Archived Articles

Four articles that appeared in Harper’s and The New York Times Magazine are included here in revised form. “Silo Busters” is a history of the MX missile, the U.S. Air Force’s last ICBM project.  It portrays the labyrinthine politics and theory about nuclear weapons during the years before President Reagan’s science-fictional Strategic Defense Initiative, or “Star Wars” program, captured attention.  Biographical information about the main characters has been added to the original Harper’s text.  The three Times articles have been amended to correct awkward editing, while maintaining their original factuality. “The Endless Countdown,” one of the first critical investigations of the space shuttle program in the national press, was commissioned in the fall of 1979 and describes the shuttle’s troubled technical status, its tortuous budgetary history, and some of the flawed components that would later lead to deadly failures. “Restocking the Chemical Arsenal” was instigated by the U.S. Army’s plan to manufacture so-called binary nerve-gas munitions. Based on interviews with military officials, it provides a comprehensive and still-relevant view of how chemical weapons work and could be used. “Neutron Bomb” describes how that specialized nuclear weapon, rarely discussed with technical accuracy, fit in the military and political landscape of the Cold War. This text restores a detailed description–strangely deleted from commercially archived versions of the article–of how the Army planned to use these bombs against Soviet troops on the European battlefield.

“The Truth About Lie Detectors” appeared in Discover in March 1986, during the Reagan administration’s push to spread the use of polygraph exams throughout the federal government.  It details the lack of scientific validity of polygraphy, which is still the case today at a time when the Defense Department alone conducts more than 43,000 tests per year, according to a 2011 report by the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence.   A July 2012 memorandum from the Director of National Intelligence directed all agencies that perform polygraph tests to use them to find individuals who leak classified information, particularly to the news media. In 2002, the National Academies concluded that polygraph screening was “intrinsically susceptible to producing erroneous results.”  The American Psychological Association maintains that “most psychologists and other scientists agree that there is little basis for the validity of polygraph tests.”

“Profiting Off the Fat of the Land” is the complete text of a keynote speech given at the annual convention of the American Medical Writers Association in Chicago on November 8, 1996.  It relates the history of the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of a controversial diet pill called Redux (fen-phen).  In September 1997, the FDA took Redux off the market after it was associated with lung and heart valve damage.  An estimated six million people took the drug.  American Home Products, Redux’s manufacturer through its Wyeth subsidiary, was eventually forced to set aside $21.1 billion to cover litigation.  A condensed version of the speech appeared in the 12/30/96 issue of The Nation.