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July 14, 2022

U.S. Public Health Agencies Aren’t ‘Following the Science,’ Officials Say

‘People are getting bad advice and we can’t say anything.’

By Marty Makary M.D., M.P.H. and Tracy Beth Høeg M.D., Ph.D. | Common Sense | July 14, 2022

The calls and text messages are relentless. On the other end are doctors and scientists at the top levels of the NIH, FDA and CDC. They are variously frustrated, exasperated and alarmed about the direction of the agencies to which they have devoted their careers.

“It’s like a horror movie I’m being forced to watch and I can’t close my eyes,” one senior FDA official lamented. “People are getting bad advice and we can’t say anything.”

That particular FDA doctor was referring to two recent developments inside the agency. First, how, with no solid clinical data, the agency authorized Covid vaccines for infants and toddlers, including those who already had Covid. And second, the fact that just months before, the FDA bypassed their external experts to authorize booster shots for young children.

That doctor is hardly alone.

At the NIH, doctors and scientists complain to us about low morale and lower staffing: The NIH’s Vaccine Research Center has had many of its senior scientists leave over the last year, including the director, deputy director and chief medical officer. “They have no leadership right now. Suddenly there’s an enormous number of jobs opening up at the highest level positions,” one NIH scientist told us. (The people who spoke to us would only agree to be quoted anonymously, citing fear of professional repercussions.)

The CDC has experienced a similar exodus. “There’s been a large amount of turnover. Morale is low,” one high level official at the CDC told us. “Things have become so political, so what are we there for?” Another CDC scientist told us: “I used to be proud to tell people I work at the CDC. Now I’m embarrassed.”

Why are they embarrassed? In short, bad science.

The longer answer: that the heads of their agencies are using weak or flawed data to make critically important public health decisions. That such decisions are being driven by what’s politically palatable to people in Washington or to the Biden administration. And that they have a myopic focus on one virus instead of overall health.

Nowhere has this problem been clearer—or the stakes higher—than on official public health policy regarding children and Covid.

First, they demanded that young children be masked in schools. On this score, the agencies were wrong. Compelling studies later found schools that masked children had no different rates of transmission. And for social and linguistic development, children need to see the faces of others.

Next came school closures. The agencies were wrong—and catastrophically so. Poor and minority children suffered learning loss with an 11-point drop in math scores alone and a 20% drop in math pass rates. There are dozens of statistics of this kind.

Then they ignored natural immunity. Wrong again. The vast majority of children have already had Covid, but this has made no difference in the blanket mandates for childhood vaccines. And now, by mandating vaccines and boosters for young healthy people, with no strong supporting data, these agencies are only further eroding public trust. … Full article

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    After the war, one of the Nuremberg trials, called The Medical Case, dealt with these medical experiments. Twenty-three doctors and medical officials were tried and convicted of planning and implementing experiments on human beings against their will in a brutal fashion that included horrific torture, and of planning to murder some of the victims. Seven of the accused were sentenced to death, nine were sentenced to prison, and seven were acquitted. Other major players in the Nazi medical experiments were not tried, as they either committed suicide or escaped Europe.

    Historian examines U.S. ethics in Nuremberg Medical Trial tactics
    By Larry Bernard December 5, 1996

    Andrew Ivy, a medical researcher and vice president of the University of Illinois at Chicago, testifies for the prosecution at the 1946 Nuremberg Medical Trial.

    The 1946 Medical Trial at Nuremberg, in which Nazi doctors were convicted for acts of torture, barbarism and murder, held many lessons for the practice of medicine in the United States, a Cornell historian says.

    But the tactics used by a renowned U.S. medical scientist to help prosecute the Nazi doctors bordered on perjury and obscured those lessons, argues Jon M. Harkness, Ph.D., visiting scholar in the Department of Science and Technology Studies.

    Harkness, who also is managing editor of ISIS, the Journal of the History of Science Society, writes in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA, Nov. 27, 1996) on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Medical Trial at Nuremberg. His paper, “Nuremberg and Wartime Experiments on U.S. Prisoners,” examines the response of the American prosecution team to an attempt by the German defendants to equate wartime medical experiments on American prisoners with experiments on Nazi concentration camp inmates. His paper is one of several that appear in the Nov. 27 JAMA about the trial.

    “In no way do I condone or endorse what the Nazi physicians did,” Harkness said. “I am only applying a critical examination to the prosecution’s case.”

