Strategic Studies - Biology and Politics

To give the reader some assurance of the quality of the content of these webpages, I have generally added articles only after they have been formally peer-reviewed and accepted for publication in a journal. The two articles below (written in 2003) were successively rejected (2003-2005), without being sent out for review, by the editors of several journals concerned with security studies. If the articles had been in the area of the biosciences, where I have a good understanding of the literature, I might have persisted. However, the shadows were lengthening and I had much to do, so they were posted here (2005).

    Like many at the turn of the twentieth century, I had continued to be concerned about security issues, especially those relating the the Israel-Palestine problem and bioterrorism. Both were in the area of expertise of bioscientists in that demographics was an important factor in the former, and that scientific expertise was important for the latter. So, after a gap of some four decades, perceiving some gaps in the treatment of these subjects in the current literature, I wrote some new essays on the topics. 

    However, despite feed-back from colleagues, which is acknowledged, the essays could not find an accommodating editor. As Sherlock Holmes used to say, once you have eliminated the impossible, whatever is left, however improbable, must be the truth. Sadly, the editors could not countenance the improbable. Some of the forces at work are revealed by the reception given to Tony Judt's 2003 article, which partly inspired the essays. Then there came the 2016 US Presidential election (see End Notes):

End Note. September 2008 Freedland in NYRB

End_Note._June_2009 Settlements

End_Note._August_2010 Judt dies




Biology and politics 1. From three anachronisms and proportional democracy to one Israel-Palestine

Donald R. Forsdyke

ABSTRACT. A two state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict is not tenable. To achieve a one state solution three anachronisms must be recognized. Among multicultural, multiethnic, western democracies, an ethnoreligious state is an anachronistic curiosity. Yet, the western democracies themselves are anachronistic with respect to population quantity and quality control, and to electoral practices. Israel-Palestine must surmount the ethnoreligious anachronism, and leap-frog the western democracies to surmount the population and electoral anachronisms. In this way Israel-Palestine can progress from a proportional democracy based on contingent rights to a true democracy based on equal rights.

Keywords: Anachronisms, Democracy, Demographics, Israel-Palestine, Populations.


As a biologist I am aware of the diversity of ways by which living organisms engage in the "struggle for existence." When two distinct human groups, A and B, occupying a common territory, cannot agree on a form of governance, an age-old solution has been for A to slaughter or exile B, or vice versa (Forsdyke 2005a). In modern times we hope for better. Here in Canada the two founding peoples live in harmony, albeit imperfectly, within a federal system. However, the peoples of Israel and Palestine continue to tear each asunder in a dispute that threatens global conflagration. As indicated elsewhere (Dawkins 2001), and in the following article (Forsdyke 2005b), the Israel-Palestine issue and international terrorism are likely to be closely related. A recent speaker of the Knesset, Avraham Burg (2003), has appealed for "Israel's friends abroad - Jewish and non-Jewish alike - -" to "reach out and help Israel to navigate the road map towards our national destiny as a light unto the nations and a society of peace, justice and equality." Given the intractable nature of the problem, for this to occur it will be necessary for all possible solutions, however improbable they may seem at this time, to be admitted to the table. From this perspective, perhaps a biologist can provide fresh insight.

A Middle Path Exists

In Speaker Burg's appeal I find points with which to agree, and points with which to disagree. Yes, it is true that "The time for illusions is over." Yes, it is true that "The time for decisions has arrived." No, for reasons that I will give below, it is not true that "There is no middle path. We must - - draw an internationally recognized border between the Jewish national home and the Palestinian national home." No, for reasons that I will give below, when "democracy" is qualified as "proportional democracy" then it is not true that "There cannot be democracy without equal rights for all who live here, Arab as well as Jew."

First, three anachronisms must be recognized. One has recently been elaborated by Tony Judt of New York University in The New York Review of Books (2003):

"Israel itself is a multicultural society in all but name; yet it remains distinctive among democratic states in its resort to ethnoreligious criteria with which to denominate and rank its citizens. It is an oddity among modern nations not - as its more paranoid supporters assert - because it is a Jewish state and no one wants the Jews to have a state; but because it is a Jewish state in which one community - Jews - is set above others, in an age when that sort of state has no place."

Accordingly, Judt declares "the time has come to think the unthinkable. The two state solution - the core of the Oslo process and the present 'road map' - is probably already doomed." He calls for "a single, integrated, binational state of Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians."

This is the "middle path" where mosque/synagogue and state are separate. Of course, this approach raises the question of how to build a true democracy when there are two founding peoples, one of which is numerically greater and so might use its strength at the ballot box to promote both the immigration, and an increase in birthrate, of its own kind (Zuriek 2003).

