Joseph A. Califano, Jr. was born in 1931 in Brooklyn, New York, to a working class family. He received a Jesuit education at Brooklyn Prep and Holy Cross, where he graduated in 1952. Following graduation from Harvard Law School in 1955, Mr. Califano then served as a lawyer in the Navy, which he subsequently left to join a Wall Street law firm.
Inspired by the Catholic Workers movement, Joseph Califano joined the Kennedy Administration and worked to reorganize the Pentagon with civilians. Joe Califano described "an air of invincibility" in "imposing hands-on civilian control on the military." Following that he moved into the civil rights movement, determined to change American culture by changing peoples' beliefs and emotions.
Mr. Califano then moved back to the much more lucrative private practice of law, where in defending the Washington Post, he says he was on a "crusade to save Democracy."
In 1976, Joseph Califano became Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW) under Jimmy Carter. However, within three years President Carter was forced to fire him largely because Califano's "blunt, high-profile, self-promoting approach cost Carter too many political allies.” 1
After being fired, Joseph Califano started his own law firm and used his political contacts to generate business and revenue.
In 1992, Califano solicited millions of dollars in contributions to set up the Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA). He later changed the name to the more prestigious National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University.
Joe Califano is "a very well-funded prohibitionist propagandist."
Mr. Califano says that because Columbia University refused to provide any funding for his new organization, it would stand-alone and not be part of or affiliated with any school at the University.
Apparently not a single person at CASA holds a faculty position at Columbia University. Professor Craig Reinarman, a noted UC Santa Cruz sociologist objects to the fact that Joseph Califano is "not playing by the same rules that all other faculty and research centers have to play by." Reinarman's advice to Joe Califano: "Don't pretend you're a Columbia University scholar when you're not." 2
Although Joe Califano is neither a scientist nor a scholar, his former political position as head of HEW nevertheless gives him credibility when he presents his organization's reports and recommendations.
Joseph Califano explains in his autobiography that the stand-alone status of CASA was helpful because he planned the organization to me more activist than scholarly. The proactive nature of CASA is understandable. Mr. Califano says he felt that he was on a genuine religious mission, explaining that "for me, establishing and building CASA and committing myself to this battle against substance abuse was doing the Lord's work." 3 Activism rather than research is more characteristic of religious missions.
On the other hand, many religious people might not associate the deception Joseph Califano describes in fund raising for CASA to be consistent with doing the Lord's work. Nor is the political correctness Mr. Califano admittedly used in creating his CASA's board of directors necessarily consistent with religious integrity. 4
From the beginning, Joseph Califano and his CASA have produced a series of political reports presented to the press as scientific studies. Report after report from CASA is subsequently found to be full of erroneous assertions, faulty data and misleading conclusions. The errors are so frequent and so serious as to destroy the credibility of Mr. Califano and his operation.
Describing one enormous "error," Dr. Dwight Heath, a leading alcohol researcher, emphasized that
That big an error cannot be easily dismissed as merely a careless oversight, especially when it was the focus of (Joe Califano and CASA's) own press release. Either Califano and the staff at CASA are so naive about social surveys and demography that they have no business pretending to do scientific research on them, or it was intentional misrepresentation -- or both. 5
CASA virtually always refuses to submit its reports to peer review, which is contrary to the way real science operates. In peer review, an editor or other neutral person submits the report to a number of peer experts in the subject of the research. These authorities read the report to determine if it meets the minimum standards for research. By examining the adequacy of the research methods, the statistical analyses performed, the logic of the analysis, and other essential criteria, approval by peer experts reduces the chances that the findings are erroneous.
Peer review is fundamental to science. Without it, there is absolutely no reason to have any confidence in the findings of a report. Peer review is the major mechanism science uses to maintain quality control. It's a fundamental defense against incompetence, quackery, pseudo-science, and downright dishonesty.
Joe Califano is a "researcher" drunk with power, but "there's no excuse for political activism masquerading as science."
Without peer review, a political report full of erroneous and misleading statistics can be passed off to the public as a scientific report. That's exactly what Califano and CASA do.
