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Review: The Treatment

book cover

Martha Stephens’ “The Treatment”

This is a difficult book for me to review for many reasons. I grew up in and around Cincinnati. Cincinnati history was the topic of my capstone paper for my BA in history a few years ago. A class on medical history by a great professor at Miami University hooked me on the topic. After graduation I took to researching Cincinnati’s Dr. Daniel Drake, 1785-1852. I read everything I could to learn about the state of medicine and how it advanced during his life of practicing and teaching medicine. There were a few histories I only read the parts that covered up to the end of his life but there were some that really grabbed my interest that I read cover to cover. Harriet Washington’s “Medical Apartheid” was one of those. That is where I first heard about the Department of Defense funded radiation experiments performed in Cincinnati University Hospital from 1960 until 1972 and where I first heard of Martha Stephen’s book “The Treatment: the story of those who died in the Cincinnati radiation experiments”. It took many months for me to put my hands on a copy and I grew more eager to read it as more time passed.

I was only a few dozen pages into the book before I turned to the appendix listing all the research subjects, my grandmother had died quickly of cancer in 1973. I was happy to see that her name was not among the human guinea pigs selected for “treatment”. The author, Martha Stephens, was involved in much of the fight to expose the radiation program to the public, first as a member of the Junior Faculty Association that brought the program to the attention of the entire University of Cincinnati, not simply a few members of the medical school. (By the way, I have to point out that both the university and the medical school were founded by Dr. Daniel Drake.) Later she worked with the families of the research subjects, helping find them and helping them publicize their lawsuit. Because she was involved in the events some of the book reads like a memoir and the more she talked about herself the more I began to understand that she had been my English professor at UC’s Evening College back in the late 1970s. That, I think, is a full disclosure of my biases over this book. I feel very connected to the story, in some small way I am. I was over eager to read the book. I feel a little protective of Dr. Drake’s school and hospital and, although my degree is from Miami University nearly half my credits were from UC.

I really expected to like this book. That could play into my disappointment with it. Professor Stephens teaches English, not history. The book is disorganized and at times is more of a memoir, covering events unconnected to the subject of the work, than anything else. One of the most blatant offenses to what historical training I have was when she put words into the victims attorney at the start of the hearings. Yes, she pointed out that the speech was what she wanted him to say but I was expecting a work of history, not a fantasy on what should have happened in the eyes of the, non-lawyer, author.

Stephens also falls into the trap that makes so much scholarly writing unintelligible, writing to prove possession of a PhD rather than to clearly and precisely pass on information. I am a college graduate who has been an avid reader for over half a century, why should I need to pull out a dictionary to unravel a sentence that simply says “the apartment was small and neat?” Occasionally a literary reference can be the best way to bring out shared experiences between the author and the readers but multiple references to multiple works on one page is simply egotism.

The last third of the book did start to put the story together in a historically valid way. Sort of anyway. There was still massive gaps in the information that seemed to be equal parts inability to do historical research and editorial blind spots. This is an important story. It concerns Cold War fears, the arrogance of medical researchers brought on by big grants and a God complex. Simply told the story is this, post Hiroshima and Nagasaki it was obvious that radiation was an invisible and mysterious factor soldiers in a nuclear war would have to contend with. After an exposure how could doctors triage their patients, which ones were walking dead men due to the radiation and which should the military spend valuable resources to treat? That is the question that the Department of Defense wanted answered when they funded the University of Cincinnati Medical School’s radiation experiments.

To answer that question the radiation lab selected cancer patients to be given massive doses of radiation in single exposure over their whole body. Exactly like a soldier near an atomic explosion would suffer. Then the doctors would collect and examine blood and urine samples looking for a tell tale marker they could use to determine exposure when the dosage was unknown, as on a battlefield. Other tests were often performed, after all how often do you get a patient exposed to a near lethal dose of radiation to study? Over the twelve years of the study 115 people were irradiated. They ranged in ages from 80 years old to only 9 years old. All were said to have terminal cancer but among the many types of cancer the patients were diagnosed with there were many of the solid tumor variety that it was well understood that whole body radiation was not effective against. The patients were not told this. They were simply told that they were being taken for a “treatment”. They were not told that it could be deadly. They were not told that it was a Department of Defense study. They were not told that the doctors did not expect the patients to get any benefit from the “treatment”. To be fair they were not told that there might be a benefit. Approximately 1 in 4 patients would die within 60 days of the treatment, some that were living normal, active lives up to the day of the treatment.

