The teaching of ethics is particularly suited to the use of illustrative case studies. Such narratives can be used to present examples of a range of significant ethical issues related to some human enterprise and many of the complexities associated with each of the issues. The cases can be either fictional or they can be based on actual events.
In our Summer Institute instructional program we used a series of real-life case studies to illustrate several of the key ethical issues related to science. The teachers found these cases helpful in enhancing their in-depth understanding of the issue and in suggesting practical topics for the development of classroom ethics lessons.
In this chapter we present six such case studies, including five that
were used, to good effect, during our Summer Institute instructional program.
Each is based on a real case. The cases and major associated ethics issues
are: Overly Ambitious Researchers -- Fabricating Data (scientific misconduct);
The Millkan Case (issues related to the collection, treatment and presentation
of scientific data); The Tuskegee Syphilis Study (issues concerning research
on human subjects and the influence of racial prejudice on science); The
Search For the Structure of DNA (competition vs. cooperation, and sexism
in science); The XYY Controversy (genetics and biotechnology research issues);
and Love Canal (environmental protection issues).
Each case includes:
1- Introduction.. A discussion of the nature and significance of the types of moral issues raised in the case.
2- Background. Background discussion designed to place the case in an appropriate context.
3- Case Study. A narrative presentation of the particulars of the case.
4- Readings and Resources. A brief list of suggested readings (as well as videos and other educational material) that can be consulted to get a more thorough understanding of the case in question, related cases, and the associated ethics/values issue.
5- The Issues. Sets of questions designed to elicit thought and
exploration concerning both the specific ethics/values issues raised by
the case, as well as related issues.
CASE STUDY #1: OVERLY AMBITIOUS RESEARCHERS -- FABRICATING DATA
Categories of Ethics/Values Issues Illustrated by This Case:
Issues related to fraud in scientific research and its consequences.
In recent years the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Public Health Services (PHS), the Office of Scientific Integrity (OSI), and various scientific organizations such as the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) have spent considerable time and effort in trying to agree on a definition of scientific misconduct. A good definition is needed in developing and implementing policies and regulations concerning appropriate conduct in research, particularly when federal funding is involved. This is an important area of concern because, although serious scientific misconduct itself may be infrequent, the consequences of even a few instances can be widespread.
Those cases that reach the public's attention can cause considerable distrust among both scientists and the public, however infrequent their occurrence. Like lying in general, we may wonder which scientific reports are tainted by misconduct, even though we may be convinced that relatively few are. Furthermore, scientists depend on each other's work in advancing their own. Building one's work on the incorrect or unsubstantiated data of others infects one's own research; and the chain of consequences can be quite lengthy, as well as very serious. This is as true of honest or careless mistakes as it is of the intentional distortion of data, which is what scientific misconduct is usually restricted to. Finally, of course, the public depends on the reliable expertise of scientists in virtually every area of health, safety, and welfare.
Although exactly what the definition of scientific misconduct should include is a matter of some controversy, all proposed definitions include the fabrication and falsification of data and plagiarism. As an instance of fraud, the fabrication of data is a particularly blatant form of misconduct. It lacks the subtlety of questions about interpreting data that pivot around whether the data have been "fudged", or "manipulated." Fabricating data is making it up, or faking it. Thus, it is a clear instance of a lie, a deliberate attempt to deceive others.
However, this does not mean that fabrications are easy to detect or
handle effectively once they are detected; and this adds considerably to
the mischief and harm they can cause. Two well-known cases illustrate this,
both of which feature ambitious, and apparently successful, young researchers.
Dr. John Darsee was regarded a brilliant student and medical researcher
at the University of Notre Dame (1966-70), Indiana University (1970-74),
Emory University (1974-9), and Harvard University (1979-1981). He was regarded
by faculty at all four institutions as a potential "all-star" with a great
research future ahead of him. At Harvard he reportedly often worked more
than 90 hours a week as a Research Fellow in the Cardiac Research Laboratory
headed by Dr. Eugene Braunwald. In less than two years at Harvard he was
first author of seven publications in very good scientific journals. His
special area of research concerned the testing of heart drugs on dogs.
3. The Darsee case
All of this came to a sudden halt in May 1981, when three colleagues in the Cardiac Research Laboratory observed Darsee labeling data recordings "24 seconds," "72 hours," "one week," and "two weeks." In reality, only minutes had transpired. Confronted by his mentor Braunwald, Darsee admitted the fabrication; but he insisted that this was the only time he had done this, and that he had been under intense pressure to complete the study quickly. Shocked, Braunwald and Darsee's immediate supervisor, Dr. Robert Kroner, spent the next several months checking other research conducted by Darsee in their lab. Darsee's research fellowships were terminated, and an offer of a faculty position was withdrawn. However, he was allowed to continue his research projects at Harvard for the next several months (during which time Braunwald and Kroner observed his work very closely).
Hopeful that this was an isolated incident, Braunwald and Kroner were shocked again in October. A comparison of results from four different laboratories in a National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) Models Study revealed an implausibly low degree of invariability in data provided by Darsee. In short, his data looked "too good." Since these data had been submitted in April, there was strong suspicion that Darsee had been fabricating or falsifying data for some time. Subsequent investigations seemed to indicate questionable research practices dating back as far as his undergraduate days.
What were the consequences of John Darsee's misconduct? Darsee, we have seen, lost his research position at Harvard, and his offer of a faculty position was withdrawn. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) barred him from NIH funding or serving on NIH committees for ten years. He left research and went into training as a critical care specialist. However, the cost to others was equally, if not more, severe. Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital became the first institution NIH ever required to return funds ($122,371) because of research involving fraudulent data. Braunwald and his colleagues had to spend several months investigating Darsee's research, rather than simply continuing the work of the Cardiac Research Laboratory. Furthermore, they were severely criticized for carrying on their own investigation without informing NIH of their concerns until several months later. The morale and productivity of the laboratory was damaged. A cloud of suspicion hung over all the work with which Darsee was associated. Not only was Darsee's own research discredited, but insofar as it formed an integral part of collaborative research, a cloud was thrown over published research bearing the names of authors whose work was linked with Darsee's.
The months of outside investigation also took others away from their main tasks and placed them under extreme pressure. Statistician David DeMets played a key role in the NIH investigation. Fifteen years later, he recalls the relief his team experienced when their work was completed:(50)
For the author and the junior statistician, there was relief that the episode was finally over and we could get on with our careers, without the pressures of a highly visible misconduct investigation. It was clear early on that we had no room for error, that any mistakes would destroy the case for improbable data and severely damage our careers. Even without mistakes, being able to convince lay reviewers such as a jury using statistical arguments could still be defeating. Playing the role of the prosecuting statisticians was very demanding of our technical skills but also of our own integrity and ethical standards. Nothing could have adequately prepared us for what we experienced.Braunwald notes some positive things that have come from the Darsee case. In addition to alerting scientists to the need for providing closer supervision of trainees and taking authorship responsibilities more seriously, the Darsee incident contributed to the development of guidelines and standards concerning research misconduct by PHS, NIH, NSF, medical associations and institutes, and universities and medical schools. However, he cautions that no protective system is able to prevent all research misconduct. In fact, he doubts that current provisions could have prevented Darsee's misconduct, although they might have resulted in earlier detection. Further, he warns that good science does not thrive in an atmosphere of heavy "policing" of one another's work:(51)
The most creative minds will not thrive in such an environment and the most promising young people might actually be deterred from embarking on a scientific career in an atmosphere of suspicion. Second only to absolute truth, science requires an atmosphere of openness, trust, and collegiality.Given this, it seems that William F. May is right in urging the need for a closer examination of character and virtue in professional life.(52) He says that an important test of character and virtue is what we do when no one is watching. The Darsee case and Brauwald's reflections seem to confirm this. If this is right, then it is important that attention be paid to these matters before college, by which time one's character is rather well set.
