Commentary Magazine

Research and a Report

p>To the Editor:

Herbert L. Packer’s fair and judicious description of the astonishingly shoddy work of the Presidential Commission on Obscenity and Pornography [“The Pornography Caper,” February] leaves me distressed, and at a loss to explain why competent and honorable scientists allowed their names to be associated with parodying “science.” I also wish to add two points to those illuminated by Mr. Packer.


The Commission’s data are not only irrelevant in the main, as Mr. Packer points out, but in some instances oddly selected and presented. Consider the effects (or non-effects) of the legitimization of pornography in Denmark. Pornographers were given their head, legally, in 1969. (For some five years before repeal, their stuff was quite available.) The Commission reports (p. 274, Table 33) that from 1958 to 1969 there was a 37.5 per cent decrease in reported rape in Copenhagen. On inspection that turns out to be a decrease from eleven cases (1958) to eight (1969). The intervening years, for reasons best known to the Commission, are not listed. It is known, however—at least to my students—that such small base figures cannot yield significant comparisons. More significant figures, for all of Denmark, were available for about the same period. Thus there were 189 reported rapes in 1962 and 217 in 1968; certainly no decrease. Can one trust the Commission’s selection even of irrelevant data?

A few comments on method. 1) Crime rates alone (not crime) are significant. Otherwise there is a “crime wave,” or a decrease, whenever the population increases, or decreases, or the age composition changes. 2) What could isolated sex-crime figures, even if they were correctly stated, possibly show about the effects of pornography? Exactly nothing. Suppose rape had increased (it did). There are many factors other than pornography which might account for the increase. (Has there been a general increase in crime rates in Denmark?, etc. etc.) Suppose rape had decreased. It might have decreased more if it were not for pornography. What bearing did the Commission imagine its data to have? 3) Suppose, now, that rape did decrease and that the decrease was shown to have been due to the more permissive climate of which pornography is a part—i.e., girls surrender so easily that they are seldom raped. Would the Commission expect us to greet this change with joy, or dismay? As an argument for, or against, legitimizing pornography?

Which brings me to the second, more general point. Its mandate required the Commission to study “the effects of pornography upon the public . . . and its relationship to crime and other anti-social behavior” (emphasis added). But the Commission in effect limited itself to crime (and in a bizarre fashion). Nowhere did the Commission deal seriously with the main issue in the minds of everyone who reasonably objects to pornography: the effect of pornography on the quality of our lives, on the public and private ethos. The Commission pursued a marginal matter—pornography and crime, no, pornography and sex crime—instead of engaging the question: What influence might the legalization of pornography have on our traditions of public and private behavior; on the shared values, the empathy and mutual identification indispensable to organized society; on love, marriage, illegitimacy; on attitudes toward personal and social relationships?

Without “mutual ties,” “emotional ties which hold the group together,” there is, according to Freud, “the cessation of all feeling of consideration” and therewith “a gigantic and senseless dread”; according to almost all sociologists, there is also social disorganization. Now, one may argue about whether the legalization of pornography destroys these ties, and has a disorganizing effect. But the Commission ignored the question and thereby its own mandate. Thus it reached conclusions determined a priori by its odd formulation of the problem and by its curiously selected data. . . .

The dissenters charged the Commission with bias. Perhaps they were wrong: it might have been mere incompetence. No mens rea; just culpable neglect. I don’t think the Commission would like this defense, but I can see no other.

Ernest Van Den Haag
New York City



To the Editor:

From the unnecessarily cute title to the gratuitously sexual and tasteless references to “hardware, or perhaps software” (in connection with the North Carolina study on the effects of erotica on male college students) to the quite illogical conclusion, the Packer Report on the Report not only is inadequate to its subject but is a real disservice to the cause of intellectual freedom.

A number of facts are misstated (some admittedly trivial, but still of importance in setting the general tone of the article):

  1. Only someone without a sense of humor could possibly recognize The Obscenity Report (Stein and Day) to be anything but a satirically-intended hoax. It is full of completely and obviously faked charts, statistics, and quotations. . . .
  2. “. . . the Government Printing Office printed just enough copies of the whole Report and the various dissents for the officials immediately involved. . . .” So says Mr. Packer. The fact is that the Government Printing Office had enough copies of the whole Report, including all the various dissents, to send them to the several hundred Government Depository Libraries throughout the United States early in December (1970), and copies were then and are now readily available from the Government Printing Office. . . .
  3. The Senate rejected the Commission Report on October 13, 1970, thirteen days after the COP Report was issued—not on October 17, seventeen days later, as Mr. Packer states.
  4. The Commission expenditures came to approximately $1.8 million, which is considerably more than the “hundreds of thousands” mentioned by Mr. Packer as the cost of the Commission. . . .

