Tag Archives: medical experiments

The X-Files Season 10 Comic: Issue #8

XFiles_10-08OK, I just finished reading the latest installment of the X-Files series, and I have to say, it keeps getting better.

In some of my earlier critiques, I complained about the fact that they were “resurrecting” characters who had died during the original television series. I think I said that if they brought back Deep Throat, I’d be finished. Well, I have to take that back. This issue includes the return of Deep Throat, but not as some implausible reinstatement. Instead, this issue has flashbacks to the late 1980’s which include Deep Throat and connects the newer conspiracies with earlier mythos. In my opinion, it works perfectly. Kudos to the writers!

In this issue, we see genetically manipulated amino acids molecularly bonded to blood cells. They are connected with secret experiments performed on children in the 80’s with horrific results. I thought that it was a particularly nice touch that Scully makes this discovery at 11:11, which is a time of the day with mystical symbolism. To sum up, I’m on edge wanting to find out what happens next.

Reading this comic has made me realize just how much I miss the X-Files. I confess that a lot of the shows I watch on television are attempts to fill the void left by the show’s end. I only hope that Chris Carter comes up with something comparable in the near future. But for now, this certainly suffices.

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“The Girls of Atomic City” by Denise Kiernan

GirlsAtomicCityWhen I first saw this book displayed at a local bookstore, I was intrigued. I had been to Oak Ridge, Tennessee several times. My daughter, who is a competitive rower, competes in Oak Ridge. I had a vague idea that the city was connected to the development of the atomic bomb, but did not know the history. Anyway, on a recent visit to the International Spy Museum in Washington D.C., I noticed they were selling autographed copies of the book, so I bought one.

The book is an historical account of the development of Oak Ridge and its involvement in the Manhattan Project, focusing on the role of women. Essentially, Oak Ridge was a secret government city whose primary goal was the enrichment of uranium into weapons-grade material. Workers were recruited by the government to live and work at the site. Since a large number of men were overseas fighting, Oak Ridge offered numerous opportunities for women. Much of the book is dedicated to the lives of these women and how they dealt with life in a top-secret military installation where discussing what you did was strictly forbidden. In fact, until after the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima, most workers at Oak Ridge had no idea what they were working on. They were given a task, told their job was helping the war effort, and that was all they knew.

I was not surprised that women played such a significant role in the advancement of nuclear science, nor was I surprised that women’s contributions were written out of much of the male-dominated history. I for one had never heard of Lise Meitner, an Austrian physicist who escaped Nazi Germany and was part of the team that discovered fission; in fact, she actually coined the term. But not only did her male colleagues get credit for her work, she was often mistreated because of her gender, being “banished to research in a basement workshop because a superior thought women in the chemistry labs were dangerous—their hair might catch on fire.” (p. 58) Later, when Meitner’s colleague Otto Hahn was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the discovery of fission, Meitner was “referred to in the press as Hahn’s junior associate.” (p. 293)

Kiernan points out that young women were preferred as recruits to work on the project because, in those days, women did what they were told and didn’t ask questions.

The Project liked high school girls, especially those from rural backgrounds. Recruiters sought them out relentlessly, feeling young women were easy to instruct. They did what they were told. They weren’t overly curious. If you tell a young woman of 18 from a small-town background to do something, she’ll do it, no questions asked. Educated women and men, people who had gone to college and learned just enough to think they might “know” something, gave you problems. The Project scoured the countryside of Tennessee and beyond looking for recent graduates. (p. 69)

One of the things briefly discussed in the book is the secret medical experiments administered to unsuspecting individuals, where people were injected with plutonium without knowledge and then watched to observe the effects. Ebb Cade, an African-American worker at Oak Ridge, was the first test subject.

Ebb Cade was not the only test subject. It turned out that between 1945 and 1947, 18 people were injected with plutonium, specifically: 11 at Rochester, New York, 3 at University of Chicago, 3 at UC San Francisco, and 1, Ebb Cade, at Oak Ridge. Several thousand human radiation experiments were conducted between 1944 and 1974. In 1994, President Clinton appointed the Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiments (ACHRE) to investigate these and other experiments funded by the United States government. Their final report was published in 1996. (p. 293)

If this is something that interests you, I recommend reading The Plutonium Files: America’s Secret Medical Experiments in the Cold War by Eileen Welsome. I read this book when it came out and it had a strong impact on me.

