Not Like The Tuskegee Experiment At All
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Recently Susan Reverby, a professor at Wellesley College, made an interesting discovery about the history of the US public health service—in the 1940's, after penicillin, a cure for syphilis, had been invented, American scientists did experiments on Guatemalan criminals in prison, allowing  them to have sex with infected prostitutes, and then curing them with penicillin. Hillary Clinton, hearing of this, has rushed to apologize.

However, everyone in the media is saying it's "like the Tuskegee Experiment." It isn't.  The popular belief about the Tuskegee experiment is that that white people deliberately infected blacks with syphilis.

They didn't.

Another popular belief is that these same white people could have cured the black patients of syphilis.

They couldn't.

Doctor Reverby's's draft asks people not to quote it, so I won't, but I note that she is very careful to explain that most what people believe about the Tuskegee Experiment  is a myth.  You can read it yourself. [“Normal Exposure” and Inoculation Syphilis: A PHS “Tuskegee” Doctor in Guatemala, 1946-48, Journal of Policy History, Special Issue on Human Subjects, January 2011 in press pre-copy edited draft DO NOT QUOTE WITHOUT EXPRESS PERMISSION OF THE AUTHOR]

I blogged about  it when Kathleen Parker on NRO seemed to believe it, and here, briefly is the explanation:

Of course, the problem with this is that the general belief about the Tuskegee Study is simply not true, and has been debunked here on by Jared Taylor, and by anthropologist Richard Shweder in the pages of Spiked Magazine.[Tuskegee Re-examined, January 8, 2004] It was conducted at least partly under the auspices of Booker T. Washington’s famous Tuskegee Institute, hence the name. The study was run at least partly by Dr Eugene Dibble, and Nurse Eunice Rivers, who were black, and associated with the Tuskegee Institute’s John Andrew Hospital.

The reason for allowing some people, (who, if I have to say this, were not infected by the government, but had acquired the disease themselves in the ordinary way) to remain untreated was that was one of the normal options for dealing with a disease that, pre-antibiotics, had few good or safe treatments. Shweder writes that syphilis therapy in the 1930’s was “so weak, hazardous, lengthy, costly and difficult to administer that very few people with syphilis were willing to tolerate the drugs for the full course of the treatment.”

In layman’s language, this included things that didn’t work, things that made you sick, and things that made you scream when the doctor did them to you. Arsenic was involved.


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