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


Edward Green said...

this is Edward C Green. It should be understood that our porgram was ending at Harvard before I defended the Pope. Crawley used a povocative and misleading headline

2nd, for an inside look at some of the ideological and statistical validity problems at UNAIDS, read Dr Elizabeth Pisani’s The Wisdom of Whores: Bureaucracies, Brothels and the Business of AIDS (2008); and Dr James Chin, The AIDS Pandemic: the Intersection of Epidemiology and Political Correctness (2006)

Sophian said...

Thank you very much for your correction. As I too wrote in the blog, it seems extremely difficult to read the news as reported and interpret it correctly.

Anonymous said...

Edward Green is trying to rewrite history here. When he was asked by Crawley (see the transcript) if Harvard was closing down his program because he was politically incorrect, he said he wasn't sure if his political incorrectness was the issue, said you'll have to ask Harvard. That looks to me like he was hinting that he may have lost his job because of his views. Now's he's playing dumb on the issue. I don't buy it, Dr Green. You are trying to take back your words when you should eat them.

Anonymous said...

The timing of termination of Prof. Green’s Research Program at Harvard could well be quite a secondary issue here. One can assume that the crux of the matter in the termination of the program was the fact that Green’s scientific findings were not supporting modern progressive attitudes and they were not exhibiting political correctness of our time.
Washington D.C.

CatharinaCS said...

Do scientists conclude their findings based on political views of time? Aren't they strive for the discernment of truth?

Anonymous said...

Green's position is that condom distribution has largely failed in Africa due to contingent factors of African sexual culture; he is not in agreement with the Vatican (Card. Trujillo et al.) that the use of condoms is always immoral. However, Green's view seems contradicted by the reported Ugandan success of condom distribution in association with education in abstinence and fidelity. Generally, I feel that Green's "The pope is right" stuff is a bit of a stunt.

Anonymous said...

It's not clear what the point of May 12 'Anonymous' comment is as regards the topic under discussion, namely the Pope's comments during a flight to Africa. Looks to me people confuse the issue of Hierarchical Church's 'formal' position on codoms and the Pope's comment during a flight. They are different issues, and the Pope himself, perhaps deliberately, leaves out commenting about the former issue.
So Green's comments too must be seen as far as they are relevant to the discussion of what the Pope explicitly said about condom distribution in Africa rather than to a broader context of whether the hierarchy must approve condom use or not. Green does not and does not claim to be a dogmatic spokesman for the Church or the Pope. No doubt, he disagrees on several points with the Pope and the Church. Should one always attribute hidden intentions through a convoluted argument when one simply says he agrees on certain issues and disagrees on others?
The general topic of whether the Church must proactively approve condoms is a hot and perhaps debatable topic, but is not relevant in the given context.

Anonymous said...

Update: the whole story is in two new books, especially this first one:

Edward C Green, Broken Promises: How the AIDS Establishment Has Betrayed the Developing World
Edward C Green and Allison Ruark, AIDS, Behavior, and Culture

There are five reviews on
Amazon review of Broken Promise