A Federal Case?

David Greenberg's review (Book World, Sept. 4) of Jonathan Aitken's biography of Chuck Colson contains a serious error that The Washington Post should correct.

Greenberg incorrectly asserts that Aitken's book "mentions that grants from Bush's faith-based initiative now fill Colson's coffers." First, Aitken's book says no such thing. Second, as president of Prison Fellowship, I am intimately aware of the ministry's finances and can say that neither Prison Fellowship nor Chuck Colson have ever received federal funds of any kind.

This is a particularly egregious charge in light of the fact that for 30 years, Chuck Colson has contributed all of his book royalties, speaking fees and even the $1 million Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion to the ministry of Prison Fellowship. One of the reasons he does this is so no one could question his commitment to Christ.

Clearly Greenberg has issues with Colson and the ministry of Prison Fellowship. But to say that Colson is "cashing in" is false and unfair. I would expect better from The Post.



Prison Fellowship

David Greenberg replies:

Pages 411-412 of Jonathan Aitken's Charles W. Colson, along with many news reports, make clear that Colson's involvement with George W. Bush's "faith-based" program in Texas inspired the president's current policies at the federal level.

Earley is correct that the book doesn't claim Colson's groups take federal funds, and I didn't mean to imply otherwise. I took care not to assert, contrary to Earley's letter, that Prison Fellowship receives "federal funds" -- merely to quip that Colson's "coffers" have received money from faith-based initiatives. On rereading, I can see why Earley interpreted my language as he did, and I regret that I wasn't more careful and precise in my wording. My phrase "cashing in" was meant as a lighthearted pun on the meaning of "redemption," and I regret that in my glibness I offended Earley.

The real question isn't one of taking "federal" money but rather of government's entanglement with religion. News accounts have reported that Colson's outfits have financially benefited, directly or indirectly, from state programs, including in Texas under Bush. In Iowa, a Colson group's receipt of taxpayer funds occasioned a lawsuit. Hence, my larger point stands.

Good and Bad Science

I found Keay Davidson's review of The Republican War on Science (Book World, Sept. 18) rather disturbing. The reference to "liberals and leftists . . . who fear mercury poisoning every time they bite into a tuna sandwich" implies that those of us who are concerned about the degradation of the environment are members of some sort of lunatic fringe. Many of my colleagues with a background in one of the sciences similar to my own are not in the least concerned about eating tuna fish from time to time, but we are concerned about the well-known toxic effects of lead in the ambiental air and arsenic in drinking water.

Davidson derides efforts to identify criteria for distinguishing "good science" from "bad science" and correctly points out there are surely no "sure-fire, logical criteria." In my field of preventive medicine, however, one can distinguish between poorly conducted epidemiologic studies related to disease causation and those that were carried out well. Sample sizes are at times woefully small to identify true differences between disease prevalence among those subjects exposed to, let's say, dioxin, and those who are not so exposed. Statistical tests are occasionally inappropriately selected to test hypotheses. Measures of exposure to putative noxious materials are all too frequently very imprecise.


Washington, D.C.

Keay Davidson replies:

Physicians and public health specialists such as Dr. MacCorquodale do wondrous good in the world, and nothing in my review of Mooney's book should be mistaken for criticism of their work. I am amused, though, that when it comes to philosophy of science, he behaves like some other scientists who are discomfited by the debates over "good" versus "bad" science. That is, he admits there are no "sure-fire, logical criteria" for distinguishing them -- except in his particular specialty! ("In my field of preventive medicine, however, one can distinguish . . . ") If the debates over science policymaking are to get anywhere, they must transcend such professional insularity.

Bonus Slants

For the sake of fairness and balance, I would like to comment on Paul Kennedy's review of Restless Giant: The United States from Watergate to Bush v. Gore, by James T. Patterson (Book World, Sept. 18). Ironically, Kennedy, after mentioning Patterson's objectivity, proceeds to insinuate his own political slant on this period.

Kennedy concludes that one of the themes of the book is "the rise of the ultra-conservative right" in America, leaving the distinct impression that, therefore, the country is heading downhill at a fast clip. Obviously, the reviewer is reflecting his own Yale-endowed political bias by conveniently overlooking the cause of the rightward tilt: the utter decline and fall of the increasingly ultraliberal Democratic Party.

Kennedy goes on to interject his questionable negative 25-year historical perspective that identifies the world balance of power, the environment, weapons proliferation and "colossal Pentagon budgets" as issues that the United States (i.e., especially Republican administrations) has been ignoring.

The reviewer concludes that the United States has become incredibly unpopular throughout the world. He longs for the good old days when "internationally admired" presidents such as Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy were in power (good Democratic Party stalwarts, you see). Of course, this completely ignores the fact that Roosevelt's popularity was not all that high with Hitler, Tojo and Mussolini, nor Kennedy's with Khrushchev and Mao, just as Bush is contemporaneously unloved by Osama bin Laden and his ilk.

While Restless Giant may be an objective history, Kennedy has used this platform to proselytize the "low culture" masses with his liberal worldview. Fortunately for him, his thesis is conveniently labeled by Book World as a "review."


Bethany Beach, Del.

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Charles Colson