At the Intersection of Science and Human Rights

Inmates sew at a compulsory drug rehabilitation centre in Kunming.

A study by Xue et al, published in Science‘s 13 April 2012 issue, tested an experimental treatment for addiction on 66 former heroin users confined at two detention centers in Beijing.

According to Reuters:

Studies published by Science must have approval from an ethics board; the Chinese scientists say their study had such approval from Peking University.

BUT…

Again quoting Reuters:

Joseph Amon, director of the health and human rights division at Human Rights Watch, charged in [a] letter that in both [detention centers] addicts are ‘detained without due process’ and, he told Reuters, ‘held in a closed institution where monitoring of human rights abuses is not allowed.’ It is not clear from the study whether the addicts ‘were voluntary patients’ at the facilities or forcibly held, Amon said in his letter.

Mr. Amon, who is also an associate in the department of epidemiology at the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University and a lecturer in public and international affairs at Princeton University, is correct. Arrest for illegal drug use in China can lead to compulsory treatment (for a minimum of 2 years) at detention centers that function as de facto penal colonies where inmates are fed substandard food and denied basic medical care. The detentions are enforced by police, where the drug user has no opportunity to have a trial, face a judge, or raise an appeal. When a drug user leaves detention, the problems do not end there: their having been arrested for drug use is noted on their national identification card, making future employment difficult and leaving them vulnerable to frequent and humiliating searches by police.

This is not a rare phenomenon: according to a May 2009 report by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), half a million people are confined in drug detention centers in China at any given time. Most reports indicate that “treatment” during detention looks like punishment, exploitation, or merely lame, consisting of unpaid labor in chicken farms or shoe factories, or in the form of untested “therapies” like sandbox play, art, or boxing.

The study by Xue et al was conducted at Beijing Ankang and Tiantanghe Drug Rehabilitation Centers, but these are two of the facilities that have raised concerns about human rights violations over the past years.

‘The journal is not an investigative body,’ a spokeswoman for Science told Reuters. ‘On the basis of the authors’ response as well as (the editors’) own internal review, which included a science ethicist, the concerns about human rights seem to have been addressed, and the paper remains in good standing at this time.’

Daniel Wikler, a bioethicist at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, publicly commented:

Human Rights Watch has published valuable reports on inhumane treatment of drug addicts in many lands, including both China and the United States…But why brand the experiment by Xue et al as unethical?… Mr. Amon’s objections to the Xue et al study do not amount to much. He seems to be using the publication of the study as a means of drawing attention to wrongs in China’s treatment of addicts… it would be a shame if Mr. Amon’s letter tarnished the reputation of Chinese and U.S. scientists who seem to have conducted an innocuous (but valuable) experiment… [emphasis added]

Wikler is a frequent lecturer on ethics and health in the PRC and Hong Kong and holds honorary appointments at two Beijing research institutions, but he is no expert on the Chinese government’s attitude toward human rights and the rule of law. It seems at least equally plausible that Mr. Amon is using the wrongs in China’s treatment of addicts as a means of drawing attention to the unethical nature of the Xue et al experiment.

Inmates take an oath to resist drugs at a mandatory rehab center in Wuhan, China. (Stringer Shanghai/Reuters).

The authors of the study included 11 scientists at Peking University, led by Yan-Xue Xue, and two scientists, David Epstein and Yavin Shaham, at the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), which is part of the U.S. National Institutes of Health. The NIDA declined to allow the two U.S. scientists to speak about the study. And the two NIDA researchers did not sign the response, nor did three of the Beijing University scientists. So the response to Amon’s letter published by Science in their 3 August 2012 issue was actually signed by only eight authors, all from Peking University, out of the total of 13.

In the authors’ response, the scientists explain that their work used subjects who they say were “court mandated” — but as noted before, drug users are usually sent to detention centers without any formal trial, never seeing the inside of a courtroom, because drug abuse in China isn’t considered a criminal offense. They dismiss Amon’s charges by stating, “The human rights violations mentioned by Amon would have violated China’s new National Narcotics Control Law and Chinese law in general…Patients who work are always paid. This provision has been put into effect for many years, and recently has been written in the National Narcotics Control Law, which bans forced labor.” This sounds like something written by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Such naivete about China’s respect for fundamental freedoms and human rights is disturbing. Chinese laws hardly justify confidence in the humane treatment of their study subjects.

There is a well-known saying in China that makes despotic officials (such as those staffing detention centers) happy: “the heaven is high and the emperor, far away”; therefore even if the central government is good and has formulated good laws, regulations, rules, codes, policies, etc., a despotic official may still do whatever he wants. China is too large and the central government is too far away to be aware of their malpractices; while the God who always upholds justice, is too high away to meddle.

In institutional settings, where conformity and compliance are rewarded, people may not feel that they have a real choice. Prisoners are aware that behavior is continuously monitored and assessed, and that this can have very real consequences.

As a scientist, I am appalled at the glib way the AAAS addresses human rights concerns. With drug user detainees in such circumstances in China, is voluntary informed consent of participants really possible? Are researchers who conduct research in these facilities complicit in the ill-treatment of drug users at the hands of Chinese authorities? I believe so.

Although the NIDA didn’t provide direct funding for the study, it did contribute financial support for the paper by paying the salaries of Epstein and Shaham. In a statement released to the Associated Press on April 22, the NIDA explained that its scientists “advised on the experimental design of the preclinical studies, and were involved in the data analyses and in the preparation of the manuscript.” Science magazine’s guidelines, as well as the NIDA’s code of conduct and standard scientific protocol, state that all co-authors are responsible for the sum total of any article published in its pages. By allowing their names to be published on the study, Epstein and Shaham took responsibility for the entire contents of the report, including the ethics of the research. Since these two scientists were significant enough contributors to the research to warrant authorship, should the study have also been reviewed under the (rather stringent) U.S. regulations governing prisoner research? I believe so. If it had been, would it have passed muster? I believe not. For one thing, under American law, federally funded research on inmates must be approved by a panel that includes at least one prisoner who volunteers to serve (see Title 45 CFR Part 46.304(b)).

I strongly urge Science magazine to retract this study for not adhering to standards protective of human subjects; verification of compliance with human rights standards should be obtained from third-party sources, not affiliated in any way with the CCP (which includes Peking University), as a matter of policy whenever considering publication of such studies from China.

References:

August 4, 2010 (a Wednesday)

Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.

— John Adams, “Argument in Defense of the Soldiers in the Boston Massacre Trials,” December 1770

Zen stones

Scales of Justice

On this date, U.S. District Judge Vaughn R. Walker ruled in Perry v. Schwarzenegger that Proposition 8, the amendment to the California Constitution that banned same-sex civil marriage, was in violation of the U.S. Constitution. The ruling put Walker, a Republican, at the forefront of the gay marriage debate and marked the latest in a long line of high-profile legal decisions for the longtime federal judge. He was appointed by Ronald Reagan in 1987, but his nomination was held up for two years in part because of opposition from gay rights activists. (As a lawyer, he had helped the U.S. Olympic Committee sue a gay ex-Olympian who had created the Gay Olympics, an athletic competition.)

Ironically, most major media organizations, from the New York Times and ABC News to the Washington Post and National Public Radio, have lately reported on Judge Walker as gay or had commentators saying it. In fact, he has never confirmed to anyone in the media what sexual orientation he may be. As Michelangelo Signorile recently pointed out in the Huffington Post:

[T]he outrageous hypocrisy here on the part of the corporate media — and one that shows how they are manipulated by the right — is the fact that, even with proof and evidence, news organizations refuse to report on the secretly gay sexual orientation of conservative, anti-gay politicians and public figures when the argument for their exposure is made from the left. [emphasis added]

Lawyer Brian Levine, an attorney who practices civil litigation in San Francisco, wrote an analysis of the Perry ruling in which he said:

Most of the decision (the first 109 pages) is the “factual findings.” This is crucial, and here’s why. On appeal, Judge Walker’s conclusions of law are basically irrelevant. Questions of law are decided fresh on appeal, and the trial court’s thoughts on the law are entitled to no deference. On the other hand, only a trial court can make factual findings. A Court of Appeal must give great deference to the factual findings of the trial court, especially when those findings are based on the credibility of witness testimony. Judge Walker knows this. He knows that his primary role in this case is to weigh the credibility of the evidence that was presented at trial and apply the facts that were proven to the law. But the law — unlike the facts — ultimately will be decided by nine Justices at a higher pay grade. Consequently, we should be grateful to Judge Walker for carefully and diligently going through the facts of the case, creating a detailed and compelling record for the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court.

So, the trial court’s findings of fact and rulings on credibility are here to stay, no matter whether Scalia, Thomas, Roberts, or Alito approve of same-sex marriage or not. Lawyer Paul Hogarth, an attorney at the Tenderloin Housing Clinic in San Francisco, identified several important findings of fact, including:

[Fact #] 27. Marriage between a man and a woman was traditionally organized based on presumptions of a division of labor along gender lines. Men were seen as suited for certain types of work and women for others. Women were seen as suited to raise children and men were seen as suited to provide for the family.

(. . .)

[Fact #] 32. California has eliminated marital obligations based on the gender of the spouse. Regardless of their sex or gender, marital partners share the same obligations to one another and to their dependents. As a result of Proposition 8, California nevertheless requires that a marriage consist of one man and one woman.

Homosexual couples and heterosexual couples are equal.

