Tag Archives: Laura Stark

Laura Stark’s Review of Patient H.M. in Science

As part of our continuing coverage of the controversy that has erupted over Luke Dittrich’s recently released Patient H.M., we bring to your attention a just released review of the book in Science. In her review, Laura Stark provides a welcome perspective on Dittrich’s work, especially in relation to his portrayal of Suzanne Corkin. As Stark writes,

It seems inevitable that the book will be compared to the patient biography The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. But, while Dittrich is an exceptional writer, he focuses his talents in the last half of his book on a takedown of rival author Suzanne Corkin, missing opportunities to turn his own family story into one of more universal scope….

Dittrich only reveals at the end that Corkin was writing her own book on H.M., which recasts his story up to that point in a new light. It helps make sense of his eagerness to see her actions as personal slights, character flaws, and bad science rather than symptoms of broken systems. It is a pity, because his sense of personal grievance narrows him into a story about a uniquely menacing scientist rather than a universal story of the legal and institutional ties that bind even well-intentioned people.

The review is out from behind Science‘s paywall and can be read in full here.

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History and the Hoffman Report: A Round-Up

Chances are you, like us, have been following the fall out from the American Psychological Association’s Hoffman Report, which details how the organization colluded with the United States government to ensure psychologists remained part of its torture program. While there are a ton of opinion pieces floating around in the wake of the report, we thought we’d highlight a few pieces that take a particularly historical view on the current situation.

Over on the Hidden Persuaders blog, part of a project on Cold War era brainwashing efforts, Marcia Holmes has written “What we’re reading now: The APA report.” Holmes details the events leading up to the Hoffman Report and situates psychology’s involvement in torture in relation to the emergence of “operational psychology.” The fundamental tension between “operational psychology” and ethics, Holmes argues, may never be resolved. Read the full piece online here.

BBC Radio program Witness has produced an episode on “CIA Mind Control Experiments” in the 1950s. While this piece is not directly about the Hoffman Report, it documents  the long history of relations between psychology and the CIA:

In the 1950s the CIA started attempting to brainwash psychiatric patients. They wanted to develop methods which could be used against enemies in the Cold War. Hear from one man whose father was experimented on in a Canadian psychiatric hospital.

The full 10-minute episode can be heard online here.

Finally historian Laura Stark, writing in Inside Higher Ed, explains “Why Ethics Codes Fail.” Stark, having previously written about the first ethics code adopted by the APA in 1973, argues that,

The APA’s current ethics mess is a problem inherent to its method of setting professional ethics policy and a problem that faces professional organizations more broadly. Professions’ codes of ethics are made to seem anonymous, dropped into the world by some higher moral authority. But ethics codes have authors. In the long term, the APA’s problems will not be solved by repeating the same process that empowers a select elite to write ethics policy, then removes their connection to it.

All ethics codes have authors who work to erase the appearance of their influence. Personal interests are inevitable, if not unmanageable, and it may be best for the APA — and other professional groups — to keep the link between an ethics policy and its authors. Take a new lesson from the Hippocratic oath by observing its name. The APA should make its ethics policies like most other papers that scientists write: give the code of ethics a byline.

Read the full piece online here.

If there are other historically focused responses to the Hoffman Report that we’ve missed please feel free to add them in the comments!

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LSD Research, “Normal Controls,” and the Making of “Vulnerable Populations”

In a recent piece on the Somatosphere blog, historian Laura Stark describes the making of “vulnerable populations” in medical experimentation. Currently writing a book on the emergence of “normal control” subjects in medical research, Stark uses her research on LSD experimentation at the US National Institutes of Health post-WWII to discuss the idea of “vulnerable populations.” The above video features excerpts from some of Stark’s oral history interviews with research subjects used as “normal controls” in this research.

As she describes in “How to make a “vulnerable population”,”

The category of the “vulnerable population” is itself a product of modern (American) bioethics, which invented the concept in its recent vintage and gave it specific meaning in public parlance. The field of modern bioethics emerged in the 1960s and 1970s, and in the post civil-rights period, the bioethical concept of the “vulnerable population” was coded with contemporary rights-based concerns: about minorities, about prisoners, and more. The specific meanings and people associated with “vulnerable populations” were embedded in 1970s human-subjects regulation, as well as in popular discourse….
The concepts of modern bioethics operate at another level, too. Ian Hacking coined the term “moral kinds” to tag what he called meta-ethical issues that people—including scholars—come to embody. We are working to develop Ian Hacking’s framework to show how law (especially U.S. human-subjects regulations) shapes both the memory practices of historical actors and the interpretive practices of present-day scholars. In sum, we are interested in how the concepts of bioethics, such as “vulnerable populations” codified in 1974 and later extended beyond the United States, have narrowed the range of possibilities available to scholars for interpreting empirical evidence. We like Hacking’s approach because it offers a way to investigate how the governing moral sensibilities of a specific time and place both constrain and liberate scholars themselves. The secular, North American, rights-revolution ethos of modern bioethics, we suggest, limits how questions about research practices in the human sciences are conceptualized, and can deflect questions about the historicity of the discipline of bioethics as a knowledge-making enterprise in its own right. We aim to explore medical knowledge-making alongside the ontology of modern bioethics—to ask how, when, where, and with what effects the terms and priorities of this expert domain developed. In doing so, we hope to capture a fuller repertoire of institutions, sensibilities, and activities that eventually came to constitute modern science and biomedicine.

Read the full post online here.

