If you feel that the Nazi results are tainted because of the way they were
obtained, what if you knew that many deem information morally neutral?
Reproduction of a letter dated April 5, 1942
that Dr. Sigmund Rascher sent to Heinrich Himmler. The letter accompanied a
report detailing the first findings from Rascher's high-altitude
experiments on prisoners at Dachau.
Many scientists might argue that while the Nazi experiments were nothing short
of bestial, their results can only be judged scientifically, not morally; data
are neither good nor bad, they are just data. Even if scientists, journal
editors, and others were to judge results on moral grounds, Dr. Eleanor Singer,
editor of Public Opinion Quarterly, considers it "nonsense to talk about
'enforcing ethical standards' as though these were clear and agreed-upon."
Until the scientific community reaches a consensus on the degree to which
ethical concerns should govern the spread of scientific knowledge, Singer
maintains, "I would argue that open dissemination, not censorship, affords the
best chance for developing agreed-upon principles of what constitutes ethical
research procedures, and of how potential conflicts among ethical principles,
and between such principles and scientific goals, are to be resolved."
"The most powerful argument in defense of the use of the data gathered by
unethical methods is that the information gathered is independent of the ethics
of the methods and that the two are not linked together. In essence, data are
neither evil nor good."
—Dr. Robert Pozos, hypothermia expert
"Perhaps the most intriguing question on which the issue of proper use turns is
whether or not scientific data can acquire a moral taint. Common sense seems to
indicate that a parcel of information about the physical world is morally
—Brian Folker and Arthur W. Hafner
"We are talking of the use of the data, not participation in these heinous
studies, not replication of atrocities. The wrongs perpetrated were monstrous;
those wrongs are over and done. How could the provenance of the data serve to
prohibit their use?"
—The late Dr. Benjamin Freedman, formerly a bioethicist at McGill University
40. Singer, Eleanor. "Commentary" (responding to "Ethics and Editors").
Hastings Center Report, Vol. 10, April 1980, p. 24.
41. Pozos, Robert S. "Scientific Inquiry and Ethics: The Dachau Data." In
Caplan, p. 104.
42. Folker, Brian and Arthur W. Hafner. "Commentary" (responding to "Nazi Data:
Dissociation from Evil"). Hastings Center Report, Vol. 19, July/August
1989, p. 17.
43. Wilkerson, Isabel. "Nazi Scientists and Ethics of Today." The New York
Times, 5/21/89, p. 34.
Photo: National Archives, courtesy of USHMM Photo Archives
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