Joe Califano and his Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA)

by David J. Hanson, Ph.D.

Joseph A. Califano, Jr. has described his creation of the Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA), now called the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, in his autobiography. 1

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. However, he explains 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. 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.” 2 Activism rather than research is more characteristic of religious missions.

On the other hand, readers might not associate the deception Califano describes in fund raising for CASA to be consistent with doing the Lord’s work. Nor is the political correctness Califano admittedly used in creating CASA’s board of directors necessarily consistent with religious integrity.

CASA’s “Science”

The Center for Consumer Freedom emphasizes that CASA has virtually always refused to submit its reports to peer review, which is not 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.

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 CASA does. Here are some examples:

College Student Drinking

When CASA released a political report called Rethinking Rites of Passage: Substance Abuse on American Campuses, Joe Califano called a press conference and passed it off as a research study. 3 Assertions in the press release prompted headlines such as "College Students Wade Deeper Into Sea of Booze" and "Students Majoring in Binging." On national television programs, Califano reported horror stories of alcohol abuse among college students, associating it with assault, rape, and even murder.

The CASA report asserted that

"60 percent of college women who have acquired sexually transmitted diseases, including AIDS and genital herpes, were under the influence of alcohol at the time they had intercourse."

"90 percent of all reported campus rapes occur when alcohol is being used by either the assailant or the victim."

"The number of women who reported drinking to get drunk more than tripled " within a recent 16 year period."

"95 percent of violent crime on campus is alcohol-related."

These are disturbing statistics. But don’t worry. Not a single one is supported by the facts!

After reporter Kathy McNamara-Meis investigated, she concluded that the "news" that 60% of college women who contracted sexually transmitted diseases did so while under the influence of alcohol "appears to have been pulled from thin air." 4 What about the assertion that 90% of all campus rapes occur when alcohol is being used? CASA's director of research "couldn't remember" the source of the statistic, and after exhaustively searching the published research on rape, McNamara-Meis was force to conclude that "there is none." 5 And the three-fold increase in college women drinking to get drunk" over a 15-year period? It was a most dubious figure, inconsistent with all nation-wide studies conducted over that time period and was based on an inadequate survey limited to a few colleges in only one state. While the CASA report presented this highly suspect statistic as fact, it failed to mention that the study also found stability in the proportion of frequent heavy drinkers and an 11 percent increase in abstainers! But those findings were not consistent with its doomsday scenario. The assertion that 95% of violent crime on campus is alcohol-related is also highly suspect. It was based on an estimate that 95% of such crimes are alcohol or drug-related. But the CASA report falsely and deceptively presented it as a fact referring only to alcohol. 6 Neither Califano nor CASA has ever acknowledged or retracted these erroneous assertions.

Women Receiving Public Assistance

CASA then prepared and heavily publicized a report asserting that more than one in four women (27%) who receive welfare are alcohol or drug abusers. This is a disturbing statistic and Califano called for strong action. But again, don‘t worry. The real statistic as reported by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the original source of the figure, was 4.5 percent. So Califano and CASA over-reported the true figure by 600 percent! Neither Califano nor CASA ever acknowledged or retracted this erroneous assertion. Indeed, Califano used another press release to repeat the bogus statistic that the proportion of college women who drank to get drunk had tripled! 7

The Department of Health and Human Services also objected to other problems, asserting that "The CASA study is seriously flawed." For example, by CASA's overly broad definition, any adult who consumed at least five drinks on an occasion twice in a month was labeled an abuser. And an occasion could be a daylong picnic. Anyone who experimented with marijuana once during the previous year was labeled a drug user. 8 Thus, Califano and CASA dramatically inflated the proportion of users and abusers.

Alcohol, Drugs and Unprotected Sex

The Center for Consumer Freedom points out that

...a CASA study financed by the Kaiser Family Foundation concluded that a whopping 89 percent of teens who used drugs or alcohol were "at risk" of having unprotected sex. A look at the original survey data, however, reveals that only five percent of high school seniors had actually engaged in unprotected sex after using drugs or alcohol. This, of course, was before CASA and Kaiser cooked the books. In order to inflate its statistics by 1,790 percent, the 15-17 age group was lumped together with those between 18 and 24. In making this "adjustment," they also included married couples! Lastly, they made allowances for student's vague guesses about whether "people my age" just might mix drinking and sex. The result: the five percent of 15-17 year-olds who actually engaged in high-risk behavior were ignored in favor of the 89 percent of 15-17 year-olds who thought someone in their age group "might" do so. Guess which number made the evening news? 9

Underage Drinking

In Teen Tipplers: America's Underage Drinking Epidemic, Califano and CASA asserted that "underage drinkers account for 25% of all the alcohol consumed in the U.S." and issued a "clarion call for national mobilization to curb underage drinking. 10

The idea that underage (inconsistently referred to in the report as children, teenagers, the underaged, and 12-20 year olds) drinkers could consume a quarter of all the alcohol consumed in the nation simply doesn't make any sense. They comprise only 13 percent of the population and have to rely on fake ID's, older friends, careless sales clerks, and so on in order to obtain alcohol beverages. So how could they possibly consume "twice their share," especially when many are only 12 years old? They don't, and any logical, objective person would realize the impossibility of the statistic.