Population Policy

Here we come to a second anachronism that is the prime concern of this article. Yes, with respect to the issue of the separation of mosque/synagogue and state, Israel-Palestine can be viewed as anachronistic relative to the western democracies. But, in turn, the western democracies can themselves be viewed as anachronistic in an important respect. While steps have been taken, and are being developed, to regulate immigration centrally, no steps are being taken to regulate birthrate centrally. Here, the western democracies lag well behind China, which, despite its faults, has taken the difficult but necessary path of formally restricting the liberty of its citizens to reproduce. Perhaps thinking more of women's rights than the doctrines of Malthus, the wife of an American President did not shrink from criticizing this policy when addressing a women's conference in China in the 1990s (Clinton 2003). On this issue the perspective of a biologist might help.

At present in the western democracies there is the hope that "the population problem," be it with respect to total population size, or to disparities in the size of different ethnoreligious groups, will naturally self-correct (Cohen 2003). Perhaps people will voluntarily restrict family size. Perhaps individual ethnoreligious groups will take steps to ensure that their members do not numerically outgrow members of other ethnoreligious groups. But these approaches do not fit what most of us see in the world around us, and they most certainly do not fit with biological knowledge (Forsdyke 2001). Human behaviour is to varying degrees inborn. Our heads are "wired" for reproduction and our cultural systems reinforce this. It is an inescapable biological fact that, other things being equal, a group whose members are individually and culturally most attuned to reproducing their kind will outgrow groups whose members are less attuned. Thus, in a state containing two groups that differ even very slightly in this respect, one group will eventually outnumber the other. If this difference influences democratic choices, and the aims of the two groups differ, then democratic decisions will increasingly favour one group over the other.

Predictably, these fears coloured the responses to Judt's article (Elon et al. 2003). In a binational state Israelis "would quickly become a minority" (Omar Bartov), and "there will, within a decade or so, be a Palestinian majority. And a Palestinian majority will, sooner or later, make a Palestinian state" (Michael Waltzer). Judt responded mainly by reiterating his main points that "Israel, as now constituted, is an anachronism and an increasingly dysfunctional one," and "the best long term hope for the Middle East lies in 'a Jewish-Arab state in which Jews and Arabs have completely equal rights'". He repeated with disapproval a remark attributed to Israeli General Shlomo Gazit that "Sometimes democracy has to be subordinate to demography" (Galili 2002). I hope to show here that a path to democracy may lie through demography.

Proportional Democracy En Route to Democracy

Inevitably, sooner or later, many states will have to follow the population policy trail that China (or rather, the Chinese dictatorship) has blazed. Of all states, this need would be most pressing in a new Israel-Palestine binational state. Indeed, it would seem to be an essential part of any agreement that brings such a state into existence. Given the history of the two founding peoples, the only equitable policy for the foreseeable future is that population decisions should be based on a 50:50 desideratum. Bluntly stated, for there is no other way of stating it, citizens must be classified on ethnoreligious grounds as Arab, Jew and "other." Rights to vote, reproduce, and immigrate, must be scaled accordingly. There can be a democracy, but it must be one based on contingent rights for all, not on equal rights for all. For example, if there were twice as many Arabs as Jews, then a Jewish vote would be worth double an Arab vote. An "other" could be weighted half way between these two. This would not be a democracy in the sense of "one person one vote," but it would be a "proportional democracy."

Reproductive and immigration rights would be weighted similarly. If there were twice as many Arabs as Jews, then the reproductive and immigration rights of the latter would be twice as great. In the context of an overall policy for control of total population size, the minority population should then increase to become an equal majority, so eliminating the initial disparities in voting, immigration, and reproductive rights. Thus, these disparities would have to exist only as long as the disparities in relative population sizes existed. Proportional democracy would be an interim solution - a necessary step on the path to true democracy.

Hybrid Vigour

In this context there is another biological point to be made. Although the problem grows less with large groups, nevertheless any group that allows marriage only among its own members places itself at genetic risk from inbreeding. Over the years a pluralist, multicultural, multiethnic single state of Israel-Palestine should see the size of the "other" group progressively increase, partly as a result of reproductive interactions across group boundaries. While the actual biological (genetic) differences between Arabs and Jews in Isreal-Palestine are likely to be minimal (Arnaiz-Villena et al. 2001), nevertheless it would be predicted that Romeos and Juliets in a new Israel-Palestine would produce healthy hybrids that might constitute a new political class.

