Citing Nazi `Research`: To Do So Without Condemnation Is Not

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Citing Nazi `Research`: To Do So Without Condemnation Is Not
Essays of an Information Scientist: Science Reviews, Journalism Inventiveness and
Other Essays, Vol:14, p.328, 1991
Citing Nazi ‘Research’:
To Do So Without Condemnation Is Not Defensible
Reprinted from THE SCIENTIST @ 3(1): 10,9 January 1989.
Elie Wiesel, the concentration
camp survivor and 1986 Nobel
laureate, has often spoken and written about the difficulty of translating
the events of the Holocaust into
words. To do so, he has explained,
begins to limit and make objective
what can neither be, nor should be,
easily defined and comfortably
separated from our daily lives asjust
another grim episode in history that
happened long ago and elsewhere.
The Holocaust was qualitatively different from other human events: The
years after it have been darker for
humankind than those before it. That
it happened continues to affect us all.
Alan C. Nixon’s support for the
use of data derived from so-called
experiments by Nazi scientists
(November 14, 1988, page 9)
elicited a strong response, as might
have been expected. Some of the
letters we received are published on
this page and the next. It maybe true,
as Nixon wrote, that “many German
scientists were rather reluctant party
members, going along with the
Nazi’s demands in order to save
their lives in an impossible situation.” But it is also the awful fact that
many scientists and physicians
served in the vanguard of Hitler’s
army as “biological soldiers.” (See,
for example, Robert J. Lifton’s comments on “medicalized killing” in
The Nazi Doctors, 1986.) Moreover,
those who tortured camp prisoners
and later published their “results” in
German medical journals of the time
cannot be described as “reluctant”
The Nuremberg
Doctors’ Trial of 1946-47 proved
this. Fifteen “scientists” were convicted of crimes; seven were
As for citing the published data
from the Nazi “experiments,” I
agree with our European Editor Bernard Dixon, who has rhetorically
asked, “Is it not a gratuitous insult to
those pathetic human guinea pigs,
and to the memory of the dead, for
journals and textbooks to cite data
acquired in such an odious manner?”
(“Citations of shame,” New Scientist, volume 105, number 1445, page
31, 1985).
But what about those extremely
rare instances in which the data collected during these atrocities have
been judged by scientific experts to
have practical value in life-saving
research today? For example, many
hypothermia researchers have found
the data from Sigmund Rascher’s
cold-water immersion tortures at
Dachau significant to their work. Al-
though it is difficult morally, one
might concede that within the mass
of pseudoscientific Nazi data some
shreds can be valuable to researchers, as a small portion of the
hypothermia data has proven to be.
Of course, such data should be used
only in the most exceptional circumstances and only in the absence
of ethically derived data.
Science writer Kristine Moe (in
“Should the Nazi research data be
cited ?,” Hastings Center Report,
volume 14, number 6, pages 5-7,
1984) held up an article by John P.
a hypothermia
researcher, as a model for the tone in
which Nazi “research,” if used,
should be cited. Fernandez wrote:
“These sordid investigations proved
to the satisfaction
of the executioners that the best method of
resuscitating hypothermia prisoners
was by rapid and intensive rewarming.” (“Rapid active external
rewarming in accidental hypothermia,” JournQlof the American Medical Association, volume 212, pages
153-6, April 6, 1970.)
What is certainly morally unacceptable is to cite Nazi data without
any comment or qualification. To do
so hides these evil acts in the cloak
of legitimate scientific inquiry, as
the Nazis tried to do (See E. Garfield, “Remembering the Holocaust.
Parts 1 and 2,” Essays of an Information Scientist, volume 8, pages
254-75, 1986.)
We need to remember, as Wiesel
has noted, that the language in which
we attempt to describe the Nazis’
acts is all important. That is one
point I think Nixon has failed to
underscore properly. =
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