Joseph Califano Biography

by David J. Hanson, Ph.D.

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."

Richard Cowen, writer. 16

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."

Matt Continetti, reporter. 18

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.

Apparent Problems with Ethics and Honesty

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.


  • 1. Shea, C. Thou Shalt Not: Once a Presidential Adviser and Legal Heavyweight, Joe Califano Now Is Thundering Against Drugs. And Woe Be to Those Who Doubt His Data or Get in His Way. Washingtonian Magazine, October, 1998.
  • 2. Lewin, T. Teenage Drinking a Problem But Not in Way Study Says. New York Times, February 27, 2002, A-19; Center for Consumer Freedom, "National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse"
  • 3. Califano, Jr., Joseph A. Inside. NY: Public Affairs, 2004, p. 464.
  • 4. Califano, Jr., Joseph A. Inside. NY: Public Affairs, 2004, p. 464.
  • 5. Heath D. B. A Big Lie about Youthful Drinking. The Providence (Rhode Island) Journal, April 12, 2002, B6. If Joseph Califano is correct in his assertion that "we have here at CASA the brightest group of people that have been ever put under one roof on this planet to deal with this problem," then it would appear that the "errors" are most probably intentional misrepresentations. Or in ordinary language, Joseph Califano and his CASA are almost certainly lying. (Shea, C. Thou Shalt Not: Once a Presidential Adviser and Legal Heavyweight, Joe Califano Now is Thundering Against Drugs. And Woe Be to Those Who Doubt His Data or Get in His Way. Washingtonian Magazine, October, 1998).
  • 6. Pollack, H. and Reuther, P. Myths about drugs and welfare. Washington Post, 11-1-02, p. A21.
  • 7. Forman, C. "Send back the clowns," Beverage Dynamics, May/June, 2003.
  • 8. Shea, C. In drug-policy debates, a center at Columbia U. takes a hard line. Chronicle of Higher Education, 1997, 44(6), A15-17.
  • 9. Shea, C. Thou Shalt Not: Once a Presidential Adviser and Legal Heavyweight, Joe Califano Now Is Thundering Against Drugs. And Woe Be to Those Who Doubt His Data or Get in His Way. Washingtonian Magazine, October, 1998.
  • 10. United States Congress. House Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce. Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. Contempt Proceedings against Secretary of HEW, Joseph A. Califano, Jr. Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1979.
  • 11. Cuomo to Sign Bill Barring Califano. New York Times, 1987 (April 11), 136, p. 9(N), p. 29(L), col 2.
  • 12. Joseph Califano. Inside: A Public and Private Life. NY: Public Affairs, 2004.
  • 13. Reinarman, C. The drug policy debate in Europe: The case of Califano vs. The Netherlands. International Journal of Drug Policy, 1997, 8(3), ref. #13.
  • 14. See, for example, Matthews, Chris. Hardball: How Politics is Played by One who Knows the Game. NY: Free Press, 1999; Graham, Katherine. Personal History. NY: Vintage, 1998; Dobbs, M. Madeline Albright: A Twentieth-Century Odyssey. NY: Owl Books, 2000 Glassner, B. The Culture of Fear: Why Americans are Afraid of the Wrong Things. NY: Basic Books, 2000; Greider, W. Who Will Tell the People? The Betrayal of American Democracy. NY: Simon & Schuster, 1993; Keller, G. Academic Strategy. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1983; Elder, L. The Ten Things You Can't Say in America. NY: St. Martin's Press, 2003; Petras, R., and Petras, K. The 776 Stupidist Things Ever Said. Honesdale, PA: Main Street Books, 2003; Felsenthan, C. Power, Privilege and the Post. NY: Seven Stories Press, 1999; Tobias, S. Faces of Feminism. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1998; Stengel., R. You're Too Kind: A Brief History of Flattery. Touchstone Books, 2002; Kling, R. (ed.) Computerization and Controversy: Value Conflicts and Social Choices. San Francisco, CA: Morgan Kaufmann, 1996; Liddy, G. Will: The Autobiography of G. Gordon Liddy. NY: St. Martin's Press, 1991; Argyris, C. Knowledge for Action. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 1993; Frum, D. How We Got Here: The 70s. NY: Basic Books, 2000;Veradian, P. This is Alcohol. Selah, WA: Sanctuary Publishing, 2002; Stone, O., and Sklar, Z. JFK: The Book of the Film. NY: Applause Books, 1992; Gostin, L., and Gostin, L. Public Health Laws: Power, Duty, Restraint. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2001; Carpenter, T. Bad Neighbor Policy. NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003. One high-placed official even described Joe Califano as "a silly ass," not exactly a vote of confidence.
