Jonathan Rée

Experimental Thinking

Pain, Pleasure, and the Greater Good: From the Panopticon to the Skinner Box and Beyond


University of Chicago press 304pp £22.50 order from our bookshop

Cathy Gere begins this wise, fascinating and original book in Tuskegee, Alabama, where a large public-health experiment was launched back in 1932. The purpose of the research was to investigate ‘untreated syphilis in the negro male’; 600 black men – 399 infected, 201 not – were persuaded to take part, in exchange for a few perks and ‘special free treatment’ for ‘bad blood’. They were subjected to plenty of tests (including crude spinal taps), but they were never given any treatment, even after 1946, when penicillin became available as an effective cure for syphilis. The whistle was blown in 1972, after which the New York Times carried an exposé and the forty-year project was closed down. Senator Edward Kennedy conducted an inquiry. Ever since, the Tuskegee experiment has stood as a monument to the evil that doctors do, inviting obligatory comparisons with Nazi medicine.

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