    In the Nuremberg Medical Trial, the defense tried to show that there was no difference between what the Nazi doctors did and what U.S. doctors did in Stateville Prison, Joliet, Ill., by experimenting with a malaria vaccine on prisoners.

    In rebuttal, prosecutors summoned Andrew Ivy, a medical researcher and vice president of the University of Illinois at Chicago in charge of the medical school and its hospitals. Ivy, also appointed by the AMA as medical ethics consultant to the trial, asked Illinois Gov. Dwight Green to form an ad hoc committee to advise the governor on ethical considerations involved in medical experiments. But Ivy did not indicate to the governor that he was going to testify at Nuremberg, Harkness said.

    That committee never met, yet Ivy went to Nuremberg and testified that the committee issued a report, known as the Green report. Ivy actually wrote the report alone, justifying the prison research and refusing to acknowledge any parallels to the Nazis. That report later was published in JAMA and was used as a basis in subsequent decades to justify medical research on U.S. prisoners, Harkness said.

    The Green report refused to concede even a remote moral similarity between the experimental atrocities committed in Nazi concentration camps and the medical tests carried out in U.S. prisons during the war.

    “Ivy’s stance can be seen as a symptom of a broader refusal among U.S. medical scientists to draw lessons from their actions from the Nuremberg Medical Trial,” Harkness writes. “But Andrew Ivy’s posture was more than just representative; Ivy also helped to create this widespread attitude. His thoughts and deeds during the trial . . . contributed to a widespread failure among U.S. medical scientists to grapple with the difficult ethical questions about their own work that the Nuremberg Medical Trial might have raised. In effect, as Ivy assured the judges in Nuremberg that there was nothing ethically suspect about experimentation with prisoners in the U.S., he sent the same message to his U.S. colleagues.”

    Still, Harkness said, “The doctors would have been convicted even if the prosecution had not initiated this rebuttal to the claim that there was a parallel between the concentration camp experiments and experiments at Illinois. This was a trial on two levels: On one level, it was a straightforward case of brutal torture and murder. But the prosecution also was concerned to condemn these crimes as unethical human experiments. I think the reason they did that was the prosecution was concerned that human experiments in general not be characterized as torture and murder.”

    Harkness points out, however, that there were significant moral differences between the experiments in the concentration camps and in U.S. prisons. “In the U.S., there were attempts to get consent. The prisoners were not dragged out of their cells; they were not absolutely involuntary research subjects like the victims of the Nazi experiments. The other moral difference is that none of the experiments in this country were designed to end in the deaths of the subjects. Those are two highly significant differences,” he said.

    Many of Harkness’s conclusions are based on material not available in the published, abridged Nuremberg trial records, which most other Nuremberg scholars have relied on almost exclusively. Instead, Harkness delved into the complete 10,000-page trial transcript, available on microfilm from the National Archives, as well as the collected papers of a Green Committee member maintained at a University of Chicago archive.

    Harkness called Ivy a “master of the white lie” for not telling the governor why he wanted a committee and for conjuring up a committee report that only he wrote, but also for slyly answering questions about the committee on the stand to reflect only his viewpoint.

    “The implications were serious and significant,” Harkness said. “This rebuttal, this phantom committee report, ends up getting published in JAMA. There is absolutely no indication in that article, six months after the trial, that the committee was formed in reaction to a specific and harsh condemnation of the very research that the report claimed was morally and ethically ideal. Then, researchers and advocates of the use of American prisoners as research subjects, for the next few decades, would refer back to this blue ribbon panel justifying their work, yet the panel’s report was a sham in the first place.”

    When medical experimentation on prisoners in the United States became controversial in the early 1970s, critics pointed to the Nuremberg code, which states that all medical experiments on humans must be voluntary. “These critics looked to this and said, ‘Given the Nuremberg trial and code, how in the world could American researchers continue to use prisoners as research subjects?’ The story I’ve uncovered is a large part of the answer: The Nuremberg Medical Trial produced something other than the code; in effect, it produced this article in JAMA, which proclaimed prison research as ethically ideal.”

    The committee did eventually meet, but after the trials. Harkness writes: “The final report altered each of the conclusions that Ivy had presented in Nuremberg in minor ways, but there is no evidence that anyone on the committee challenged the fundamental premise that the group was created to endorse: that prison research American-style was ethically acceptable. In fact, the final report of the committee judged the wartime research on Illinois prisoners as more than ethically acceptable. These experiments were cited by the group as ‘an example of human experiments which were ideal because of their conformity’ with the highest standards of human experimentation.”


    Comment by Pip | July 18, 2022 | Reply

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