Many who are caught having engaged in scientific misconduct plead that
they were under extreme pressure, needing to complete their research in
order to meet the expectations of their lab supervisor, to meet a grant
deadline, to get an article published, or to survive in the increasingly
competitive world of scientific research. Although the immediate stakes
are different, secondary school science students sometimes echo related
concerns: "I knew how the experiment should have turned out, and I needed
to support the right answer;" "I needed to get a good grade;" "I didn't
have time to do it right; there's so much pressure." Often these thoughts
are accompanied by another--namely, that this is only a classroom exercise
and that, of course, one will not fabricate data when one becomes a scientist
and these pressures are absent. What the Darsee case illustrates is that
it is naive to assume such pressures will vanish. So, the time to begin
dealing with the ethical challenges they pose is now, not later (when the
stakes may be even higher).
4. The Bruening case
In December 1983, Dr. Robert Sprague wrote an eight page letter, with 44 pages of appendices, to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) documenting the fraudulent research of Dr. Stephen Breuning.(53) Breuning fabricated data concerning the effects psychotropic medication have on mentally retarded patients. Despite Breuning's admission of fabricating data only three months after Sprague sent his letter, the case was not finally resolved until July 1989. (Sprague credits media attention with speeding things along!) During that five and one-half year interval, Sprague himself was a target of investigation (in fact, he was the first target of investigation), he had his own research endeavors severely curtailed, he was subjected to threats of lawsuits, and he had to testify before a United States House of Representatives Committee. Most painful of all, Sprague's wife died in 1986 after a lengthy bout with diabetes. In fact, his wife's serious illness was one of the major factors prompting his "whistleblowing" to NIH. Realizing how dependent his diabetic wife was on reliable research and medication, Sprague was particularly sensitive to the dependency the mentally retarded, clearly a vulnerable population, have on the trustworthiness of not only their care givers, but also those who use them in experimental drug research.
Writing nine years after the closing of the Bruening case, Sprague obviously has vivid memories of the painful experiences he endured and of the potential harms to participants in Bruening's studies. However, he closes the account of his own experiences by reminding us of other victims of Bruening's misconduct--namely, psychologists and other researchers who collaborated with Bruening, but without being aware that he had fabricated data.
Dr. Alan Poling, one of those psychologists, writes about the consequences
of Bruening's misconduct for his collaborators in research. Strikingly,
Poling points out that between 1979 and 1983, Bruening was a contributor
to 34% of all published research on the psychopharmacology of mentally
retarded people. For those not involved in the research, initial doubts
may, however unfairly, be cast on all these publications. For those involved
in the research, efforts need to be made in each case to determine to what
extent, if any, the validity of the research was affected by Bruening's
role in the study. Even though Bruening was the only researcher to fabricate
data, his role could contaminate an entire study. In fact, however, not
all of Bruening's research did involve fabrication. Yet, convincing others
of this is a time-consuming, demanding task. Finally, those who cited Bruening's
publications in their own work may also suffer "guilt by association."
As Poling points out, this is especially unfair in those instances where
Bruening collaborations with others involved no fraud at all.
For readings on scientific integrity, including sections on the fabrication of data and a definition of scientific misconduct, see: Integrity and Misconduct in Research (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1995); On Being a Scientist, 2nd ed. (Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, 1995); and Honor in Science (Research Triangle Park, NC: Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society, 1991).
Sources for information on the Darsee case include: Sharen Begley, with Phyllis Malamud and Mary Hager, "A Case of Fraud at Harvard," Newsweek, February 4, 1982, pp. 89-92; Richard Knox, "The Harvard fraud case: where does the problem lie?", JAMA, Vol. 249, No. 14, April 3, 1983, pp. 1797-1807; Walter W. Stewart, "The integrity of the scientific literature," Nature, Vol. 325, January 15, 1987, pp. 207-214; Eugene Brunwald, "Analysing scientific fraud," Nature, Vol. 325, January 15, 1987, pp. 215-216; and Eugene Brunwald, "Cardiology: The John Darsee Experience," in David J. Miller and Michel Hersen, Research Fraud in the Behavioral and Biomedical Sciences (New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1992, pp. 55-79.
For readings on Bruening, see Sprague, Robert L., "The Voice of Experience," Science and Engineering Ethics, Vol. 4, Issue 1, 1998, p. 33, and Poling, Alan, "The Consequences of Fraud," in Miller and Hersen, pp. 140-157.
The Miller and Hersen book includes other good essays on misconduct
6. The Issues
The Darsee and Bruening cases raise a host of ethical questions about the nature and consequences of scientific fraud:
CASE STUDY #2: THE MILLIKAN CASE -- DISCRIMINATION VERSUS MANIPULATION OF DATA
Categories of Ethics/Values Issues Illustrated by This Case:Issues
related to the collection, treatment and presentation of scientific data.
Of all the various types of "ethical dilemmas in science," the temptation to "fudge", or even invent data outright, is probably the one which high school science students will find most familiar. It happens all the time: their instruments give one result -- but they know that everybody else is getting some other result, or that something's wrong with the way they have done it, or that the result that people got last year is different, or that the result in the book is different.
What makes this an ethical issue, rather than just an issue of laboratory practice, is that the action that most promotes one's self-interest can be different from the "right" thing to do.
The Millikan case highlights a number of the important issues involved. But by itself, it is probably too complicated to use in helping students to navigate this issue. One can, however, set up simpler situations to illustrate the same points. As those historians who have analyzed the record of Millikan's treatment of his experimental data, and other similar cases, have pointed out, it is not always easy to distinguish between the "right" thing to do, inappropriate but inadvertent manipulation, and intentional fudging. Scientists agree that there are circumstances when some of the data collected in an experiment can be rejected or disregarded. In some cases statistical rules can
be used as guidance, but in many situations it is left to the judgement
of the experimental scientist to decide if a problem with the equipment
or some other consideration justifies discarding a datum or a set of data.
An acceptable practice, but one that is rarely followed, is to decide in
advance what specific observed circumstances in a particular experimental
situation would justify data rejection.
