Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Obama at Georgetown, and the hidden IHS

The IHS log draped from viewHere's a topic for conversation, especially among Sophians, as Sophia University is a Jesuit (also Catholic!) University like Georgetown. Compare the picture above with the picture below... Do you see any difference in the background/setting?

The IHS Logo as it normally appearsWhen President Obama recently visited Georgetown University to give a lecture on the state of the economy, the university was told to cover the famous Jesuit logo IHS that is prominently displayed behind the podium in Gaston Hall. Many dignitaries give lectures and conduct workshops in this ancient hall, and the distinctive Georgetown University eagle and IHS logo with a Cross have been there for all to see. For whatever reason President Obama's Office had requested that the IHS logo be covered up and Georgetown University graciously complied.

Perhaps there is nothing sinister or significant in all this; but several bloggers and media pundits have criticized Georgetown University for being unchristian and denying its Jesuit identity. Critics of Obama too have taken this as a sign that he is not a 'true' Christian. As a matter of fact, his lecture did contain indirect references to some New Testament passages, but the critics point out that he did not mention Jesus by name.

As seems to be routine whenever a Catholic 'issue' comes up, some in the media immediately called up Thomas Reese, S.J., the former editor of the Jesuit magazine America, for his opinion about the case. His response to Julia Duin of The Washington Times was quite straightforward: "It is more for camera quality than anything else... They don't want distractions that would make the eye wander. I don't think this is motivated by theology, but by communications strategy."

Perhaps Sophia University will have nothing to worry about when inviting dignitaries like President Obama, for it doesn't have any Jesuit logo, statue, or symbol to cover up! Although Sophia clearly asserts its Jesuit and Catholic identity in PR materials, the university itself is bereft of Christian icons and symbols.

Leaving aside the Jesuit logo controversy, you can watch President Obama's full address at Georgetown University by clicking the picture below.

Click here to watch Obama's Lecture at Georgetown University
For more on the story, see
Baier, Bret. Religious Symbols Covered Up When President Obama Spoke at a Catholic University. Fox News.
Duin, Julia. Obama at Georgetown: The mystery of the missing sign. [The Washington Times]
Eden, Dawn. UPDATED?Obama's messianic jargon hits 'rock' bottom ...
and G'town removes the Holy Name to accommodate The One.
[The Dawn Patrol]
Houston Chronicle, The. Georgetown's Cover-Up

[Thanks to a Washington correspondent for bringing this story to my attention.]

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Harvard has ended Edward Green's Research Program

Pope answering Questions
(Thanks to Dr. Green who has entered below in the "comments" section that the closure of his research program at Harvard was decided prior to his coming out in defence of the Pope. In other words, although Wikipedia and the Crawley article highlight the closure of the Research Program, the closure itself was not triggered or caused by his agreeing with the Pope. Added April 3)

The latest news I read in the Pope-condoms controversy is that the illustrious figure who defended him has lost his position at Harvard. According to William Crawley of BBC,
Dr Edward Green, director of Harvard's HIV Prevention Research Project, who came to the defence of Pope Benedict during last week's international row over condoms in Africa, says Harvard University has ended his research program.
The Crawley-Green interview in its entirety is very illuminating, and again raises the communication issue. Do people really listen to each other? Try to understand each other? Or simply read a few lines and take off into expressing their own views related to a single word or phrase--ignoring the context or what was actually said? We know that our attention span in listening is very limited; it surely seems our attention span in reading too is limited. But coherence demands some continuity with what is said/written. That coherence seems lacking in many discourses; or the coherence is held by a single word or phrase rather than by the content or theme.

The case is very similar to an old man, who on hearing, "How are you feeling today?" says, "Oh, feeling is bad. People should stop feeling and start acting. These days too many people spend all their time on feeling and expressing feeling. The world demands action. You must concentrate on what you do. Do not waste your time on feeling. I have suffered for many years thinking about my feelings only to realize that they are empty..." etc., etc. Is this a coherent conversation? Is the old man communicating as a proper interlocutor? The question was one of concern about the old man; but he picks up the word "feeling" and rambles on about unrelated issues!

