The Week/the Spin

Amazonian Solution 

The government suspended all federally funded human research trials atJohnsHopkinsUniversity. The temporary ban comes several days after an internal Hopkins report blamed institutional failures for the death of 24-year-old Ellen Roche, whose lungs were destroyed by an unapproved asthma drug she inhaled as part of an experiment. Hopkins receives more federal research money than any other university. Hopkins’ spin: This is a regulatory overreaction to an isolated problem. It will imperil the lives of our patients, many of whom take experimental cancer drugs. Government’s spin: We’ve been investigating Hopkins’ clinical review process since last fall. Roche’s death broke the camel’s back.

Japanindicted aU.S.Air Force sergeant for rape. Timothy Woodland faces at least two years in jail if convicted of assaulting a Japanese woman on Okinawa in June. (Woodland says the sex was consensual.) The United States, which demanded that Woodland be questioned with a defense lawyer present, refused to hand him over to Japanese authorities for four days after the issue of his arrest warrant. In 1995, three U.S. servicemen were sentenced to up to seven years in prison for the abduction and rape of a 12-year-old. Okinawa residents’ spin: American soldiers routinely harass us and are never punished. Japanese feminists’ spin: Why is it that the authorities care about the rape of a Japanese woman only when the accused is an American? U.S. military’s spin: U.S. soldiers “are three percent of the total population [of Okinawa], they account for one percent of the serious crime, and contribute six percent of the economy.”

A study suggests that pre-emptive breast removal prevents breast cancer in high-risk women. For three years researchers followed 139 women with a genetic mutation that can cause breast cancer. (Left untreated, 25 percent will develop cancer within 10 years; half will die.) Seventy-six women chose to surgically remove both breasts, and none developed cancer in their remaining breast tissue. Sixty-three kept their breasts but performed monthly self-exams and had semi-annual mammograms. Eight developed breast cancer, and one died. Scientists’ spin: “Prophylactic mastectomy” is the only foolproof prevention. Skeptics’ spin: Several women in the mastectomy sample will probably develop breast cancer after three years. And many of the mastectomy patients also had their ovaries removed, which reduces the risk of breast cancer.

France will extradite Ira Einhorn to the United States. The 61-year-old former anti-war activist and international fugitive was convicted by a Pennsylvania court in absentia for the 1977 murder of his girlfriend Holly Maddux, whose corpse was found stuffed in a trunk in Einhorn’s Philadelphia apartment. Einhorn fled the United States before his 1981 trial and lived in England, Ireland, and Sweden under pseudonyms until his 1997 arrest in France. In 1998, Pennsylvania passed a law guaranteeing him a new trial. French and EU courts received assurances from the United States that Einhorn would not face the death penalty. Einhorn’s spin: “I’m innocent.” Maddux’s family’s spin: It’s about time he faced justice.

The FBI misplaced 449 guns and 184 laptop computers over several decades. An inventory check revealed that 265 of the weapons, mostly handguns, were lost (many had been disabled) and 184 were stolen. (One was used in a murder.) Thirteen of the laptops were stolen; up to four of the missing computers may have held classified information. Sen. Patrick Leahy’s spin: “So you sort of leave it up to the [agent] with [the computer] to make sure it’s turned in when it’s supposed to be?” FBI’s spin: We’ve increased our security since the Robert Hanssen espionage arrest. We know where all the computers and guns are now.

A study indicated that fit fat people die at half the rate of unfit thin people. The 10-year study of 25,000 middle-aged men and 10,000 middle-aged women measured fitness using a standard treadmill test. Researchers’ spin: “There is a misdirected obsession with weight and weight loss. … It’s fitness that is the key.” If obese people walked just 30 minutes a day, they could live much longer. Dissenting spin: If you’re fat, being fit may help prevent heart disease and diabetes, but you’re still at higher risk for cancer, arthritis, and other complications of obesity not related to cardiovascular health.

Russia and China signed a “friendship” pact. The “Treaty on Good Neighborly Friendship and Cooperation” is the first substantial agreement between the two nations since Stalin and Mao’s Sino-Soviet pact. This treaty makes no explicit military promises but says that both countries will consult each other in case of aggression by a third party. It also: 1) solidifies Russia’s support of China’s claim to Taiwan (which several months ago received weapons from the United States); 2) affirms support for the existing 1972 anti-ballistic missile treaty (which the United States wants to rewrite to allow for anti-missile weaponry); and 3) expresses opposition to Western humanitarian intervention (including NATO’s 1999 bombing of the Balkans). White House’ spin: This is a symbolic pact, not a military alliance. Putin’s spin: Don’t worry, America. We won’t gang up on you. Analysts’ spin: In the 1950s Russia was the dominant partner. Now the tables are turned. China cares more about U.S. markets than Russian ones, which are almost nonexistent.

Katharine Graham died at 84. As chairman and CEO of the Washington Post Co. from 1963 to 1991, she transformed the newspaper from a mediocre local daily into an award-winning national publication. Her support helped the New York Times win a Supreme Court victory in the Pentagon Papers case and helped Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein break the Watergate story. Her father, a Wall Street financier, bought the newspaper at a bankruptcy sale in 1933 and gave a controlling interest to Graham’s husband Philip; Graham took over when Philip committed suicide in 1963. Nora Ephron’s spin: “The story of her journey from daughter to wife to widow to woman parallels to a surprising degree the history of women in this century.”    

The Pentagon’s first anti-missile test in a year succeeded. A 120-pound “kill vehicle,” launched on a missile from the Marshall Islands, destroyed an intercontinental ballistic missile launched from 4,800 miles away, in California. The $100 million test is the first success in three tries over the past two years. Last week the Bush administration committed to building a rudimentary missile shield by 2005. Pentagon’s spin: Don’t get too excited, it’s only a test. Congressional Republicans’ spin: Let’s build this thing! Pundits’ spin: The military brass can afford to lower expectations now that they have the White House’s unwavering support.

The New York Times alleged partisan treatment of Florida’s overseas absentee ballots in the 2000 presidential election. The Times’ six-month examination of the 2,490 overseas ballots accepted after Election Day found 680 questionable votes, most lacking a valid postmark. The paper could not determine whether the votes were for George W. Bush or Al Gore, but counties won by Bush were three-to-four times as likely to count the questionable votes as were counties won by Gore. The Times found no evidence that Bush staffers solicited late votes and determined that he probably would have won the election regardless. Election officials’ spin: Yes, we gave more consideration to absentee ballots in Bush counties, but only under judicial orders. Hillsborough County elections supervisor’s spin: This study “substantiates what a lot of people already know—that the election was a story of 67 counties with different procedures, different canvassing boards, and different outcomes.” (To read a “Dialogue” between Richard Posner and Alan Dershowitz on the 2000 recount, click here.)