Do You Know About Iowa’s Stuttering Experiments on Orphans?
Back in 1939, according to CBS News, "For six months, Mary Nixon and 10 other orphans were relentlessly belittled for every little imperfection in their speech to test the theory that children become stutterers because of psychological pressure."
The study happened at the University of Iowa in Davenport, IA, and eventually, Mary Nixon got together with other test subjects in 2003 (the date of the CBS story) to sue because some of their lifelong mental-health issues harken back to that experiment.
The professor that planned the experiment was Wendell Johnson, a well-known and respected speech expert. Mary Tudor, a graduate student, ran the experiment with Johnson watching over her shoulder. Half the kids were praised constantly. The other half was not so lucky. Not only did they see a host of mental health issues throughout their life, but some of them retained speech problems the rest of their lives.
Don't Judge Them By Today's Standards
According to the CBS story,
"From the 2003 perspective, he conducted a hugely unethical project," said Arthur Caplan, head of the University of Pennsylvania's bioethics center. But 60 years ago, ethical rules did not exist, and experiments were done using minorities, disabled children or prisoners "because you didn't think of them as morally equivalent to others."
Contrast that point of view with this quote from the wiki article,
It was dubbed the "Monster Study" as some of Johnson's peers were horrified that he would experiment on orphan children to confirm a hypothesis. The experiment was kept hidden for fear Johnson's reputation would be tarnished in the wake of human experiments conducted by the Nazis during World War II.
Did They Win Their Lawsuit?
The State of Iowa agreed to award a total of $1.2 Million to the plaintiffs for "lifelong psychological and emotional scars caused by six months of torment during the University of Iowa experiment."
Personal Note: 82-years-ago is a long time. I'm not writing this to attack Iowa or the University. I'm writing it because we so often hear "don't judge people by modern standards if they're not living in modern times." Sometimes I buy that as an argument, but then I read something like this...
But 60 years ago, ethical rules did not exist, and experiments were done using minorities, disabled children or prisoners "because you didn't think of them as morally equivalent to others. (source)
And in that atmosphere of ethical horrors, people said what this professor was doing was horrifying. Plus hiding the study hints heavily at what they knew and felt about their ethics.
So what do we do? We try to do better. Try to love people, all people, even the worst of us because if we don't, pretty soon we could be lulled into doing the same kind of things they did in 1939.
What do you think, I'm interested in your perspective: firstname.lastname@example.org
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