These two factual findings together lead to the logical conclusion that restricting marriage to heterosexual couples is an archaic concept that relies on a presumption that men and women are different, and somehow both indispensable to form a marriage. The times are changing, and justices in the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) cannot simply “stick their heads in the sand.” Three more factual findings are also noteworthy:

[Fact #] 58. Proposition 8 places the force of law behind stigmas against gays and lesbians, including: gays and lesbians do not have intimate relationships similar to heterosexual couples; gays and lesbians are not as good as heterosexuals; and gay and lesbian relationships do not deserve the full recognition of society.

(. . .)

[Fact #] 67. Proposition 8 singles out gays and lesbians and legitimates their unequal treatment. Proposition 8 perpetuates the stereotype that gays and lesbians are incapable of forming long-term loving relationships and that gays and lesbians are not good parents.

(. . .)

[Fact #] 79. The Proposition 8 campaign relied on fears that children exposed to the concept of same-sex marriage may become gay or lesbian. The reason children need to be protected from same-sex marriage was never articulated in official campaign advertisements. Nevertheless, the advertisements insinuated that learning about same-sex marriage could make a child gay or lesbian and that parents should dread having a gay or lesbian child.

These three factual findings together strongly suggest that Prop 8 was motivated by an irrational fear (animus) toward gays and lesbians. In ruling on Perry, Walker stated:

The evidence at trial regarding the campaign to pass Proposition 8 uncloaks the most likely explanation for its passage: a desire to advance the belief that opposite-sex couples are morally superior to same-sex couples. The campaign relied heavily on negative stereotypes about gays and lesbians and focused on protecting children from inchoate threats vaguely associated with gays and lesbians. . . .

At trial, proponents’ counsel attempted through cross-examination to show that the campaign wanted to protect children from learning about same-sex marriage in school. . . . The evidence shows, however, that Proposition 8 played on a fear that exposure to homosexuality would turn children into homosexuals and that parents should dread having children who are not heterosexual. . . .

The testimony of George Chauncey places the Protect Marriage campaign advertisements in historical context as echoing messages from previous campaigns to enact legal measures to disadvantage gays and lesbians. The Protect Marriage campaign advertisements ensured California voters had these previous fear-inducing messages in mind. The evidence at trial shows those fears to be completely unfounded.

Judge Vaughn R. Walker

Walker correctly recognized that the rhetoric of “defending marriage”, which proponents have always been unable to explain satisfactorily in my view, actually amounts to simply saying that heterosexual couples are morally better than homosexual couples. Note that both Judge Walker in his ruling and David Fleischer in The Prop 8 Report identified the same campaign strategy used by Prop 8 proponents as responsible for the passage of the initiative. Fleischer observed:

Recycling a lie as old as Anita Bryant’s “Save Our Children” campaign in 1977, the anti-gay Yes on 8 campaign whipped up fears about kids to move voters to its side. . . . Yes on 8’s fear-mongering about children was particularly effective because No on 8 waited sixteen of the thirty days remaining until the election was over to directly respond.

Judge Walker’s ruling concluded:

Moral disapproval alone is an improper basis on which to deny rights to gay men and lesbians. The evidence shows conclusively that Proposition 8 enacts, without reason, a private moral view that same-sex couples are inferior to opposite-sex couples. . . . Because Proposition 8 disadvantages gays and lesbians without any rational justification, Proposition 8 violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Proposition 8 fails to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license. Indeed, the evidence shows Proposition 8 does nothing more than enshrine in the California Constitution the notion that opposite sex couples are superior to same-sex couples. Because California has no interest in discriminating against gay men and lesbians, and because Proposition 8 prevents California from fulfilling its constitutional obligation to provide marriages on an equal basis, the court concludes that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional.

Supporters of same-sex marriage march from San Francisco's Castro neighborhood to celebrate the ruling on Prop 8.

After the ruling was announced, a lawyer on the defense team, Jim Campbell, repeated their familiar but nevertheless misleading refrain:

In America, we should uphold and respect the right of [the] people to make policy changes through the democratic process, especially changes that do nothing more than uphold the definition of marriage that has existed since the founding of this country and beyond.

As a lawyer, Campbell should know better — that the will of the majority is not unlimited. A minority who must depend on the benevolence of those outside of its community is always subject to popular attacks. And as the framers envisioned, the role of the judiciary is to act as “counter-majority” in order to protect minorities from the tyranny of the majority. I remind Campbell and the rest of his defense team of what Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States, the author of the Declaration of Independence, and one of the most influential Founding Fathers, said in his first Inaugural Address (1801):

All, too, will bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression.

Likewise, John Stuart Mill wrote in 1859 in his famous essay, On Liberty:

The “people” who exercise the power are not always the same people with those over whom it is exercised; and the “self-government” spoken of is not the government of each by himself, but of each by all the rest. The will of the people, moreover, practically means the will of the most numerous or the most active part of the people; the majority, or those who succeed in making themselves accepted as the majority; the people, consequently, may desire to oppress a part of their number; and precautions are as much needed against this as against any other abuse of power. [emphasis in original]

This idea was embedded in a 1943 SCOTUS decision, West Virginia State Board of Education v Barnette (319 US 624). Judge Walker quoted in Perry from the opinion written by Justice Robert Jackson 67 years ago:

One’s right to life, liberty, and property, to free speech, a free press, freedom of worship and assembly, and other fundamental rights may not be submitted to [a] vote; they depend on the outcome of no elections.

In the case of West Virginia, the SCOTUS did a rare reversal of itself, acknowledging a mistake it had made in a Jehovah’s Witness case three years earlier. What happened between 1940 and 1943 to Jehovah’s Witnesses gave Judge Walker in 2010 his most potent precedent to show that voter will does not trump the protection of minority rights. Lillian Gobitas was among thousands of Jehovah’s Witness children expelled from public school for not saluting the flag. This religious sect believes that the flag salute is an idolatrous act of worship of a man-made symbol, which is forbidden by their God. Her case, Minersville School District v Gobitis (310 US 586), went to the SCOTUS and a fundamental question was asked: Should a free society force its citizens to engage in patriotic ritual? In 1940, the court answered “Yes.” National unity was at stake. It also said the threat of being expelled from school was a good way to achieve compliance. If anyone felt put out, the court said, he could seek remedy at the ballot box by asking the majority to see it his way.

At the height of World War II, when the U.S. was fighting nationalism in Germany, where Jehovah’s Witnesses were being sent to concentration camps for refusing to do the Nazi salute, the SCOTUS revisited the case. When Justice Jackson got the chance, he tackled the ballot box notion head-on. He wrote that the “very purpose” of the Bill of Rights was to protect some issues from the volatility of politics and “place them beyond the reach of majorities.”

Of course, Walker’s ruling is not the end of Perry v Schwarzenegger; both sides are preparing for an appeal. The appeal would go first to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, then to the SCOTUS if the high court justices agree to review it. And, Prop 8 proponents may ultimately prevail, especially in the SCOTUS as presently constituted. But regardless of the final outcome, even if Prop 8 is ultimately upheld, Judge Walker’s ruling has broken ground in American jurisprudence and I believe his reasoning will someday be affirmed by the nation’s highest court.

August 3, 2007 (a Friday)

Ban the Chinese Government

On this date, in one of history’s more absurd acts of dictatorship and totalitarianism, China’s State Administration for Religious Affairs issued a decree (State Religious Affairs Bureau Order No. 5) that all reincarnations of tülkus of Tibetan Buddhism must get government approval, otherwise they are “illegal or invalid”. The Chinese word for tülku is huófó (活佛), which literally means “living Buddha” and is sometimes used to mean tülku, although this is rare outside of Chinese sources. However, according to the Dalai Lama, “this is wrong. Tibetan Buddhism recognizes no such thing.” Also, in interviews that he has given, the Dalai Lama has frequently dismissed the notion of “living Buddha”, referring to it as “nonsense”. In the context of Tibetan Buddhism, tülku is used to refer to the corporeal existence of enlightened Buddhist masters in general. 

The Chinese decree stated, “It is an important move to institutionalize management on reincarnation of living Buddhas. The selection of reincarnates must preserve national unity and solidarity of all ethnic groups and the selection process cannot be influenced by any group or individual from outside the country.” It also requires that temples which apply for reincarnation of a living Buddha must be “legally-registered venues for Tibetan Buddhism activities and are capable of fostering and offering proper means of support for the living Buddha.”

In other words, China banned reincarnation without government permission. Tibetan Buddhists believe lamas and other religious figures can consciously influence how they are reborn, and often are reborn many times so they can continue their religious pursuits. So, the Chinese government decree, which took effect September 1, 2007, requires that each of these people who plan to be reborn must complete an application and submit it to several Chinese government agencies for approval.

This is what the Chinese Communist Party bosses like to call “religious freedom”. But beyond the irony was China’s true motive: to cut off the influence of the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s exiled spiritual and (at that time) political leader, and to quell the region’s Buddhist religious establishment more than 50 years after China invaded the small Himalayan country. By barring any Buddhist monk living outside China from seeking reincarnation, the law effectively gives Chinese authorities the power to choose the next Dalai Lama, who, by tradition, is reborn to continue the work of relieving suffering.

August 3, 1908 (a Monday)

Marcellin Boule’s vision in 1909 of Stone Age Man.

On this date, a nearly complete, buried skeleton of a Neandertal was discovered in a cave at La Chapelle-aux-Saints, France by two young clergymen, brothers Amédée and Jean Bouyssonie. It was examined by Marcellin Boule who overlooked its arthritic condition and as a result, his published description, which characterized the Neandertal as a shuffling, bent-kneed, and hairy creature capable of “rudimentary intellectual abilities,” became stereotypical.

Sculpture of a Neandertal man from the Ancestors exhibit at the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology, University of New Mexico.