Fair Electoral Practices

Now we come to the third anachronism. Even if disparities in population sizes were corrected, disparities in campaign budgets might give one party an unfair advantage. Furthermore, mechanical problems with voting machines (the "hanging chad" phenomenon) might foment, rather than reduce, ethnoreligious strife. The western democracies still struggle with the problem of campaign finance reform, which is blocked by those who have most to lose. The system cannot self-correct. Special interests still dominate electoral practices. The mechanics of recording and tabulating votes leave those with any scientific training shaking their heads in disbelief. Electoral practices in the Western democracies are, in every sense of the term, an anachronism (Anonymous Editorial 2004; Dasgupta and Maskin 2004). This must be surmounted in a new Isreal-Palestine state.


To achieve a one-state solution a new Israel-Palestine must surmount the anachronism of the non-separation of mosque/synagogue and state. This will be achieved only by surmounting two further anachronisms. With the exception of China, we are all party to the anachronistic belief that in the twenty-first century individual liberty includes an unalienable right to reproduce as many of one's kind as one chooses. Israel-Palestine must move ahead of the curve to overtake even China in surmounting this population anachronism. Israel-Palestine must also move ahead of the curve in devising electoral practices that are fair and seen to be fair.

Of course, especially in a democracy, there are formidable problems to be overcome. But surely these are no more formidable than those with which the protagonists now struggle. A unified Israel-Palestine would remove, in one stroke, many major obstacles, including division of resources (e.g. the aquifers) and access to the holy places (e.g. Jerusalem). To enter the twenty-first century, a new Israel-Palestine must leap-frog ahead of the anachronistic western democracies. Sooner or later the western democracies must surmount the population anachronism and the electoral practice anachronism. Israel-Palestine must surmount them both now. Instead of counting square feet, it must count feet. A Truth and Reconciliation Commission, modelled after the South African experience, could also play an important role (Zuriek 2003). A new Israel-Palestine so constituted could be a beacon of peace, at last achieving its true potential to be "a light unto the nations" (Burg 2003).

Acknowledgements. Helpful reviews of the text were provided by Drs. Geoffrey Smith and Gerald Tulchinsky of the Department of History, Queen's University, and Dr. Elia Zureik of the Department of Sociology, Queen's University.


Anonymous Editorial. (2004) The New York Times, "Fixing Democracy," January 18.

Arnaiz-Villena, Antonio, Nagah Elaiwa, Carlos Silvera, Ahmed Rostom, Juan Moscoso, Eduardo Gomez-Casado, Luis Allende, Pilar Verela, and Jorge Martinez-Laso (2001) 'The Origin of Palestinians and their Genetic Relatedness with other Mediterranean Populations', Human Immunology 62 (9): 889-900.

Burg, Avraham (2003) 'The End of Zionism', The Guardian, September 15.

Clinton, Hillary R. (2003) Living History. New York: Simon & Schuster, pp 299-305.

Cohen, Joel E. (2003) 'Human Population: The Next Half Century', Science 302 (5648): 1172-1175.

Dasgupta, Partha and Eric Maskin (2004) 'The Fairest Vote of All', Scientific American 290 (3): 92-97.

Dawkins, Richard (2001) 'Religion's Misguided Missiles', The Guardian, September 15.

Elon, Amos, Omar Bartov, Abraham Foxman, Michael Walzer, and Tony Judt (2003) 'An Alternative Future: An Exchange', Letters to the Editors. The New York Review of Books 50 (19): 57-62.

Forsdyke, Donald R. (2001) The Origin of Species, Revisited. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press.

Forsdyke, Sara L. (2005a) Exile, Ostracism and Democracy. The Politics of Expulsion in Ancient Greece. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Forsdyke, Donald R. (2005b) 'Biology and politics 2. Bioterrorism and knowledge', Journal of Theoretical Politics (submitted with this article and declined)

Galili, Lili (2002) 'A Jewish Demographic State', Ha-Aretz, June 28.

Judt, Tony (2003) 'Israel: the Alternative', New York Review of Books, 50 (16): 8-10.

Zureik, Elia (2003) 'Demography and Transfer: Israel's Road to Nowhere', Third World Quarterly 24 (4): 619-630.

Zureik, Elia (2005) 'Palestinian Perceptions of the Israeli Position on the Refugee Issue', Address at the Max Planck Institute, Heidelberg, July 2003.


Biology and politics 2. Bioterrorism and knowledge

Donald R. Forsdyke

ABSTRACT. A new era of bioterrorism opened on September eleventh. A major cause was the Israel-Palestine dispute with biased support of the USA for one party. While it is best to deal with causes (see preceding article), we must also improve methods of resisting attacks. Policy makers need advice from biomedical experts who certify which knowledge is correct and relevant. But in recent decades the processes by which "experts" are so designated have become increasingly distorted by short-term economic factors. A generation of real experts may have been lost. "Homeland security" requires reform of the peer review system so that true knowledge, not politically-correct knowledge, is applied to the problem at hand, and disenfranchised experts do not misapply their skills.

Keywords: Bioterrorism, Experts, Homeland Security, Knowledge, Peer Review.


