Schlagwort-Archive: Human + Rights

Epidemiology in wartime

What was the best paper in 2006? I am voting for a Lancet paper by Gilbert Burnham, Riyadh Lafta, Shannon Doocy and Les Roberts. Between May and July, 2006, they did a national cross-sectional cluster sample survey of mortality in Iraq. Data from 1849 households was gathered, 1474 births and 629 deaths were reported. As of July, 2006, there have been 654 965 excess Iraqi deaths occured as a consequence of the war.
If you can’t imagine what it means to work in war regions you may read the biography of Robert Capa (1913 –1954) who worked as a photographer in the many wars, and died in the First Indochina War. He did wonderful photos together with his girl-friend Gerda Taro, one of the first woman photographers who died by a tank accident already in the Spanish civil war at the age of 26. I will pay for the flowers if you visit her grave at Père Lachaise in Paris.

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As expected, the study raised criticism: scienceblog:doi:10.1126/science.316.5823.355a

Exodus of science from Germany after 1933

A book that crossed my desk only very recently is about the exodus of science from Berlin after 1933. As a child I never understood the second commandment when God said to Mose that

Ex 20:4 I am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand {generations} of those who love me and keep my commandments.

I always thought the idea to be unfair to be under collective guilt. Nevertheless when reading this book (published already in 1994 by Walter de Gruyter) we get a deeper meaning how science is affected for many generations by the displacement of the most prominent scientists.
Particular important in this book is the first chapter of Hubenstorf and Walther that highlights the situation in Berlin. Following world war I, Berlin had become the indisputable center of most scientific disciplines in the German speaking territory. In some disciplines Leipzig, Vienna or Munich may have been competitors, economics had been strong in Kiel, mathematics and physics in Göttingen, history in Marburg, however, for most scientists Berlin had been the highly desired “endpoint” of their career. he Friedrich-Wilhelms university had been the largest university, but there have been many more science organizations like Technical University Charlottenburg, Deutsche Hochschule für Politik, Preußische Akademie der Wissenschaften and Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gesellschaft (that is covered in more detail in another excellent chapter).
Medicine has been hit hardest during the Nazi period by having a large number of Jewish scientists. The resulting repercussions in the realm of science are described at different levels. Starting with a typology of transformation of scientific institutions, the establishment of new disciplines and the establishment of a military science sector, the autors give many historical details about the ways of scientific publishing or the organization of displaced scientists.
The cancer research department of the medical faculty fired 12 or 13 scientists; the hygiene institute dismissed 8 of 12 scientists including later Noble prize winner Erwin Chargaff. Hospital Lankwitz fired all physicians, Neukölln 67%, Freidrichshain 62% and Moabit 56%.
It is a terrible story – you can read how the editor of the Deutsche Medizinische Wochenschrift Paul Osswald Wolff was replaced by a Nazi supporter. Karger publisher even moved from Berlin to Basel (where they still reside today).
As any good science is strongly connected to teaching it may be understood that breaking this tradition has lead to a punishing of the children for the sin of the fathers to the third a fourth generation. Science politicians may even recognize the downside of spending money into science: they will be blessed by thousands of generations.


How can we know?

A recent paper in Nature reported

Tissue samples were obtained from one of the following sources: Asterand, Pathlore, Tissue Transformation Technologies, Northwest Andrology, National Disease Research Interchange and Biocat. Only anonymized samples were used, and ethical approval was obtained for the study from Ärztekammer Berlin and the Cambridge Local Research Ethics Committee. […] Human primary cells were obtained from Cascade Biologics, Cell Applications, Analytical Biological Services, Cambrex Bio Science and the Deutsches Institut für Zell- und Gewebeersatz.

How did “Ärztekammer Berlin” or “Cambridge LREC” evaluate ethical performance of these companies? Or did anonymity automatically guarantee ethical research? Or is it just a formal requirement to mention ethics? Or …?

Dr. med. Sigmund Rascher, KL Dachau

On my way to work I am crossing every morning in Dachau East the former Nazi concentration camp/Konzentrationslager (KL). Its a monument of inhumanity and the deepest point in the history of “science”. A large number of prisoners were abused by SS doctors for medical experiments; an unknown number of prisoners suffered agonizing deaths in the course of atmospheric pressure, hypothermia, malaria and other experiments.

photo by 11 Dec 06

Having a longstanding interest in history (and even published on the 50th anniversary of the Nuremberg trials) I have now been very interested in a new book by Sigfried Bär, one of the outstanding German science writers “Der Untergang des Hauses Rascher”, a history of the life of Dr. Sigmund Rascher, anthroposophic scholar, medical student, DFG-scholar, minion of of Heinrich Himmlers, air pressure and hypothermia researcher at KL Dachau and finally prisoner who died by being shot in the neck.

Dr. Bär spent several years researching the life of this mass murderer. He contacted relatives of Rascher, looked at family photos, talked to people who knew Rascher and went to archives. This is a unique document showing the avidity of a researcher for recognition by scientific colleagues. Other books from my own library that I recommend:


The mind has a thousand eyes

The night has a thousand eyes,
And the day but one:
Yet the light of the bright world dies
With the dying sun.

The mind has a thousand eyes,
And the heart but one.
Yet the light of a whole life dies
When love is done.

Francis William Bourdillon

(found 7/12/06 on the inside cover of an old book with title “Perdita” in the patient library of a university clinic)

Materials and Methods

Usually “materials and methods” section is in the second paragraph; some journals put it also at the end of a paper. As a reviewer I have always insisted that this heading should be extended to “Patients, materials and methods” while in epidemiology we frequently use the term subjects (BTW epidemiologists have a rather militaristic vocabulary: recruited, cohorts :-) ). The anonymous reviewer of a previous paper now pointed out: Use the phrase “participant” throughout and not “subjects” which has reductionist connotations. I promise to use “participants” from now on, yea, yea.

Reporters sans frontières call for action

“Reporters sans frontières” ask to click their site between Nov 7, 11:00 Uhr until Nov 8, 11:00 Uhr.

2005 was the deadliest year for journalists since 1995: 63 journalists and 5 media assistants were killed doing their job or for having expressed their opinion; more than 1, 300 physical assaults were recorded and more than 1, 000 media were censored, an increase of 60% compared to 2004.

You may want to look also at the nice brochure at their website: