Science Czar John Holdren, You’re on My Radar

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There’s a narrative developing on the right about Barack Obama’s new Science and Technology czar, John Holdren, that posits him as a cross between Aldous Huxley, L. Ron Hubbard, and their own  nightmare vision of Al Gore.

At issue are excerpts from a 1977 book, “Ecoscience: Population, Resources, Environment,” which was co-written by Holdren with Anne H. Ehrlich and Paul R. Ehrlich.  Excerpts from the book are being touted by Michelle Malkin, and a host of other right-wing blogs.  This is the “liftoff” phase of a new meme-let, part of the broader “WTF with all the czars?” narrative.  (For now, I won’t get into why they decided to use “Czars” as the title.  Why not “Pharoahs” or “Capos?” Both cooler.)

Moe Lane zeroes in in a passage that he says cuts at both sides of the aisle:

Moe Lane: This was written by John Holdren, Obama Science Czar, in 1977:

Individual rights. Individual rights must be balanced against the power of the government to control human reproduction. Some people—respected legislators, judges, and lawyers included—have viewed the right to have children as a fundamental and inalienable right. Yet neither the Declaration of Independence nor the Constitution mentions a right to reproduce. Nor does the UN Charter describe such a right, although a resolution of the United Nations affirms the “right responsibly to choose” the number and spacing of children (our emphasis). In the United States, individuals have a constitutional right to privacy and it has been held that the right to privacy includes the right to choose whether or not to have children, at least to the extent that a woman has a right to choose not to have children. But the right is not unlimited. Where the society has a “compelling, subordinating interest” in regulating population size, the right of the individual may be curtailed. If society’s survival depended on having more children, women could he required to bear children, just as men can constitutionally be required to serve in the armed forces. Similarly, given a crisis caused by overpopulation, reasonably necessary laws to control excessive reproduction could be enacted.

It is often argued that the right to have children is so personal that the government should not regulate it. In an ideal society, no doubt the state should leave family size and composition solely to the desires of the parents. In today’s world, however, the number of children in a family is a matter of profound public concern. The law regulates other highly personal matters. For example, no one may lawfully have more than one spouse at a time. Why should the law not be able to prevent a person from having more than two children?

Moe Lane: This is, of course, appalling to any person who identifies as ‘pro-life’ – but it should be even more appalling to any person who identifies as ‘pro-choice.’ It is simply impossible to reconcile the position that the government may regulate the number of children with the position that a woman has a ‘fundamental right to choose’ whether or not to have an abortion.

As it happens, this book was already on my radar when I read Moe’s piece, and while I have some concerns, I like his approach much more than Malkin’s, which confers Holdren’s alleged positions on me and my kind.

If the excerpts outlined in Malkin’s and Lane’s source article are to be believed, Holdren would seem an unquestionably bad choice to run the country’s science policy.  When this article was pointed out to me by a Twitter follower, my reaction was very similar to Moe’s, so I don’t doubt that he’s arguing in good faith.  The author of the source article takes great pains to make it seem as though he is, as well, but that’s where my red flags go up.

My first concern is that the cited work, from 1977, is actually a later edition of a book published in 1972, of which Holdren was not a co-author.  This calls into question whether any of these passages were even partially Holdren’s own words.  Even if the cited passages are new to the 1977 edition, Holdren’s role is unclear, and may have been simply that of researcher rather than author of these conclusions.

That being said, even if Holdren didn’t write the cited passages himself, as a co-author of the 1977 edition, he certainly deserves to be asked if he agrees with them, and why he would put his name on the book if he did not.  Unless…

My second major concern is the possibility that these passages, while cold, clinical, and even ghoulish to the layperson, are cautionary in nature.  The author of the source article pretends to address this, by posting “extended quotes, but what he calls “hiding behind the passive voice” could very likely be the appropriate use of the passive voice to illustrate the consequences of failing to address the population problem.  Nothing in the “extended quote” mitigates this concern.  In fact, they support this notion:

Compulsory control of family size is an unpalatable idea, but the alternatives may be much more horrifying. As those alternatives become clearer to an increasing number of people in the 1980s, they may begin demanding such control. A far better choice, in our view, is to expand the use of milder methods of influencing family size preferences while redoubling efforts to ensure that the means of birth control, including abortion and sterilization, are accessible to every human being on Earth within the shortest possible time. If effective action is taken promptly against population growth, perhaps the need for the more extreme involuntary or repressive measures can be averted in most countries. (emphasis mine)

Additionally, in the book’s forward, the authors themselves sound a cautionary note about the context of their work:

We have tried throughout the book to state clearly where we stand on various matters of controversy. Our apprehension about the course of humanity expressed in Population, Resources, Environment and Human Ecology has deepened; if there is another edition of Ecoscience, we hope that events will then permit a more opti­mistic evaluation.

They are certainly setting a cautionary tone.  The fact that the author of the source article provides full-page scans for the cited passages seems impressive, until you note that the book is 1,052 pages long.  All it takes is a paragraph in the intro to a chapter to completely blow these excerpts away, at least in terms of assigning them to Holdren as policy beliefs.

This still leaves open the merits of the work as scientific prediction, a weaker cudgel against Holdren, especially given the context of the time.  Stipulating that the guy was a lousy scientist in 1977 doesn’t make him a bad science czar.

I’m trying to get ahold of a digital copy of the book, so I can evaluate it for myself.  If the passages cited aren’t disclaimed as cautionary, then this is at least worth asking about, notwithstanding the other objections I have.  Until then, I’m going to reserve judgment, and keep my ear to the ground.

