Gagging Science - the Pentagon chapter.

Jan 31 2007 Published by under Uncategorized

Revere, at Effect Measure, comments on a story that just appeared in Inside Higher Education. The article detals a completely outrageous attempt at dealing with unfavorable information:

What set off the Pentagon was Bilmes' estimate for the current number of injured of 50,500. William Winkenwender Jr., assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, called the Los Angeles Times, Bilmes, and David T. Ellwood -- dean of Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government -- to complain that the real figure is less than half that -- just over 22,000.

Let's set aside the question of fact involved here, and just look at the conduct. Calling the author of the paper probably wasn't inappropriate. Calling the LA Times probably wasn't, either. Communicating concerns to the author of a paper is legitimate, and the author of the paper communicated her findings (in part) in a LA Times op-ed. Bringing concerns to the paper, and seeing if they might be willing to allow some sort of response is probably an appropriate response. Calling the dean to complain is not. Given Winkenwender's position at the Pentagon, it is difficult to see that call as anything other than an attempt at intimidation.

The chronic government intimidation of scientists is particularly ironic coming as it does from an allegedly conservative administration. As I understand the basic conservative philosophy of government, distrust of and skepticism toward the government are considered to be good traits. (In this regard, I actually agree with them a bit - government should be watched carefully. For a group of people who think that, they sure have a funny way of rewarding those who demonstrate actual skepticism toward government when they are on the receiving end.

All that having been said, I just read the paper by Blimes' that sparked this whole mess. The analysis, and a lot of the calculations in it, appear to be based in part on a stunningly massive error in basic math. To avoid conflating her poor analysis with Winkenwender's egregious misconduct, I'm going to address that in another post, which should appear (and will be is now linked here) within the next hour or two.

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