democracy in Russia, has been blind to the danger of headlong concentration of media power in America.

    The benumbing euphemism for the newly permitted top-to-bottom information and entertainment control is "vertical integration." In Philadelphia, Comcast not only owns the hometown basketball team, but owns its stadium, owns the cable sports channel televising the games as well as owning the line that brings the signal into Philadelphians' houses. Soon: ESPN, too. Go compete against, or argue with, that head-to-toe control — and then apply that chilling form of integration to cultural events and ultimately to news coverage.

    The reason given by giants to merge with other giants is to compete more efficiently with other enlarging conglomerates. The growing danger, however, is that media giants are becoming fewer as they get bigger. The assurance given is "look at those independent Internet Web sites that compete with us" — but all the largest Web sites are owned by the giants.

    How are the media covering their contraction? (I still construe the word "media" as plural in hopes that McCain will get off his duff and Bush will awaken.) Much of the coverage is "gee-whiz, which personality will be top dog, which investors will profit and which giant will go bust?"

    But the message in this latest potential merger is not about a clash of media megalomaniacs, nor about a conspiracy driven by "special interests." The issue is this: As technology changes, how do we better protect the competition that keeps us free and different?

    You don't have to be a populist to want to stop this rush by ever-fewer entities to dominate both the content and the conduit of what we see and hear and write and say. 

    George Bush and the Treacherous Country  by  Steve Erickson

    t r u t h o u t

    Ideology for both right and left has become an irresistible way of viewing the truth through the prism of philosophical biases. By its nature, ideology not only is at ease with intellectual dishonesty but thrives on it. Liberals with an expansive view of the Bill of Rights suddenly become strict constructionists when it comes to the Second Amendment, citing the maintenance of militias over the amendment’s clear principal concern with protecting the individual from disarmament by the state. Conservatives with an abiding mistrust of civil liberties suddenly become champions of the First Amendment when it has to do with campaign-finance reform and the power of the very rich to influence how others vote. In a confused and weary America where the political center doesn’t have the energy to take control of the most troubling issues of the time, ideology is a power base not so much for ideas — because original thinking is anathema to ideology — but for the passion that electorally moves the great non-ideological unwashed. Thus a debate as ethically, even metaphysically disquieting as the one over abortion, which involves nothing less than the unknowable answer to when humanity begins, is dominated by polar positions that will defend every “life” from the moment of conception and every “choice” up to the moment of birth, and that finally will reject one notion of humanity for another, whether it be that of the mother in whose body the fetus grows, or that of the child whom medical science has proved can now exist after a five-month pregnancy.

         What President Bush translates into ideology isn’t just religious conviction but something more majestic, which is a theocratic psyche. Although he does this because it’s the constitutional deference that must be paid to secularism if the president is to uphold his oath of office, the new right understands what’s really involved. Speaking to NBC’s Tim Russert last fall, one of the new right’s most prominent spokesmen, Fox News Channel’s Bill O’Reilly, put it succinctly: There’s a culture war in America, he said, between the “secularists” and the “traditionalists.” Of course O’Reilly is correct, if not exactly as he defines the terms. As O’Reilly defines the terms, secularists are atheists who want to marry homosexuals and abort pregnancies and remove God and religion from American life. Traditionalists fight to protect the family and the unborn and God Himself, a remarkably vulnerable deity. This conflict has marked the American experience from the beginning, with the New World originally settled by Puritans who had a theocratic social vision, which gave way to an idea of “America” invented 150 years later by secularists who were products of the Enlightenment. Of all the Founding Fathers — who had varying degrees of religious interest — only Samuel Adams was distinctly devout.

    The two presidents most responsible for authoring the American Idea, Thomas Jefferson and, later, Abraham Lincoln, were not Christians in any sense of the word that they or anyone else understood it then or now.

    Noble lies and perpetual war Leo Strauss, the neo-cons, and Iraq

    The necessity of lies

    Danny Postel: What is the relevance of Strauss’s interpretation of Plato’s notion of the noble lie?

    Shadia Drury: Strauss rarely spoke in his own name. He wrote as a commentator on the classical texts of political theory. But he was an extremely opinionated and dualistic commentator. The fundamental distinction that pervades and informs all of his work is that between the ancients and the moderns. Strauss divided the history of political thought into two camps: the ancients (like Plato) are wise and wily, whereas the moderns (like Locke and other liberals) are vulgar and foolish. Now, it seems to me eminently fair and reasonable to attribute to Strauss the ideas he attributes to his beloved ancients.

