This is kind of silly, but it’s always interesting to see what the right-wing attack machine comes up with when it gets desperate. Now it appears that they’re going after President Obama’s rather innocuous science advisor, John Holdren. Specifically, a recent article in The Washington Times–that bastion of rational commentary–claimed that Holdren “has toyed with extreme measures of population control, even suggesting in one book how to make it more publicly acceptable for the government to spike drinking water in order to sterilize people.”
Does that sound just a bit too absurd to be true? That’s because it is. Chris Mooney explains just how misinformed this claim is in a post at Science Progress:
In 1977, more than thirty years ago, Holdren was the third author (with Paul and Anne Ehrlich) of a textbook entitled Ecoscience: Population, Resources, and Environment. It was a gigantic tome, fully 1,051 pages in length. In one vast 66 page chapter devoted to “Population Policies,” the authors surveyed a gamut of measures that had been undertaken or considered to control human population growth–including the most extreme. Those included coercive or “involuntary fertility control” measures, such as forced abortions and sterilizations.
However, to describe these measures is different from advocating them. And in fact, the Ehrlichs and Holdren concluded by arguing that noncoercive measures were what they suppported: “A far better choice, in our view, is to expand the use of milder methods of influencing family size preferences”–such as birth control and access to abortions. In fairness, their text does read as dated today, ripe for quote mining. They were writing in very different times thirty years ago; but even if they were defending these positions then (and they weren’t), that hardly means that they do today.
Jessica Palmer has an even more in-depth discussion about this at Bioephemera.
The Washington Times story apparently piggybacked on a recent post from a conservative blog, but this is an old story that has already been debunked–particularly when Holdren disavowed these ideas attributed to him at his Senate confirmation hearing. Fortunately, The Washington Times did see fit to include the Administration’s response to this nonsense:
When asked whether Mr. Holdren’s thoughts on population control have changed over the years, his staff gave The Washington Times a statement that said, “This material is from a three-decade-old, three-author college textbook. Dr. Holdren addressed this issue during his confirmation when he said he does not believe that determining optimal population is a proper role of government. Dr. Holdren is not and never has been an advocate for policies of forced sterilization.”
The White House also passed along a statement from the Ehrlichs that said, in part, “anybody who actually wants to know what we and/or Professor Holdren believe and recommend about these matters would presumably read some of the dozens of publications that we and he separately have produced in more recent times, rather than going back a third of a century to find some formulations in an encyclopedic textbook where description can be misrepresented as endorsement.”
Basically, it all comes down to this: if you really claim that discussing a concept is equivalent to advocating it, you are either (1) an idiot or (2) a cynical person launching a partisan attack with utter disregard for fact or logic… or both.