Monday, July 02, 2007

Score One For The Nazis!

From Today's Guardian U.K.:

"This Sunday a smoking ban comes into force. In 1950 Richard Doll and Austin Bradford Hill published a preliminary 'case-control study' - where you gather cases of lung cancer, and find similar people who don't have the disease, and compare the lifestyle risk factors between the groups - which showed a strong relationship with smoking. The British Doctors Study in 1954, looking at 40,000 people, confirmed the finding.

You wouldn't know it, but the Nazis beat them to it. The Germans had identified a rise in lung cancer as early as the 1920s, but they had suggested - quite reasonably - that it might be related to exposure to poison gas in the great war. In the UK, Doll and Bradford Hill were wondering if it might be related to tarmac, or petrol. Then, during the 1930s, identifying toxic threats in the environment became an important feature of the Nazi project to build a master race through 'racial hygiene'.

In 1943 two researchers, Schairer and Schöniger, published their own case-control study in the journal Zeitschuft für Krebsforschung, demonstrating a relationship between smoking and lung cancer almost a decade before any researchers elsewhere. It wasn't mentioned in the classic Doll and Bradford Hill paper of 1950, and if you check in the Science Citation Index, the paper was referred to only four times in the 1960s, once in the 1970s, and then not again until 1988. In fact, it was forgotten."

It's not hard to understand why: Nazi scientific and medical research was so bound up in the horrors of cold-blooded mass murder, and the strange puritanical ideologies of nazism, that it was almost universally disregarded, and with good reason.

Interesting in light of the on-going Warming Wars. I've been hard on Landscheidt for being an Astrologer and Nils-Axel Mörner for being a "water witch", and I suppose you could argue that I should be paying attention to "the data, not the author", but I think there is a difference between embracing a bizarre (and evil) ideology and embracing a pseudo-science. Ideology and Science, I would argue, operate at different conceptual levels that seldom directly interact. Whereas thinking about Astrology and Climate Science employ, as it were, the same part of the brain, and if you embrace the former then this argues against the trustworthiness of your reasoning faculties as they apply to the latter.

(Note I would exempt from this criticism someone like Newton, who wrote extensively on Alchemy, or anyone in the 1920s, 30s, and 40s, who embraced Freudianism, because at the historical points in question it was not obvious that these forms of thought had become dead ends.)

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Nazi research should never be cited or used. When unethical scientific methods are used the data is unreliable and therefore the studies should be disregarded. This is true even if their findings later prove to be correct. This even could only be random chance. The NAzi's did a lot of "research". None of it is usable as anything but a template of how not to do scientific research.

S.B.

Red Tory said...

I guess no one told the Americans that after the war when they recruited Nazi scientists to work on weapons development. Should we ignore their research into alternative fuels as well?

Anonymous said...

SB you're just completely wrong.

lexington said...

BigCityLib wrote:

(Note I would exempt from this criticism someone like Newton, who wrote extensively on Alchemy, or anyone in the 1920s, 30s, and 40s, who embraced Freudianism, because at the historical points in question it was not obvious that these forms of thought had become dead ends.)

Uh, sorry, but that's a cop out.

In the 1930s it wasn't apparent racial hygiene (or fascism, at that) was a dead end either. Indeed many jurisdictions in North America and Scandinavia (especially) embraced sterilization as a legitimate means of preventing the propogation of bad genes, and the Nazis hardly had a monopoly on racism. The World War II US military was openly racist, for example.