In the 1930s and 1940s, Robert A. Millikan was the most famous U.S. scientist of his time. He had won the Nobel Prize in 1924, largely due to his important and innovative measurement, carried out around 1910, of the charge on the electron -- one of the most central physical constants that scientists of that era had been seeking to determine.
In 1897, British experimenter J. J. Thomson had discovered the electron and measured the ratio of its charge to mass (the e/m ratio) -- an event which helped to usher in the electronic age. The e/m ratio of the electron was related to a number of other important quantities of interest to scientists. But without knowing either the charge e or the mass m of the electron, all one had was a set of relative values; it would be like knowing a set of values in units of a foreign currency -- that a house costs x times what a car costs, which in turn costs y times what a newspaper costs -- without knowing the value in your own currency of any one. Measuring the mass of an electron seemed out of the question; you couldn't put one on a scale and read a dial. But neither, it seemed, could you isolate an electron and measure its charge on an electrometer. Around the turn of the century, Thomson and several of his students at the Cavendish Laboratory tried various means of indirect measurement, with
unconvincing results. Moreover, until one had a relatively direct way of measuring the charge on the electron, one couldn't really be sure that the electron was indeed an "atom of electricity." It was still at least possible that electrons came in a spectrum of charges.
Millikan's method involved watching the behavior of oil droplets in an electrically charged field. Tiny oil droplets are ionized by passage through an atomizer; they have an extra electron or electrons riding on them. A droplet is allowed to fall between two plates, and then an electric field is created which pulls the droplet upwards. The speed of the droplet depends on the charge riding on it. Thus the basic measurement is the rise time; how long it takes a particular drop to rise a certain distance. If electrons had a spectrum of charges, one would expect a corresponding continuous spectrum of rise times. If, on the other hand, all electrons had the same charge, the charge on each ion would be multiples of a single number, a fact which would be reflected by rise times that would also be simple multiples of each other.
Millikan published tables of his measured drops and their rise times. What these tables indicated was that the charges on the droplets were, indeed, multiples of the same number -- thus, the charge of the electron. He then wrote a series of papers on his experiments. He would win the Nobel Prize in Physics for this work; he was only the second American to be so honored.
Millikan considered the experiment to be such a direct and irrefutable
demonstration of the atomicity of electric charge that he wrote in his
autobiography that "he who has seen that experiment, and hundreds of observers
have observed it, [has] in effect SEEN the electron."
3. The Case
An examination of Millikan's own papers and notebooks reveals that he picked and chose among his drops. That is, he exercised discrimination with respect to which drops he would include in published accounts of the value of e, leaving many out. Sometimes he mentioned this fact, and sometimes he did not. Of particular concern is the fact that in his 1913 paper, presenting the most complete account of his measurements of the charge on the electron, Millikan states "It is to be remarked that this is not a selected group of drops but represents all of the drops experimented upon during 60 consecutive days." Millikan's notebook appears to contradict this assertion. Of 189 observations during the period in question, only 140 are presented in the paper.
Millikan's results were contested by Felix Ehrenhaft, of the University of Vienna, who claimed to have found "subelectrons." Moreover, Ehrenhaft claimed that his finding was in fact confirmed by some of Millikan's own data -- droplets that Millikan had mentioned but discounted in his published writings. The result was a decades-long controversy, the "Battle over the Electron," over whether or not there existed subelectrons, or electrons with charges of different values. This controversy makes an excellent case study because we are fortunate, thanks to Millikan's notebooks, to be able to see very specifically which drops he included and which he did not.
In retrospect, we know that Millikan was "right" and Ehrenhaft "wrong." Electrons, to the best of our present experimental and theoretical knowledge, have a specific, discrete charge.
Those scientists and other scholars who have carefully reviewed this
case have failed to agree on whether Millikan was guilty of unethical behavior
or "bad science" in the treatment and presentation of his data. One of
the expressed opinions condemns Millikan on the simple basis of the fact
that his published statement is at odds with what can be concluded from
an uncritical examination of his laboratory notebooks. Others exonerate
Millikan on the basis of a careful analysis and interpretation of comments
on the data that appear in the notebooks. In the opinion of these Millikan
defenders, the assertion that all drops were presented in the paper refers
to all of the data taken under those conditions when the apparatus was
working properly. Some of the scientists who have commented on this case
appear to permit Millikan much discretion in the use of his "scientific
intuition" to decide which data to include or exclude. This latter view
seems to be guided by the principle that any scientist who consistently
gets what turns out to be the correct answer is doing "good" science.
For biographical information about Robert A Millikan and the history of the oil-drop experiment that will provide the context for this case we suggest that you read:
"Robert A. Millikan," by Daniel J. Kevles, Scientific American, 240, pp 142-151 (January 1979).
"My Work With Millikan On the Oil-drop Experiment," by Harvey Fletcher,
Today, pp 43-47 (June 1982).
For a detailed analysis of the Millikan's work on the oil-drop experiment, including what he wrote in his laboratory notebooks see:
"Subelectrons, Presuppositions and the Millikan-Ehrenhaft Dispute" in
Scientific Imagination, by Gerald Holton (Cambridge, Mass: Cambridge
Univ. Press, 1978).
For several perspectives on the Millikan case and on other controversies concerning the analysis and presentation of scientific data see:
Betrayers of Truth, by William Broad and Nicholas Wade (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1983).
"Forging, Cooking, Trimming, and Riding the Bandwagon," by Allan Franklin, American Journal of Physics, 52, pp 786-793 (1984).
"Moral Theory and Scientific Research," by Bernard Gert in Ethics, Values and the Premise of Science Sigma Xi Forum, San Francisco 1993 (Research Park, NC: Sigma Xi Publishing Office, 1993).
"Scientific Fraud," by David Goodstein, The American Scholar, 60, (Autumn 1991).
False Prophets: Fraud and Error in Science and Medicine, by Alexander
Kohn (New York: Basil Blackwell, 1986).
5. The Issues
Ethical questions specifically related to the Millikan case:
More general questions about the manipulation and presentation of data raised by this case:
CASE STUDY #3: THE TUSKEGEE SYPHILIS STUDY
Categories of Ethics/Values Issues Illustrated by This Case:
Issues related to experimentation on human subjects.
Although experimentation on human subjects has long been understood to be fraught with serious ethical concerns, little was done to develop national and international guidelines and regulations with regard to such research until the end of World War II. Populations that were frequently victimized by involuntary or coerced participation in potentially dangerous experiments included prisoners and insane asylum inmates. Due to popular recognition of the need to test new medical treatments, defenders of the rights of such powerless individuals found little political interest in outlawing these practices. However, the atrocities committed by Nazi doctors in the name of medical experimentation, as revealed during the Nuremberg war crimes trials, raised international consciousness about the need for an acceptable code for medical research.
The result was the promulgation in 1947 of the Nuremberg Code. This document was drafted by an international panel of experts on medical research, human rights, and ethics. It focused on the requirement for voluntary consent of the human subject and the weighing of the anticipated potential humanitarian benefits of a proposed experiment against the risks to the participant. The Code served as the initial model for those few public and private research and professional organizations that voluntary chose to adopt guidelines or rules for research involving human subjects.
