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A list of specious scientific achievements [sic] would be long enough to warrant a ten-part Netflix series.
It includes, for example, the Tuskegee Study, mercury fillings, chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), veal crates, electroshock therapy, napalm, mustard gas, automatic weapons, sonic weaponry, directed energy weapons, weapons in general, surgical experiments (without anesthesia) on slaves, deforestation, Vioxx, DDT, eugenics, GMOs, fossil fuels, the Milgram experiments, factory farming, the medicalization of the birthing process, vivisection, mountaintop mining, MK ULTRA, conversion therapy, forced sterilizations, pre-frontal lobotomies, waterboarding, deep-sea bottom trawling, Accutane, land mines, and the electric chair — to name but a few of the innumerable options.
And I haven’t yet mentioned television, cellphones, automobiles (and automobile culture), the Internet, social media, and artificial intelligence!
If you’ve fallen in love with scientists, by all means, please allow me to introduce you to Chester M. Southam. In 1952, he injected unknowing inmates at the Ohio State Prison with live cancer cells. Eleven years later, he did the same to 22 elderly patients at the Jewish Chronic Disease Hospital in Brooklyn. Why would a man of science do such a thing? Simple, he wanted to “discover the secret of how healthy bodies fight the invasion of malignant cells.” Despite a cover-up, Southam’s atrocities were exposed and he was given the harsh punishment of (wait for it) one-year probation. By the late 1960s, the American Cancer Society elected him their vice president.
The because-science hive mind should also be enamored with the University of Iowa researchers Wendell Johnson and Mary Tudor — creators of what is now known as the “Monster Study.” In 1939, Johnson and Tudor conducted an experiment on 22 orphan children. One group was given positive speech therapy. The others got negative speech therapy. Using science as their guide, the researchers left the negative group with speech problems they retained for the rest of their lives.
Who doesn’t appreciate the doubly dubious intersection of science and the military? A fine example occurred in 1956 and 1957 when the U.S. Army released millions of infected mosquitos into the cities of Savannah, Georgia, and Avon Park, Florida. Their “scientific” goal was to see if the insects would spread dengue fever and yellow fever — and what a success! Hundreds of unknowing civilians presented with symptoms like respiratory problems, stillbirths, fevers, encephalitis, typhoid, and death.
And, if science is your fetish, you’ll certainly love what researchers at Harvard University did in the late 1940s. They tested diethylstilbestrol, a synthetic estrogen, on pregnant women — without their knowledge — at the Lying-In Hospital of the University of Chicago. This scientific wizardry resulted in an abnormally high number of miscarriages and babies with low birth weights. But, hey, to question the white lab coats responsible would be tantamount to ignorance, right?
I know all the knee-jerk complaints about how I’m conveniently ignoring the myriad benefits of science. Let’s be clear: You don’t need me or anyone else to laud scientific accomplishments. That already happens, 24/7, across all forms of media, in textbooks, and in everyday conversation.
What we do need is some context and balance — before it’s too late.