The Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) was established in 1992 with more than $2 million from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, more than $5 million from the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Rockefeller Foundation, and an initial $8 million from the temperance-oriented Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which several years later gave over $13 million more. In under 10 years CASA raised $150 million. It currently sits on over $45 million in the bank, pays at least ten people six-figure salaries, with the head, Joe Califano, given compensation estimated at nearly one million dollars per year.
The driving force behind CASA is Joe Califano, Jr., who was Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare under Jimmy Carter. However, Carter fired him in 1979, largely because of his "blunt, high-profile, self-promoting approach cost Carter too many political allies," according to Washingtonian Magazine. 1
Although Califano is not a scientist, his former political position nevertheless gives him credibility when he presents his organization's reports and recommendations. He also attempts to obtain credibility by associating the Center with Columbia University, although it is not part of that institution and apparently not a single person at CASA holds a faculty position there. Dr. Craig Reinarman's advice to Califano: "Don't pretend you're a Columbia University scholar when you're not." But it's illusion rather than reality that brings the desired prestige.
The Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse has virtually always refused 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.
CASA has a "proven disdain for the facts."
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.
With good reason, CASA is not held in high regard by scholars and other alcohol researchers. For example, William London, the long-time Public Health Director of the American Council on Science and Health, told The Chronicle of Higher Education that CASA "is a group that is interested in painting the most alarming picture possible."
When CASA released a political report called Rethinking Rites of Passage: Substance Abuse on American Campuses, it called a press conference and passed it off as a research study. 2 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 relax. 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." 3 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." 4 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 their 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. 5 CASA never acknowledged or retracted its erroneous assertions.
CASA then prepared and 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 CASA called for strong action. But again, relax. The real statistic as reported by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the original source of the figure, was 4.5 percent. So CASA over-reported the true figure by 600 percent! CASA never acknowledged or retracted its erroneous assertion. Indeed, it used its press release to repeat the bogus statistic that the proportion of college women who drank to get drunk had tripled! 6
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 day-long picnic. Anyone who experimented with marijuana once during the previous year was labeled a drug user. 7 Thus, CASA dramatically inflated the proportion of users and abusers.
The Center for Consumer Freedom point 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? 8
In Teen Tipplers: America's Underage Drinking Epidemic, 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. 9
The idea that underage (inconsistently referred to in the report as children, teenagers, underaged, and 12-20 year olds) drinkers could consume a quarter of all the alcohol consumed in the nation simply doesn't make 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 some are only 12 years old? They don't, and any logical, objective person would realize the impossibility of the statistic.
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.
CASA said the figure came from a survey by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, but the 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. 10
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. 11
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. And 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." 12 One observer said "It looks like Mr. Califano and CASA have adopted Enron's accounting practices." 13 Most important is the fact that CASA had been alerted the day before the press release that the statistic was false but chose not to correct it.
The "Center for Addictions and Substance Abuse specializes in pseudo science."
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. 14 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 critique?
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. 15 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?
CASA has never retracted any of its earlier erroneous assertions, and it hasn't retracted its 25 percent consumption statistic either. While The New York Times along with other newspapers and news networks across the country 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." 16 Thus, Califano inflated the figure by nearly three hundred percent!
CASA has followed that discredited report with another, this time on underage and excessive drinking. As should be expected, the report is seriously flawed and misleading.
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.
Scientists and other experts tend to be critical of CASA’s “research.” For example,
Exaggerating the extent of alcohol problems actually makes them worse. 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.
"CASA is continuing to denounce responsible consumption (of alcohol) with half-baked advocacy disguised as real research."
The most consistently successful way to reduce the incidence of drinking and of heavy drinking is to conduct an anonymous survey on campus and then to publicize the results. When students discover that most students consume less alcohol and do so less frequently than they thought, they promptly modify 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.
Therefore, by consistently exaggerating the extent of drinking and of alcohol abuse, CASA actually contributes to the problem. CASA is a very big part of the problem rather than the solution.
It's a shame that some people will do almost anything, including putting young peoples' lives at risk, for power and a big salary. Perhaps CASA should be called the Center for Alcohol Statistics Abuse.
Joe Califano has a very positive view of the failed social experiment of National Prohibition (1920-1933). He insists that Prohibition was actually a great success, and writes that
"alcohol consumption dropped from 1.96 gallons per person in 1919 to 0.97 gallons per person in 1934, the first full year after Prohibition ended. Death rates from cirrhosis among men came down from 29.5 per 100,000 in 1911 to 10.7 per 100,000 in 1929. During Prohibition, admission to mental health institutions for alcohol psychosis dropped 60 percent; arrests for drunk and disorderly conduct went down 50 percent; welfare agencies reported significant declines in cases due to alcohol-related family problems, and the death rate from impure alcohol did not rise. Nor did Prohibition generate a crime wave. Homicide increased at a higher rate between 1900 and 1910 than during Prohibition, and organized crime was well established in the cities before 1920.” 33
While 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. 34 Similarly, the New York State Legislature passed legislation specifically barring Califano from the state's Commission on Ethics. 35 These don't appear to be votes of confidence in Califano's supposed moral superiority.
"Using Mr. Califano's false logic, I can prove with statistical precision that eating bread leads to a life of crime."
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. 36
Califano stresses his education in logic, yet repeatedly promotes the illogical. He promotes the idea that alcohol is a "gateway" drug, in spite of all the empirical evidence to the contrary. He 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 often considers evidence irrelevant if it is inconsistent with his beliefs.
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. 37
Then there's that matter of repeated insider trading. 38
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.
"Now CASA has some new data. Actually, they're old data, but CASA has fiddled with them so they fit its prejudices better."
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."
"CASA seems willing to twist information" in order to promote its anti- alcohol agenda."
One CASA report includes material "lifted almost word-for-word from an AAUW [American Association of University Women] report that was conducted several years ago and that has since been thoroughly discredited."
CASA has "a reputation among social science researchers for producing methodologically suspect work."
Scholars have a lot of negative things to say about the Center on Alcohol and Substance Abuse, "some of it unprintable."
"The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA) has questionable academic integrity."
"As far as CASA is concerned, there is no significant difference between use and abuse" (of alcohol).
"CASA's latest effort to define excessive underage and adult drinking is a veritable font of calculated misinformation."
The Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse is guilty of "scaremongering" by grossly misusing "words like 'epidemic" and 'fatal attraction.'"
"The spirit of Carry Nation, the legendary hatchet-wielding anti-alcohol campaigner who smashed up saloons in the early 1900s and became a hero of the Prohibition movement, is alive and well at the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University."
Joseph Califano is a "researcher" drunk with power, but "there's no excuse for political activism masquerading as science."
"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."
Joseph Califano is "a very well-funded prohibitionist propagandist."
Joe "Califano is essentially a reincarnation of the old temperance warriors."
"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."
"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)."
"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."
Joseph Califano is guilty of "McCarthyism" that's "as rotten and dangerous as the original McCarthyism."
"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."
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