In the ensuing years occasional media publicity called attention to continuing questionable biomedical and behavioral research practices. In 1972 the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, described in the case study below, became a cause célèbre due to the thorough and dramatic Associate Press story written by reporter Jean Heller. Congressional hearings took place in 1973 and the following year Congress passed legislation creating the National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research. The Commissioners included prominent experts and scholars in the fields of medicine, psychology, civil rights, the law, ethics and religion. In 1979 they published "Ethical Principles and Guidelines for the Protection of Human Subjects of Research," which is commonly referred to as "The Belmont Report." This document presents a well-developed ethical framework for the exploration of the issues associated with the use of human beings as the subjects of research. More comprehensive than the Nuremberg Code, it defined the boundary between accepted therapeutic practice and experimental research, and proposed the following three basic principles to guide in the evaluation of the ethics of research involving human subjects:
Syphilis was a widespread but poorly-understood disease until shortly after the turn of the century. Two of the principal steps forward were the isolation of the bacterium associated with syphilis in 1905, and shortly thereafter, the development of the Wasserman reaction to detect the presence of syphilis through a blood test.
Still, much about the disease and its progress remained unknown. Due to this lack of understanding many cases were incorrectly diagnosed as syphilis, while in other cases patients who would now be recognized as victims of the disease were missed. As the etiology of the disease was better understood, it became increasingly urgent to understand its long-term effects. The early treatments that predated the discovery of penicillin involving the use of such poisons as arsenic and mercury were dangerous, and sometimes even fatal. Thus, it was vital to learn about the likelihood that the disease itself would result in serious physical or mental disability in order to make sure that the potential benefits of treatment exceeded the risks.
One long-term study had been carried out in Oslo, Norway. This had been a retrospective study, going over the past case histories of syphilis victims then undergoing treatment, and had been undertaken on an exclusively white population.
In the early 1930s, the U.S. Public Health Service (PHS) began a program aimed at controlling venereal disease in the rural South. The Julius Rosenwald Fund - a philanthropic organization that was interested in promoting the welfare of Afro-Americans ("Negroes") - provided the funds for a two-year demonstration study in Macon County, Alabama where 82% of the residents were Afro-Americans, most of whom lived in poverty and had never seen a doctor. A principal aim of this study was to determine the incidence of the disease in the local population, while training both white and Afro-American physicians and nurses in its treatment. When the results revealed that 36% of the Macon County Afro-Americans had syphilis, which was far higher than the national rate, the Rosenwald Fund, concerned about the racial implications of this finding, refused requests to support a follow-up project
The discovery of the fact that the incidence of the disease was higher
among African-Americans than among whites was attributed by some to social
and economic factors, but by others to a possible difference in susceptibility
between whites and non-whites. Indeed one Public Health Service consultant,
Dr Joseph E. Moore of Johns Hopkins University School of medicine proposed
that " Syphylis in the negro is in many respects a different disease from
syphilis in whites."
3. The Case
In 1932 the PHS decided to proceed with a follow-up study in Macon County. Unlike the project supported by the Rosenwald Fund, the specific goal of the new study was to examine the progression of untreated syphilis in Afro-Americans. Permission was obtained for the use of the excellent medical facilities at the teaching hospital of the Tuskegee Institute and human subjects were recruited by spreading the word among Black people in the county that volunteers would be given free tests for "bad blood," a term used locally to refer to a wide variety of ailments. Thus began what evolved into "The Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male," a project that would continue for forty years. The subject group was composed of 616 Afro-American men, 412 of whom had been diagnosed as having syphilis, and 204 controls.
The participants were never explained the true nature of the study. Not only were the syphilitics among them not treated for the disease -- a key aspect of the study design that was retained even after 1943 when penicillin became available as a safe, highly effective cure -- but those few who recognized their condition and attempted to seek help from PHS syphilis treament clinics were prevented from doing so.
Eunice Rivers, an Afro-American PHS nurse assigned to monitor the study, soon became a highly trusted authority figure within the subject community. She was largely responsible for assuring the cooperation of the participants throughout the duration of the study. She was aware of the goals and requirements of the study, including the failure to fully inform the participants of their condition and to deny treatment for syphilis. It was her firm conviction that the men in the study were better off because they received superior medical care for ailments other than syphilis than the vast majority of Afro-Americans in Macon County.
The nature of the Study was certainly not withheld from the nation's medical community. Many venereal disease experts were specifically contacted for advice and opinions. Most of them expressed support for the project. In 1965, 33 years after the Study's initiation, Dr. Irwin Schatz became the first medical professional to formally object to the Study on moral grounds. The PHS simply ignored his complaint. The following year, Peter Buxtin, a venereal disease investigator for the PHS began a prolonged questioning of the morality of the Study. A panel of prominent physicians was convened by the PHS in 1969 to review the Tuskegee study. The panel included neither Afro-Americans nor medical ethicists. Ignoring the fact that it clearly violated the human experimentation guidelines adopted by the PHS in 1966, the panel's recommendation that the Study continue without significant modification was accepted.
By 1972, Buxtin had resigned from the PHS and entered law school. Still
bothered by the failure of the agency to take his objections seriously,
he contacted the Associated Press, which assigned reporter Jean Heller
to the story. On July 25, 1972 the results of her journalist investigation
of the Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male were published.
The response to Heller's revelations was broad-based public outrage, which
finally brought the Study to an immediate end.
4. Readings and Resources
A good, detailed case study of the Tuskegee Syphilis Project, with background material and suggestions about teaching the case, written for undergraduate college students is:
"Bad Blood - A Case Study of the Tuskegee Syphilis Project," by Ann
W. Fourtner, Charles R. Fourtner, and Clyde F. Herreid, Journal of College
Science Teaching, March/April 1994, pp 277-285.
An excellent dramatization of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study story, available as a 60- minute video recording is:
"The Deadly Deception," a Nova video written, produced and directed
by Denisce Di Anni, WGBH Boston, 1993 production. [This video is owned
by many libraries and is currently distributed by Films for the Humanities
and Sciences, P.O. Box 205, Princeton, NJ 08543-2053.]
For a medical report on the Study summarizing the first thirty years of subject observation see:
"The Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis: the 30th year
of observation," by D.H. Rockwell et al., Arch. Intern. Med., 144,
pp 792-798, 1964.
Recent books about the Tuskegee Study include:
The Tuskegee Syphilis Study, by Fred D. Gray (Montgomery, AL: Black Belt Press, 1998).
Bad Blood. The Tuskegee Experiment, by J. H. Jones (: Free Press,
For more information on the ethics of experimentation on human subjects read:
"The Belmont Report," by The National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research, OPPR Reports, NIH, PHS, HHS , April , 1979.
The Nazi Doctors and the Nuremberg Code, by G. Annas and M. Grodin, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992).
For a report on recent revelations concerning unethical experiments that exposed many human subjects to nuclear radiation see:
"Radiation: Balancing the Record," by Charles C. Mann, Science,
pp 470-473, January 28, 1994.