    In Plato’s dialogues, everyone assumes that Socrates is Plato’s mouthpiece. But Strauss argues in his book The City and Man (pp. 74-5, 77, 83-4, 97, 100, 111) that Thrasymachus is Plato’s real mouthpiece (on this point, see also M.F. Burnyeat, “Sphinx without a Secret”, New York Review of Books, 30 May 1985 [paid-for only]). So, we must surmise that Strauss shares the insights of the wise Plato (alias Thrasymachus) that justice is merely the interest of the stronger; that those in power make the rules in their own interests and call it justice.

    Leo Strauss repeatedly defends the political realism of Thrasymachus and Machiavelli (see, for example, his Natural Right and History, p. 106). This view of the world is clearly manifest in the foreign policy of the current administration in the United States.

    A second fundamental belief of Strauss’s ancients has to do with their insistence on the need for secrecy and the necessity of lies. In his book Persecution and the Art of Writing, Strauss outlines why secrecy is necessary. He argues that the wise must conceal their views for two reasons – to spare the people’s feelings and to protect the elite from possible reprisals.

    The people will not be happy to learn that there is only one natural right – the right of the superior to rule over the inferior, the master over the slave, the husband over the wife, and the wise few over the vulgar many. In On Tyranny, Strauss refers to this natural right as the “tyrannical teaching” of his beloved ancients. It is tyrannical in the classic sense of rule above rule or in the absence of law (p. 70).

    Now, the ancients were determined to keep this tyrannical teaching secret because the people are not likely to tolerate the fact that they are intended for subordination; indeed, they may very well turn their resentment against the superior few. Lies are thus necessary to protect the superior few from the persecution of the vulgar many.

    The effect of Strauss’s teaching is to convince his acolytes that they are the natural ruling elite and the persecuted few. And it does not take much intelligence for them to surmise that they are in a situation of great danger, especially in a world devoted to the modern ideas of equal rights and freedoms. Now more than ever, the wise few must proceed cautiously and with circumspection. So, they come to the conclusion that they have a moral justification to lie in order to avoid persecution. Strauss goes so far as to say that dissembling and deception – in effect, a culture of lies – is the peculiar justice of the wise.

    Strauss justifies his position by an appeal to Plato’s concept of the noble lie. But in truth, Strauss has a very impoverished conception of Plato’s noble lie. Plato thought that the noble lie is a story whose details are fictitious; but at the heart of it is a profound truth.

    In the myth of metals, for example, some people have golden souls – meaning that they are more capable of resisting the temptations of power. And these morally trustworthy types are the ones who are most fit to rule. The details are fictitious, but the moral of the story is that not all human beings are morally equal.

    In contrast to this reading of Plato, Strauss thinks that the superiority of the ruling philosophers is an intellectual superiority and not a moral one (Natural Right and History, p. 151). For many commentators who (like Karl Popper) have read Plato as a totalitarian, the logical consequence is to doubt that philosophers can be trusted with political power. Those who read him this way invariably reject him. Strauss is the only interpreter who gives a sinister reading to Plato, and then celebrates him.

    The dialectic of fear and tyranny

    Danny Postel: In the Straussian scheme of things, there are the wise few and the vulgar many. But there is also a third group – the gentlemen. Would you explain how they figure?

    Shadia Drury: There are indeed three types of men: the wise, the gentlemen, and the vulgar. The wise are the lovers of the harsh, unadulterated truth. They are capable of looking into the abyss without fear and trembling. They recognise neither God nor moral imperatives. They are devoted above all else to their own pursuit of the “higher” pleasures, which amount to consorting with their “puppies” or young initiates.

    The second type, the gentlemen, are lovers of honour and glory. They are the most ingratiating towards the conventions of their society – that is, the illusions of the cave. They are true believers in God, honour, and moral imperatives. They are ready and willing to embark on acts of great courage and self-sacrifice at a moment’s notice.

    The third type, the vulgar many, are lovers of wealth and pleasure. They are selfish, slothful, and indolent. They can be inspired to rise above their brutish existence only by fear of impending death or catastrophe.

    Like Plato, Strauss believed that the supreme political ideal is the rule of the wise. But the rule of the wise is unattainable in the real world. Now, according to the conventional wisdom, Plato realised this, and settled for the rule of law. But Strauss did not endorse this solution entirely. Nor did he think that it was Plato’s real solution – Strauss pointed to the “nocturnal council” in Plato’s Laws to illustrate his point.

    The real Platonic solution as understood by Strauss is the covert rule of the wise (see Strauss’s – The Argument and the Action of Plato’s Laws). This covert rule is facilitated by the overwhelming stupidity of the gentlemen. The more gullible and unperceptive they are, the easier it is for the wise to control and manipulate them. Supposedly, Xenophon makes that clear to us.