In the wake of September eleventh 2001 anthrax spores were employed in attacks at various locations in the USA. Whether these attacks were instigated by a foreign state, a non-governmental organization, or an individual, remains unknown at this time. Biological weapon (BWs) have been employed in hostile confrontations for millennia (Clarke 1968), but the scale and sophistication of the post-September eleventh attack raises the possibility of a new BW era - the era of bioterrorism.

It seems that the events of 9/11 were "previously thought to be unimaginable" by some authorities (Prescott 2003). For example, Malcolm Mackintosh in 1964 advanced the view that China's new acquisition of nuclear capability was then only of prestige value since to be effective militarily a reliable delivery system was necessary. However, at that time it was pointed out that "saboteurs with suitcases might assemble a weapon on land." Furthermore, it was noted that arguments against this might not "influence a power which had no other effective delivery system, but was able to select and train military personnel who had from early childhood been rigorously taught the virtues of their own national ideology and the evil of others" (Forsdyke 1966). Four decades later, US Senator Charles Schumer displays surprise on recognizing that New York may be the most vulnerable US city with respect to nuclear weapons being smuggled within the many shipping containers and trucks that enter the city daily: "What I have learned about it chills you to the bone - - . We're virtually totally unprotected against such a device" (Cernetig 2002).

Bioterrorists are people who use biological weapons to harm varying numbers of other people, and hence, to terrorize even larger numbers of other people. While some may become bioterrorists "for kicks", it is far more likely that acts of bioterrorism are in response to real or imaginary wrongs that are not perceived as being correctable by other means. Thus, the acts are designed to punish the perpetrators of the perceived wrongs, or the supporters of the perpetrators, so inducing them to cease and desist and, better still, to make amends.

A recent article correctly points out that there is much we can learn from the recent SARS outbreak about resisting and deterring bioterrorism (Prescott 2003). The better we are prepared, and are perceived to be prepared, then the less likely are bioterrorists to contemplate acts of bioterrorism. Furthermore, bioterrorists, and those who support and supply them, can be hunted down and arrested. But others will arise to replace them unless causes are dealt with. Thus, while seeking to understand, protect ourselves against, and deter the use of, the weapons used by bioterrorists, we must urgently address the causes of bioterrorism.

The most likely present cause of a bioterrorist attack in the western democracies relates to the Israel-Palestine issue. Who can doubt this when, in the words of a recent Knesset Speaker, "The Israeli nation today rests on a scaffolding of corruption, and on foundations of oppression and injustice" (Burg 2003); and, in the words of Tony Judt (2003), "Washington's unconditional support for Israel even in spite of (silent) misgivings is the main reason why most of the rest of the world no longer credits our good faith." My prescriptions with respect to Israel-Palestine are contained in the preceding article (Forsdyke 2005). I here consider aspects of the BW problem that may not be apparent to many non-scientists, and may not be acknowledged by many scientists.

Science as Monolith

In the 1960s the book The Prospect of Biological and Chemical Warfare (Clarke 1968) called on scientists to refuse to collaborate with governments in the development of BW:

"By denying their support to any classified defensive or to any offensive work on either kind of weapon, they could effectively remove the threat of massive chemical or biological warfare in the future. They could do it quickly. They could do it tomorrow. They could do it finally. For let there be no mistake about this. No government can develop further weapons in this field without the help of scientists."

As a scientist with an academic interest in chemical and biological weapons (CBWs) I suggested that this was naive. I was also concerned that there was little appreciation of the possible future use of CBWs by bioterrorists (Forsdyke 1969):

"Much of the book is concerned with the use of C and B weapons in some large-scale military conflict and relatively little emphasis is given to their use in guerrilla warfare, in sabotage, or by criminals. Little attempt has been made fully to explore possible scenarios involving CBW, or to predict, in a Wellsian manner, possible future developments in the field. The deterrent posture of a small country - - which might possess CBW weapons capable of inflicting 'unacceptable damage' on the population of an opponent possessing nuclear weapons, is one hypothetical situation which could usefully have been examined."

Again, four decades later, we learn that much of this "was previously thought to be unimaginable." Furthermore, current prescriptions match those above in placing the onus on medical and scientific "experts", who are labelled in various contexts as "the infectious disease community", or "the international scientific and public health communities". The "experts" appear as a given monolithic entity. "Current scientific knowledge" is another given monolithic entity. Thus, the task is to modify "current appropriations practices" (e.g. assign dollars as the experts advise) and engage in "longer term planning" (as the experts advise) so that "the best information available from all sources be compiled rapidly in order to fill the epistemological void as much as possible" (Prescott 2003).