Even though major “errors” in Califano’s reports are repeatedly exposed, he has never retracted a single one. Indeed, in one case he had been alerted a day before releasing a report that it contained false information but he went ahead and issued the without any correction. Califano and his staff has been described as "serial abusers of statistics of self-serving, sensationalistic propaganda." 6 One observer said "It looks like Mr. Califano and CASA have adopted Enron's accounting practices." 7
Understandably, scientists who study alcohol and drugs are often unabashed in their condemnation of Joe Califano and his CASA. Scholars have a lot of negative things to say, "some of it unprintable." 8
Writer Christopher Shea describes Califano as the scourge of anyone who dares to disagree with him. His fervor makes Califano see things in black or white and indifferent to scientific evidence. His intolerance and closed-mindedness can be seen in Shea's interview with him:
Should a 45-year-old, I asked, have the right to light up a joint on his back porch with no one around? He cut me off before I could get it out. "Should a 45-year-old have the right to shoot heroin in his backyard?" he barked. "Should a 45-year- old have the right to, you know, snort cocaine in his backyard? Should a 45-year-old have the right to put a bullet through his head? Okay? 9
By consistently exaggerating the nature and extent of alcohol and drug abuse, Joseph Califano and his CASA reduce the credibility of legitimate research on those topics.
An additional problem is that exaggerating the use of alcohol and drugs actually increases their use. For example, when young people go away to college they generally believe that the incidence of drinking and of heavy drinking is much higher than it really is. In order to fit in, they tend to try to conform to this inflated perception of what other students are doing.
Therefore, by consistently exaggerating the extent of drinking and of alcohol abuse, Califano and CASA actually contribute to the problem. In short, Joe Califano and his CASA are a very big part of the problem rather than the solution.
Although Joe Califano seems to believe that he is morally superior to others, not everyone agrees. The U.S. Congress brought contempt proceedings against him, as reported in Contempt Proceedings against Secretary of HEW, Joseph A. Califano, Jr. 10 Similarly, the New York State Legislature passed legislation specifically barring Califano from the state's Commission on Ethics. 11 These don't appear to be votes of confidence in Califano's supposed moral superiority.
But that's not all. Although Califano had the advantage of a rigorous Jesuit education, says his worldview as a good Catholic is pervaded by the concept of doing God's will, and he decries the immorality of others, he divorced his first wife, with whom he had three children, and has remarried. 12
Califano stresses his education in logic, yet repeatedly promotes the illogical. He insists on promoting alcohol as a "gateway" drug, in spite of all the empirical evidence to the contrary. He also insists on drawing the conclusion that, because people who drink at a very young age tend to have a higher rate of alcohol-related problems later, simply preventing young people from drinking would prevent them from developing alcohol-related problems later. He sometimes insists that evidence is irrelevant if it is inconsistent with his beliefs. After reading material written by Califano, a leading scientist said "This man is insane." 13
Although Joe Califano seems to have an exalted self-concept, many view his integrity and actions less favorably. Books by Chris Matthews of TV's "Hardball," Katherine Graham, publisher of The Washington Post, and many others describe Joseph Califano as a person who, among other things, has humiliated his staff, used poor judgment, distorted facts, been manipulative and insulted the intelligence of others. 14
There's also the matter of repeated insider trading. 15
It appears that the good Jesuits failed utterly in their efforts to create a morally superior Joe Califano. They might be appalled to see that he seems to have become a follower of situational ethics who believes that the end justifies the means.
The bright spot for Joe Califano is that he enjoys a lucrative position as head of the operation he created. Not bad for a working-class kid from Brooklyn.
"CASA has long been noted for its scare-mongering" and "the group's work is obviously driven by the prohibitionist agenda of Califano."
"Joseph Califano is notorious as an inveterate liar" and his "Center for Addictions and Substance Abuse specializes in pseudo science."
"CASA researchers have their work cut out for them in dispelling the myths spread by their own director, Joseph A. Califano."
"Mr. Califano's most recent antics have consolidated a hard won reputation for fearlessly bringing politics into scientific research and shrugging off standard research processes in favor of rules of the pit."
Joe Califano is guilty of "McCarthyism" that's "as rotten and dangerous as the original McCarthyism."
"Using Mr. Califano's false logic, I can prove with statistical precision that eating bread leads to a life of crime."
"The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SMSHA) has rejected the results put forth earlier today by Joseph Califano and his organization, Center for Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA)."
"It is too bad that Joseph Califano inflated the statistics pertaining to underage drinking" (by well over 100%).
"The study does not show the epidemic Califano warned us of."
"Mr. Califano's article is an amazing exercise in chutzpa."
"Mr. Califano, it seems, is an ex-bureaucrat in search of a mission -- and there's nothing more dangerous than a Don Quixote looking for windmills to tilt at.”
This is the personal web site of Dr. David J. Hanson, who has received no financial support or other consideration from any agency, company, organization, group or person to post or maintain it.