This mistake was corrected by research in the 1950s.

August 2, 1964 (a Sunday)

The Gulf of Tonkin Delusion

Photograph taken from USS Maddox (DD-731) during her engagement with three North Vietnamese motor torpedo boats in the Gulf of Tonkin, 2 August 1964. The view shows all three of the boats speeding towards the Maddox (official U.S. Navy Photograph, Naval History & Heritage Command).

Photograph taken from USS Maddox (DD-731) during her engagement with three North Vietnamese motor torpedo boats in the Gulf of Tonkin, 2 August 1964. The view shows all three of the boats speeding towards the Maddox (official U.S. Navy Photograph, Naval History & Heritage Command).

On this date, shortly after a clandestine raid on North Vietnamese facilities on Hon Me and Hon Nhieu Islands (off the North Vietnamese coast) by South Vietnamese gunboats under OPLAN-34A, the U.S. destroyer Maddox was fired on by three North Vietnamese torpedo boats.

OPLAN-34A was an operation approved by U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson on 16 January 1964 that involved raids by South Vietnamese commandos operating under U.S. orders against North Vietnamese coastal and island installations. Although American forces were not directly involved in the actual raids, U.S. Navy ships were on station to conduct electronic surveillance and monitor North Vietnamese defense responses under another program called Operation Desoto.

The August 2 attack on the Maddox was not unexpected. U.S. crews had interpreted one North Vietnamese message as indicating that they were preparing “military operations,” which the Maddox‘s Captain John Herrick assumed meant some sort of retaliatory attack. His superiors had ordered him to remain in the area.

At 8:00 PM on August 4 in the same area, the destroyers U.S.S. Maddox and U.S.S. C. Turner Joy intercepted radio messages from the North Vietnamese that gave Captain Herrick the “impression” that Communist patrol boats were planning an attack against the American ships, prompting him to call for air support from the carrier U.S.S. Ticonderoga.

Eight Crusader jets soon appeared overhead, but in the darkness, neither the pilots nor the ship crews saw any enemy craft. However, around 10:00 PM sonar operators reported torpedoes approaching. The U.S. destroyers  maneuvered to avoid the torpedoes and began to fire at the North Vietnamese patrol boats. When the action ended about two hours later, U.S. officers reported sinking two, or possibly three North Vietnamese boats, but no American was sure of ever having seen any enemy boats nor any enemy gunfire. Captain Herrick immediately communicated his doubts to his superiors and urged a “thorough reconnaissance in daylight.” Shortly thereafter, he informed Admiral U. S. Grant Sharp, commander of the Pacific Fleet, that the blips on the radar scope were apparently “freak weather effects” while the report of torpedoes in the water were probably due to “overeager” radar operators.

Because of the time difference, it was only 9:20 AM in Washington when the Pentagon received the initial report of the possible attack on the U.S. destroyers. When a more detailed report was received at 11:00 AM, there was still a lot of uncertainty as to just what had transpired.

In 2005, an internal National Security Agency (NSA) historical study was declassified [1][2]; it concluded that the Maddox had engaged the North Vietnamese Navy on August 2, but that there were no North Vietnamese Naval vessels present during the incident of August 4. The study stated regarding August 2:

At 1500G [3:00 PM Gulf of Tonkin time, 3:00 AM D.C. time], Captain Herrick ordered Ogier’s gun crews to open fire if the boats approached within ten thousand yards. At about 1505G, the Maddox fired three rounds to warn off the communist boats. This initial action was never reported by the Johnson administration, which insisted that the Vietnamese boats fired first.

Regarding August 4:

It is not simply that there is a different story as to what happened; it is that no attack happened that night… In truth, Hanoi’s navy was engaged in nothing that night but the salvage of two of the boats damaged on August 2 [emphasis in original].

Captain John J. Herrick, USN, Commander Destroyer Division 192 (at left) and Commander Herbert L. Ogier, USN, Commanding Officer of USS Maddox (DD-731), on board Maddox on 13 August 1964. They were in charge of the ship during her engagement with three North Vietnamese motor torpedo boats on 2 August 1964 (official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval Historical Center).

Captain John J. Herrick, USN, Commander Destroyer Division 192 (at left) and Commander Herbert L. Ogier, USN, Commanding Officer of USS Maddox (DD-731), on board Maddox on 13 August 1964. They were in charge of the ship during her engagement with three North Vietnamese motor torpedo boats on 2 August 1964 (official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval Historical Center).

Historian Robert J. Hanyok, the author of the study, which was originally circulated in 2001, discovered that the NSA had initially misinterpreted North Vietnamese intercepts, believing there was an attack on August 4. Mid-level NSA officials almost immediately discovered the error, he concluded, but covered it up by altering documents, so as to make it appear the second attack had happened. “Only [information] that supported the claim that the communists had attacked the two destroyers was given to Johnson administration officials.”

With regard to why this happened, Hanyok concluded that the motive was not political but was probably to cover up honest intelligence errors. He wrote:

As much as anything else, it was an awareness that President Johnson would brook no uncertainty that could undermine his position. Faced with this attitude, Ray Cline [CIA's deputy director for intelligence at the time of the action] was quoted as saying “… we knew it was bum dope that we were getting from Seventh Fleet, but we were told only to give facts with no elaboration on the nature of the evidence. Everyone knew how volatile LBJ was. He did not like to deal with uncertainties.”

Nevertheless, an August 4 National Security Council meeting which was held from 6:15-6:40 PM establishes that everyone present should have known that any North Vietnamese attacks were defensive in nature – that is how the CIA Director characterized them at the meeting [3]. At the time of this meeting, there was still conflicting evidence for the second attack, so they were not totally disingenuous in assuming that it had occurred.

Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara: The North Vietnamese PT boats have continued their attacks on the two U.S. destroyers in international waters in the Gulf of Tonkin…

Secretary of State Dean Rusk: An immediate and direct reaction by us is necessary. The unprovoked attack on the high seas is an act of war for all practical purposes…

Secretary McNamara: We have agreed to air strikes on two bases in the north of North Vietnam and two base complexes in the south of North Vietnam…

(…)

President Johnson: Do they want a war by attacking our ships in the middle of the Gulf of Tonkin?

CIA Director John McCone: No. The North Vietnamese are reacting defensively to our attacks on their off-shore islands. They are responding out of pride and on the basis of defense considerations.

McCone’s observation did not stop the administration’s misrepresentation of the attack as unprovoked.

Johnson proceeded quickly to authorize retaliatory air strikes against North Vietnam. At 11:20 PM on August 4, Admiral Sharp telephoned Secretary McNamara to confirm that that the Ticonderoga “got her planes off at 0243”, or 10:43 PM Washington time and 10:43 AM Saigon time. Sharp indicated that it would take the aircraft almost 2 hours to reach their targets. After discussing the matter with General Wheeler, McNamara called President Johnson to inform him. At 11:36 PM, Johnson addressed the nation from the White House over radio and television, reporting the retaliatory attacks. [4] On August 5, he gathered congressional leaders and, without divulging the circumstances that might have helped provoke the torpedo attack, accused the North Vietnamese of “open aggression on the high seas.”

On 20 February 1968, Secretary McNamara testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee [5] that:

On August 2, one of our destroyers was attacked by North Vietnamese naval forces without provocation while on patrol on the high seas. Since the destroyer had suffered no damage and had repulsed and damaged her attackers, and since the possibility seemed to exist that the incident was an isolated act, no further military response was made. North Vietnam was warned the next day, however, of the “grave consequences which would inevitably follow” another such attack. Furthermore, the President announced that the patrol would continue and would consist of two destroyers. The next night, the two destroyers were also attacked without provocation on the high seas by North Vietnamese naval forces.

McNamara so testified even though incontrovertible evidence was then available to him that the second attack had not occurred.

George Ball, who at the time was an Undersecretary of State, later commented [6] in a 1977 BBC radio interview that:

Many of the people who were associated with the war were looking for any excuse to initiate bombing. The sending of a destroyer up the Tonkin Gulf was primarily for provocation… There was a feeling that if the destroyer got into some trouble, that it would provide the provocation we needed.

Squadron commander James Stockdale was one of the U.S. pilots flying overhead during the second alleged attack. Stockdale wrote in his 1984 book In Love and War: “[I] had the best seat in the house to watch that event, and our destroyers were just shooting at phantom targets — there were no PT boats there… There was nothing there but black water and American fire power.” Stockdale said his superiors ordered him to keep quiet about this. [7]

Starting in 2002 Hanyok and other government historians argued that his study should be made public. But according to an intelligence official familiar with some internal discussions of the matter, their efforts were rebuffed by higher-level agency policymakers, who by the next year were fearful that it might prompt uncomfortable comparisons with the flawed intelligence used to justify the Iraq War (Operation Iraqi Freedom) that commenced in 2003 [8].

The justification for the “Gulf of Tonkin Resolution” — the closest thing there ever was to a declaration of war against North Vietnam — was the incident that occurred in the Gulf of Tonkin on 4 August 1964. The simple fact is that there was no such incident.

A pattern took hold: continuous government lies passed on by pliant mass media. By reporting official claims as absolute truths, American journalism opened the floodgates for the bloody Vietnam War. [9] In the end, the operations in Vietnam would last for more than a decade and would bring about the deaths of over 50,000 U.S. soldiers and between 2 and 3 million Vietnamese citizens.