    For Strauss, the rule of the wise is not about classic conservative values like order, stability, justice, or respect for authority. The rule of the wise is intended as an antidote to modernity. Modernity is the age in which the vulgar many have triumphed. It is the age in which they have come closest to having exactly what their hearts desire – wealth, pleasure, and endless entertainment. But in getting just what they desire, they have unwittingly been reduced to beasts.

    Nowhere is this state of affairs more advanced than in America. And the global reach of American culture threatens to trivialise life and turn it into entertainment. This was as terrifying a spectre for Strauss as it was for Alexandre Kojève and Carl Schmitt.

    This is made clear in Strauss’s exchange with Kojève (reprinted in Strauss’s On Tyranny), and in his commentary on Schmitt’s The Concept of the Political (reprinted in Heinrich Meier, Carl Schmitt and Leo Strauss: The Hidden Dialogue). Kojève lamented the animalisation of man and Schmitt worried about the trivialisation of life. All three of them were convinced that liberal economics would turn life into entertainment and destroy politics; all three understood politics as a conflict between mutually hostile groups willing to fight each other to the death. In short, they all thought that man’s humanity depended on his willingness to rush naked into battle and headlong to his death. Only perpetual war can overturn the modern project, with its emphasis on self-preservation and “creature comforts.” Life can be politicised once more, and man’s humanity can be restored.

    This terrifying vision fits perfectly well with the desire for honour and glory that the neo-conservative gentlemen covet. It also fits very well with the religious sensibilities of gentlemen. The combination of religion and nationalism is the elixir that Strauss advocates as the way to turn natural, relaxed, hedonistic men into devout nationalists willing to fight and die for their God and country.

    I never imagined when I wrote my first book on Strauss that the unscrupulous elite that he elevates would ever come so close to political power, nor that the ominous tyranny of the wise would ever come so close to being realised in the political life of a great nation like the United States. But fear is the greatest ally of tyranny.

    Danny Postel: You’ve described Strauss as a nihilist.

    Shadia Drury: Strauss is a nihilist in the sense that he believes that there is no rational foundation for morality. He is an atheist, and he believes that in the absence of God, morality has no grounding. It’s all about benefiting others and oneself; there is no objective reason for doing so, only rewards and punishments in this life.

    But Strauss is not a nihilist if we mean by the term a denial that there is any truth, a belief that everything is interpretation. He does not deny that there is an independent reality. On the contrary, he thinks that independent reality consists in nature and its “order of rank” – the high and the low, the superior and the inferior. Like Nietzsche, he believes that the history of western civilisation has led to the triumph of the inferior, the rabble – something they both lamented profoundly.

    Danny Postel: This connection is curious, since Strauss is bedevilled by Nietzsche; and one of Strauss’s most famous students, Allan Bloom, fulminates profusely in his book The Closing of the American Mind against the influence of Nietzsche and Martin Heidegger.

    Shadia Drury: Strauss’s criticism of the existentialists, especially Heidegger, is that they tried to elicit an ethic out of the abyss. This was the ethic of resoluteness – choose whatever you like and be loyal to it to the death; its content does not matter. But Strauss’s reaction to moral nihilism was different. Nihilistic philosophers, he believes, should reinvent the Judæo-Christian God, but live like pagan gods themselves – taking pleasure in the games they play with each other as well as the games they play on ordinary mortals.

    The question of nihilism is complicated, but there is no doubt that Strauss’s reading of Plato entails that the philosophers should return to the cave and manipulate the images (in the form of media, magazines, newspapers). They know full well that the line they espouse is mendacious, but they are convinced that theirs are noble lies.

    The intoxication of perpetual war

    Danny Postel: You characterise the outlook of the Bush administration as a kind of realism, in the spirit of Thrasymachus and Machiavelli. But isn’t the real divide within the administration (and on the American right more generally) more complex: between foreign policy realists, who are pragmatists, and neo-conservatives, who see themselves as idealists – even moralists – on a mission to topple tyrants, and therefore in a struggle against realism?

    Shadia Drury: I think that the neo-conservatives are for the most part genuine in wanting to spread the American commercial model of liberal democracy around the globe. They are convinced that it is the best thing, not just for America, but for the world. Naturally, there is a tension between these “idealists” and the more hard-headed realists within the administration.

    I contend that the tensions and conflicts within the current administration reflect the differences between the surface teaching, which is appropriate for gentlemen, and the ‘nocturnal’ or covert teaching, which the philosophers alone are privy to. It is very unlikely for an ideology inspired by a secret teaching to be entirely coherent.