CASA said its figure came from a survey by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, but that agency quickly issued a statement repudiating CASA's statistic and revealing that the actual number was 11.4 percent, which is less than half the amount claimed by CASA. 11

Califano and CASA had ignored the fact that the age group in question had clearly and intentionally been "over-sampled" to assure accurate results for the relatively small part of the population in question. The Center failed to make the necessary adjustment.

Dr. Dwight Heath, a leading alcohol researcher, has emphasized that

That big an error cannot be easily dismissed as merely a careless oversight, especially when it was the focus of an institution'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. 12

It's hard to believe that the staff of high-trained and experienced Ph.D.'s and other graduate-degree specialists at CASA made a fundamental error that few undergraduate students would make. In addition, CASA has a long record of making grossly incorrect assertions. Indeed, the CASA staff has been described as "serial abusers of statistics of self-serving, sensationalistic propaganda." 13 One observer said "It looks like Mr. Califano and CASA have adopted Enron's accounting practices." 14 Most important is the fact that Califano and CASA had been alerted the day before the press release that the statistic was false but chose not to correct it.

When questioned at the press conference about the discrepancy, Califano said CASA thought the 11.4 percent found by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration was "too low" and that the actual figure might be higher than the 25 percent CASA reported. 15 Then why didn't the CASA report explain why it didn't make the required adjustment? Why didn't it explain its rationale, if it had one? If it didn't agree with the survey findings, why did it use them without any clarification?

The subtitle of the Teen Tipplers report is America's Underage Drinking Epidemic. During the same press conference, Califano acknowledged that underage drinking has been dropping for years and actually quoted statistics demonstrating that drop. 16 So why does the CASA report refer to an underage drinking epidemic? And why does it call for a "national mobilization" to deal with a declining problem?

Neither Califano nor CASA has ever retracted any of their earlier erroneous assertions, and they haven’t retracted their 25% consumption statistic either. Even as the New York Times along with other newspapers and news networks were quickly retracting the CASA report, Califano actually went on the offensive. He issued another press release insisting that "America has an underage drinking epidemic" and argued that the actual proportion of the nation's alcohol consumed by 12 to 20 year olds was approaching "30 percent or more." 17 Thus, Califano inflated the figure by nearly three hundred percent!

Underage and "Excessive" Drinking

Califano and CASA followed that discredited report with another, this time on underage and excessive drinking. As should be expected, the report is seriously flawed and misleading.

  • It incorrectly defines a drink of distilled spirits as containing 1.2 rather than 1.5 ounces, an incredible mistake for anyone who conducts alcohol research. The result of the “mistake” was to inflate the apparent incidence of alcohol problems.
  • It arbitrarily asserts that any consumption of more than two drinks per day is excessive drinking in spite of numerous guidelines and medical evidence to the contrary. This invented definition ignores important factors such as the timing and patterns of drinking, variations in body size and metabolism, and whether or not alcohol is consumed with food. It is also inconsistent with the drinking levels used to screen for or identify excessive drinking.
  • It implies that delaying the age at first drink would somehow decrease the chances that teenagers will become adult heavier drinkers with alcohol problems later in life, although there is much evidence that the exact opposite is true.
  • It is guilty of numerous methodological errors, such as combining results from very different studies that use different definitions, use different age categories, and clearly are not compatible. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) criticized the report for "inappropriately" using CDC data to make its inflated claim about underage drinking.

For CASA's assertions to be correct, underage drinkers -- including 12-year- olds -- would have to consume nearly 100 drinks each and every month. That would mean that half of all 12 to 20-year-olds are going to school everyday with a hangover.

Co-author Califano is not a scientist but a lawyer. That may explain, but it certainly can't excuse, the credibility-destroying inadequacies of the report.