For an excellent treatment of the history of syphilis, which raises many other interesting questions about the nature of scientific research see:
Genesis and Development of a Scientific Fact, by Ludwick Fleck, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, !979).
5. The Issues
Significant questions of ethics and values raised by this case:
CASE STUDY #4: THE SEARCH FOR THE STRUCTURE OF DNA
Categories of Ethics/Values Issues Illustrated by This Case:
Competition vs. cooperation, and sexism in science.
In 1953, an article was published in the British science journal, Nature, by James Watson and Francis Crick on the structure of DNA. Like most important scientific discoveries, this result was based on the work done by a large number of investigators over many years. It has become known as the Watson-Crick model and has laid the foundation for the tremendous advances made in genetics and molecular biology in the ensuing decades. The double helix structure of DNA and the genetic code it incorporates is regarded as one of the most important scientific discoveries of the century. On the basis of this work, the 1962 Nobel Prize for Medicine and Physiology was awarded to Watson, Crick and Maurice Wilkins. High school and college biology students throughout the world learn about the Watson-Crick model.
In 1968 James Watson published a book entitled The Double Helix
(New York: Atheneum, 1968) giving his own account of the events leading
to the solution of the DNA structure. The Norton Critical Edition of this
book edited by G.S. Stent in 1980 contains the six original published articles,
as well as 13 reviews of the book that appeared in journals. These reviews
express the viewpoints of other scientists regarding the discovery of the
structure of DNA and Watson's account of the work. Watson's portrayal of
the personal lives of the people involved and the events leading to the
discovery proved to be highly controversial. Harvard University Press refused
to publish this book, considering its style and content to be irreverent
of the scientific research process. In 1975 Anne Sayre's book entitled
Franklin and DNA (Norton) appeared and presented a different perspective
on the discovery by describing Rosalind Franklin's outstanding X-ray diffraction
studies on DNA and making the case that the Watson-Crick model would not
have been postulated by them without access to Franklin's data, which they
obtained by rather devious means. Anne Sayre was a personal friend of Dr.
Franklin and was unable to recognize the "Rosy" that Watson described as
the Rosalind she knew. An amusing 1987 made-for-TV film, "The Race for
the Double Helix,", is loosely based on Watson's book and illustrates the
concerns raised by Ms. Sayre. (See Readings and Resources, below.)
By the early 1940's it was known that genes were the chemical constituents of plant and animal cells that carried the hereditary information. What was not known was their chemical identity and structure. The many researchers who were avidly seeking the answer were divided among those who thought that genes were specific types of proteins and those who thought evidence made it more likely that they were nucleic acids (e.g., DNA). While some scientists thought it unreasonable to understand the complexities of genetics in terms of the structures of "lifeless" chemicals, others believed that the molecular structure of the genes carried by the chromosomes held the key to understanding how genetic information is inherited and expressed. It seemed logical to consider proteins as the carriers of genetic information due to their greater complexity than DNA, which contains only four different nucleotide bases. In the 1920's DNA was found by staining to be concentrated in the chromosomes, but was commonly thought to play an auxiliary role in hereditary.
Although DNA was isolated in 1869 by Miescher, there was not much interest in it for several decades. Levene subsequently determined correctly that each nitrogenous base was attached to a sugar molecule and phosphate group. However, he postulated that they existed as a tetranucleotide cluster which repeated over and over to form the DNA molecule. Such a simple, monotonous structure could not be envisioned to carry genetic information, and since Levene's theory was given great weight by his renown as a biochemist, scientists looked to proteins for many years. It wasn't until 1950 that Erwin Chargaff published results indicating that the bases were not present in equal proportions. He found a correlation between the amount of adenine to thymine and cytosine to guanine providing the important clue to the coupling of these pairs of bases in the DNA structure.
It was correctly anticipated that if DNA was the carrier of genetic
information, determination of its three-dimensional structure would provide
answers to how it functioned. X-ray crystal-lography is a technique uniquely
suited to this task. However, by mid-twentieth century scientists had only
just begun to apply it to large biological molecules. For many of these
it was difficult to obtain suitable crystals. Although today macromolecular
structures are routinely solved with the aid of fast computers, in the
1950s the determination was mathematically very tedious.
3. The Case
Rosalind Franklin was brought to Kings College, London in 1951 to set up and be in charge of an X-ray diffraction laboratory. She came with considerable experience, particulary in working with macromolecular materials that do not readily form crystals, and which give diffraction patterns that are difficult to interpret. She set to the task of determining the structure of DNA by X-ray diffraction of DNA fibers. In March of 1953 she presented a research report that included the following key results based on her experimental evidence: that DNA contained two polymeric strands arranged in a coaxial helical structure with a type of symmetry described as "C2," and that the phosphates were on the outside of the helix. She had also determined the number of molecules of water per structural unit, the molecular diameter and repeat distance, and the number of nucleotides per turn of the helix. The important missing piece of information was precisely how the nucleotide bases fit into the structure.
Watson and Crick collaborated at Cambridge to work on determining the structure of DNA. Each of them had been assigned to work on another problem, but recognizing its key importance, they talked about and worked on the DNA problem extensively at the expense of their official responsibilities. They did not actually perform experiments, but based their theorizing on bits of information published in the literature, as well as on Dr. Franklin's results, which they obtained, without her knowledge, from an unpublished report she had written for her research director. They relied on the relatively new technique of using physical models incorporating approximate distances and angles of atomic groupings from known molecular structures.
By guessing the correct position and structural pairing of the nucleotide bases, they were able to construct a model that was consistent with the known facts and that could account for the biological role of DNA. This was the structure that Watson and Crick published in their famous 1953 paper, which resulted in their receiving worldwide recognition as the discoverers of the DNA structure, and ultimately led to the Nobel prize. No mention of Franklin's key contribution appears in their paper. Franklin's co-worker, physicist Maurice Wilkens, (whom Watson mistakenly refers to as Franklin's boss in his book) did share the Nobel Prize with Watson and Crick. Franklin died of cancer before the awarding of the Prize, which can not be received posthumously, so it cannot be assumed that the Nobel Committee considered Wilken's work more important than Franklin's. If she had lived, they could not both have been honored because Nobel stipulated that no more than three people can share the prize. What is unquestionably true is that little recognition is accorded to Franklin's important role in most descriptions of the quest for the DNA structure, and her name does not appear in most high school or college biology texts in association with the discovery.
Anne Sayre's book stresses the difficulties faced by a woman scientist
in England during the period in question. The small female minority were
not even allowed into the lounges in scientific research institutions,
where many of the important discussions among male scientists took place.
The influence that contemporary attitudes toward women had on Watson's
(and subsequently on the scientific world's) evaluation of Franklin's contribution
to the DNA work warrants serious consideration.
4. Readings and Resources
The two key books that should be read in connection with this case are:
The Double Helix, by James Watson (New York: Atheneum, 1968). [As noted above the 1980 Norton Critical Edition of this book, edited by G. S. Stent includes valuable reviews and other documents related to this case.]