    The issue of nationalism is an example of this. The philosophers, wanting to secure the nation against its external enemies as well as its internal decadence, sloth, pleasure, and consumption, encourage a strong patriotic fervour among the honour-loving gentlemen who wield the reins of power. That strong nationalistic spirit consists in the belief that their nation and its values are the best in the world, and that all other cultures and their values are inferior in comparison.

    Irving Kristol, the father of neo-conservatism and a Strauss disciple, denounced nationalism in a 1973 essay; but in another essay written in 1983, he declared that the foreign policy of neo-conservatism must reflect its nationalist proclivities. A decade on, in a 1993 essay, he claimed that “religion, nationalism, and economic growth are the pillars of neoconservatism.” (See “The Coming ‘Conservative Century’”, in Neoconservatism: the autobiography of an idea, p. 365.)

    In Reflections of a Neoconservative (p. xiii), Kristol wrote that:

    “patriotism springs from love of the nation’s past; nationalism arises out of hope for the nation’s future, distinctive greatness…. Neoconservatives believe… that the goals of American foreign policy must go well beyond a narrow, too literal definition of ‘national security’. It is the national interest of a world power, as this is defined by a sense of national destiny … not a myopic national security”.

    The same sentiment was echoed by the doyen of contemporary Straussianism, Harry Jaffa, when he said that America is the “Zion that will light up all the world.”

    It is easy to see how this sort of thinking can get out of hand, and why hard-headed realists tend to find it naïve if not dangerous.

    But Strauss’s worries about America’s global aspirations are entirely different. Like Heidegger, Schmitt, and Kojève, Strauss would be more concerned that America would succeed in this enterprise than that it would fail. In that case, the “last man” would extinguish all hope for humanity (Nietzsche); the “night of the world” would be at hand (Heidegger); the animalisation of man would be complete (Kojève); and the trivialisation of life would be accomplished (Schmitt). That is what the success of America’s global aspirations meant to them.

    Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History and the Last Man is a popularisation of this viewpoint. It sees the coming catastrophe of American global power as inevitable, and seeks to make the best of a bad situation. It is far from a celebration of American dominance.

    On this perverse view of the world, if America fails to achieve her “national destiny”, and is mired in perpetual war, then all is well. Man’s humanity, defined in terms of struggle to the death, is rescued from extinction. But men like Heidegger, Schmitt, Kojève, and Strauss expect the worst. They expect that the universal spread of the spirit of commerce would soften manners and emasculate man. To my mind, this fascistic glorification of death and violence springs from a profound inability to celebrate life, joy, and the sheer thrill of existence.

    To be clear, Strauss was not as hostile to democracy as he was to liberalism. This is because he recognises that the vulgar masses have numbers on their side, and the sheer power of numbers cannot be completely ignored. Whatever can be done to bring the masses along is legitimate. If you can use democracy to turn the masses against their own liberty, this is a great triumph. It is the sort of tactic that neo-conservatives use consistently, and in some cases very successfully.

    Among the Straussians

    Danny Postel: Finally, I’d like to ask about your interesting reception among the Straussians. Many of them dismiss your interpretation of Strauss and denounce your work in the most adamant terms (“bizarre splenetic”). Yet one scholar, Laurence Lampert, has reprehended his fellow Straussians for this, writing in his Leo Strauss and Nietzsche that your book The Political Ideas of Leo Strauss “contains many fine skeptical readings of Strauss’s texts and acute insights into Strauss’s real intentions.” Harry Jaffa has even made the provocative suggestion that you might be a “closet Straussian” yourself!

    Shadia Drury: I have been publicly denounced and privately adored. Following the publication of my book The Political Ideas of Leo Strauss in 1988, letters and gifts poured in from Straussian graduate students and professors all over North America – books, dissertations, tapes of Strauss’s Hillel House lectures in Chicago, transcripts of every course he ever taught at the university, and even a personally crafted Owl of Minerva with a letter declaring me a goddess of wisdom! They were amazed that an outsider could have penetrated the secret teaching. They sent me unpublished material marked with clear instructions not to distribute to “suspicious persons”.

    I received letters from graduate students in Toronto, Chicago, Duke, Boston College, Claremont, Fordham, and other Straussian centres of “learning.” One of the students compared his experience in reading my work with “a person lost in the wilderness who suddenly happens on a map.” Some were led to abandon their schools in favour of fresher air; but others were delighted to discover what it was they were supposed to believe in order to belong to the charmed circle of future philosophers and initiates.