Reactions to CASA’s “Science”

Not surprisingly, the reactions of many scholars, alcohol researchers, investigative journalists, and others has been unfavorable. Professor Craig Reinarman, a noted UC Santa Cruz sociologist told Washingtonian magazine that Califano is "not playing by the same rules that all other faculty and research centers have to play by." Reinarman's advice to Califano: "Don't pretend you're a Columbia University scholar when you're not." Others say:

CASA has a "proven disdain for the facts." Washington Times editorial. 18

"Now CASA has some new data. Actually, they're old data, but CASA has fiddled with them so they fit its prejudices better." Charles Rich. 19

A careful researcher "examined some of the references in the CASA paper and found that conclusions in the articles to be shockingly different from the way CASA depicted them." DRC Net. 20

"CASA seems willing to twist information" in order to promote its anti-alcohol agenda." Dr. Stanton Peele, psychologist and attorney. 21

"CASA is continuing to denounce responsible consumption (of alcohol) with half- baked advocacy disguised as real research." Richard Berman, attorney. 22

One CASA report includes material "lifted almost word-for-word from an AAUW report that was conducted several years ago and that has since been thoroughly discredited." Tom James. 23

Joseph Califano is a "researcher" drunk with power, but "there's no excuse for political activism masquerading as science." Matt Continetti, reporter. 24

"Joseph Califano is notorious as an inveterate liar" and his "Center for Addictions and Substance Abuse specializes in pseudo science." Thomas J. O'Connell, M.D. 25

"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." Charles Forman, writer. 26

"Using Mr. Califano's false logic, I can prove with statistical precision that eating bread leads to a life of crime." Arthur Sobey in The Wall Street Journal. 27

CASA has "a reputation among social science researchers for producing methodologically suspect work." Drug Policy News. 28

Scholars have a lot of negative things to say about the Center on Alcohol and Substance Abuse, "some of it unprintable." Christopher Shea, the Chronicle of Higher Education. 29

"The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA) has questionable academic integrity." Leah B. Rorvig, Columbia University. 30

Making Alcohol Problems Worse

Exaggerating the extent of alcohol problems actually makes them worse. For example, when most young people go away to college they incorrectly 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.

The most consistently successful way to reduce the incidence of drinking and of heavy drinking is to conduct an anonymous survey on a campus and then to publicize the results heavily. When students discover that most students consume less alcohol and do so less frequently than they thought, they promptly generally change their own behavior by drinking less and less often. This "social norms marketing technique" is also being used in high schools, middle schools, and even throughout the entire state of Montana.

Clearly , by consistently exaggerating the extent of drinking and of alcohol abuse, Joe Califano and his CASA actually contribute to the problem. They’re a big part of the problem rather than the solution.

Joseph A. Califano, Jr.

Although Joe Califano seems to believe that he is morally superior, 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. 31 Similarly, the New York State Legislature passed legislation specifically barring Califano from the state's Commission on Ethics. 32 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. 33

Califano stresses his intelligence and education in logic, yet repeatedly promotes illogical conclusions. He insists on promoting alcohol as a "gateway" drug, in spite of all the empirical evidence that it isn‘t. 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." 34

Although Joe Califano seems to have an exalted self-concept, many view his integrity and actions less favorably. He was Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare under Jimmy Carter. However, Carter fired him, largely because of his "blunt, high-profile, self-promoting approach cost Carter too many political allies," according to Washingtonian Magazine. 35 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. 36

Then there's the matter of repeated insider trading. 37

It appears that the good Jesuits failed utterly in their efforts to create an honest, much less 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.

Joe Califano and CASA Resources

Who am I? - The answer is Joe Califano, head of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse.

Underage Drinking Issues - Underage drinking statistics as erroneously reported by Joe Califano’s CASA report.

Zero Tolerance and the “Underage Drinking Epidemic” - There’s an underage drinking epidemic, not declining use and abuse, according to Joseph Califano.

Underage Drinking and Bald Eagles - Explains how environmentalists and Joe Califano have something in common.

Social Studies that Flunk the Truth Test - Describes the social engineering of Joe Califano’s CASA.

A Big Lie about Youthful Drinking - A leading scholar and researcher objects to what is either the incompetence or dishonesty of Joe Califano and CASA.

Drunk with Good Intentions - A major newspaper decries false information distributed by Joe Califano.

There They go Again! - Joe Califano and CASA repeatedly present distorted data on alcohol to the American public.

The Evidence for Prohibition - CASA’s Joe Califano attacks any suggestion that strict alcohol prohibition is not preferable to moderation for young people, including those who are adults.

Welfare Mothers and Alcohol Abuse - Is Joe Califano prejudiced against African Americans?

Alcohol Abuse: How to Lie with Statistics - Describes some of the techniques used by Joe Califano, CASA, and other temperance promoters.

Alcohol Scare Tactics Work - Explains how Joe Califano and CASA use editors to promote their temperance agenda.

Kids and Booze - Linguistic tricks used by Joe Califano and CASA to manipulate the public.

The Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse: A Center for Alcohol Statistics Abuse? - Presents additional information on Joe Califano and his CASA.


References and Readings

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