Rosalind Franklin and DNA by Anne Sayre (New York: Norton, 1975).
An amusing feature-length video loosely based on Watson's narrative and illustrating many of the concerns raised by Sayre is:
"The Race for the Double Helix," a British Broadcasting Corporation
(BBC) / Horizon Films / Arts & Entertainment Network (A&E) 1987
production. [This video is owned by many libraries and is currently distributed
by Films for the Humanities and Sciences, P.O. Box 205, Princeton, NJ 08543-2053.]
Articles that discuss other cases involving questions regarding the assignment of credit for scientific discoveries include:
"Discovery of Pulsars: A Graduate Student's Story," by Nicholas Wade, Science, 189, pp 358-363, August 1, 1975.
"My Work with Millikan on the Oil-Drop Experiment," by Harvey Fletcher, Physics Today, June 1982, pp 43-47.
"Masters and Apprentices," (Chapter 8) in Betrayers of Truth
by William Broad and Nicholas Wade (New York: Simon and Schuster, ).
5. The Issues
Significant questions of ethics and values raised by this case:
Additional ethics and values questions related to assigning credit for scientific discoveries, sharing of data and results, and prejudice in science.
CASE STUDY #5: THE XYY CONTROVERSY
Categories of Ethics/Values Issues Illustrated by This Case:Issues
related to genetic screening and other applications of genetics and biotechnology
Efforts to make use of increasing knowledge about the genetic component of human development and behavior have been a frequent source of serious ethical controversies. Support among geneticists, other scientists and the educated public for the eugenics movement, which advocated efforts to improve the human race by controlling presumed heritable characteristics, resulted in such misguided governmental policies early in this century as the large-scale sterilization of "inferior" individuals. Legislation authorizing such forms of social engineering was met with increasing criticism from those who questioned the morality of such practices as well as those who doubted the validity of simplistic biologically determinist models of complex human social behavior.
The reaction to the extreme and horrific use of eugenics measures by the Nazis in their campaign to promote the superiority of a cleansed Aryan "race" resulted in a temporary hiatus in research and development in applied human genetics. By the 1960s, however, increasing understanding about the genetic causes of such specific conditions as Down's Syndrome and sickle cell anemia were again arousing support for efforts to seek genetic explanations - and perhaps improvements - for a wide range of human "deficiencies" from various sorts of socially deviant behavior to susceptibility to environmental hazards.
The explosive growth of facile genetic engineering technologies and, in particular, the potential applications of the information gained through the Human Genome Project is destined to greatly amplify both the quantity and the variety of ethical concerns related to attempts to screen, control, manipulate or modify people based on their genetic predispositions.
A frequent underlying theme in disputes over "progress" in applied human genetics is rooted in the nature-nurture controversy. Those who do research into the genetic factors related to complex human problems are seen by their opponents as diverting attention from and ultimately undermining attempts to ameliorate the socioeconomic conditions related to the problems. In the view of these opponents, genetic differences are likely to be less important than social inequalities in determining most human behavior. Furthermore, they argue that the end result of a biological determinist perspective is discrimination against, rather than help for, those who are deemed inferior or defective.
The XYY controversy offers a case study that dramatically illustrates
many of the ethical issues that arise when efforts are made to explore
the social implications of human genetic differences.
In 1961, a paper was published in the medical journal Lancet reporting the first man to be discovered with an extra Y chromosome in his cells, in addition to the normal male complement of one X and one Y. Within the next few years research reports appeared that purported to show that
XYY males were predisposed to violent and criminal behavior. This claim was widely publicized in
the news media. By the mid-1960s XYY was being referred to as the "criminal chromosome." In 1968 lawyers in at least two cases succeeded in persuading juries that their clients were less culpable for their crimes because they were XYY males. If this was not sufficient to persuade the public that XYY individuals were potentially dangerous social misfits, the erroneous report that a vicious serial killer of eight student nurses in Chicago was an XYY male surely had that result.
As is often the case for sensationalized, premature publicity about unproven scientific findings, the subsequent research that debunked the connection between the XYY karyotype and any demonstrable link to anti-social behavior received very little publicity. Thus the myth persisted that males with an extra Y chromosome were likely to manifest excessive violence and other undesirable social traits. This fallacious association even made its way into biology textbooks.
Several research projects underway during the 1960s were aimed at examining
the actual prevalence of the XYY karyotype in the general population and
attempting to explore whether there were any phenotypic consequences, including
predisposition to any form of abnormal social behavior. One such study
was carried out by Harvard child psychiatrist Stanley Walzer and Harvard
Medical School geneticist Park Gerald. By 1968 they were screening all
newborn males at Boston Hospital for Women and following up by studying
the development of those with abnormal karyotypes like XYY or XXY. The
research was funded by a grant from the Centers for Studies of Crime and
Delinquency of the National Institute for Mental Health.
3. The Case
In 1974 the Walzer and Gerald research project became the subject of sharp criticism orchestrated by a study group from the organization Science for the People and led by Harvard microbiology professor Jonathan Beckwith and MIT molecular biology professor Jonathan King. Their criticism was based on claims that the research seriously stigmatized those infants found to be XYY, that efforts to obtain informed consent were flawed, that the research served no potentially useful purpose for either the subjects or society as a whole, that the research design could not produce any valid scientific conclusions, and that the only possible consequences of the work would be to undermine appropriate efforts to deal with social problems.
After failing in their attempt to have the research stopped by appealing
to Harvard's internal institutional review boards, the Science for the
People Group went to the press and successfully enlisted the help of other
organizations concerned about the welfare of children. This tactic ultimately
achieved their goal of getting Walzer and Gerald (as well as other researchers)
to stop screening newborns for XYY. The victory was won at the expense
of alienating many biomedical researchers who objected to the tactic of
using public pressure to stop a research project.
To prepare yourself to consider the issues raised by this case you should read the following documents:
"The XYY Controversy: Researching Violence and Genetics," a Special Supplement to the Hastings Center Report, August 1980.
"Behavioral Implications of the XYY Genotype," by Ernest B. Cook, Science, 179, pp 139-150, January 12, 1973.
"Patients' Rights: Harvard Is Sight of Battle Over X and Y Chromosomes," by Barbara Culliton, Science, 186, pp 715-717, November 22,1974.
"XYY: Harvard Researcher Under Fire Stops Newborn Screening," by Barbara J. Culliton, Science, 188, pp 1284-1285, June 27, 1975.
Part III of The Code of Codes, edited by Daniel J. Kevles and Leroy Hood (Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1992) contains several essays that discuss many of issues concerning ethical, legal and social implications of human genetics research and technology.
An excellent discussion of issues related specifically to genetic screening
of workers is "Genetic Testing in the Workplace" by Paul Billings and Jon
Beckwith, Trends in Genetics, 8, pp. 198-202, June 1992.
5. The Issues
Significant ethical questions raised by this case:
Additional ethical questions related to applications of genetic research results not covered by this case study:
CASE STUDY #6: LOVE CANAL
Categories of Ethics/Values Issues Illustrated by This Case:Issues
related to individual, corporate and governmental responses to environmental
and ecological concerns.