Over the years various members of the university’s research board would question the program, what was its goal? Was it ethical? The objections would abruptly end for reasons unknown to Stephens until the Junior Faculty Association, which Stephens was a member of, got wind of the “treatments” and investigated. Their objections were handled quietly within the university and the program was stopped and buried.

Nearly twenty years later a woman working at the hospital, transcribing records of an old research project, came across her aunts name. She was listed as a subject, something the family never knew about. Her curiosity led to a multi-year legal action against the university, the city, the doctors, and the federal government that included a historic decision that repeatedly referenced the Nuremberg Code, a code of behavior developed by the Allies after the war crimes trials of World War Two that were to offer guidance on performing medical research without committing war crimes, sometimes referred to as crimes against humanity. According the the doctors of the UC Hospital radiation experiments the only ethical standards in existence when the study began, in 1960, were written for the ethical treatment of animals.

There is a story here that needs a good historian to bring it out. Unfortunately Stephens “The Treatment” only scratches the surface.

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Review: Engaging with History in the Classroom The Civil Rights Movement

Rockwell's "The problem we all live with"

Rockwell’s “The problem we all live with”

Janice Robbins and Carol Tieso’s book “The Civil Rights Movement” is part of the “Engaging with History in the Classroom” series that provides outlines to help classroom teachers present eras of American history When I requested to review the book through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer program I expected a textbook, not a lesson plan. I am not a teacher, never have been and, at the grade level this book is for I never want to be. I did recently earn a degree in history and have been studying American history for a long time. Since I am not even sure if I understand the exact definition of the word “pedagogy” I will do my best to evaluate only the parts of the book that I can. The authors both teach new educators about working with “gifted students”. I can comment on that aspect of the book. I was once considered a “gifted” student, before anyone knew how to deal with us.

Of the six key concepts listed, concept development, critical thinking, discussion, recognizing historical perspective, historical inquiry, and assessment I feel comfortable talking about only three. Critical thinking is the most important skill that a citizen can develop and I am happy to see it as a goal in middle school education. In past discussions instructors told me that even high school students were too young to master critical thinking. I am glad to see that it introduced this early. No one can master a skill until they start practicing.

Historical perspective is difficult for anyone to master. It requires understanding the history that led up to the time in question and understanding the then existing culture. At times I felt that the book was failing to impart the information needed for the students to gain a historical perspective of the United States in the 1950s and 60s but then I considered that this was just one in a series of US history lessons and some of the necessary background would be in earlier modules. Also, this is for middle school students. They have only had a little over a decade to study the world. This class is by default an introduction and does what it can to give students the background needed to understand how people lived and why they did what they did.

I feel most comfortable talking about historical inquiry. Robbins and Tieso do an excellent job of exposing students to different types of historical documents. From the start students are examining photos, news clippings, listening to narratives and “freedom music”. Lesson two has them compare photos of two schools from South Carolina in 1950, one for white and one for black students and asks which they would prefer to attend. Is there a better way to introduce critical thinking? They read and discuss both the “Statement from Alabama Clergymen” and Dr. King’s response, the “Letter from Birmingham Jail”. The only resources offered to the students that I was uncomfortable with was the reading list, almost all historical fiction. That concerned me but again, I am not an educator, I have not read any of the suggested books and I have to trust that the authors did and that they chose books that lack the errors inherent to historical fiction written for an adult audience. I hope that any teacher using this in the classroom points out the difference in primary and secondary sources, the flaws of each, and explains that photos, music, paintings, sculpture, artifacts of everyday life as well as written documents are valid historical evidence.