    After my first book on Strauss came out, some of the Straussians in Canada dubbed me the “bitch from Calgary.” Of all the titles I hold, that is the one I cherish most. The hostility toward me was understandable. Nothing is more threatening to Strauss and his acolytes than the truth in general and the truth about Strauss in particular. His admirers are determined to conceal the truth about his ideas.

    My intention in writing the book was to express Strauss’s ideas clearly and without obfuscation so that his views could become the subject of philosophical debate and criticism, and not the stuff of feverish conviction. I wanted to smoke the Straussians out of their caves and into the philosophical light of day. But instead of engaging me in philosophical debate, they denied that Strauss stood for any of the ideas I attributed to him.

    Laurence Lampert is the only Straussian to declare valiantly that it is time to stop playing games and to admit that Strauss was indeed a Nietzschean thinker – that it is time to stop the denial and start defending Strauss’s ideas.

    I suspect that Lampert’s honesty is threatening to those among the Straussians who are interested in philosophy but who seek power. There is no doubt that open and candid debate about Strauss is likely to undermine their prospects in Washington.

    Tainted Truth The Manipulation of Fact In America

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    Crossen, a reporter and editor for the Wall Street Journal , asks us to take a hard look at the "facts"--statistics, surveys and medical studies, among others--which inform our decisions as consumers and as citizens. Noting that Americans profess a healthy skepticism about the data that advertisers, politicians and the media throw at them, Crossen argues that we nevertheless tend to let data sway our choices and our opinions because this sort of information often appears to be the most reliable guide we have. But "information," however persuasive, is never neutral, and the purpose of this book is to expose the interests that underlie the "truths" we have come to trust. Particularly disturbing, the author notes, is that scientific and academic research, which has traditionally represented the disinterested pursuit of knowledge, is increasingly underwritten by corporate sponsors seeking to manipulate the results. As Crossen demonstrates, we are neither trained nor inclined to interrogate the methodology behind the production of the facts that pervade our lives. As a result, she warns, we are at grave risk of being perpetually misled. The author urges both tighter controls on the practices of the research industry and greater awareness on the part of the public. Her book is unremittingly cynical, but Crossen's uncovering of deceptions behind the "truth" as we know it suggests that her cynicism is not unfounded.

    The Village Voice Nation Mondo Washington Not-So-Great Debates by James Ridgeway

    ...big news in the presidential campaign over the weekend was press speculation about when Bill Clinton would come out for Wesley Clark. Camped out in New Hampshire, the former NATO commander has become the journalists' Seabiscuit. They have been looking for a person of substance to squash the loose-lipped former Vermont governor Howard Dean, and maybe Clark is the man. If not Clark, then there is John Edwards. He's in the news not because of anything he said or did but because the Des Moines Register, a paper that passes muster with the mainstream journalism community, supports him. The reporters already have decided that Dennis Kucinich, who actually has ideas, isn't worth bothering with because he can't win. "Get Dean" is now, as it ever was, the cry.

    One of the single best ways to restore substance to the presidential election process would be to get the press out of the debate business. As it now stands, reporters frequently track the different candidates on the basis not of content but of the spin they are fed by the different candidates' media consultants. These spin doctors offer Cliffs Notes for reporters, explaining to them what this or that candidate really meant, along with the implications as they see them. Repeated over and over, the spin becomes fact—and the basis for future questioning in town hall meetings and debates. What the citizenry may want to know is lost amid know-it-all questioning by reporters. Debates, which are nominally meant to educate voters, become stripped of any serious meaning and are turned into PR/media circle jerks.

    When the primary season is over, and the general election season begins, the debates are handed over to the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD), an appendage of the Republican and Democratic parties. From 1976 to 1984, presidential debates were managed by the League of Women Voters in a more or less nonpartisan and equitable fashion. Beginning in 1986 the chairmen of the Republican and Democratic parties took control of the debates. Activists who favor fairer and more open debates are irate. "Although the CPD publishes candidate selection criteria and proposes debate formats, questions concerning third-party participation and debate formats are actually resolved by Republican and Democratic negotiators, who draft secret debate contracts behind closed doors," argues George Farah, executive director of Open Debates, which wants to reform the system by setting up a new and fairer scheme. "The CPD executes the directives of the contracts, shielding the major-party candidates from public criticism," Farah wrote in The Philadelphia Inquirer, recalling how Frank Donatelli, debate negotiator for Bob Dole, summarized the process: "The commission throws the party, the commission gets the food, hires the band, but as to who shows up, what the time is and what the dress is, those are the candidates' decisions."