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Antievolutionism & American Social Scientists

AHP readers may be interested in an article in the most recent issue of Isis, the official journal of the History of Science Society. In “Abandoning Evolution: The Forgotten History of Antievolution Activism and the Transformation of American Social Science,” Michael Lienesch (left) describes the interaction of antievolution activists and social scientists in the first half of the twentieth century. The abstract follows below.

From its inception, antievolution activism has been aimed not only at the natural sciences but also, and almost as often, at the social sciences. Although almost entirely overlooked by scholars, this activism played a significant part in the development of American social science in the early twentieth century. Analyzing public writings and private papers of antievolution activists, academic social scientists, and university officials from the 1920s, this essay recalls this forgotten history, showing how antievolution activism contributed to the abandonment of evolutionary theory and the adoption of a set of secular, scientific, and professional characteristics that have come to define much of modern social science.

Also reviewed in this issue of Isis are the English translation of Fernando Vidal’s The Sciences of the Soul: The Early Modern Origins of Psychology (reviewed by John H. Zammito), the Psychology of Space Exploration: Contemporary Research in Historical Perspective edited by Douglas A. Vakoch (reviewed by Jordan Bimm), and Laura Stark’s Behind Closed Doors: IRBs and the Making of Ethical Research (reviewed by Susan M. Reverby).

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New Books in STS Interview with Laura Stark

New Books in Science, Technology, and Society, part of the New Books Network, has released an audio interview with Laura Stark (above) on her recent book Behind Closed Doors: IRBs and the Making of Ethical Research. Stark’s discussion of her work on the emergence of Institutional Review Boards (IRBs) as a way of governing research with human subjects will be of interest to many of AHP’s readers.

As described on New Books in Science, Technology, and Society website,

Laura Stark’s lucid and engaging new book explores the making and enacting of the rules that govern human subjects research in the US. Using a thoughtfully conceived combination of ethnographic and archival work, Behind Closed Doors: IRBs and the Making of Ethical Research (University of Chicago Press, 2012) locates the emergence of a system of “governing with experts” by Institutional Review Boards (IRBs) in the middle of the twentieth century. Stark shows how the features that now characterize the IRB deliberations that consider whether research on people can proceed in institutional contexts emerged in the particular context of the NIH Clinical Research Committee in 1950s and 1960s, and she explains how they managed to spread thereafter across the US and the globe. Behind Closed Doors draws from a wide and transdisciplinary set of methodological resources in articulating the power of performative language in shaping negotiations around human subjects research, suggesting innovative ways to read documentary evidence as a narrative of voices in time.

True to its title, Stark’s story takes us behind the closed doors of occasionally heated IRB deliberations. It also introduces us to some of the spirited and disruptive “healthy patients” of the Clinical Center at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), prisoners and conscientious objectors among them, as they were dosed with LSD or infected with malaria and influenza, making a kind of home in the Center or cleverly escaping from it. It’s a wonderfully stimulating book that should be widely read and included on the syllabi of many graduate seminars to come.

The full New Books in Science, Technology, and Society interview with Laura Stark can be heard online here or downloaded via iTunes.

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Fall Issue of JHBS now Online

The Fall 2010 issue of the Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences has just been released online. This issue includes articles on the development of the American Psychological Association’s code of ethics, as well as the relationship between the Rockefeller Foundation, child study initiatives, and race. Titles, authors and abstracts follow below.

“The science of ethics: Deception, the resilient self, and the APA code of ethics, 1966–1973” by Laura Stark. The abstract reads,

This paper has two aims. The first is to shed light on a remarkable archival source, namely survey responses from thousands of American psychologists during the 1960s in which they described their contemporary research practices and discussed whether the practices were “ethical.” The second aim is to examine the process through which the American Psychological Association (APA) used these survey responses to create principles on how psychologists should treat human subjects. The paper focuses on debates over whether “deception” research was acceptable. It documents how members of the committee that wrote the principles refereed what was, in fact, a disagreement between two contemporary research orientations. The paper argues that the ethics committee ultimately built the model of “the resilient self” into the APA’s 1973 ethics code. At the broadest level, the paper explores how prevailing understandings of human nature are written into seemingly universal and timeless codes of ethics. Continue reading Fall Issue of JHBS now Online

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Wesleyan Digital Archive of Psychology

A digital archive of material related to an American Psychological Association questionnaire on research ethics issued between 1968 and 1970 has been launched online. This resource, the Wesleyan Digital Archive of Psychology has been put together under the leadership of Jill Morawski and Laura Stark, both of Wesleyan University. Although the material for the digital archive is still under development, several sample surveys are currently available on the site, both as transcriptions and as digital images (as pictured at left). The Wesleyan Digital Archive of Psychology is described as follows:

Between 1968 and 1970, more than 3,000 psychologists wrote to leaders of the American Psychological Association and described instances of ethically questionable research. The psychologists were responding to a questionnaire that the APA mailed to two-thirds of its members—19,000 psychologists in all. The organization used psychologists’ stories to update its ethics code in 1973.

The stories offer a vivid, panoramic view of American psychology in the decades after World War II from the perspectives of students, practitioners, and human subjects of research. The Wesleyan Digital Archive of Psychology is creating an electronic repository of the responses in two formats: as transcribed text documents, and as digital images. As of October 2010, transcription of the first wave of the questionnaire responses (comprising 1,000 responses) is complete. Continue reading Wesleyan Digital Archive of Psychology

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