References:

  1. Robert J. Hanyok, “Skunks, Bogies, Silent Hounds, and the Flying Fish: The Gulf of Tonkin Mystery, 2-4 August 1964Cryptologic Quarterly, Winter 2000/Spring 2001 Edition, Vol. 19, No. 4 / Vol. 20, No. 1.
  2. ————-, “Spartans in Darkness: American SIGINT and the Indochina War, 1945-1975″, Center for Cryptologic History, National Security Agency, 2002. Accessed on 2 August 2013 at http://www.fas.org/irp/nsa/spartans/index.html.
  3. “Summary Notes of the 538th Meeting of the National Security Council,” Foreign Relations of the United States, 1964–1968: Volume I, Vietnam, 1964, Document 278. Accessed on 2 August 2013 at http://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1964-68v01/d278.
  4. “Editorial Note,” Foreign Relations of the United States, 1964–1968: Volume I, Vietnam, 1964, Document 286. Accessed on 2 August 2013 at http://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1964-68v01/d286.
  5. Hearing Before the Committee on Foreign Relations, United States Senate, Ninetieth Congress, Second Session, with the Honorable Robert S. McNamara, Secretary of Defense, on February 20, 1968, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC: 1968. Accessed on 2 August 2013 at http://www.history.navy.mil/library/online/tonkinparti.htm.
  6. James Bamford, Body of Secrets (New York: Doubleday, 2001) p. 301. William Bundy has taken issue with this judgment, arguing that escalating the war North “didn’t fit in with our plans at all” (Robert McNamara, “The Tonkin Gulf Resolution,” in Andrew Jon Rotter, Light at the End of the Tunnel: A Vietnam War Anthology [New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1991] p. 83). However, it no doubt fit in with some people’s plans.
  7. Jim Stockdale and Sybil Stockdale. In Love and War: The Story of a Family’s Ordeal and Sacrifice During the Vietnam Years (1st ed.) (New York, NY: Harper & Row, 1984).
  8. “Robert J. Hanyok: His NSC study on Tonkin Gulf Deception” New York Times (31 October 2005). Accessed on 2 August 2013 at http://hnn.us/roundup/entries/17620.html.
  9. Jeff Cohen and Norman Solomon. “30-year Anniversary: Tonkin Gulf Lie Launched Vietnam War”, Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting. Posted 27 July 1994. Accessed on 2 August 2013 at http://fair.org/media-beat-column/30-year-anniversary-tonkin-gulf-lie-launched-vietnam-war/.

August 1, 1744 (a Saturday)

Do we not therefore perceive that by the action of the laws of organization . . . nature has in favorable times, places, and climates multiplied her first germs of animality, given place to developments of their organizations, . . . and increased and diversified their organs? Then. . . aided by much time and by a slow but constant diversity of circumstances, she has gradually brought about in this respect the state of things which we now observe. How grand is this consideration, and especially how remote is it from all that is generally thought on this subject!

– Text of a lecture given by Lamarck at the Musée National d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris, May 1803

Zen stones

Jean-Baptiste Lamarck

Jean-Baptiste Lamarck

On this date, Jean-Baptiste Lamarck was born in the village of Bazentin-le-Petit in the north of France. Charles Darwin, Charles Lyell, Ernst Haeckel, and other early evolutionists acknowledged him as a great zoologist and as having helped establish the fact of evolution. Charles Darwin wrote in 1861 (The Origin of Species 3d ed., p. xiii):

Lamarck was the first man whose conclusions on the subject excited much attention. This justly celebrated naturalist first published his views in 1801. . . he first did the eminent service of arousing attention to the probability of all changes in the organic, as well as in the inorganic world, being the result of law, and not of miraculous interposition.

Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon, one of the top French scientists of the day, mentored Lamarck and helped him gain membership to the French Academy of Sciences in 1779 and a commission as a Royal Botanist in 1781. Lamarck was appointed curator and professor of invertebrate zoology at the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle in 1793.

Lamarck began as an essentialist who believed species were unchanging; however, after working on the mollusks of the Paris Basin, he grew convinced that transmutation (that is, evolution) of a species occurred over time. He became one of the first to use the term biology in its modern sense in his book Hydrogéologie, published in 1802. Lamarck’s book, Philosophie Zoologique (Zoological Philosophy), published in 1809 most clearly states his theories of evolution. Throughout his life, Lamarck criticized palaeontologist Georges Cuvier’s anti-evolutionary stance. He died penniless in Paris on December 28, 1829.

July 29, 1925 (a Wednesday)

Werner Heisenberg.

On this date, Werner Heisenberg’s paper establishing the basic principles of quantum mechanics was received for publication by the scientific journal Zeitschrift für Physik. He later received the Nobel Prize in Physics for 1932 “for the creation of quantum mechanics, the application of which has, inter alia, led to the discovery of the allotropic forms of hydrogen”.

The leading theory of the atom when Heisenberg entered the University of Munich in 1920 was the quantum theory of Bohr, Sommerfeld, and their co-workers. This concept was based on the classical motion of electrons in well-defined orbits around the nucleus (the so-called planetary model of the atom) and the quantum restrictions were imposed arbitrarily so that the consequences of the atomic model fit in with the existing experimental results. Although the theory had been highly successful in certain situations, during the early 1920s three areas of research indicated that this theory was inadequate and would need to be replaced. These areas included the study of light emitted and absorbed by atoms (spectroscopy); the predicted properties of atoms and molecules; and the nature of light itself–did it act like waves or like a stream of particles?

During his work in Munich, Göttingen, and Copenhagen, Heisenberg engaged intensively in the theoretical study of all three of these areas of research. By 1924 physicists in Göttingen and Copenhagen were agreed that the old quantum theory had to be replaced by some new “quantum mechanics.”

Heisenberg set himself the task of finding the new quantum mechanics upon returning to Göttingen from Copenhagen in April 1925. Since the electron orbits in atoms could not be observed, it cannot be assumed with sufficient certainty that the planetary orbits of electrons postulated by Bohr really exist, thought Heisenberg. The orbital picture visualized for this model could never be put to the test of experiment. Heisenberg argued that it was a mistake to think of the structure of the atom in visual terms at all. What we really know of the atom is what we can really observe of it. Thus, Heisenberg proposed to construct a theory for describing the structure of the atom in terms of quantities which can be actually observed, such as frequencies and intensities of the light emitted or absorbed by atoms.

On June 7, to escape the effects of a bad attack of hay fever, Heisenberg left for the pollen free North Sea island of Helgoland. While there, in between climbing and learning by heart poems from Goethe’s West-östlicher Diwan, he continued to ponder the issue and eventually realized the possible solution, and he later wrote:

It was about three o’ clock at night when the final result of the calculation lay before me. At first I was deeply shaken. I was so excited that I could not think of sleep. So I left the house and awaited the sunrise on the top of a rock.

After Heisenberg returned to Göttingen, he mailed Wolfgang Pauli his calculations along with a cover letter in which he commented:

Everything is still vague and unclear to me, but it seems as if the electrons will no more move on orbits.

About July 15, Heisenberg gave the same paper of his calculations to Max Born, saying, “…he had written a crazy paper and did not dare to send it in for publication, and that Born should read it and advise him on it…” prior to publication. Heisenberg then departed on a month-long lecture trip to Holland and England and a camping trip to Scandinavia with his youth-movement group, leaving Born to analyze the paper.

After puzzling over the derivation, Born finally recognized that the unfamiliar mathematics was related to the mathematics of special arrays of numbers known as “matrices” (singular: matrix). The mathematical devices called matrices had been known since the 1850s but Heisenberg was the first to apply them in physics. Born sent Heisenberg’s paper off for publication. Using the mathematics of matrices, scientists had at last a new mechanics for calculating the quantum behavior of particles, a quantum mechanics that was sometimes referred to as “matrix mechanics.”

References:

  • Werner Heisenberg, “Über quantentheoretische Umdeutung kinematischer und mechanischer Beziehungen” [Quantum theoretical re-interpretation of kinematic and mechanical relations], Zeitschrift für Physik, 33, 879-893, 1925 (received July 29, 1925).
  • Werner Heisenberg. Der Teil und das Ganze. (Munich: Piper, 1969.) [English: Physics and Beyond: Encounters and Conversations. A.J. Pomerans, trans. (New York: Harper & Row, 1971.)]

July 28, 1840 (a Tuesday)

Edward Drinker Cope

On this date, the American paleontologist, herpetologist, and mammalogist Edward Drinker Cope was born. Cope was a scientist by self-study and personal nature — he held no degrees except honorary ones from Haverford College and, late in life, from the University of Munich. He made many important dinosaur discoveries in western North America but spent 20 years in a protracted battle with his archrival, O.C. Marsh, for professional prestige in what came to be known as the Great Bone Wars. Financially ruined in his later years, Cope had to sell his house and move in with his museum collections. He spent his final days on a cot surrounded by piles of bones.

Cope accepted the fact of evolution but thought that change in developmental (embryonic) timing, not natural selection, was the explanation for how evolution occurs. That is, a new developmental stage would be tacked onto the end of the developmental process, pushing the old end stage further back in development. Such was the view of the American school of self-proclaimed, so-called neo-Lamarckians, who invoked an internal drive for “accelerated growth” as well as Lamarckian inheritance of acquired characteristics to account for the seemingly linear pattern of biological evolution that they detected in specimens from the rich fossil beds of the American West. That is, new developmental stages would cause some body parts to become very well developed if those body parts were in heavy use. Thus, the neo-Lamarckians thought that variation and speciation were due to changes in timing of development in different organ systems due to use. In Europe, important contemporaneous neo-Lamarckians included the German biologist Ernst Haeckel and the British botanist George Henslow.

July 27, 1921 (a Wednesday)

On this date at the University of Toronto, Canadian scientists Frederick Banting and Charles Best successfully isolated insulin from canine test subjects — a hormone they believed could prevent diabetes — for the first time. On November 14, following successful trials on diabetic dogs, the discovery was announced to the world.

