Posted on 23 August 2012.
According to one of the greatest senators of our republic, the “Filipino people are worth dying for”, aren’t they worth properly citing, reliably researching, and thoroughly analysing for?
Senator Tito Sotto, his staff, and his fans club should not confuse his other profession as an actor with his being a senator. Sotto, as an actor, is not responsible for what he is saying or even doing when he plays a character in a film, sitcom, or teleserye. If Sotto plays the character of a dishonest, deceptive, and intellectually lazy senator in a film, only those who cannot tell the difference between fact and fiction will seek to either correct or condemn him. But when Sotto delivered his turno en contra speech, he is not playing the character role of a senator: He is Senator Tito Sotto, a public servant of the Republic of the Philippines, and his speech writer/researchers are not scriptwriters. All of them are paid by the Filipino people not to entertain but to provide the highest standard of public service. If Sotto’s listeners find out that he is dishonest, deceptive, and intellectually lazy, they have all the right to point it out; they are, after all, not paying him to be that kind of senator. Even if he is presenting an argument that we don’t agree with, he still has to deliver those arguments with the highest standard of research and reading comprehension.
After his first speech, it was found out that he plagiarized – not just once but several times in the same speech. To be fair, Sotto is not the only one in world history that has committed this lapse in judgment. In 1991, the New York Times reported that after a thorough investigation of the committee formed by Boston University, it was verified that Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. “plagiarized passages in his dissertation for a doctoral degree.” Although they didn’t ask for the revocation of Rev. King’s doctoral degree, the committee recommended “that a letter stating its finding be placed with the official copy of Dr. King’s dissertation in the university’s library.” This demonstrates that plagiarism, even if committed by a Nobel Laureate or a world hero, is still plagiarism.
Plagiarism does not automatically diminish the value of your arguments. What it does is tarnish your character and betrays your thinking style: Are plagiarists thoughtful thinkers or are they ungrateful parrots who only repeat what they have heard and read? In Writing with Sources: A Guide for Students, a guide developed for Harvard University’s Expository Writing Program, Gordon Harvey defines plagiarism as “the act of passing off information, ideas, or words of another as your own, by failing to acknowledge their source-an act of lying, cheating, and stealing.” Sotto claimed that he graduated from “the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.” If so, then he must be aware of the strict rules against plagiarism of his alma mater, as stated in the Harvard Guide to Using Sources. Harvard Guide provides two reasons why their students should properly cite their sources:
First, citing sources allows scholars to give credit to other scholars for their hard work and their ideas. Second, by citing sources, scholars provide a roadmap for readers who are interested in learning more about a topic and joining the ongoing conversation about that topic. (emphasis mine)
The first reason is about basic respect and humility. It takes so much time and energy to think, research, and craft a thoughtful argument. Using someone else’s hard work as your source is of course allowed, that’s just how knowledge develops. Even if your source is a blog, you have to properly cite it. All citations styles – such as MLA, APA, and Chicago – agree that blogs, even blog comments, should be properly cited. Even if you are citing a citation made in another person’s work, you still have to inform your listeners about it. With Sotto’s Harvard education, as well as his staffs’ educational attainment, there is no way they don’t know this. Moreover, there are a lot of free resources online that can guide them how to cite properly. One website even does the citing for you (see: EasyBib.com)! And no, this is not just about complying with the legal rules of copyright as what Atty. Hector Villacorta, the chief of staff of Sen. Sotto, would like to make it appear. This is just plain gratitude and honesty. Citing your sources is respecting the hard work of the author/s of your sources. With this respect comes the humility to accept that your ideas are not original, they came from other people. And with humility, comes gratitude, or in our culture, “utang na loob.” Respect, humility, honesty, and gratitude are values prior to legal ones.
Harvard Guide’s second reason points us to something more practical. Citing your sources allows your listeners to know the richer context of your arguments. Thoughtful speakers and writer make thoughtful listeners and readers – but they cannot be thoughtful listeners and readers if they cannot thoroughly examine the content and context of your arguments. You cannot just tell your listeners or readers that this is the truth; they need to know the basis of your truth-claims so they can decide for themselves whether or not your arguments are persuasive enough. This point is wonderfully summed up by Charles Lipson in Cite Right: A Quick Guide to Citation Styles – MLA, APA, Chicago, the Sciences, Professions, and More. Besides upholding important social values, properly citing your sources “show[s] readers the materials on which you base your analysis, your narrative, your conclusions…[and] guide readers to the materials you have used so they can examine it for themselves. Their interest might be to confirm your work, to challenge it, or simply to explore it further.” How can the Filipino people verify the veracity of Sotto’s arguments if he doesn’t properly cite them? But in fairness to Sotto, he did cite some of his sources, allowing us to look more deeply into his arguments.
In this article, we will analyze whether one of the sources Sotto mentioned in Part 2 of his turno en contra speech actually supports his claims. I am referring to Barbara Seaman’s The Greatest Experiement Performed on Women, Exploding the Estrogen Myth. It is one of the evidences he presented to support his claim that contraceptive pills have bad effects to children born of mothers using them (“…mga pag-aaral na makakapagpatunay na mayroong masamang epekto ang contraceptives sa kalusugan ng mga bata na pinanganak ng mga ina na gumagamit ng contraceptives”).
The Greatest Experiment Ever Performed on Women, Exploding the Estrogen Myth
This is exactly how Sotto used Barbara Seaman’s book:
In the book entitled ‘The Greatest Experiment Ever Performed on Women, Exploding the Estrogen Myth’ by Barbara Seaman, it was stated that those who take pills but still got pregnant have more abnormal children and lower I.Q. (Hindi naman po siguro kelangan pa na maging doctor ang isang tao para lamang malaman ang maaaring maging kumplikasyon ng pag-gamit ng pills ngunit nagbuntis pa din di ba?).
