Ignorance and Credibility in the Drug War Reform Movement

I read a recent comment posted by a reader which really got me thinking about an issue that has been discussed here previously. Basically, this reader's comments about the War on Drugs seemed reasonable but when he started talking making comparisons to other political issues he betrayed himself an utter ignoramus (like on a G.W. Bush level). I have met other people of the same variety in real life -- i.e. was pleased when I found out that out similar drug reform sympathies as myself but then when I heard them talk more or about something else (or even sometimes their inability to explain their own views and/or why they are against the status quo). Basically, if they are talking about what is going on with the War on Drugs they sound somewhat smart and even decently well-read, but as soon as anything else comes up in the discussion I can't help but begin to worry about the deplorable state of public education in the U.S.

I know that the drug reform movement has always had a credibility problem and that's one reason why many of us are such big supporters of LEAP (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition). But I just can't escape the negative feelings that this user's post gave me, because it reminded me of a reaction I'd had before when I'd heard irresponsible drug-users or the just plain irresponsible/dull share my views about prohibition -- it increased my appreciation of where those crazy prohibitionists are coming from.

Flip Mode: 

The title of this piece got me thinking about the flip side of ignorance and credibility in drug reform: research which maintains mainstream credibility despite having little academic credibility.  Specifically CASA -- 'National' Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse 'at Columbia.' and its chairman, Joe Califano -- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joe_Califano.   According to alcohol abuse expert Dr. Hanson (SUNY Potsdam), "The driving force behind CASA is Joe Califano, Jr., who was Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare under Jimmy Carter...Although Califano is not a scientist, his former political position nevertheless gives him credibility when he presents his organization's reports and recommendations."

Califano is described by many critics as misguided by his anti-drug fanaticism, and he is envied for his first-rate political and corporate connections. According to Shea, writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education, "If you've heard that marijuana is a "gateway drug" that opens the door to cocaine and heroin, that's CASA and Califano. If you've read that marijuana is far more harmful now than it was when Al Gore, Newt Gingrich, and other politicians dabbled with it -- so deadly that it should now be considered a "hard drug" -- that's probably because of Califano."  Shea, describes Califano as a "former heavyweight Washington lawyer and adviser to two presidents, now reborn as the scourge of drugs -- and of anyone who dares to disagree with him."  Califano is a public relations expert who releases -- reportedly manipulated and/or fabricated -- statistics and sensationalized press releases always in "crisis mode," the same way the government releases statistics.  "When politicians or journalists need information about drugs, they often turn to a university-based 'expert' who is certain where others are cautious and who compares drug policies he dislikes to 'playing Russian roulette with our children.' The expert is Joe Califano." 

Califano has this huge institution with generous corporate backings from which to propagate his seemingly biased research agenda.  Apparently, CASA has some nebulous peer-review policy whereby only some of their research is subject to peer review or review by a funding source but the primary source of most of the apparent disinformation, op-ed review articles and press releases, are not subjected to these rigorous processes that are standard in academia.  It does seem a little far-fetched to be able to peer-review every op-ed article, but at the same time it is incredibly irresponsible for Califano to abuse his post by polemicizing and advancing his agenda through presenting questionable claims or manipulated data, as if he is a researcher or his data has gone through the rigors of the scientific process. 

CASA's legitimacy as a scientific research institution was also apparently questioned by the Columbia University's NORML branch. According to the CU NOMRL President at the time, "[CASA] is a political advocacy organization which says it is a research group, but they don't peer review their research. Their research is suspect and open to criticism that it should have received  before ever being published...You can buy internally published reports from them. That internally published research is then sent off to influential people and passed off as Columbia University studies. As college students, we are concerned about the academic integrity of our institution."

CU's Faculty Senate dismissed the NORML chapter's concerns because they were a political advocacy group inclined to take issue with CASA's work.  I haven't found out if anything else has happened at Columbia since this brouhaha (1999).  I am really interested to learn more about this Joe Califano character and I will be doing some more research on him in the next couple weeks.  I would really like to know where this guy gets his motivation -- I mean obviously he is lining his pockets and he feels he is doing good (in the religious sense).  More precisely, I guess I mean I would like to try to understand why/how he acquired this ridiculous, radical drugs-rob-you-of-your-humanity perspective -- in other words how he justifies how his views differ from those of a moderate harm reductionist. 




CASA Official Site:  http://www.casacolumbia.org/absolutenm/templates/Home.aspx?articleid=287...

Joe Califano:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joe_Califano.  

Center On Addiction And Substance Abuse: A Center for Alcohol Statistics Abuse?  By David J. Hanson, Ph.D.

Hanson's Bio:  http://www2.potsdam.edu/hansondj/AboutYourHost.html


Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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Califano's Credibility

I have heard a number of interviews with Califano by otherwise apparently thoughtful and sane journalists (Charlie Rose and Diane Rehm to name the two that come to mind). It is really disgusting and disturbing how these people faun over him, fail to questions any of his assumptions and treat him as if: 1) he is actually any kind of expert in the field and 2) his is the final word on the subject and we should all be as bat shit insane as he is because of the horrible threat to "the children".

Yeah it is frustrating that

Yeah it is frustrating that the news media often has no interest in serving it's purported purposes...

I would really like to talk to a guy like Califano and try to understand where he got all these crazy ideas that alcohol/intoxicants are somehow intrinsically evil. I'd like to pick his brain because I do agree with many of his premises on very narrow grounds -- i.e. I respect the things he has said about nobody in government standing up to tobacco companies, and even when he argued that if we wanted to reduce binge drinking at college campuses we should tax beer.

From everything I've read, the true religious position of temperance champions temperance not abstinence, which is the generally the position that every "temperance" group advances.

In Saying Yes, Sullum traces many of these religious ideals and how they got perverted. He talks a lot about the ritual use of alcohol in Judaism, such as for Yom Kippur (or one of the other important Jewish holidays).


I know only what I've read but have little time for Joe Califano

[email protected] Vancouver,B.C. Canada While it's true that a lot of people,because of their environment or upbrining,come off poorly.That proves the education system didn't reach or hold them.The same excuses cannot be said for the proponents of the war on drugs.Rabid anti drug people like Califano are either avoiding the origins of drug laws,avoiding the reasons for their tightening or don't feel that being of racist origin is a bad thing. I hesitate to attack a man I've heard so little about till I read his thoughts and deeds.He's welcom to read mine and debate me at a time of his choosing.I have a mac so we could set up a conversation.I've never spoken with one of them that had an answer to a basic question.In the mean time,part of the sites job is to give EVERYBODY that needs to rant,a platdorm on which to do it.Don't knock people that weren't as lucky as you at birth.I've bitten my toungue more than once but the person was obviously at the end of their rope and needed a place to purge.

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