    In 1992, the CPD tooted its own impartiality with a decision to let Ross Perot, an independent candidate, into the debates. That was possible only because George Bush Sr. wanted him included. In 1996, Perot, who had received $30 million in federal funds, was excluded from the debates as the result of a deal between Clinton and Dole—even though some polls showed that as many as three-quarters of likely voters wanted Perot included. "In 2000," Farah wrote, "Ralph Nader and Pat Buchanan were excluded from the presidential debates, although 64 percent of registered voters, according to one poll, wanted them included."

    "The CPD allows the two major-party campaigns to exercise even greater control over the selection of format," says Farah. "Candidates handpick compliant panelists and moderators, prohibit candidate-to-candidate questioning, artificially limit response times, require the screening of town-hall questions, and often ban follow-up questions." Even Bush the Elder no longer likes the system, saying, "It's too much show business and too much prompting, too much artificiality, and not really debates."

    Farah's group wants to lengthen the amount of time a candidate has to reply from the current 90 seconds to 4 1/2 minutes. This would at least cut down on the pre-packaged soundbites. In addition, Open Debates wants the candidates to have a chance to question one another. "This would take the focus off of panelists, moderators, etc., and put it where it belongs: the candidates," says Chris Shaw, a spokesman for the group. "Debates between the candidates without panelist interference would make them more like debates, and less like glorified press conferences." The reformers, he adds, also want to sponsor at least one town hall debate "where audience members ask questions that are not pre-screened, and can ask follow-up questions if the candidates dodge their question the first time around. This change would make the debates more about answering the electorate's questions, and less about answering the media's questions."

    Yahoo! News - THE DECLINE AND FALL OF THE WHITE HOUSE PRESS CORPS

    President Eisenhower cheerfully and deliberately confused reporters. President Kennedy charmed them into seeing things his way. President Nixon tried to destroy them. President Reagan, even more cheerful than Eisenhower, waved them off or pretended not to know what they were asking him. President Carter tried to argue with them, and President Clinton (news - web sites) dazzled them with footwork and complicated dialogues with himself. None of them, with the possible exception of Kennedy, actually liked correspondents, but even he told his men to remember that in the end politicians and the press always go their separate ways.

    Right now they are both doing just that: The White House is going up and the press is going down.

    But -- and this is new -- whatever they thought of the ladies and gentlemen of the press, past presidents all accepted a press role in the democracy. Questions, analysis and commentary -- annoying, of course -- were viewed as informing the public, obviously a legitimate part of democratic governance. The press had an essential role -- checks and balances, yelling that the emperors had no clothes and all that.

    Not now. Not under George W. Bush's administration. And I am not just talking about ignoring phone calls from reporters or classifying every piece of paper they get their hands on. In a remarkable article in the current issue of The New Yorker, Ken Auletta, the resident don of the magazine's "Annals of Communication," has persuaded President Bush (news - web sites) and his media men to articulate the straight skinny: They simply and sincerely, I think, state that they do not accept the "historic role of the press" as surrogate and watchdog of the people. As far as they are concerned, Auletta concludes, the press is simply another "special interest" trying to get something for nothing from government -- salable information in this case.

    "You're making a huge assumption -- that you represent what the public thinks," the president told a reporter who asked him last summer about reports that he did not read newspapers. In case we did not understand what that meant, Andrew Card, the president's chief of staff, told Auletta: "They (the press) don't represent the public any more than other people do. In our democracy, the people who represent the public stand for election. ... I don't believe you have a check-and-balance function."

    Karl Rove, the president's political director, spelled out the "special interest" perception, saying: "He (Bush) has a cagey respect for them -- the press. ... He understands that their job is to do a job. And that's not necessarily to report the news. It's to get a headline or get a story that will make people pay more attention to their magazine, newspaper or television more."

    Some have described the president's relative isolation -- he has held 11 solo press conferences to date, compared with his father's 73 at the same point back in 1992 -- by calling it "Bush's problem with the press." That phrase is backward; it is the press that has a Bush problem. White House correspondents have been reduced to stenographers taking dictation from the press office; their real gripe is that there is not enough dictation. Pathetic, but true.

    Many correspondents have dealt with that situation by taking it easy on the men in power now, trying to win them over by showing how nice they can be in print or on the air. They don't get it. The White House is way ahead of them. Bush has figured out that buttering up the press does not guarantee good coverage; quite the opposite.

    The press still thinks that buttering up the White House -- particularly in coverage of Iraq (news - web sites) and Afghanistan (news - web sites) policy -- will get them more favored treatment. Wrong! All the White House press corps is getting from the people they cover is amused and deserved contempt.