  • 15. Insider and Form 144 Filings - Califano, Joseph A. Jr. (Automated Data Processing, Inc.) and Insider and Form 144 Filings - Califano, Joseph A. Jr. (Citigroup, Inc.)
  • 16. Cowen, R. Richard Cowen's critique of 'High on a Lie.' Media Awareness Project, www.mapinc/org/drugnews/v98/n226/a01.html?173, 3-29-98.
  • 17. Bandow, D. Junk Science, Redux,, 3-13-02
  • 18. Continetti, N. A 'researcher' drunk with power, 3-6-02.
  • 19.
  • 20. Pollack, H. and Reuther, P. Myths about drugs and welfare. Washington Post, 11-1-02, p. A21.
  • 21. Forman, C. "Send back the clowns," Beverage Dynamics, May/June, 2003.
  • 22. Shea, C. Thou shalt not: Once a presidential adviser and legal heavyweight, Joe Califano now is thundering against drugs, and woe to those who doubt his data or get in his way. Washingtonian, October, 1998.
  • 23. Shea, C. Thou shalt not: Once a presidential adviser and legal heavyweight, Joe Califano now is thundering against drugs, and woe to those who doubt his data or get in his way. Washingtonian, October, 1998.
  • 24. Business Wire. Government Agency roundly rejects CASA report on underage drinking. Business Wire press release, 2-26-02.
  • 25. Growing problem of teen drinking (editorial), Chicago Daily Herald, 2-29-02, p. 10.
  • 26. Murray, I. Recent research suggests.... United Press International, 9-5-02.
  • 27. Anderson, F.R. Change, law and curriculum reform. American University Law Review, April, 1996
  • 28. Califano's drinking "crisis" (editorial), Washington Times, 3-1-02, p. A20.
Publications by Joseph A. Califano, Jr.
  • Joseph Califano. Inside: A Public and Private Life. NY: Public Affairs, 2004.
  • Joseph Califano. Drinking is a Serious Health Problem for Teens. In: Karen Balkin (Ed.) Alcohol: Opposing Viewpoints. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven, 2004.
  • Joseph Califano. Marijuana is a Gateway Drug. In Roman Espijo (Ed.) Drug Abuse.San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press, 2002. In the same book, the National Institute of Medicine published a chapter titled Marijuana Use Does Not Lead to Harder Drugs, which is based on the available scientific evidence.
  • Joseph Califano. Substance Abuse is Responsible for Child Abuse. In: Brian J. Grapes (Ed.) Child Abuse. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven, 2001.
  • Joseph Califano. State Medical Marijuana Laws Should be Opposed. In: Scott Barbour (Ed.) Drug Legislation. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven, 2000.
  • Joseph Califano. Winning at Any Cost: Doping in Olympic Sports. NY: Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, 2000.
  • Joseph Califano. The 1998 CASA National Survey of Teens, Teachers and Principals. NY: Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, 1998.
  • Joseph Califano. Radical Surgery: What's Next for America's Health Care? NY Times Books, 1994.
  • Joseph Califano. Foreword. In: Stanley Fisch (ed.) Securing Peace in the Middle East. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1994.
  • Joseph Califano. The Triumph & Tragedy of Lyndon Johnson: The White House Years. NY: Simon & Schuster, 1991.
  • Joseph Califano. Afterword. In: Timothy M. Rivinus (Ed.) Alcoholism/Chemical Dependency and the College Student. NY: Haworth, 1988.
  • Joseph Califano. America's Health Care Revolution: Who Lives? Who Dies? Who Pays? NY Random House, 1986.
  • Joseph Califano. Report of the Mayors Committee on Smoking and Health. NY: Mayors Commission on Smoking and Health, 1986.
  • Joseph Califano. Abortion. In: Amy Guttmann and Dennis F. Thompson (Eds.) Ethics and Politics. Chicago: Nelson-Hall, 1984.
  • Migs Woodside and Joseph Califano. Children of Alcoholics. Albany, NY: NY State Division of Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse, 1982.
  • Joseph Califano. The 1982 Report on Drug Abuse and Alcoholism. NY: Warner, 1982.
  • Joseph Califano. Governing America. NY: Simon & Schuster, 1981.
  • Joseph Califano. Introduction. In: Richard E. Neustadt and Harvey V. Fineberg (Eds.) The Swine Flu Affair. Washington: U.S. Department of health, Education and Welfare, 1978.
  • Howard Simons and Joseph Califano. The Media and the Law, Westport, CT: Praeger, 1976.
  • Joseph Califano. The Business Lawyer. In: Ralph Nader and Mark J. Green (Eds.) Verdicts on Lawyers. NY: Crowell, 1976.
  • Joseph Califano. A Presidential Nation. NY: Norton, 1975.
  • Joseph Califano. The Student Revolution: A Global Confrontation. NY: Norton, 1970.