This is actually an iteration of the statement Sotto made in the media when former Department of Health Secretary Dr. Esperanza Cabral challenged the claim he made in the Part 1 of his turno en contra speech that his first son died because his wife Helen Gamboa used contraceptive pills. Sotto said:
Based on [s]tudies yes those on pills who got pregnant have more abnormal children and lower IQ. From the book ‘Greatest experiment ever performed on women’ by Barbara Seaman. Tell them to read it. [It's] available on line or order from amazon.com.
In order for us to determine whether Seaman’s book supports Sotto’s claims, we have to answer several questions:
- What is the book about?
- Who is Barbara Seaman?
- What is the exact quotation from Seaman’s book?
- What is the context of the passage?
We will answer 1 and 2 in this article, while 3 and 4 will be explored in Part 2.
What is the book about? Who is Barbara Seaman?
In a eulogy in The New York Times, Barbara Seaman (1935-2008) is described as “a writer and patients’ rights advocate who was one of the first people to bring the issue of women’s reproductive health to wide public attention.” She is one of the founders of National Women’s Health Network (NWHN). According to their website, NWHN “aspires to a health care system that is guided by social justice, in which all women have access to excellent health care that meets [the diverse needs of women].” Their goals include the following:
(1) “…ensure that every woman can make her own decisions about her reproductive and sexual health;”
(2) “…advocates for comprehensive, accessible contraceptive and abortion care, accurate information about sexuality and reproduction, and tools women can use to protect against HIV and sexually transmitted infection;”
(3) “…promote access to safe and effective reproductive health products and services, with complete information and without ideological restrictions;” and
(4) “…ensure that women have complete and accurate information about products and services marketed to them, and strengthens public protections against such threats.”
Given Seaman’s political position, how on earth Sotto – or whoever is responsible for his speech – used Seaman’s work to aid his arguments is baffling. But let’s still give Sotto (and his speech writer/researcher) the benefit of the doubt…
What brought Seaman to fame (or notoriety) is her 1969 book The Doctor’s Case Against the Pill, which exposed the risks of high-dose estrogen birth control pills. In the foreword of the 25th Anniversary Edition of the book (1995), Claudia Dreifus writes how The Doctor’s Case led to a US Senate hearing about the concerns raised by Seaman: “The result [of the hearing] was a mandate that patient package inserts be included in all birth control pill packages.” According to NWHN’s profile of Seaman, this was the “first on any prescription drug,” leading the way for other prescription drugs to have their own package inserts that will inform people of their potential risks and adverse effects. Sotto could have used The Doctor’s Case as his textual support for his arguments, but we all know he didn’t. Instead, he used Seaman’s The Greatest Experiment. But using The Doctor’s Case wouldn’t also benefit Sotto because the facts and circumstances in that book are radically different from what we have today; and these radical changes are actually caused by Seaman’s exposition in the The Doctor’s Case. However, The Greatest Experiment is a more bewildering and unfortunate choice of textual support for Sotto. And here’s why…
Published in 2003, The Greatest Experiment is a continuation of Seaman’s investigation on synthetic sex hormones. The Doctor’s Case, Seaman focuses on contraceptive pills taken by women who would like to prevent pregnancy while The Greatest Experiment is about hormone replacement therapy pills taken by women who would like to arrest the effects of menopause. The Greatest Experiment exposes the risks of hormones being given to women going through their menopause. Nonetheless, even though Seaman is aware of those risks, she didn’t go on advocating for women not to use them at all. She is calling for greater caution in the use of estrogen products and for people to be more informed about them. This she expressed in the introduction of her book. After giving a background story about the meaning of the title of her book, Seaman writes, “estrogen products won’t go away, and they shouldn’t. One can only wish, as I do, that they will be used now with caution, based on evidence and facts, not illusion. My aim is to consider whether hormone supplements are necessary and for whom. Specifically, I hope this book will help women navigate the estrogen issue…But the larger hope is that we can make informed decisions about other drugs as well.”
More importantly,The Greatest Experiment is a fatal choice of textual support for Sotto because in Chapter 10, Seaman reproduced the leaflet FDA Commissioner Dr. Charles Edwards presented during the US Senate hearing about the concerns raised by Seaman in The Doctor’s Case. Seaman praised that leaflet calling “the wording [of the leaflet] helpful and clear,” but she lamented that “it was derailed, in a scandalous manner, by that unholy trio of organized medicine, drug manufacturers, and extremist population controllers.” And here’s what we can find in the leaflet Seaman praised:
All of the oral contraceptive pills are highly effective for preventing pregnancy when taken according to the approved directions. Your doctor has taken your medical history and has given you a careful physical examination. He has discussed with you the risks of oral contraceptives and has decided that you can take this drug safely.
If The Greatest Experiment is to be used at all in the RH Bill debate, the position that this book can support is not whether or not contraceptive pills should be used but whether or not the RH Bill has provisions to: 1) examine the medical history and give a careful physical examination of women before they are given the pill; 2) determine the responsibility of the government for those who will experience adverse reactions to contraceptive pills; and 3) If 1 & 2 are not present in the RH Bill, shouldn’t we include them there?
(In this article, I’m using the ePub version of Barbara Seaman’s The Greatest Experiment Ever Performed on Women, Exploding the Estrogen Myth being sold at www.kobobooks.com)
In Part 2, we will examine how Sotto used The Greatest Experiment to support his claims, and see whether he is right in doing so.