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6 Comments

  1. Couple this along with the recent statement of Ginsberg, and well let me just say the Conservative part of me is a bit alarmed. And then there is that whole deal in “Prairie Fire” where Ayers thinks it is a good idea to remove a few Americans from consciousness. I think this guy has some connections to Ayers if I am not mistaken.

    The whole czar aspect to this makes me uneasy, in the sense that they do not answer to anyone, but the President, cannot be held accountable by Congress, they oversee close to a trillion dollars of our money, and these czars make in general Democrats look like me when it comes to ideologies. Yeah, I am worried about this guy. FYI, I did not approve of Reagan, or Bush having czars either. You have to admit 32-35 czars is a bit much. Does anyone know where Rattner spends his days? I mean the dude is like Dracula in that no one sees the man, and he will not give any interviews to Neil Cavuto.

    What most do not understand about our objection to people like this is that they interfere with everyone’s rights. The law of the land currently is in favor of pro-choice. A woman has the right to choose, and that should not be violated by an entity, or person like this. No one person, or group of peoples should ever have the right to tell you how to live your private life. That would include a person’s choice in being a homosexual, the right to decide what to do with your body, and how many yutes you choose to have, or not have. This is dancing awfully close the eugenics, and the era of Hitler for me.

    You know, stuff like this makes me long for the days of Clinton. As Conservative as I am, at this juncture, I think I would vote for him in order to not have this type of radical ideology running amuck in Washington. Hell, I even miss TIp O’Neil! I miss sane Democrats of any stripe. I hope Palin does campaign for some rational Democrats. You know, the ones who would never even think about 30 czars, or selecting some dude like this.

    But thanks Tommy for being an open minded guy in looking at this as a possible not so good idea. At least you are questioning this which is more than I can say about the MSM types.

  2. Yeah, what bothers me, though, is that whenever one of these narratives unravels, nobody goes back and says, “Oops! My bad!” We’ll see what happens here.

  3. The ideas that you’ve pointed out are disturbing, but I want to point out that some of them are based on a flawed premise anyway. I’m gonna play internet lawyer for a minute.

    Physicists aren’t lawyers and they probably should ask one to fact check them before they start writing about what legal documents do or don’t say. I’m not a lawyer either – and if anyone is, feel free to correct me – but even I can tell this is incorrect.

    “Yet neither the Declaration of Independence nor the Constitution mentions a right to reproduce.”

    Well, let’s quote the actual Constitution. “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”

    He’s right that the Constitution doesn’t mention the right to reproduce, but his conclusion is wrong. The fact that it is not mentioned means that we *do* have that right.

    Next…

    “In the United States, individuals have a constitutional right to privacy”

    That right to privacy also is not enumerated, just like the right to reproduce isn’t. But the Supreme Court says it’s there nevertheless.

    Not only was he wrong about these two things, he managed to contradict himself in a way that proves he was wrong.

    If this guy is the new Science “Czar”, then I hope he doesn’t mangle science the way he mangled constitutional law.

  4. Personally, I wouldn’t mind people being advised to be a little mindful of how many children they have. But NOT to the extent of passing “a law…to prevent a person from having more than two children.” There might be alternate ways of handling that through legal means that don’t have such grave legal implications. Ones that would remove some of the graces that come with having children–perhaps reducing the effect that claiming children on taxes or even removing that ability entirely, for example. But then again, I’m by NO MEANS a financial or legal expert and therefore have no idea how that would actually work out in real life. Any comments on that?

  5. Well redstripe I see your take as having a slippery slope. Whose business is it how many kids you have? If that line of thought was pursued, we could end up like China. If the government cannot, and should not cross the threshold of your home to dictate what type of sex you have, then it in no way should dictate the number of kids you have. That keyword, “liberty” keeps coming to mind here.

    As for tax deductions, if you want to do that okay, but then do not demand I pay taxes for public schooling when either I do not have children, or my children are in college. I still have to pay taxes for the school district I live in whether I have kids in the schools, or not. This really makes no sense to pay taxes on something you do not benefit from specifically, or directly.

    Some feel there should be a limit on the number of children people have because of the amount of children can equal the amount of welfare one might receive. I still think the government interfering with a personal decision on how you live your life is wrong. Here is an example to ponder. A local family had three children. The two older kids played club soccer with my kids. On the way to school last year, the two older kids were killed in a car wreck. If this family had been limited to only having two kids, they would have no more children because ALL of their kid would have been killed in one car wreck.

    Lastly, the amount of money we get back for our two yutes as a tax deduction does not even come close in paying for a farthing of what we spend on the monkeys. We are still trying to figure out how we are going to finish meeting their financial obligations in sending them off to college this fall. They are twins, have some scholarships, and will play college soccer, but it is not enough for two. Lucky us we are not at poverty level to qualify for Pell Grants! LOL! So have no fear redstripe, the amount of tax monies coming back to us for the tax deductions does not even come close to what these two costs. LOL! And they share a cell phone, and vehicle! Much to their angst.

  6. Moe Lane does not claim to have read the book. Or his CV. Or his body of work. Actually, it doesn’t seem like anyone read the bookl. Moe Lane raises issues based upon a site called “Ace Of Spades.”

    How can any rational person rely on the commentary of another on a book not read? Forget left or right. Forget whether the person is is an expert in the subject matter or not. Forget whether one’s boddy of work is known or not. Forget the CV (Harvard, Stanford, Berkeley, MIT) is ignored.

    I posit the following: one who has not read the book ought not opine. Tommy didn’t read it. He does not offer a conclusion. That one makes a bald conclusion on the basis of one book (amongst many publications in about a book not read (leta lone all the works) is absurd.

    I would rather look at Scientific America than Moe Lane, who never read the book at all. He read a blog post. WTF?


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