April 20

The Dark Secret of the MIT Science Club

Dark Secret_MIT Science Club for Children 2016

The article, published by PRICEONOMICS on April 19, 2016, is a reminder of what happened when Americans were swept up by an ideology of elitism.

Orphaned children were deemed “feeble minded” and warehoused in state institutions where, among other abuses, they were used as human guinea pigs by researchers at prestigious universities.

The reporter, Zachary Crockett, was clearly moved by the victimization of vulnerable children who were exploited as convenient guinea pigs in radiation-laced nutrition experiments. The researchers were affiliated with MIT and Harvard University; funding was provided by Quaker Oats and and the Atomic Energy Commission which approved the experiments and supplied the radioisotope.

Children Fed Radioactive Cereal
Children at Fernald State School were fed Radioactive Cereal

“For MIT—one of the country’s premier universities—the Fernald Center was the perfect place to conduct research. Subjects were easy to coax into participating, were an ideal control group, and, most importantly, were oblivious to whatever they were being subjected to. When researchers began their Quaker Oats-funded study in 1949, they knew just where to go.”

“Some of us had to sign our own forms, but at that particular time I could not read or write,” recalled Austin LaRoque, years later. “I had no knowledge of anything other than the fact that I do what I’m told when I’m told.” 

“It would take more than 40 years for the details of the study to be excavated.”

The story was first uncovered by Scott Allen of the Boston Globe, 1993. Read AHRP Radioactive Nutrition Experiments on Retarded Children

At the Senate Committee hearing on Human Subject Research (Radiation Experiments) on January 13, 1994, Sen. Edward (Ted) Kennedy, Chairman of the committee asked MIT’s director of research, Dr. Betran Brill, “Why weren’t we testing MIT students?…What about some of our excellent private schools around here? Why not do it on those?” Dr. Brill later conceded: “I admit they shouldn’t have focused on a population that was so captive and had not alternative. That was wrong.”

The New York Times published 3 scientists’ Letters to the Editor in 1994: here, here, and here Two defend the radiation experiments on children — much as medical researchers defend current unethical experiments such as the restricted oxygen SUPPORT experiment on premature babies. We post below, the one critical letter the Times published. PHILIP SIEKEVITZ, Professor Emeritus of Rockefeller University reminds readers of the “slippery slope…” that inevitably leads to barbarism.

Philip Siekevitz
Philip Siekevitz

Experiment Lacked Informed Consent
Published: February 12, 1994

To the Editor:

Re “Radiation Experiment Met Ethical Tests” by Norman Fine (letter, Jan. 31), on the experimental use of radioactive calcium on human subjects in experiments done some 40 years ago: The author misses, deliberately or not, the main point. The main point concerning humans as guinea pigs is informed consent.

Even though the procedure used was relatively harmless, as the author asserts, and I agree with him, the subjects were young institutionalized boys of “inadequate intelligence.” The paper thanks them for having “volunteered for the experiments,” a meaningless phrase, considering their lack of comprehension.

Their use was sanctioned by a medical review committee of the Atomic Energy Commission, which incidentally supplied the radioisotope and, with the Quaker Oats Company, paid for the research. That is hardly a disinterested group to judge the ethics of the experiment.

A question might have been put as to why student volunteers were not used, with a controlled diet and a comprehension of the pluses and possible negatives arising from being a part of the experiment.

Thus, while this situation may not have been thought to be fraught with medical difficulties, it was contaminated by ethical doubts. Informed consent was cast aside, a slippery slope was put into place, and we all know that leading down that slope was a barbaric chasm, a horror I am sure was known to the investigators of 40 years ago.
PHILIP SIEKEVITZ New York, Feb. 1, 1994 The writer is professor emeritus of cell biology, Rockefeller University.

In 2004, Michael D’Antonio published The State Boys Rebellion, and in 2013, Allen Hornblum published Against Their Will — both books deal with the victimization of children as human guinea pigs.

Survivors of Fenald School Radiation Experiments
Survivors of Fernald School Radiation Experiments

We post the PRICEONOMICS article in its entirety: Dark Secret_MIT Science Club for Children 2016

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