There are two more important features to each of the twelve lessons that I want to mention. “Important Terms and Ideas” is a feature I would welcome in most of the non-fiction I read, short, simple explanation of terms that might be unfamiliar. As much as I like the idea the execution was flawed. Starting in lesson one with “prejudice: a bias that keeps someone from being fair”. Is someone unfamiliar with “prejudice” going to be familiar enough with “bias” to use it in a definition? Later, in lesson five, we find the term segregation but only after four lessons on Brown v Board and segregated schools? I feel that the “Terms and Ideas” would have benefited from more attention. I do realize that I am picking at nits here but there are only so many terms defined and they should all be helpful.

The “Hook” is, in my opinion, the best feature of the lessons. Most of my time in school I spent in the back of the class reading. Not my textbooks but not always fiction. Most lectures I thought were boring or were on subjects I had already read about. If the class started with a hook sharp enough to catch my attention I might have paid attention. I might have learned a little more from the class. Each lesson here features a hook. Some are much better than others. Some I am sure would have grabbed my attention and hooked me into participating. I had to chuckle at the instructions for one, listen to and discuss a recording of “The Times They Are A Changin”. The instructions are to hand out copies of the lyrics. How could anyone be expected to understand Dylan’s vocals? The “Hooks” are, in my opinion, some of the best feature of the book.

Given the grades that the book focused on and the fact that is started with Brown V Board I was concerned that the violence used against the Civil Rights Movement would be glossed over. We, as a society, are protective about exposing children to violence, the real stuff, not movie mayhem. Then I saw that one work of art offered to teachers was Norman Rockwell’s painting Murder in Mississippi. It is a great choice. There are so many question that the illustration asks. Who are these three young men? What is happening to them? Whose shadows do we see? Why are those people hidden? Rockwell’s illustration, “The Problem We All Live With”, which I have used here, is the first one used in the lesson and is less threatening. It is a powerful painting in its own right but I hope teachers point out to their students that Rockwell was a beloved artist whose work was best known to celebrate American, not to point out problems. An important part of historical inquiry is to know your sources.

I am not a teacher, but I have children and grandchildren, and I believe that the lesson plans in this book would grab their attention, even of the ones who are, lets say less than ideal students, and that I am confident that they would improve their critical thinking skills and expose them to “doing history”.

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Review: The remarkable education of John Quincy Adams

Book cover of The Education of John Quincy Adams

The Education of John Quincy Adams

Phyllis Levin’s “The remarkable education of John Quincy Adams” is a detailed look at the life and family of our sixth president from his childhood through serving as ambassador to Russia during the War of 1812 and Napoleon’s invasion of Russia. John Quincy’s time as Secretary of State, as President and in Congress doing his best to assault the “peculiar institution” of slavery, is still ahead of him. These are the years, according to Levin’s title, when John Quincy receives his “remarkable education.”

During the early decades of the United State’s existence it was very common for people to keep journals, diaries. Thanks to the Adams family observation of this popular pastime and their, and their ancestors, digilant preservation of letters, provided Levin with a wealth of primary documentation to work with. At one point she even mentions what John Quincy had for dinner, as a demonstration of the wealth of resources available, not from any compulsion for completeness. The family journals and letters, along with the standard documents related to his and his father’s government service, provided Levin detailed insight on John Quincy’s public, personal and private lives.

My real interest in John Quincy Adams lies in his work in Congress, after his time in the White House and long after the events of this book. Still, Levin kept me interested. Her writing is excellent, nothing about the book is dry and scholastic except the quality of the research. I think any one interested in the Adams family, the early history of the United States, or of its diplomats will be interested in this book.

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Book Review: How to Lie with Statistics

Book cover

How to Lie With Statistics

For a book to remain in print for fifty years it must be good. This one was originally published in 1954 and, as far as I can tell, has been in print ever since. A book less than 150 pages long, generously seeded with amusing cartoons is not what you would expect to find on a graduate school reading list but that is exactly where I learned about this one. Darrell Huff and illustrator Irving Geis produced a little marvel with their book “How to Lie with Statistics”. As Huff points out early in the book a cat-burglar who writes a how-to memoir in prison does not do it for other cat-burglars. They already know how to burgle. The intended audience is people who do not want to be burgled, or, in the case of this book, lied to.