Tune Calling by Industry

Of course, much of the above is correct. But there is again a naive tendency not to question the ethical stature of scientists, or the nature of the processes by which "experts" and "current scientific knowledge" become so designated. Over recent decades short-term political and economic goals have played an increasing role in what type of science gets funded and who gets funded. Scientists in droves have abandoned their traditional search for "truth" and have started up, or joined, new biotech companies (Bok 2003; Kleinman 2003). In Canada biomedical researchers receive taxpayers' dollars on condition that they obtain matching funds from the pharmaceutical industry. Who then calls the tune, the taxpayer or the pharmaceutical industry? Bioethicist Margaret Somerville comments (2002):

"Conditions that are attached to government funding can affect the purposes and values upheld, especially when those conditions require academic-industrial partnerships for research to be eligible for funding, as in the case of the Canadian government's C $300 -- million investment in a series of genomics research centres (Genome Canada). Structuring funding in this way leaves out the funding of research that will not result in marketable products, and excludes those researchers who undertake it."

Supporting this, the pharmaceutical industry has blanketed the media with declarations of dedication to humankind, so covering politicians against potential taxpayer wrath (Gerth and Stolberg 2000). Currently, US politicians are endorsing "Project Bioshield" that guarantees the industry billions of dollars for vaccines and therapeutics against various "weaponizable" pathogens and toxins. However, while doing much to benefit humankind, the industry, like other industries, is more interested in optimizing its own financial health than the health of human populations. The two are far from synonymous.

Marketing Science

Much of this had been anticipated. In 1971 the distinguished biomedical researcher Irvine Page warned that President Nixon's "massive system approach" to a cure for cancer by 1976 was unlikely to succeed, and public support might turn sour:

"Experience teaches that the public is impatient, especially when promises are made, or seem to be made. Its original enthusiasm and willingness to finance the work chills and people turn to whatever other pipes pipe more engagingly if they do not receive a tangible benefit. In the past two decades, overpromise has been a besetting sin of the science community."

Taxpayers and governments are concerned about projects, not the people who carry out projects. Needing to keep research funds flowing, granting agencies accordingly fund projects not people. In the final analysis they hold it is better to fund less great scientists to carry out approved projects than to fund great scientists to carry out unapproved projects. This involves a certain amount of hype that the media have not been able to penetrate. A great twentieth century polymath observed (Haldane 1968):

"In nine cases out of ten large teams and expensive apparatus are a substitute for really accurate observation and really deep thinking. One can't order a Faraday and a von Frisch, with a Laplace to do the mathematics - - . One can order a hundred graduates, a cyclotron, a computer, two electron microscopes, and so on. Such apparatus also impresses visiting journalists; whereas great scientists are often shy or rude, and sometimes both."

Talent at biomedical research, like many human attributes, should follow a bell-shaped distribution, with a few individuals of great talent at one tail of the distribution. The aim of the peer-review system of evaluation should be to detect such individuals and crown them with funds and the accolade "expert." However, ability at marketing rather than ability at science has come to determine which scientists will be funded, and hence, to define expertise (Forsdyke 2000, 2004). The reason is glaringly obvious. In marketing, simple messages work. The same applies to the marketing of scientific ideas. This means that subtle scientific ideas tend to lose out to simple scientific ideas, and subtle scientists lose out to the unsubtle. Great scientists come up with great ideas that, because they are great ideas, are difficult to communicate to the scientists of lesser greatness who sit on grant committees. Scientists of lesser greatness come up with less great ideas that, because they are less great ideas, are not difficult to communicate to the scientists of lesser greatness who sit on grant committees. Thus, the peer-review system comes to judge great scientists as less great, and less great scientists as great.

The standard answer to all this is that if the great scientists are so smart, how come they cannot figure out how to work the system? But great scientists tend to be constitutionally incapable of marketing ploys. They can no more compromise their personal integrity than tortoises can loose their shells. Here is what one Nobelist had to say (Szent-Gyorgyi 1974):

"The foundation of science is honesty. The present granting method is so much at variance with the basic ideas of science that it has to breed dishonesty, forcing scientists into devious ways. One of the widely applied practices is to do work and then present results as a project and report later that all predictions were verified."

Can we wonder that the peer-review system has been described by another Nobelist as having become "vicious beyond imagination," (Lederberg 1989), and by yet another as having taken on a "mask of madness" (Sharpe 1990). Like campaign finance reform, peer review reform is blocked by those who have most to loose from such reform. The system cannot self-correct. Special interests dominate (Horton 2004). In this light it is perhaps not extreme to paraphrase Speaker Burg and declare that: "The biomedical research enterprise today rests on a scaffolding of corruption, and on foundations of oppression and injustice".