Degradation of the environment resulting from human activity is certainly not a phenomenon of recent origin. As early as the 15th century, long before the beginning of the industrial revolution, London was already being plagued by noxious air pollution resulting from the burning of coal and wood. However the extent of the effect of environmental pollution was greatly increased following the end of World War II by the exponential expansion of industrial activity in developed nations, employing vast quantities of fossil fuels and synthetic chemicals. Today's environmental concerns are regional, national and global, as well as local.
The ongoing educational, social and political movement, which has raised the consciousness of people in the United States and throughout the world about environmental concerns, began in the early 1960s. Its initiation is often attributed to the popular response to Silent Spring the eloquent book by marine biologist Rachel Carson about the dire effects of the overuse of pesticides and other chemical poisons, which was published in 1962. The ensuing environmental movement has spawned numerous local, regional, national and international organizations, many rather militant, which have used numerous tactics to press their demands for the preservation of clean air, pure water and unspoiled land. In response to these demands, legislative bodies have enacted all manner of regulations and numerous agencies have been charged with the task of environmental protection.
This increase in environmental activity has been accompanied by much controversy. Entrepreneurs, property owners, industrial workers, politicians, scientists and people in all other walks of life differ with regard to the relative value they accord to the benefits and costs associated with restrictions on freedom of action designed to protect the environment. A wide variety of ethics and values issues arise in the course of attempting to balance such demands as property rights and the entrepreneurial freedom to pursue profits against the ecological need to curtail those rights and restrict that freedom.
One of the most contentious environmental issues has been how to respond
to the discovery of many thousands of hazardous toxic dumps that have resulted
from decades of virtually unrestricted disposal of toxic industrial waste.
This issue was first widely publicized as a result of the health emergency
declared by the New York State Department of Health in 1978 in response
to shocking revelations about the problems caused by improper waste disposal
in the now infamous Love Canal dump site. The actions and reactions of
the corporation that disposed of the waste in question, public officials,
residents, the media and scientists involved in the Love Canal controversy
serve as excellent illustrations of many of the ethics issues associated
with efforts to protect the public from environmental pollution.
Toward the end of the nineteenth century, numerous canals were built by entrepreneurs to unify waterways into efficient shipping systems. One such canal was begun was begun in 1894 by venture capitalist William Love in the Niagra Falls area of New York State. Within a few years, an economic depression undermined Love's financial plans and the partially completed project was abandoned.
Dubbed "Love Canal" by the local residents, it was used as a swimming hole and an ice rink. In 1942, faced with the need for a place to dispose of toxic waste from the manufacture of chlorinated hydrocarbons and caustics, the Hooker Electrochemical Corporation (presently Hooker Chemical and Plastics, a subsidiary of Occidental Petroleum Corporation) leased the canal as a waste dump. In 1947, Hooker bought the canal and the surrounding land. Between 1942 and 1950, more than 21,000 tons of chemicals, including such potent toxins as benzene, the pesticide Lindane, polychlorinated dioxins, PCBs and phosphorous were deposited in the canal, which Hooker had lined with cement. Having exhausted the canal's potential as a waste dump, Hooker then installed an impermeable cap that was supposed to prevent water from entering and promoting seepage of the toxins, and the former canal disappeared from view beneath a layer of fill..
In the early 1950s the local School Board was confronted with the need to build a new school to accommodate an increasing population of children. The Board knew that Hooker was anxious to get rid of the Love Canal property and began making inquiries. Hooker has claimed that it resisted and warned the Board of Education that the buried chemicals made the site inappropriate for school construction. The property sale was consummated for $1.00 in 1953 - but the company asserts that it gave in because the Board would otherwise have taken the land by eminent domain. Whether Hooker was as reluctant as it says it was and as assertive in cautioning the Board about the hazards is impossible to determine. Existing minutes of the meetings in question do not fully support Hooker's version of the proceedings and none of the Board members are still alive. What is clear is that the deed that was negotiated contains a clause exempting Hooker from any "claim, suit or action" due to future human exposure to the buried chemicals.
An elementary school was built in the middle of the property and the
surrounding land was sold by the School Board to developers who built 98
homes along the former canal banks and about a thousand additional houses
in the Love Canal neighborhood. The construction of the school, houses
and associated utilities resulted in the breaching of parts of the canal's
cap and its cement walls.
3. The Case
The first known case of exposure to the buried toxins occurred in 1958 when three children suffered chemical burns from wastes that had resurfaced at the former canal site. Both Hooker Chemical and city officials were officially informed, but neither the Niagra Falls Health Department nor any other public agency took any action in response to that event or to numerous other complaints during the next twenty years. Hooker's records reveal that they investigated the initial incident and several other reports and quickly became convinced that the very large reservoir of toxins was not likely to be contained. They did nothing to convey this knowledge to the Love Canal homeowners, who had never been informed about the nature of the potential hazard. In testimony two decades later, Hooker acknowledged that its failure to issue a warning was due to concern that this might be interpreted as liability for possible harm despite the clause in their property sales deed.
By 1978 occupants of the homes in the area had begun to organize what was to become the Love Canal Homeowners Association (LCHA), under the highly competent and aggressive leadership of Lois Gibbs. Investigative newspaper reporter Michael Brown helped publicize the plight of the many deeply concerned local residents who had encountered evidence of toxins resurfacing in or around their property. Chemicals had been observed in the form of viscous fluids seeping into both yards and basements, pervasive odors in homes and the stench emanating from storm sewer openings.
Love Canal soon became the first hazardous waste site to be featured in TV news reports and to get front page, headline billing in newspapers and magazines in New State and nationally. Embarrassed by the past failure of officials to respond to the clear indications of a serious problem, both the New York State Department of Health (NYSDH) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) quickly became involved. Tests soon revealed a wide variety of noxious chemicals in the air in Love Canal homes and an excess frequency of miscarriages among women living in homes adjacent to the former canal site. A public health emergency was declared on August 2, 1978 by the New York State Commissioner of Health. A few days later Governor Hugh Carey announced that New York State would purchase the 239 homes nearest to the canal and assist the displaced families in relocating. These abandoned homes were fenced in and work was soon begun on a plan to construct an elaborate drainage system including trenches, wells and pumping stations to prevent further outward migration of the toxins.
The cost of these initial actions, which rapidly followed the emergence of Love Canal as a national "cause célèbre" ultimately cost the state and federal governments in excess of $42 million. Public officials quickly recognized that a continued preemptive response to potential health problems at Love Canal was likely to exceed available emergency funds in the states coffers. Furthermore it was known that thousands of other toxic waste sites existed throughout the country that might pose similar threats to numerous other communities. Thus it is not surprising that the concerns and demands of the owners of the 850 homes outside the inner evacuated circle were not to be satisfied by either state or federal officials in a similar fashion.