    Santa Monica Mirror Reflections & Observations/Public Media In Decline

    Once upon a time, the airways belonged to the people, but just as in the 19th century the government virtually gave rights-of-way across the continent to railroads and thereby guaranteed great fortunes and great power to a few railroad barons, in the 20th century it ceded the public airways to private broadcasting outfits, guaranteeing great fortunes and extraordinary power to a few media barons who, rather than using the magical medium to inform, educate, enlighten and entertain the American people, turned it into what Federal Communications Commissioner Newton Minow famously called “a vast wasteland.”

     Public television and radio were meant to be antidotes to the wasteland, and, for a while they were, but the divide between public and commercial radio and television has gradually closed. Today, one sees less adventurous programming and more commercials on public television than on some cable channels, and public radio stations are increasingly ratings-driven.

    Al Jerome, who runs Los Angeles’s public TV station, KCET, was recently quoted in the New York Times as blaming the drop in memberships and revenue on the faltering national economy. In fact, as we told Jerome a while ago, the problem is not that the economy is faltering, but that KCET is floundering – uncertain as to what it wants to be, much less what it should be. Its annoying, cloying sloganeering – “infinitely more,” “enlightening strikes,” and so on, its piling on of commercials and its willingness to give prime time to extended infomercials for get-rich-quick/get-thin-quick/get-perfect–quick gurus are all evidence of its decline into mediocrity.

    Meanwhile, KCRW, Santa Monica’s esteemed public radio station known for its creative and original programming, has just got less creative and original, canceling KCRW Playhouse, whose centerpiece was L.A. Theatre Works’ “The Play’s the Thing.” Featuring some of this country’s most talented actors doing notable plays, “The Play’s the Thing” wasn’t simply superb radio drama, it was the only contemporary radio drama series in the nation, and now it’s off the air.

    No question, KCRW runs lots of good programs, but nothing it airs is better or more original than “The Play’s the Thing.” When done well, and L.A. Theatre Works did it superbly, radio drama is nothing less than mesmerizing. Its cancellation by KCRW can only be seen as a giant step back for the station and a major loss for its listeners.

    But even as its programming declines, its pledge drives become more aggressive, demanding more and more money from listeners and offering ever more material rewards -– computers, trips to exotic places, dinners at luxe restaurants, discounts at all sorts of stores, rather than unique and valuable programming.

    Meanwhile, Minnesota Public Radio now owns KPCC, the public radio station in Pasadena, and has cranked up its programming to challenge KCRW’s supremacy in the L.A. market, while the Pacifica radio stations, KPFK in L.A., continue to self-destruct.

    Public radio and television have frequently been attacked by conservatives in Congress and the White House as “radical” or too highbrow for the American people. But if this downward drift continues, the critics can relax –- because public radio and television will soon be indistinguishable from for-profit radio and television.

    Internetcampus.com/Decline in TV News Credibility

    Although TV news has its moments of shinning success, (such as the coverage of the terrorist attacks on the East Coast of the United States in September, 2001,  and the invasion of Iraq in March, 2003), over the last few decades the credibility of TV news in general has been undermined by "bottom line" corporate interests.

    For example:

    • In general, TV news is no longer seen as public interest programming; it's a moneymaking endeavor. As media mergers continue, and Programming Departments and bottom-line business interests take over news operations, TV news has cut back on reporters, writers, videographers, and technicians. In 2001, CBS, ABC, NBC and CNN all announced major staff reductions. Network news  now relies much more on outside sources for news and videotape.
    • Since rating points translate into profits, maximizing audience size is now the driving force behind most TV news.
    • Some local stations do little to cover the fact that in order to boost station ratings, they regularly use their newscasts to promote, or cash in on the popularity of, shows on their network.
    • With the popularity of tabloid TV shows, news values are being distorted and audiences are having a difficult time distinguishing between reality (news) and reenactment (drama). As a result, the line between them has become blurred in the minds of many TV viewers, and the credibility and believability of hard news has diminished.
    • With the emphasis shifting to form over substance, stations tend to favor "news actors" over competent news reporters. This article and the follow-up letter speak to part of this issue.
    • And, finally, since the government controls broadcasting through the FCC, as media conglomerates attempt to change regulations in order to increase their media holdings, they are (1) reluctant to play their role as "watchdogs" if they know it will antagonize those in high government positions, or (2) to publicize their expansion efforts—efforts that they know that much of the public opposes.

    Referring to the news media in general, New York Times columnist Frank Rich says, "...[we have seen] a 20-year trend in which the media...have steadily replaced journalistic standards with those of show business."