Disenfranchized Experts

Some great scientists have battled on, and won, despite the system. We do not know how many, but it is equally likely that a generation of real experts has been lost from biomedical research. Many of these, discouraged, might not have kept in touch with the scientific literature, and so may have lost their expertise. However, a great scientist denied his/her laboratory is like a great musician denied his/her instrument. A highly intelligent few may have been driven, in desperation and bitterness, and perhaps insanity, to act in ways that might serve their own vengeful needs, or the needs of those who could manipulate them.

An example of this arose in Canada in 1992 when a Russian expatriate at Concordia University in Montreal went on a shooting spree (Wolfe 1994). While the minimum unit (number of people and extent of resources) for the production and delivery of conventional weapons of mass destruction is large, the minimum unit for a bioterrorist attack (as in the case of a cyberterrorist attack) can be as small as one, highly intelligent, individual. Thus, the modern biomedical research system, by disenfranchising true experts, may itself have become a breeding ground for bioterrorists (or cyberterrorists).

Certifying Knowledge

Level of peer review-approved funding usually being equated with scientific excellence, such funding comes to define the "experts." These experts, in turn, define what constitutes "current scientific knowledge." This has the potential to lead the entire biomedical enterprise off track, if not down a blind alley. The standard textbook example is Gregor Mendel who established the science now known as genetics, but whose work was "overlooked" by the prevailing experts for thirty-five years. This occurred in the nineteenth century, but there are plenty of twentieth century examples.

New ideas threaten not only the status quo but also the careers and reputations of those who have embraced that status quo (Forsdyke 2000). Thus, accompanying many major conceptual advances in science are stories of opposition by entrenched scientific establishments (Barber 1961; Campanario 2004). At a more modest level, my own proposal more than a decade ago for a potentially quick and inexpensive treatment of AIDS (that hence offered no great bounty to the pharmaceutical industry) has only recently received attention (McNeil 2003; Williams at al. 2004). At the time of this writing the use of a natural compound to treat hardening of the arteries in humans looks very promising. This has been known for over a decade on the basis of experiments with animals. However, it is suggested that, being a natural compound, there would be difficulty in establishing patent rights, and so it was not pursued in human studies (Anonymous Editorial 2003). Knowledge that is economically incorrect tends to be politically incorrect, so funds do not become available for its exploration. That the pharmaceutical industry might have somewhat less than a benign interest in optimizing human health became very apparent in the case of Canadian researcher Nancy Olivieri who was hounded not only by the pharmaceutical industry, but also by her institutions and her peers (Forsdyke 2000; Thompson et al. 2001; Viens and Savulescu 2004).

SARS: A Case Study

The Vietnamese government has been commended, and the Canadian government criticized, in their respective managements of the SARS epidemic (Prescott 2003):

"The Vietnamese government focused on curbing disease rather than protecting the economy. In contrast, Canadian officials appeared to be more concerned with the short-term impact of a travel advisory on tourism, retail and other industries, even though the epidemic appeared to have spread through the community and to other countries partially because the Canadian health authorities had ignored a WHO advisory that all departing passengers from Toronto be screened by medical personnel."

While a full history of this era remains to be written, the "Canadian officials" must have acted only after receiving advice from their peer review-anointed "experts." If, in this case, becoming so designated relied more on skills in marketing and politics than in science (and, to be fair to those concerned, we currently have no evidence on this), then we should not be surprised if we eventually learn that the "experts" had told the officials what they wanted to hear (Blackwell 2003), rather than the truth (assuming that the "experts" had been capable of correctly perceiving such truth).


Politicians and policy makers, usually being generalists, require input from specialists. However, the processes by which specialists become so designated, sometimes dependent on alliances with the pharmaceutical industry, may be flawed. This may be fatal where "homeland security" is concerned. It is imperative (i) that the most expert "experts" be available, and (ii) that knowledge they have certified, not politically-correct knowledge, be applied to the problem in hand. Reform of the system of peer review by which "experts" are designated is urgently needed. Suggestions for reform have long been on the table (Forsdyke 2000). They should be heeded.

Acknowledgement. A helpful review of the text was provided by Dr. Daniel Osmond of the Department of Physiology, University of Toronto.


Anonymous Editorial (2003) 'A New Way to Unclog the Arteries', The New York Times, November 9.

Barber, Bernard (1961) 'Resistance by Scientists to Scientific Discovery', Science 134 (3479): 596-602.

Blackwell, Tom (2003) 'SARS report: medical officials too political', The Kingston Whig-Standard, December 16.

Bok, Derek (2003) Universities in the Marketplace. The Commercialization of Higher Education. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Burg, Avraham (2003) 'The end of Zionism. Israel must shed its illusions and choose between racist oppression and democracy', The Guardian, Sept 15.

Campanario, Juan M. (2004) 'Rejecting Nobel class articles and resisting Nobel class discoveries', (Nov 1).

Cernetig, Miro (2002) 'Nuclear attack threat real US Senator says', Globe and Mail, Toronto (May 14).

Clarke, Robin (1968) We All Fall Down: The Prospect of Biological and Chemical Warfare. London: Allen Lane.

Forsdyke, Donald R. (1966) Letter to the Editor, Survival 8 (1): 36; available at (Nov 1, 2004).

Forsdyke, Donald R. (1969) 'Book Review', Survival 11(2): 69-70; available at (Nov 1, 2004).

Forsdyke, Donald R. (2000) Tomorrow's Cures Today? How to Reform the Health Research System. Amsterday: Harwood Academic.

Forsdyke, Donald R. (2004) Peer Review webpage. (November 1)

Forsdyke, Donald R. (2005) 'Biology and Politics 1. From Three Anachronisms and Proportional Democracy to One Israel-Palestine', Journal of Theoretical Politics (accompanying article, declined for publication).

Gerth, J. and S. G. Stolberg (2000) 'Medicine Merchants. Drug Companies Profit from Research Supported by Taxpayers', The New York Times, April 23.

Haldane, John B. S. (1968) Science and Life: Essays of a Rationalist. London: Pemberton Publishing.

Horton, Richard (2004) 'The Dawn of McScience', The New York Review of Books 51(4): 7-9.

Judt, Tony (2003) 'Israel: the Alternative', The New York Review of Books 50 (16): 8-10.

Kleinman, Daniel L. (2003) Impure Cultures: University Biology and the World of Commerce. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.

Lederberg, Joshua (1989) 'Does Scientific Progress Come from Projects or People?', Current Contents Life Sciences 32 (48): 5-12.

Mackintosh, Malcolm (1964) 'The Sino-Soviet Dispute', Survival, 7 (7): 246-251.

McNeil, Donald R. (2003) 'Trying to Kill AIDS Virus by Luring It Out of Hiding', The New York Times, September 23.

Page, Irvine (1971) 'The cure of cancer by 1976', Journal of Laboratory and Clinical Medicine, 77 (3): 357-360.

Prescott, Elizabeth M. (2003) 'SARS: A Warning', Survival, 45 (3): 207-226.

Sharpe, Phillip A. (1990) 'The Crisis in Funding: A Time for Decision', Cell 62 (5): 839-840.

Somerville, Margaret A. (2002) 'A postmodern moral tale: the ethics of research relationships', Nature Reviews Drug Discovery 1 (4): 316-320.

Szent-Gyorgyi, Albert (1974) 'Research Grants', Perspectives in Biology and Medicine 18 (1): 41-43.

Thompson, Jon, Patricia Baird and Jocelyn Downie (2001) Report of the Committee of Inquiry on the Case Involving Dr. Nancy Olivieri, the Hospital for Sick Children, the University of Toronto, and Apotex Inc. Ottawa: Canadian Association of University Teachers.

Williams, S. A., L. F. Chen, H. Kwon, D. Fenard, D. Bisgrove, E. Verdin and W. C. Greene (2004) Prostratin antagonizes HIV latency by activating NF-kappa B. Journal of Biological Chemistry 279 (40): 42008-42017.

Wolfe, Morris (1994) 'Dr. Fabrikant's Solution', Saturday Night 109 (6): 11-18, 56-59; available at (Nov 1, 2004).

Viens, A. M. and J. Savulescu (2004) 'Introduction to the Olivieri Symposium', J. Medical Ethics 30: 1-7.


End Note. September 2008 Freedland in NYRB

A collection of Tony Judt's articles - Reappraisals: Reflections on the Forgotten Twentieth Century - is reviewed by J. Freedland in a current The New York Review of Books. Freedland observes that Judt's 2003 NYRB article (cited above) is conspicuous by its absence from the collection. Had Judt seen the error of his ways? Or was this just a case of cold feet? From what we know of Judt, both these seem unlikely. Perhaps there had been pressure by way of the publishers (Penguin)? Freedland notes that in 2006 the Polish consul general "had received phone calls from the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee, exerting what he called 'a delicate pressure'" to cancel an address Judt was to give. The "consulate incident, introduced Judt to an audience previously unfamiliar with his work" and, about this time, "his name disappeared from the masthead of The New Republic - - thereby severing a long relationship with that magazine." 

End Note. June 2009 Settlements

In an op-ed piece in The New York Times (June 22) Judt referred to the "settlements" as constituting "fictions on the ground", but did not mention that, in principle, the problem would be solved by the one state option.

End Note. August 2010 Judt dies

After a valiant struggle, Tony Judt died of ALS at the age of 62.

End Note. March 2013 Levine Echoes Judt

The Judt viewpoint was echoed by Joseph Levine in an 'opiniator' piece in The New York Times, noting that too often questioning the Jewish state is wrongly equated with being antisemitic ("On Questioning the Jewish State," March 7th):

"If the institutions of a state favor one ethnic group among its citizenry in this way, then only the members of that group will feel themselves fully a part of the life of the state. True equality, therefore, is only realizable in a state that is based on civic peoplehood. As formulated by both Jewish- and Palestinian-Israeli activists on this issue, a truly democratic state that fully respects the self-determination rights of everyone under its sovereignty must be a "state of all its citizens. - - There is an unavoidable conflict between being a Jewish state and a democratic state. I want to emphasize that there's nothing anti-Semitic in pointing this out, and it's time the question was discussed openly on its merits, without the charge of anti-Semitism hovering in the background."

End Note. February 2014 From Where Comes the Greatest Nuclear Danger?

The Avraham Burg fate was contrasted with the fate of the technician who revealed Israel's nuclear 'secrets' by Gwynne Dyer in his syndicated column that is said to be published in 45 countries (including the Kingston Whig Standard, 13th Feb. 2014). Burg is protected by the "Important Persons Act, the unwritten law that gets powerful and well-connected people off the hook in every country." However, the matter raises the issue of from where comes the greatest nuclear threat to the planet. Dyer states:

"Israel has a minimum of 80 and a maximum of 400 nuclear weapons. At least some dozens are 'tactical' weapons designed to be fired by artillery, but Israel also maintains a full 'triad' of long-range delivery systems: land-based missiles, sea-launched missiles and air-craft. The missiles are mostly Jericho II medium-range ballistic missiles, which can reach all of Europe and most of Western Asia. Since 2000, Jericho III intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) also have been entering service, with a range that would allow Israel to strike any inhabited point on the planet with the exception of some Pacific Islands. Both can carry a one-megaton warhead. The maritime leg of the triad is highly accurate cruise missiles that are launched underwater by Israel's German-built Dophin-class submarines. And finally, there are American-made F-15 and F-16 strike aircraft that also can carry nuclear bombs."


This is troubling. It seems likely that the leaders in states such as North Korea, Iran and Israel, will not launch preemptive strikes against others. The deterrent principle works. However, the problem lies in the 'loose cannons,' such as the Israeli technician (to whom the planet owes a great debt), who will find a way through the 'safe-guards' designed to prevent accidental launches. Question: Is such a clever, idealogically motivated, individual, more likely to arise in North Korea, Iran or Israel? And after the conflagration instigated by that person, would life on that Pacific island survive the radioactivity?


End Note. November 2016 Future President as Greatest Nuclear Danger?

The result of the November 8th 2016 US Presidential Election surprised the pollsters when Donald Trump was declared the winner. The question as to where the greatest nuclear threat to the planet comes from suddenly shifted (click on this end-note).

End Note. March 2018 Circumcision and the Jewish Population Problem

Should Israel be like Iceland?

From the perspective of a biologist, I have reinforced the Judt view on the one-state solution. A major aspect of this is "the population problem," namely that Jewish people in Israel are not replicating themselves as rapidly as other groups (see above). Thus, in time, unless they take some hostile measure against these groups, the Jewish people will in time become a minority.

   Also as a biologist, I note that, unlike many much larger countries, Iceland has recently made circumcision illegal. Whatever the Icelanders' ethical, sociological or political reasons for this, there is a rather simple biological case. A foreskin-equipped penis is the result of millions of years of biological evolution. Any anatomist can show how the foreskin makes it more likely that copulation will be successful when it is present. This means that, other things being equal, those with foreskins will produce more children.

   Penises have evolved from primitive rudiments to the splendid foreskin-equipped versions that humans have today. In evolutionary terms, organisms where there were mutations in primitive versions, which resulted in foreskins, produced more children than organisms without such mutations. Organisms with mutations that tended to produce imperfect foreskins did not produce as many children as those with perfect foreskins. That is natural selection in action. The foreskin is, like the eye and other body parts, a major evolutionary accomplishment. While sometimes there are medical reasons for circumcision, societies where children are circumcised through, as they say, no fault of their own, are doomed to slower population growth than societies where this practice is avoided.

   A society whose rituals required that children's eyelids be removed, would not have thrived. However, when the prescribed operation produces a non-overt deformation, the consequences of which are only evident to anatomists and population biologists, then a society can indeed thrive. It would be simplistic to suppose that the abolishment of this religious ritual would solve Israel's problems, but it might be a step in the right direction.


Return to Strategy Page (Click Here)

More on Bioterrorism: Go to Rinderpest Page (Click Here)

To return to HomePage (Click Here)

Posted January 2005 and last edited 13 Nov 2020 by Donald R. Forsdyke