The NYSDH did conduct a survey study of the residents in the remaining homes, which led to an announcement in early fall that the rest of the neighborhood was safe, posing no increased health risk. As subsequently revealed, this assurance had been based on only one health issue examined by the survey. The Department had concluded that the miscarriage rate in the homes beyond the fence did not exceed normal rates -- a conclusion based on a methodology that was subsequently seriously questioned. The many other possible health effects of chemical exposure had not entered into the NYSDH evaluation.
Citing the fact that chemical seepage was evident beyond the evacuated area and that families living there appeared to be experiencing unusual health problems, members of the LCHA rejected the department's assurances. They demanded more definitive studies and, when they did not get a satisfactory response from either the NYSDH or the EPA, they sought scientific aid from outside the government's environmental health establishment.
Beverly Paigen a cancer research scientist who worked for the NYSHD Roswell Park Memorial Institute in nearby Buffalo agreed to volunteer her services in an unofficial capacity. Her professional interests included the variation among individuals in their responses to chemical toxins and she anticipated that, in addition to helping the Love Canal residents, her involvement might also result in identifying appropriate subjects for her research work. Dr. Paigen designed a survey aimed at investigating several potential effects of exposure to chemicals. She used a different set of assumptions about the mechanism and likely path of the flow of the dissolved toxins that seeped out of the canal. Based on her model Dr. Paigen found that miscarriages were significantly higher among women living in homes most likely to be in the path of the chemical plume. She also found much larger than normal rates of birth defects and evidence of serious nervous system toxicity as well as elevated incidences of asthma and urological problems for residents of these homes.
In early November 1978 Dr. Paigen presented the results of her "unofficial" research to her NYSDH superiors. After a delay of three months the new New York State Commissioner of Health publically announced that after reevaluating its own data it also found excess miscarriages and birth defects in homes in previously "wet" regions of the Love Canal neighborhood and promised additional studies of Dr. Paigen's other findings. However, the action taken in response to these results puzzled and dismayed both the residents and Dr Paigen. Families with children less than two years of age or with women who could prove they were pregnant were to be relocated at state expense but only until the youngest child reached the age of two. Women who were trying to become pregnant, or those who thought they were in the early stages of pregnancy when the fetus is most sensitive to toxins, but who could not yet prove they were pregnant with tests available at that time, were denied permission to join the group that was evacuated.
During the next year and a half the frustration and the militancy of the LCHA members increased as the additional studies promised by the commissioner failed to materialize. On the federal level EPA lawyers had become convinced by media reports and public appeals from Love Canal residents claiming a variety of toxin-related illnesses that hundreds of additional families should be moved away. They sought a court order from the Department of Justice requiring Hooker Chemical to pay for the relocations. When the Justice Department responded by demanding evidence that the inhabitants who remained in the Love Canal neighborhood were at risk the EPA commissioned a quick "pilot" study to determine whether residents had suffered chromosome damage that could be attributed to chemical exposure. This study, which was to subsequently receive much criticism from the scientific community both because of its specific design and because, at the time, chromosome studies were notoriously difficult to interpret, did provide the type of evidence EPA was seeking. On the basis of finding "rare chromosomal aberrations" in 11 out of 36 subjects tested, the scientist who performed the study concluded that inhabitants of the area were at increased risk for a variety of adverse health outcomes.
On May 19, 1980, when two EPA representatives went to the LCHA office in one of the evacuated homes to announce the results of the chromosome study they were greeted by irate homeowners who proceeded to lock them in the office for five hours until FBI agents showed up and demanded their release. This tactic, which received the anticipated media coverage, had the desired effect. With the intervention of high-ranking officials in the Executive Branch, and undoubtedly with the support of then-president Carter, funds were made available for the relocation of several hundred additional Love Canal families.
A conclusion that can clearly be drawn from this and many subsequent environmental controversies is that politics, public pressure and economic considerations all take precedence over scientific evidence in determining the outcome. Another aspect of the Love Canal case that is characteristic of such events is that the victims, although hostile to Hooker Chemical, directed most of their rage at an indecisive, aloof, often secretive and inconsistent public health establishment.
Lawsuits against Occidental Petroleum Corporation, which bought Hooker chemical in 1968, were initiated by both the State of New York and the U.S. Justice department to cover costs of the cleanup and the relocation programs and by over 2000 people who claimed to have been personally injured by the buried chemicals. In 1994 Occidental agreed to pay $94 million to New York in an out-of-court settlement and the following year the federal case was settled for $129 million. Individual victims have thus far won in excess of $20 million from the corporation.
In early 1994 it was announced that the cleanup of the condemned homes
in Love Canal had been completed and it was safe to move back to the area.
The real estate company offering the inexpensive refurbished homes for
sale had chosen to rename the area "Sunrise City."
4. Readings and Resources
A wealth of written and audiovisual material is available on Love Canal
and other environmental controversies. Searching the electronic catologue
of any public or academic library or using an Internet search engine should
prove very fruitful.
For a colorful discussion of the early events in the Love Canal case by the investigative reporter who initiated the media coverage of the issue, and for a personal version of the events by the woman who organized the Love Canal Homeowners Association and went on to become a national leader of citizen's toxic waste organizing, see:
Laying Waste, by Michael Brown (New York: Pantheon Books, 1979).
Love Canal: my story, by Lois Gibbs; as told to Murray Levine
(Albany, NY: State Univ. Of New York Press, 1981).
For a thought-provoking article that focuses on the political and ethical dimensions of the case by the scientist who volunteered her services to the Love Canal residents see:
"Controversy at Love Canal," by Beverly Paigen, The Hastings Center
Report, pp 29-37, June 1982.
For a report written by the public health, transportation and environmental agencies of New York State see:
"Love Canal, a special report to the governor and legislature," by New
York State Department of Health, Office of Public Health; with assistance
of NYS Dept.of Transportation and NYS Dept of Environmental Conservation,
Albany: The Office, 1981.
For two additional perspectives on the controversy see:
Love Canal: science, politics and people, by Adeline Levine (Lexington Mass.: Lexington Books, 1982)
Citizen Participation in Government Decision Making: the toxic waste
threat at Love Canal, Niagra Falls, New York, by L. Gardner Shaw (Albany,
NY: Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government, State University of
New York, 1983).
For articles published in science news journals see:
"Continuing Confusion over Love canal," by Barbara j. Culliton, Science, 209, pp 1002-1003, August 19, 1980.
"Uncertain Science Pushes Love canal Solutions to Political, Legal Arenas,
& Eng. News, pp 22-29, August 11, 1980.
For comments on the plan to rehabilitate, rename and repopulate the Love Canal neighborhood see:
Rachel's Hazardous Waste News, #133, June 13, 1989.
For an Internet WWW site that contains a summary discussion of the Love Canal case with links to additional Love Canal sites use this URL:
For a highly informative collection of essays, comments and analysis on a wide variety of issues in environmental ethics see:
The Environmental Ethics and Policy Book, by D. VanDeVeer and
C. Pierce (California: Wadsworth Publishing Co., 1994).
5. The Issues
Significant questions of ethics and values raised by this case: