Social Sciences Forum - Free and open to public
James H. Jones is the Distinguished Alumni Professor of History, Emeritus, at the University of Arkansas.
From 1932 until 1972, the United States Public Health Service (PHS) conducted a deadly, deceptive, and unethical medical experiment on more than 400 poverty stricken, poorly educated African-American sharecroppers in and around Tuskegee, the county seat of Macon County, nestled in the heart of Alabama’s “black belt.” All of the men had syphilis but did not know the specific disease from which they suffered. Instead of informing the men that they had syphilis and treating them for the disease, the PHS officers gave them placebos and covered their deception with lies.
The purpose of the experiment was to chart the natural history of syphilis by leaving the men untreated. For forty years, the PHS officers observed the men and wrote scientific papers chronicling a macabre saga of death and debilitating complications caused by untreated syphilis. Indeed, the experiment did not end until a whistle-blower tipped off the press and an outraged public forced the PHS to end the experiment and treat the men who had somehow survived the disease.
The Tuskegee Syphilis Study sounds like science gone amok, a crime that would have been more at home in Nazi Germany than the United States. Professor Jones will explain how the experiment got started, how it could have gone on for forty years, and how it reflected salient aspects of the history of race relations in the United States.