Now in the case of Pope-condom news, precisely such a phenomenon is happening as if that is normal. The Pope says something in which the word "condoms" occurs, and immediately the media take him to task elaborating on all sorts of things that he said nothing about. And wise guys comment online like this one writing in the Washington Post: '[Y]ou [referring to Green] begin by writing that "the Pope was right" when he said that condoms don't prevent aids and that they make its spread worse.' The Pope absolutely said nothing of the sort, but this writer has somehow got that into his head from the single word "condoms" that the Pope used!

Green, as a scientist, is a much more careful reader and he reacts to what the Pope actually said. Read, for example, this answer of his to Crawley:
Edward Green: What the Pope said was the distribution and marketing of condoms would not solve the problem of African Aids and that it might even exacerbate the problem. And I think it was that second comment that really set the critics off, really upset a lot of people. I can understand that, because I have worked in Aids prevention for a long time. In fact, I worked as a condom and contraceptive social marketer at the beginning of the pandemic--I was working in family planning. I am part of a group of researchers that have been looking for the behavioural antecedents to HIV prevalence decline in Africa. We now see HIV going down in about 8 or 9 countries in Africa and in every case we see a decrease in the proportion of men and women who report having more than one sex partner in the past year. So when the Pope said that the answer really lies in monogamy and martial faithfulness, that's exactly what we found empirically.
Green interprets the Pope precisely as I had commented on my previous blog entry.

Here is a segment that shows how Green finds himself misquoted or selectively quoted, leading to miscommunication:
William Crawley: The Lancet has described the Pope's comments, which you agree with, as a distortion of scientific evidence.

Edward Green: That's because The Lancet is not thinking about the generalised epidemics of Africa. I hasten to add--and I have tried to do this in all of my interviews, although sometimes only part of my interviews are quoted--I point out that at national levels, we see condoms working in epidemics like those of Thailand and Cambodia. But in the generalised epidemics of Africa--well, there was a UN Aids study done in 2003 by Hearst and Chen, it was actually published in the peer-reviewed journal Studies in Family Planning in 2004, and they conclude that there is not a single country in Africa where HIV prevalence has come down primarily because of condoms.
Here the importance of context becomes evident. The Pope's comment was about Africa, not about Thailand or Cambodia, a point that Green pays attention to. Reporters who ignore the context tend to exaggerate what the Pope said. What the Pope may have said about Thailand or Cambodia is unknown, but that is not relevant to evaluating his comment on the distribution of condoms in Africa!

Regarding UNAids, which disagreed with Green, here is a segment:
William Crawley: We shouldn't trust the UNAids organisation on this?

Edward Green: I would be very careful about trusting the UNAids organisation for anything scientific, anything having to do with, for example, statistics about Aids. They have had to back-pedal and retract a lot of their basic statistics. It may seem pretty shocking for somebody like me to disagree with UNAids, but the fact is that UNAids is changing its thinking on this matter. As a matter of fact, in a very few days, there is going to be joint statement released by our Harvard programme, the Southern Regional Office of UNAids, and the Southern Regional Office of the World Bank, saying that the primary intervention for Aids in Southern Africa should be to discourage multiple and concurrent partners and that condom promotion is a secondary backup strategy.
The Crawley-Green interview is a must read in full. Crawley is very pointed and plays the devil's advocate to perfection. Thanks to his sharp questions, Green is able to articulate point by point why he defended the Pope's statement. Note especially Green's opinions on the Lancet and the UNAids, which came out strongly against him. Still, the disappointing point is that Crawley himself repeatedly talks as if the Pope had said, "Don't use condoms"! He is one of the many who still haven't got the significance of why the Pope spoke of "distribution" rather than "use." He should read the previous entry of this blog!

I only hope that Green will continue in his relentless pursuit of truth and stand up for his convictions even if it were to go against the teachings of Church X or University Y. It is the media's irresponsible message that religion is against truth or science. As Gandhi ably put it, God is Truth. Sincere religions have nothing to be afraid of truth. But to spread alarm and panic without adequate evidence or by misinterpreting facts is irresponsible science.

BBC: William Crawley's interview of Edward Green
Washington Post prints Green's defense of the Pope.
Edward Green in Wikipedia