At that time, the only way to treat the fatal disease was through a diet low in carbohydrates and sugar and high in fat and protein. Instead of dying shortly after diagnosis, this diet allowed diabetics to live — for about a year.

On 11 January 1922, Banting and Best gave 14-year-old Leonard Thompson an injection of a reasonably pure extract of insulin from the pancreases of cattle from slaughterhouses. His blood sugar levels dropped significantly, but an abscess developed at the injection site making him acutely ill. A refined extract was again administered on 23 January, causing a drop in blood sugar levels from 520 mg/dl to 120 mg/dl within 24 hours. Leonard lived for 13 years, taking doses of insulin, before dying of pneumonia (another disease for which no cure was available in those days).

Within a year of isolating the hormone, the first human sufferers of diabetes were receiving insulin treatments, and eventually countless lives were saved from what was previously regarded as a fatal disease. By early 1923, insulin had become widely available, and Banting and Macleod were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for that year.

References:

July 26, 1925 (a Sunday)

William Jennings Bryan in a Dayton pulpit.

On this date, after eating an enormous dinner, William Jennings Bryan, prosecutor in the Scopes Monkey Trial, laid down to take a nap and died in his sleep. Bryan’s personal physician, Dr. J. Thomas Kelly, concluded, “Bryan died of diabetes melitis, the immediate cause being the fatigue incident to the heat and his extraordinary exertions due to the Scopes trial.” Clarence Darrow was hiking in the Smoky Mountains when word of Bryan’s death reached him. When reporters suggested to him that Bryan died of a broken heart, Darrow said, “Broken heart nothing; he died of a busted belly.” In a louder voice he added, “His death is a great loss to the American people.”

Bryan’s death triggered an outpouring of grief from the “common” Americans who felt they had lost their greatest champion. A special train carried him to his burial place in Arlington National Cemetery. Thousands of people lined the tracks. Historian Paul Boyer says, “Bryan’s death represented the end of an era. This man who had loomed so large in the American political and cultural landscape for thirty years had now passed from the scene.”

July 25, 2007 (a Wednesday)

Church/State sign.

On this date, Pope Benedict XVI said the debate raging in some countries — particularly the United States and his native Germany — between creationism and evolution was an “absurdity,” saying that evolution can coexist with faith. “They are presented as alternatives that exclude each other,” the pope said. “This clash is an absurdity because on one hand there is much scientific proof in favor of evolution, which appears as a reality that we must see and which enriches our understanding of life and being as such.”

The pontiff, speaking as he was concluding his holiday in northern Italy, also said that while there is much scientific proof to support evolution, the theory could not exclude a role by God. He said evolution did not answer all the questions: “Above all it does not answer the great philosophical question, ‘Where does everything come from?'”

July 25, 306 C.E.

Bronze statue of Constantine I in York, England, near the spot where he was proclaimed emperor in 306 C.E.

On this date, Gaius Flavius Valerius Aurelius Constantinus (27 February 272 C.E.–22 May 337 C.E.) commonly known as Constantine I, Constantine the Great, or (among Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Christians) Saint Constantine was proclaimed augustus (Roman emperor) by his troops, and ruled an ever-growing portion of the Roman Empire until his death.

Constantine is best remembered in modern times for the so-called Edict of Milan in January 313, which fully legalized Christianity in the empire for the first time, and the Council of Nicaea in 325, which he chaired. A previous edict of toleration had been recently issued by the emperor Galerius from Serdica and posted up at Nicomedia on 13 May 311. By its provisions, the Christians, who had “followed such a caprice and had fallen into such a folly that they would not obey the institutes of antiquity”, were granted an indulgence:

Wherefore, for this our indulgence, they ought to pray to their God for our safety, for that of the republic, and for their own, that the commonwealth may continue uninjured on every side, and that they may be able to live securely in their homes.

Their confiscated property, however, was not restored until the Edict of Milan was signed. The Christians’ meeting places and other properties were to be returned:

…the same shall be restored to the Christians without payment or any claim of recompense and without any kind of fraud or deception…

The church could now own land, Christians could worship openly, and imperial patronage resulted in the affirmation of a single creed. However, now that bishops had imperial support, those who dissented from the dominant concept of orthodoxy or othopraxis could be punished. Thus, Christianity was changed from a fairly loose and diverse body of believers into a orthodoxy based on a uniform faith with a disciplined hierarchical institution on the Roman pattern.

Previously reluctant to engage in military action, Christians now joined the army and reconciled violence with their faith. Once Christianity became established as the state religion in the years following Constantine, the state began to impose Christianity on everyone and to persecute dissent, just as it had once persecuted Christians before Constantine’s conversion. Ironically, Christian leaders wasted no time taking advantage of their power to punish heretics, pagans, and Jews, now backed by the coercive power of the state.

When Constantine said “In hoc signo vinces” (“In this sign we conquer”), he wasn’t kidding.

July 24, 1984 (a Tuesday)

Scales of Justice

On this date, the body of nine-year-old Dawn Venice Hamilton was found in a wooded area of Rosedale, Maryland, near her home. The young girl had been raped and beaten to death with a rock.

After witnesses saw a suspicious man in the area of the murder scene, a police sketch was publicized on television and in newspapers. Two weeks later, an anonymous caller identified Kirk Bloodsworth, a 23-year-old ex-Marine, as the man in the sketch. Bloodsworth, who had been in Baltimore (which is close to Rosedale) at the time of Hamilton’s murder, later returned to his home in Cambridge and told friends that he had done something that would “harm his marriage”.

Prosecutors, with little evidence other than this, accused Bloodsworth of murder. During his trial, the defense presented several witnesses who said that they were with Bloodsworth at the time of the murder, but the state had presented five witnesses who testified that they had seen Bloodsworth with the victim. The jury convicted Bloodsworth in March of 1985 for the brutal killing and sexual assault of the nine year old girl and sent him to death row.

On appeal, Bloodsworth won a new trial, on the ground that the prosecution had withheld evidence indicating that another suspect might have been the killer. A few weeks before the second trial, evidence of yet another suspect was made available to Bloodsworth’s counsel, who chose not to pursue the lead. This time, he was convicted and sentenced to two life terms, to run consecutively.

For the next seven years, Bloodsworth maintained his innocence while in prison. In the meantime, forensic DNA testing had come of age. On Dawn Hamilton’s underwear, police had observed a spot of semen, smaller than a dime, and science had finally progressed to the point where this small amount of physical evidence could be tested. Bloodworth’s attorney, Bob Morin, with support from the Innocence Project, a nonprofit legal clinic formed to promote the use of DNA analysis to exonerate innocent prisoners, persuaded prosecutors in 1992 to compare Bloodsworth’s DNA with the DNA of dried sperm found on the victim. The DNA testing, performed by Forensic Science Associates, a private California laboratory, excluded Bloodsworth.

After the FBI’s crime lab confirmed this test, prosecutors in Baltimore County had no choice but to release Bloodsworth (but pointedly refused to apologize). On 28 June 1993, nine years after first going to jail, Kirk Bloodsworth was released. He was officially pardoned in December 1993. He had spent over eight years in prison, two of those years facing execution.

PCR DNA tests, Bloodsworth case, 1993 (Forensic Science Associates)

In 2003, after much prodding from Bloodsworth and Innocence Project lawyers, Maryland authorities finally searched their DNA database for a “cold hit” match of the evidence in the Dawn Hamilton case. The search turned up Kimberley Shay Ruffner, a convicted rapist who Bloodsworth had known in prison, who was then tried and found guilty of the 1984 murder.

Bloodsworth thus became the first person to be exonerated from death row through postconviction DNA testing. This led to the Justice for All Act of 2004, which included the Innocence Protection Act of 2004 as Title IV, legislation that, among other things, grants any federal inmate the right to petition a federal court for DNA testing to support a claim of innocence. Title IV also established the Kirk Bloodsworth Post-Conviction DNA Testing Grant Program to award grants to States to help defray the costs of post-conviction DNA testing. By August 2004, a total of 144 prisoners, some on death row, had been exonerated by DNA testing.

Most Americans know that there is at least a danger that innocent people will be executed. Yet according to a recent Angus Reid Public Opinion poll (4 Oct 2011), 81% of Americans still support the death penalty for convicted murderers. Many believe that we can ensure that the innocent are never executed if we take further measures — provide competent defense counsel, improve police methods, and so on. But as the Bloodsworth case underlines, this faith in the perfectibility of capital punishment is misplaced. The system can be improved, but it cannot be perfected.

Today, Bloodsworth is an activist for criminal justice reform and a public speaker. Over 30 state and regional innocence projects are at work.

July 23, 2004 (a Friday)

The Creation of Adam (Michelangelo)

The Creation of Adam (Michelangelo)

On this date, the document “Communion and Stewardship: Human Persons Created in the Image of God” was published on the relationship between creation, evolution, and Christian faith by the International Theological Commission (ITC) of the Roman Catholic Church. At the time, the ITC was headed by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI. Although the function of the ITC is to advise the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith of the Church, and documents of the ITC are not considered expressions of Church teaching, this document does indicate that Christianity and evolution are certainly compatible:

According to the widely accepted scientific account, the universe erupted 15 billion years ago in an explosion called the ‘Big Bang’ and has been expanding and cooling ever since. Later there gradually emerged the conditions necessary for the formation of atoms, still later the condensation of galaxies and stars, and about 10 billion years later the formation of planets. In our own solar system and on earth (formed about 4.5 billion years ago), the conditions have been favorable to the emergence of life. While there is little consensus among scientists about how the origin of this first microscopic life is to be explained, there is general agreement among them that the first organism dwelt on this planet about 3.5 – 4 billion years ago. Since it has been demonstrated that all living organisms on earth are genetically related, it is virtually certain that all living organisms have descended from this first organism. Converging evidence from many studies in the physical and biological sciences furnishes mounting support for some theory of evolution to account for the development and diversification of life on earth, while controversy continues over the pace and mechanisms of evolution. While the story of human origins is complex and subject to revision, physical anthropology and molecular biology combine to make a convincing case for the origin of the human species in Africa about 150,000 years ago in a humanoid population of common genetic lineage. However it is to be explained, the decisive factor in human origins was a continually increasing brain size, culminating in that of Homo sapiens. With the development of the human brain, the nature and rate of evolution were permanently altered: with the introduction of the uniquely human factors of consciousness, intentionality, freedom and creativity, biological evolution was recast as social and cultural evolution. [Emphasis added; from the statement "Communion and Stewardship: Human Persons Created in the Image of God," plenary sessions held in Rome 2000-2002.]

July 22, 1910 (a Friday)

On this date, the American embryologist and geneticist T(homas) H(unt) Morgan reported in the journal Science:

In a pedigree culture of Drosophila which had been running for nearly a year through a considerable number of generations, a male appeared with white eyes.

White-eyed and wild type Drosophila.

For the science of genetics, the portent of the white mutation was enormous. Quickly, additional sex-linked mutants were discovered by Morgan and his students. By 1913 Sturtevant, with unsurpassed intuition, constructed the first linear genetic map of the X chromosome, followed by Bridges’ cytogenetic proof in 1916 of the chromosomal theory of inheritance. In 1915, Morgan, Sturtevant, Calvin Bridges and H. J. Muller wrote the seminal book The Mechanism of Mendelian Heredity. By 1925 the vast amount of information accumulated by Morgan and his students in less than 15 years was summarized in the monograph The Genetics of Drosophila. Documented therein are those fundamental principles of genetics derived from the study of Drosophila, principles that have withstood the test of time and that are included in all contemporary textbooks of genetics.

Interestingly, the period from approximately 1875 to 1925 has been called “the eclipse of Darwinism.” The phrase refers to the circumstances prior to the modern evolutionary synthesis when evolution was widely accepted in scientific circles but relatively few biologists thought that natural selection was its primary mechanism. In fact, many biologists considered natural selection to have been a wrong guess on Darwin’s part, and during his early career, Morgan had been one of them. In Evolution and Adaptation (1903), he had argued the anti-Darwinist position that selection never could produce wholly new species by acting on slight individual differences.

However, after discovering many small stable heritable mutations in Drosophila, Morgan had gradually changed his mind.  Since Morgan (1915) had ‘solved the problem of heredity’, he was in a unique position to examine critically Darwin’s theory of natural selection.  On February 24, 1916, Morgan began a series of lectures that would later be the basis of a book he published entitled A Critique of the Theory of Evolution (1916). The subsequent lectures occurred on March 1, 8, and 15.  He discussed questions such as:

  • Does selection play any role in evolution?
  • How can selection produce anything new?
  • Is selection no more than the elimination of the unfit?
  • Is selection a creative force?

After eliminating some misunderstandings and explaining in detail the new science of Mendelian heredity and its chromosomal basis, Morgan concluded that “the evidence shows clearly that the characters of wild animals and plants, as well as those of domesticated races, are inherited both in the wild and in domesticated forms according to the Mendel’s Law.”  “Evolution has taken place by the incorporation into the race of those mutations that are beneficial to the life and reproduction of the organism.”  “Injurious mutations have practically no chance of becoming established.”  Far from rejecting evolution as the title of his 1916 book may suggest, Morgan not only laid the foundation of the science of genetics, but by doing so, he also laid the theoretical foundation for the mechanism of evolution: natural selection.  Heredity was an essential  requirement of Darwin’s theory of natural selection, but Darwin had a wrong theory of heredity. Therefore, Darwinism could not progress without a correct theory of genetics. Morgan furnished that foundation, which is why his  work was so important for the neo-Darwinian synthesis, despite his criticism at the beginning of his career.

References:

  • Bridges, C . B., “Nondisjunction as proof of the chromosome
    theory of heredity” Genetics 1: 1-52, 107-163 (1916).
  • Green, M.M., “The ‘Genesis of the white-eyed mutant’ in Drosophila melanogaster: A reappraisalGenetics 142: 329-331 (Feb. 1996).
  • Morgan, T.H., “Sex-limited inheritance in Drosophila” Science 32: 120-122 (1910).
  • Morgan, T.H., A Critique of the Theory of Evolution (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1916).
  • Morgan, T.H., Sturtevant, A.H., Muller, H.J. and C. B. Bridges, The Mechanism of Mendelian Heredity (New York, NY: Henry Holt, 1915).
  • Morgan, T. H., Bridges, C.B. and A.H. Sturtevant, “The
    genetics of Drosophila” Bibliogr. Genet. 2: 1-262 (1925).
  • Sturtevant., H., “The linear arrangement of six sex-linked
    factors in Drosophila as shown by their mode of association” J.
    Exp. Zool.
    14: 43-59 (1913).

July 21, 1553

Warrior-Monks and Dwarf Pirates

Shaolin monk in contemplation.

On today’s date, 120 Buddhist temple monks met an approximately equal number of “Japanese pirates” in battle.

The so-called Japanese pirates, wakou or woku, were actually a confederation of Japanese, Chinese, and even some Portuguese citizens who banded together. (The pejorative term wakou literally means “dwarf pirates.”) They raided China during the Ming Dynasty for silks and metal goods, which could be sold in Japan for up to ten times their value in China.

By 1550, the Shaolin Temple had been in existence for approximately 1,000 years. The resident monks were famous throughout Ming China for their specialized and highly effective form of kung fu (gong fu).

Thus, when ordinary Chinese imperial army and navy troops proved unable to eliminate the pirate menace, Nanjing’s Vice-Commissioner-in-Chief, Wan Biao, decided to deploy monastic fighters. He called upon the warrior-monks of three temples: Wutaishan in Shanxi Province, Funiu in Henan Province, and Shaolin.

According to contemporary chronicler Zheng Ruoceng, some of the other monks challenged the leader of the Shaolin contingent, Tianyuan, who sought leadership of the entire monastic force. In a scene reminiscent of countless Hong Kong films, the eighteen challengers chose eight from among themselves to attack Tianyuan.

First, the eight men came at the Shaolin monk with bare hands, but he fended them all off. They then grabbed swords; Tianyuan responded by seizing the long iron bar that was used to lock the gate. Wielding the bar as a staff, he defeated all eight of the other monks simultaneously. They were forced to bow to Tianyuan, and acknowledge him as the proper leader of the monastic forces. Zheng narrates these events in his account (written around 1568):

Tianyuan said: “I am real Shaolin. Is there any martial art in which you are good enough to justify your claim for superiority over me?” The eighteen [Hangzhou] monks chose from amongst them eight men to challenge him. The eight immediately attacked Tianyuan using their hand combat techniques. Tianyuan was standing at that moment atop the open terrace in front of the hall. His eight assailants tried to climb the stairs leading to it from the courtyard underneath. However, he saw them coming, and struck with his fists, blocking them from climbing.

A Shaolin monk soars through the air in a kung fu stance.

The eight monks ran around to the hall’s back entrance. Then, armed with swords, they charged through the hall to the terrace in front. They slashed their weapons at Tianyuan who, hurriedly grabbing the long bar that fastened the hall’s gate, struck horizontally. Try as they did, they could not get into the terrace. They were, on the contrary, overcome by Tianyuan.Yuekong (the challengers’ leader) surrendered and begged forgiveness. Then, the eighteen monks prostrated themselves in front of Tianyuan, and offered their submission.

The monks fought the pirates in at least four battles. The second battle was the monks’ greatest victory: the Battle of Wengjiagang, fought in the Huangpu River delta in July, 1553. They chased the remnants of the pirate band twenty miles southward for ten days, killing every last pirate. Monastic forces suffered only four casualties in the fighting.

During the battle and mop-up operation, the Shaolin monks were noted for their ruthlessness. One monk used an iron staff to kill the wife of one of the pirates as she tried to escape the slaughter.

Although it seems quite odd that Buddhist monks from Shaolin and other temples would not only practice martial arts, but actually march into battle and kill people, perhaps they felt the need to maintain their fierce reputation.  After all, Shaolin was a very wealthy place. In the lawless atmosphere of late Ming China, it must have been very useful for the monks to be renowned as a deadly fighting force.

References:

  • Meir Shahar, The Shaolin Monastery: History, Religion, and the Chinese Martial Arts (Honolulu, HI: University of Hawaii Press, 2008) pp. 69-70.

July 21, 365 C.E.

The Hellenic arc.

Greece is one of the world’s most seismically active countries. The ancient Greeks attributed earthquakes to the God of the Sea, Poseidon, perhaps because so many of them were centered under the waters. On today’s date at about sunrise, the “Cretan earthquake of 365″, an undersea earthquake with an assumed epicenter near Crete and estimated to have been higher than 8.0 on the present-day Richter Scale, occurred. It caused widespread destruction in central and southern Greece, northern Libya, Egypt, Cyprus, and Sicily. In Crete, nearly all towns were destroyed.