Something that I found surprising in this book was the number of corporations and universities involved in the development of the atomic bomb. Companies like Westinghouse, Aluminum Company of America, and Eastman Kodak were involved. Even Kellogg was heavily involved. In fact, Kellogg was responsible for the enrichment plant’s design and development. (pp. 99 – 108) From now on, every time I see a box of Special-K on the grocery shelf, I will be reminded of K-25, the name given to the enrichment plant that Kellogg designed. Finally, I found out that ORACLE got its start in Oak Ridge, and that ORACLE is actually an acronym for the Oak Ridge Automatic Computer and Logical Engine.

Some history books can be pretty dull, but not this one. The topic is interesting and the book is very well-written. I recommend this book for everyone. It’s a fairly quick read and very insightful. I think I might have to take another trip out to Oak Ridge soon and visit the museum there. I’m sure I will find it as fascinating as this book.

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“The Body-Snatcher” by Robert Louis Stevenson: Science as Horror

BodySnatchersIn my quest for stuff to read and write about for my October horror blog series, I searched the free e-books available for download on the iPad and found The Body-Snatcher. I decided to give it a read.

The story works for me on several levels. First off, the writing is excellent and really draws you in to the story, which is about the cadaver trade in Edinburgh. Several years ago, while I was visiting Scotland, I toured the catacombs of Edinburgh where the body snatchers would hide the cadavers before bringing them to the university to sell them to the science department for dissection. It was fascinating and eerie at the same time. Anyway, this story vividly brought those memories back to me.

Next, there is a great surprise ending. It’s really good! I am not going to say anything else about it—just  read it.

Finally, I see this story as a parable about the horrors of science and how science, when void of compassion and humanity, becomes a dark art. This is the aspect of the story I want to explore in this post.

There is a scene in the story where one of the medical research assistants murders a person named Gray. To hide the evidence, the body is sold for medical experiments. The medical students are described as being indifferent and in one case happy about receiving the cadaver, which they proceed to cut apart.

Hours passed; the class began to arrive; the members of the unhappy Gray were dealt out to one and to another, and received without remark. Richardson was happy with the head; and before the hour of freedom rang Fettes trembled with exultation to perceive how far they had gone toward safety.

It was at this point in the story that I caught a strange coincidence. The person being dissected was named Gray, and that made me think of the classic book of anatomical science, Gray’s Anatomy. I made a mental note to check the dates and compare when Stevenson wrote this story and when Henry Gray wrote his famous work. As I suspected, they were very close: Gray’s Anatomy was first published in 1858 and The Body-Snatcher was published in 1884. I figured this could not be a coincidence and that Stevenson was actually criticizing Gray’s book and the scientific community as a whole, which was probably viewed as insensitive to the sanctity of human life and concerned only with the cold advancement of knowledge. In an ironic twist, it is Gray who is killed and tossed upon the slab of science, to be sliced apart by unfeeling students who were studying his own works.

Literally, I am gritting my teeth and forcing myself not to write about the ending, because it is so poignant and the twist is so great, it’s hard for me not to share my thoughts. But you all are thoughtful and intelligent readers. I am certain that when you come to the end of the story, you will reach the same conclusion that I did. So go ahead and read it. It’s short and you will love it. Cheers!!

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Macabre Inspiration

As writers, we constantly seek new sources of inspiration, and for me, I am fascinated by the events that sparked ideas leading to the creation of masterpieces in art and literature. Nothing lends to an understanding of a work of art more than knowledge of what inspired and influenced the artist. For this reason, I was intrigued by an article on the Huffington Post about events that influenced Mary Shelley’s classic Frankenstein.

From Wikipedia

From Wikipedia

The article tells the tale of George Foster, who was convicted of murdering his wife and child and thereby sentenced to death by hanging. But that was only part of the punishment. According to the Murder Act of 1752, the bodies of convicted murders were given to medical study where they were dismembered and dissected. This was designed to provide an additional deterrent for individuals contemplating murder.

After the execution, Foster’s body would be  given to an Italian scientist named Giovanni Aldini. Aldini intended to use electric shock in an attempt to reanimate the body. His idea came from recent experiments that demonstrated that electrical shock caused the limbs of dead animals to twitch and react.

When Aldini performed his experiment, Foster’s “jaw began to quiver, the adjoining muscles were horribly contorted and the left eye opened.” News of the experiment made its rounds through the salons in England and was eventually discussed in a gathering at the home of William Godwin, Mary Shelley’s father. It is believed that young Mary overheard the story, and the rest is literary history.

There is no shortage of inspiration for writers and artists. One need only watch the news or look closer at events in our past. It makes me wonder what is happening right now that could spark the next great masterpiece.

Click here to read the article online.

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