The single most obviously “self-inflicted hotfoot”—to quote Mr. Packer’s quote—in his Report on the Report is his admission of a “bias that research is the opiate of the behavioral scientists.” Really Mr. Packer, this is 1971, and there is just too much clearly valuable and appropriate research by behavioral science on record to dismiss this study and its research so highhandedly or to deprecate all such research.

As a long-practicing academic librarian and a former long-time member of the American Library Association’s Intellectual Freedom Committee, who is at present completing a book on the origins of censorship, may I attest to the fact that I find the Report of the Commission on Obscenity and Pornography a pioneering, useful, and significant publication which, although like any man-made production, is far from perfect, still deserves a less biased and captious critique than the one presented in Mr. Packer’s article.

Eli M. Oboler
Idaho State University
Pocatello, Idaho



To the Editor:

In “The Pornography Caper” Herbert L. Packer refers on several occasions to my critique of the Final Report of the Presidential Commission on Obscenity and Pornography.

I think it might be helpful to mention a few additional facts and events which Mr. Packer was not aware of at the time he wrote. . . .

For some years I have been keeping a file on the scientific evidence of pornography’s potential effect on behavior and have participated in occasional symposia dealing with these issues, including a presentation before the Presidential Commission in Los Angeles on May 4, 1970.

The first confidential draft copy of the “Effects Panel Report,” the heart of the whole Commission report, which was released to Commission members in July, asserted that the scientific evidence indicated that pornography did not have any ascertainable causal relationship to crime, juvenile delinquency, sexual deviance, or emotional disturbance. I was sent a copy of this report by a member of the Commission who wanted to know if this indeed were true. . . . Although I did not have access (until a month later) to the Commission’s own privately-financed studies, I was able at this time to check their discussions against already published literature like the Kinsey-Gebhardt et. al. studies of sex offenders. A careful critique and analysis of the Commission’s data and conclusions revealed a number of very serious flaws, gross inaccuracies in citing figures from other studies, and instances of not reporting data or evidence suggesting opposing views (e.g., that pornography might have some negative effects on the consumer). I sent a critical review of this report to the Commissioner. Several days later someone on the Commission, or on the Commission staff, released this report (in draft form and unapproved by the Commission) to the Associated Press, fearing perhaps that the Commission might later attempt to water it down or censor it. Some newspapers, like the Chicago Daily News, printed this draft report verbatim over a period of several weeks with the implication that honest scientific inquiry had demonstrated that pornography causes no harm. I was much concerned that a report such as this, badly flawed in so many ways, with significant evidence of major bias in its review of the scientific evidence, was released to the public with no disclaimers, and I wrote . . . to the chairman and all members of the Commission requesting that a panel of unbiased outside behavioral scientists be allowed to review the original research. . . . This letter was never answered and outside behavioral scientists were never allowed to review the evidence and ascertain the “honesty” of the report. (A promise, however, has been made to publish in a limited edition all of the Commission research at some later date.)

Several weeks later, Morton Hill, a member of the Commission, invited me to review all of the confidential Commission-financed studies which, together with the outside literature, constituted the scientific evidence on which the Commission made its recommendations for repealing nearly all laws controlling the exposure of adults and children to pornography.

By late August the Commission writers had almost totally rewritten their “Effects Panel Report,” responding to almost every criticism raised in my original critique. But a careful review of the Final Report, which was published in September (and approved by the majority of the Commission), . . . revealed many new errors and inaccuracies in the reporting of research results as well as flawed methodology in many of the basic studies. . . .

From the evidence that I could gather it appears that no one on the Commission, including Chairman Lockhart, ever read all of the many volumes of the Commission’s research studies. Moreover, since they were not scientists, they would not have been in a position to evaluate critically the soundness of methodology, the adequacy of statistical techniques used, etc.

Thus Commissioner G. William Jones’s statement, defending his vote to repeal pornography laws, sounds hollow and ironic: “As a clergyman . . . I believe that the search for truth is liberating. . . . Although many religious persons may be distressed by the findings of our research, they must certainly rejoice that misconceptions and prejudices are being replaced by knowledge. . . .”

From what I can gather, Commissioner Jones and probably a number of the other Commissioners have been “led down the garden path” by the staff members who wrote the Report. Instead of being liberated by the truth, they have been taken. That this could happen under the aegis of a Presidential Commission suggests a very sad day for social-science research. If Commissioner Jones, Chairman Lockhart, or others on the Commission are indeed interested in the truth I would again suggest that a panel of unbiased social scientists be allowed to review the original research and ascertain what kinds of conclusions might legitimately be drawn from the data.

Victor B. Cline
University of Utah
Salt Lake City, Utah



Herbert L. Packer replies:

I refer Mr. Oboler to Mr. van den Haag, except for Mr. Oboler’s collection of trivia, which requires no answer. While I agree with what Mr. van den Haag says about the effect of pornography on the quality of our lives, I would ask him to consider how the law can be used to suppress pornography without causing more harm than what it suppresses. I’m afraid that it will be a long time before Mr. Cline and I have anything to say to each other.



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