Of course, today we know that earthquakes are due to the movement of huge tectonic plates on the Earth’s surface. The Africa plate subducts beneath the Aegean Sea plate along the Hellenic arc (aka Hellenic trench or subduction zone), from the western Peloponnesus through Crete and Rhodes to western Turkey, at a rate of almost 40 mm/year. As a result, shallow-focus earthquakes (focal depths less than 50 km) occur on faults in the boundary-region of the two plates. In the twentieth century, the largest shallow-focus earthquakes to have occurred near the Hellenic-arc plate boundary had magnitudes of about 7.2, but the earthquake centered near Crete in 365 CE was much larger than any Hellenic arc earthquake of the twentieth century. In other parts of the world, convergent-plate tectonic environments similar to that of the Hellenic arc have produced earthquakes of magnitude 8 and larger.

The Crete earthquake was followed by a tsunami which devastated the southern and eastern coasts of the Mediterranean, particularly Libya, Alexandria, and the Nile Delta, killing thousands and hurling ships nearly two miles inland. The quake left a deep impression on the late antique mind, and numerous writers of the time referred in their works to the event.

The Roman historian Ammianus Marcellinus described in detail the tsunami hitting Alexandria and other places in the early hours of 21 July AD 365. His account is particularly noteworthy for clearly distinguishing the three main phases of a tsunami, namely an initial earthquake, the sudden retreat of the sea and an ensuing gigantic wave rolling inland:

Slightly after daybreak, and heralded by a thick succession of fiercely shaken thunderbolts, the solidity of the whole earth was made to shake and shudder, and the sea was driven away, its waves were rolled back, and it disappeared, so that the abyss of the depths was uncovered and many-shaped varieties of sea-creatures were seen stuck in the slime; the great wastes of those valleys and mountains, which the very creation had dismissed beneath the vast whirlpools, at that moment, as it was given to be believed, looked up at the sun’s rays. Many ships, then, were stranded as if on dry land, and people wandered at will about the paltry remains of the waters to collect fish and the like in their hands; then the roaring sea as if insulted by its repulse rises back in turn, and through the teeming shoals dashed itself violently on islands and extensive tracts of the mainland, and flattened innumerable buildings in towns or wherever they were found. Thus in the raging conflict of the elements, the face of the earth was changed to reveal wondrous sights. For the mass of waters returning when least expected killed many thousands by drowning, and with the tides whipped up to a height as they rushed back, some ships, after the anger of the watery element had grown old, were seen to have sunk, and the bodies of people killed in shipwrecks lay there, faces up or down. Other huge ships, thrust out by the mad blasts, perched on the roofs of houses, as happened at Alexandria, and others were hurled nearly two miles from the shore, like the Laconian vessel near the town of Methone which I saw when I passed by, yawning apart from long decay.

July 21, 1645

The non-Chinese Manchurian queue.

The non-Chinese Manchurian queue.

On 7 June 1644, a day after entering Peking, the Manchu (Qing) prince Dorgon, regent for the Manchu child emperor Shunzhi, issued a decree stating that, henceforth, all Chinese (Han) men should shave their foreheads and have their hair braided in back in the Manchu-style queue.

A storm of protest forced Dorgon to cancel his decree, but the following June another order was issued that Chinese military men must adopt the queue; this was to make it easier for the Manchus to identify their enemies in battle, and assure them that those who had surrendered would remain loyal to them in the future. But senior advisers of Dorgon felt that this did not go far enough, and so on today’s date, Dorgon reissued the decree that every Chinese man must shave his forehead and begin to grow the queue within ten days or face execution. This order was popularly summarized as “Keep your hair and lose your head, or lose your hair and keep your head.”

For Han officials and literati, the new hairstyle was a humiliating act of degradation because it breached a common Confucian directive to preserve one’s body intact, whereas for common folk cutting their hair was tantamount to the loss of their manhood. Because it united Chinese of all social backgrounds into resistance against Qing rule, the haircutting command broke the momentum of the Qing conquest. The defiant population of Jiading and Songjiang was massacred by former Ming general Li Chengdong, respectively on August 24 and September 22. Jiangyin also held out against about 10,000 Qing troops for 83 days. When the city wall was finally breached on 9 October 1645, the Qing army led by Ming defector Liu Liangzuo, who had been ordered to “fill the city with corpses before you sheathe your swords,” massacred the entire population, killing between 74,000 and 100,000 people. Hundreds of thousands of people were killed before all of China was brought into compliance.

Almost 270 years later, after the Xinhai Revolution in 1911, Sun Yat-sen in the capacity of Provisional President of the newly founded Republic of China promulgated an order requiring all soldiers and civilian men to cut their queues. “Queue cutting rallies” were held where men had their hair cut together with thousands of compatriots. In the early Republican period, queue cutting became an expression of support for the revolution.

July 21, 1925 (a Tuesday)

Darrow addressing the jury and courtroom spectators.

On this date, the eighth day of the Scopes Monkey Trial began. Before the jury was called to the courtroom, Darrow addressed Judge Raulston, “I think to save time, we will ask the court to bring in the jury and instruct the jury to find the defendant guilty.” This ensured that the defense could appeal the case to a higher court, which might rule the Butler Act unconstitutional. The defense also waived its right to a final address, which, under Tennessee law, deprived the prosecution of a closing statement. This greatly disappointed Bryan, who was unable to deliver a grandiloquent closing speech he had labored over for weeks [archived here].

John Scopes was found guilty of teaching evolution and sentenced to a fine of $100.  After the verdict was read, Scopes delivered his only statement of the trial, declaring his intent “to oppose this law in any way I can. Any other action would be in violation of my ideal of academic freedom — that is, to teach the truth as guaranteed in our constitution, of personal and religious freedom.”  The trial came to an anticlimactic end.

References:

  • John Thomas Scopes, William Jennings Bryan, and Rhea County Court. The world’s most famous court trial: Tennessee evolution case (Cincinnati: National Book Co., 1925).

July 20, 1822 (a Saturday)

The earliest known photograph of Gregor Mendel.

On this date, Gregor Johann Mendel was born (the day he was baptized, July 22nd, is often given erroneously as his birthday). He performed a series of beautifully designed experiments on pea plants over a period of seven years, from 1856 to 1863, to discover the principles of heredity. His studies were the first to focus on the numerical relationships among traits appearing in the progeny of hybrids; and his interpretation, clear and concise, was based on material hereditary elements that undergo segregation and independent assortment.

Mendel delivered two lectures on the results of his experiments at the meetings of the Society of Natural Sciences in Brünn, Austria on February 8th and March 8th in 1865. He turned these lectures into a (long) paper, published in the 1866 issue of the Proceedings of the Society, but it received little notice. Mendel apparently even sent one of his scientific papers to Darwin, but Darwin never bothered to read it. Mendel abandoned his experiments in the 1860s after he was appointed abbot of his monastery and his time was taken up in administrative duties.

The importance of Mendel’s work was not recognized until about thirty years after the publication of his seminal paper, when Hugo de Vries in 1900 in Holland, William Bateson in 1902 in Great Britain, Franz Correns in 1900 in Germany, and Erich Tschermak in 1901 in Austria were all to acknowledge Mendel’s legacy, and hail him as the true “father” of classical genetics.

Curiously, proponents of Intelligent Design (ID) theory have attempted to appropriate Mendel. Steve Fuller openly declares that ID theorists “would do well to reclaim the likes of Newton, Linnaeus, and Mendel as their own” (2007, p 7). Fuller claims that Mendel was no evolutionist, but a “special creationist with a grasp of probability theory”. For Fuller, the Mendelian rules of heredity are laws designed by God, that define “the range of traits that God deemed permissible in a given species”.

The only occasion that Mendel expressed himself directly on the subject of evolution was in an examination paper he sat in 1850. Discussing the origin of plant and animal forms, in the context of the formation of the earth, he wrote:

As soon as the earth in the course of time had achieved the necessary capability for the formation and maintenance of organic life, plants and animals of the lowest sorts first appeared.

[In time, organic life] developed more and more abundantly; the oldest forms disappeared in part, to make space for new, more perfect ones.

[This is] at the present time the generally accepted view of the emergence and development of the earth (Orel 1984, pp 237-8).

This is far from any “creationism” (even “special creationism”).

When he wrote this, he had been a monk for seven years. He finished his studies at the University of Vienna three years later, in 1853; began his Pisum experiments in earnest in 1856; and did not deliver his talk on those experiments until 1865. Of course, his ideas may have changed in time—and in any case, the views expressed in an examination may not always reflect the writer’s real opinion; but in the absence of any other statement by Mendel on the origin of species, this would appear to undermine any notion that he was a “special creationist.”

References:

  • Fisher, R.A. “Has Mendel’s work been rediscovered?Annals of Science, v. 1: 115-137 (1936)
  • Fuller, Steve (2007). Science vs. Religion? (Cambridge: Polity Press).
  • Orel, Vitěslav (ed.) (1984). ‘Mendels Hausarbeit in Naturgeschichte von 1850′. In: Folia Mendeliana 18 (Special edition).

July 20, 1804 (a Friday)

Sir Richard Owen, photo by Herbert Rose Barraud.

On this date, English anatomist, taxonomist, and paleontologist Richard Owen was born. He studied briefly at Edinburgh (1824), then at a private London anatomy school. Owen established a reputation as a great anatomist with his Memoir on the Pearly Nautilus (1832). He gave us many of the terms still used today in anatomy and evolutionary biology, such as “homology” which he famously defined in 1843 as “the same organ in different animals under every variety of form and function.”

