Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Friday, October 01, 2010

esto y eso

In case you have been feeling sorry for yourself lately in these tough economic times, via Brad Delong I find this useful corrective. Just enter your annual income and see where you stand compared to the world's population. I'm only about the 43 millionth richest person in the world but if you can grasp orders of magnitude you have already noticed that puts me well inside the top 1% of humanity. I probably don't have many readers outside of the top 5% or so (though I wish I had more, of course). Just something to think about.

I also doubt there are a lot of current nicotine addicts among our readers but many state health departments and other toilers for The Good have put together a web site to help you quit. No idea how well it works but we won't know unless people try it. Today is a great day to take that first step to get clean, so go for it.

At first I didn't think I'd even mention this because what can I add? But actually I do want to comment on the grotesque experiment carried out by U.S. government agencies on Guatemalan prisoners and mental patients, who they intentionally infected with syphilis shortly after World War II. The timing is particularly instructive, since we had just gotten done defeating the Nazi regime and we were feeling all morally superior because they were racists who performed horrific medical experiments on Jewish and other prisoners of the inferior races. Hmm. Of course as you probably know that wasn't the last similar occurrence, including the so-called Tuskegee experiment (which was not actually an experiment and was basically pointless)

But my value added on this one is actually hopeful. It's proof that humanity can make moral progress, at least temporarily, and maybe we do ratchet up a notch each time. In response to the Nazi atrocities and other provocations (the Tuskegee syphilis study had not yet been publicly revealed) the assembled nations of the world adopted the Declaration of Helsinki in 1964, which proclaims an absolute requirement to protect the interests, safety and dignity of human research subjects. Since then elaborate rules and mechanisms have been put in place throughout the world to enforce these requirements.

Not to say there aren't violations, and there has been plenty of controversy about clinical trials conducted in poor countries where people are unlikely to benefit because they can't afford the products being tested; and where placebo controls that would be considered unethical in wealthy countries may be used on the grounds that the people couldn't get standard treatment anyway. There are still plenty of legitimate ethical questions about the conduct of human subjects research, but at least we have these arguments and nothing like the Guatemala or Tuskegee studies could happen today. I think.

On a personal note, I'm cleaning out my office today. This will probably be the last time I blog from this location. One more milestone . . .


Anonymous said...

Best wishes for your new job.

As for the Guatemala experiments - well, I wonder what similar experiments were going on at the time - Guatemala and Tuskegee were surely not all. It will be interesting to see what else comes out. Who else was considered suitable? US natives?

roger said...

break a leg. oh no. that's show biz. i have no snappy corresponding sort of "good luck" thing for academia.

best wishes for a successful move and an engaging job.