    News and Politics

    A study conducted by USC's Annenberg School for Communication and the University of Wisconsin-Madison analyzed newscasts of 122 local TV stations in the nation's largest media markets during the 2002 mid-term elections. They found that the majority of the newscasts at these stations did not contain a single campaign story.

    Of those that did, the average story was 89 seconds long. Most stories that were broadcast just focused on who was ahead in the election. A clear link was found between stations owned by media chains and the absence of local election information.

    It is assumed--generally by newscast consultants hired by the stations--that election news does not help ratings. Of course, ratings are associated with profits. At the same time, political advertising is a major source of revenue for the stations.

    According to the researchers money (profit) is the driving force behind "the deterioration of local news," and it explains why budgets have been cut and personnel reduced. The result has clearly impacted the quality and content of TV news.

    The decline of TV news well documented in Who Killed CBS—The Undoing of America's Number One News Network by the respected author, Peter J. Boyer. In fact, there is little disagreement that TV news in the United States has abandoned its earlier high standards in favor of ratings and corporate profits.


    ...most of the nation's newspapers and magazines and television stations, seeking greater profits through larger audiences, fed the public a diet of crime news, celebrity gossip, and soft features, choosing to exclude more serious topics that news managers feared would not stimulate public attention.

    CNN Journalist Peter Arnett with one
    explanation as to why Americans tend to
    be less informed about world events
    than citizens of many other countries
    .

     

    Serving the Interests of Big Business

    As conglomerates have taken over the major news media outlets -
    • the number of aggressive investigative reports uncovering corporate and U.S. foreign policy wrongdoing—especially when U.S. multinational corporations are involved—has decreased
       
    • the major news outlets a number of reporters and newspaper editors who have won major awards for investigative journalism for uncovering corporate and U.S. foreign policy misfeasance have been fired or "reassigned" when they tried to pursue stories that would have uncovered embarrassing or illegal corporate activities

    In most cases the pressure to not cover specific stories and cover others is never overtly expressed, but subtly tied to such things as promotions, acceptance, and the nature and desirability of future assignments.

    At the same time, most aggressive investigative reporters admit that they can get controversial stories on the air—as long as they "pick their battles" and tread lightly. Thus, it comes down to the number of stories that air and their content.

    Reporters, especially at the network level, often complain that "touchy" elements of their stories are deleted. Although this is often because of legal concerns, these deletions have been especially evident in the coverage of U.S. military actions around the world that impact U.S. multinational corporations. It may or may not be relevant that two of the three network media conglomerates receive a major share of their corporate profits from military contracts.

    Added to all of this is a new form of censorship—the threat of litigation. Defending a libel case averages well over $250,000.

    Although a newspaper or TV station may clearly have truth on their side, having to spend this kind of money proving the point in court has caused more than one news organization to back off of an important story. All it may take is one party saying, "if you run that I'll sue you!"

    The power U.S. companies originally had over cigarette related stories at ABC and CBS represents the most notable example. This is dramatically presented in the award-winning film, The Insider, which is well worth renting.

    With the ever-increasing emphasis on profits, a court case will not only impact the bottom line, but, at the same time, it can create enemies in a corporate and political circles.

    In short, many ask: "Why risk it?"

    Archive for Skeptic Bulletin 2003



    Etc

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    Vol 25, No.12 (December, 2013) Rational Fools vs. Efficient Crooks The efficient markets hypothesis : Political Skeptic Bulletin, 2013 : Unemployment Bulletin, 2010 :  Vol 23, No.10 (October, 2011) An observation about corporate security departments : Slightly Skeptical Euromaydan Chronicles, June 2014 : Greenspan legacy bulletin, 2008 : Vol 25, No.10 (October, 2013) Cryptolocker Trojan (Win32/Crilock.A) : Vol 25, No.08 (August, 2013) Cloud providers as intelligence collection hubs : Financial Humor Bulletin, 2010 : Inequality Bulletin, 2009 : Financial Humor Bulletin, 2008 : Copyleft Problems Bulletin, 2004 : Financial Humor Bulletin, 2011 : Energy Bulletin, 2010 : Malware Protection Bulletin, 2010 : Vol 26, No.1 (January, 2013) Object-Oriented Cult : Political Skeptic Bulletin, 2011 : Vol 23, No.11 (November, 2011) Softpanorama classification of sysadmin horror stories : Vol 25, No.05 (May, 2013) Corporate bullshit as a communication method  : Vol 25, No.06 (June, 2013) A Note on the Relationship of Brooks Law and Conway Law

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