In an article published in the Proceedings of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in April, 1842, Owen formally named a new group of extinct reptiles, including Iguanodon, Megalosaurus and Hylaeosaurus, as the “Dinosauria” — that is, the dinosaurs (from the Greek “deinos” meaning fearfully great and “sauros” meaning lizard). Owen named and described the following dinosaurs: Anthodon (1876), Bothriospondylus (1875), Cardiodon (1841), Cetiosaurus (1841, although Owen incorrectly thought that it was a kind of crocodile and not a dinosaur), Chondrosteosaurus (1876), Cimoliornis (1846), Cladeidon (1841), Coloborhynchus (1874), Dacentrurus (1875), Dinodocus (1884), Echinodon (1861), Massospondylus (1854), Nuthetes (1854), Polacanthus (1867), and Scelidosaurus (1859).

Richard Owen died on December 18, 1892.

July 20, 1925 (a Monday)

William Jennings Bryan (seated at left) being questioned by Clarence Darrow (standing at right).

On this date in the Scopes Monkey Trial, assistant defense attorney Arthur Hays rose to summon one more witness – William Jennings Bryan – as an expert on the Bible. Malone, another attorney on the defense team, whispered to John Scopes, “Hell is going to pop now.” Calling Bryan was a highly unusual move, but Bryan agreed with some enthusiasm, stipulating only that he should have a chance to interrogate the defense lawyers. During his examination, Bryan stated his reason for testifying: “These gentlemen…did not come here to try this case. They came here to try revealed religion. I am here to defend it and they can ask me any question they please.” Judge Raulston, concerned that the crowd massing to watch this clash of legal titans would prove injurious to the courthouse, ordered that the trial reconvene on the adjacent lawn.

Darrow examined Bryan for almost two hours, all but ignoring the specific case against Scopes while doing his best to undermine a literalist interpretation of the Bible. After initially contending that “everything in the Bible should be accepted as it is given there,” Bryan conceded that the words of the Bible should not always be taken literally. “[S]ome of the Bible is given illustratively,” he observed. “For instance: `Ye are the salt of the earth.’ I would not insist that man was actually salt, or that he had flesh of salt, but it is used in the sense of salt as saving God’s people.” Although Bryan believed the story of a big fish swallowing Jonah, Joshua making the sun stand still, and other miracles, he conceded that the six days of creation, as described in Genesis, were not literally twenty-four hour days but were probably periods of time lasting many years.

Fundamentalists in the audience listened with increasing discomfort as their champion questioned Biblical “truths,” and Bryan slowly came to realize that he had stepped into a trap. At one point, the frustrated Bryan said, “I do not think about things I don’t think about.” Darrow asked, “Do you think about the things you do think about?” Bryan responded, to the derisive laughter of spectators, “Well, sometimes.” It was an embarrassing and bleak moment in what had been Bryan’s brilliant career.

July 19, 1925 (a Sunday)

Rev. Byrd (left) and Rev. Potter (right), with Byrd's children John and Lillian, in front of the parsonage.

On this date, in the midst of the Scopes Monkey Trial, Rev. Howard Gale Byrd resigned as pastor of the Methodist Episcopal Church North in Dayton, Tennessee when members of his congregation objected because a visiting minister, Rev. Charles Francis Potter of the West Side Unitarian Church in New York City, proposed to preach on the topic of evolution. Potter was adviser on the Bible to Clarence Darrow in his defense of John Scopes. He also gave the opening prayer one morning of the trial.

Raised in a pious evangelical Baptist family, Potter was a precocious boy who by the age of three was able to recite entire Bible passages from memory. Potter accepted a Baptist pastorate in Dover, New Hampshire, in 1908 and another in Mattapan, Massachusetts, in 1910. During Potter’s years as a Baptist preacher he began to question many of the orthodox Christian tenets with which he had been raised. He was increasingly influenced by liberal theological ideas, especially the “higher criticism” of the Bible. In 1914 frustration with Baptist church leaders who questioned his theological views led to his resignation from the Baptist ministry and conversion to Unitarianism.

In 1919 Potter was called to be minister of the West Side Unitarian Church in New York City, where he served from 1920-25. Under Potter’s stimulating leadership the West Side Unitarian Church became a focal point of liberal thought, activity and interpretation of the scriptures. Potter came to national attention in 1923-24 when he participated in a series of radio debates with the formidable fundamentalist Baptist pastor, Rev. John Roach Straton of the Calvary Baptist Church in Manhattan. The debates at Carnegie Hall stirred public interest in the fundamentalist-modernist doctrinal questions that were circulating at the time. They were soon published in four volumes entitled The Battle Over the Bible, Evolution versus Creation, The Virgin Birth—Fact or Fiction?, and Was Christ Both Man and God?

July 18, 1635

Microscope manufactured by Christopher Cock of London for Robert Hooke. Hooke is believed to have used this microscope for the observations that formed the basis of Micrographia.

On this date, the English natural philosopher, inventor, architect, and mathematician Robert Hooke was born at Freshwater on the Isle of Wight. Hooke is most famous in biology for his book Micrographia, published in 1665. He devised the compound microscope and illumination system shown above, one of the best such microscopes of his time. With it Hooke observed organisms as diverse as insects, sponges, bryozoans, foraminifera, and bird feathers. Micrographia was an accurate and detailed record of his observations, illustrated with magnificent drawings. It was a best-seller of its day. Interestingly, it was in Micrographia that Hooke gave the word “cell” its meaning in biology by describing a slice of cork he examined under the microscope:

…I could exceedingly plainly perceive it to be all perforated and porous, much like a Honey-comb, but that the pores of it were not regular…these pores, or cells,…were indeed the first microscopical pores I ever saw, and perhaps, that were ever seen, for I had not met with any Writer or Person, that had made any mention of them before this…

Hooke had discovered plant cells — more precisely, what Hooke saw were the cell walls in cork tissue, which reminded him of the cells of a monastery.

In addition, Hooke is famous in paleontology. In the seventeenth century, a number of hypotheses had been proposed for the origin of fossils. One widely accepted explanation, going back to Aristotle, stated that fossils were formed and grew within the Earth. A shaping force, or “extraordinary Plastick virtue,” could thus create stones that looked like living beings but were not. However, Hooke examined fossils with a microscope — the first person to do so — and noted close similarities between the structures of petrified wood and fossil shells on the one hand, and living wood and living mollusk shells on the other. He concluded in Micrographica that such fossils were actually the remains of once-living organisms:

this petrify’d Wood having lain in some place where it was well soak’d with petrifying water (that is, such water as is well impregnated with stony and earthy particles) did by degrees separate abundance of stony particles from the permeating water, which stony particles, being by means of the fluid vehicle convey’d, not onely into the Microscopical pores…but also into the pores or Interstitia…of that part of the Wood, which through the Microscope, appears most solid…

Furthermore, in his Discourse of Earthquakes, published two years after his death, Hooke correctly concluded that many fossils represented organisms that no longer existed on Earth:

There have been many other Species of Creatures in former Ages, of which we can find none at present; and that ’tis not unlikely also but that there may be divers new kinds now, which have not been from the beginning.

Thus, Hooke realized, two and a half centuries before Darwin, that the fossil record documents changes among the organisms on the planet, and that species have both appeared and gone extinct throughout the history of life on Earth.

July 17, 1203 C.E.

On this date, Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire, was captured by armies from Western Europe during the fourth crusade. The ancient name of Constantinople was Byzantium (Greek: Byzantion), from which the Byzantine Empire’s name was derived. The name had been changed by Roman emperor Constantine I, who had moved the capital of the Roman empire here on May 11, 330 C.E. Constantine wanted to name the city Nova Roma (New Rome), but this name never caught on. Today, the city is known as Istanbul and is the cultural and financial center of Turkey.

Prior to the fall of Constantinople, Western scholars had had access to Latin translations of the writings of Aristotle, the ancient Greek philosopher who lived from 384 to 322 B.C.E. These translations were based on texts in Arabic, which in turn were based on translations in Syriac from the original Greek. This was because the West, unlike the East (such as Syria), had never preserved Aristotle’s original writings. The structure of the Arab language is quite different from Greek and Latin (which are fairly similar to each other), so there was unavoidable paraphrasing in the passage from the original Greek to Arabic, and then again in the translation from Arabic to Latin. In effect, the first exposure to the full extent of Aristotle’s writings by Western scholars came in the form of Latin paraphrases of Arab paraphrases of (and commentaries on) Syriac paraphrases of second-hand copies of the original Greek texts. Not surprisingly, the resulting Latin renderings were somewhat unreliable.

However, as a result of the fall of Constantinople, Western scholars gained access to Greek texts that were much closer to Aristotle’s original writings. Around 1265, the Flemish Dominican William of Moerbeke (1215-1286) and other scholars translated these Greek texts into Latin, which can almost be done word-for-word, given the structural similarity between the two languages. Later, Thomas Aquinas undertook to integrate and reconcile the Aristotelian principles of reason and rational thought with Christian theology, resulting in his monumental Summa teologica. Thus fused with Christian doctrine into a philosophical system known as Scholasticism, Aristotelian philosophy became the official philosophy of the Roman Catholic Church. The view of Aristotle as the indisputable epitome of reason dates from this time.

The ruins of Aristotle's school have been found only 2 kilometers away from the contemporary Naoussa, at the district of Isvoria in Athens, Greece.

Aristotle was called Ille Philosophus (The Philosopher), or “the master of them that know,” and many accepted every word of his writings — or at least every word that did not contradict the Bible — as eternal truth. Consequently, some scientific discoveries in the Middle Ages and Renaissance were criticized simply because they were not found in Aristotle. It is one of the ironies of the history of science that Aristotle’s writings, which in many cases were based on extraordinary first-hand observation, were actually used to impede observational science — a development that Aristotle, no doubt, never intended.