Huff is careful to spread the blame for lying statistics widely, overeager researchers, poor information gathering by statisticians, advertising people willing to apply lipstick of any color to their pig, journalists looking for a marketable story. The fact that most of these lies are “true” is not ignored. For me the most memorable story he uses to make this clear is the restaurateur who explains his rabbit-burger is 50% rabbit, he mixes it in a 1 to 1 ratio with horse-meat. One rabbit to one horse.

After nine chapters of explaining how easy it is for statistics, charts, graphs, and percentages to lie the last chapter makes a serious attempt to explaining how we can avoid being lied to by asking a few simple questions like, who says so, how does he know, what’s missing, and does it make sense. As Huff points out it is important to be able to detect these lies, not just because of misleading advertisements but because we have elections every few years.

As an amateur historian who is just a few years younger than this book I have to admit I enjoyed the window into the past that the many cartoons offered. Yes, we really dressed and smoked like that. The books age was a little disconcerting when Huff dissected an article about the income of the “average” Yale graduate. Going to Yale hardly seemed worth the $25,000 income it offered until I ran it through an inflation calculator, then it made sense. This book is one of the most informative and fun books I have read in a long, long time. It was informative not because I know nothing about statistics, I do, it was informative because neither of the classes I have taken on statistics covered how easy it is to miss-use or misunderstand exactly what it is the numbers say. If you do not like being lied to, consider reading this book.

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Review: Western College for Women

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Western College for Women

Jacqueline Johnson’s book Western College for Women was a quick read. Before I start singing its praises, which I will get to, I want to disclose the facts that could bias my opinion. First, I live in Oxford Ohio the home of Western College and have a history degree from Miami University where Ms Johnson worked as the Rare Books Librarian. She is now the Western College archivist which I am sure helped her with this book. Second, she has worked with my wife on projects for the university. Now those are not my reasons for reading the book. I love local history, the past is most alive when you stand where it happened. I am interested in the history of education. In fact I have Narka Nelson’s 1954 book “The Western College for Women, 1853-1953”, which Johnson mentions, on my bookshelf but for some reason I have not yet read it. One reason could be that it stops short of what I considered the most interesting aspect of Western College’s story. Training the volunteers for Freedom Summer, another of my interests.

Western College for Women first held classes in 1853. It is hard to see even western Ohio as “the West” today but remember that ten years later the Civil War “Army of the West” consisted of soldiers from Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. Today Oxford is in the country, then it was in the wilderness, a college town carved out of beech groves in 1809. Johnson shows us the college as it develops and expands over the decades. I mean she literally shows us. The book has well over two hundred photographs coupled with informative captions all collected and written by Johnson. At first it surprised me that there was not more text. Johnson shows us the primary document, the photograph of the person, place, event, as it happened. This is good history.

Sometimes the picture is more persuasive than mere words. On page 34 we have a photo from 1891 of the Volunteer Band of the International Movement for Foreign Missionaries and the caption mentions “Lucy Dunlap from Thailand”. Without the photo we could assume that Lucy Dunlap was an expatriate’s daughter sent home to study. Thanks to the photo we see that regardless of the Western name we have real intercultural exchange happening here. I was in high school when Title 9 went into effect and I suffered under the impression that women’s athletics dated from then. This book showed me just how wrong I was. Another unexpected bit of history involves the stonework that is perhaps the most distinctive part of the Western campus, the stone work. Eleven bridges, an outdoor theater and the fireplace in the Western Lodge were all done by the same man’s company, African American stonemason Cephas A. Burns. As impressive as Burns stonework is even 100 years later I did not expect that a woman’s college in south west Ohio would hire an African-American contractor. Good history points out the unexpected. I found many unexpected facts in this short book.

Johnson organized the book by the terms of college presidents. The pictures show us the people and major events, as well as the changing reality of college life. Students rode around campus in horse drawn carriages, they rode bicycles to the next town six miles away, they protested for visiting privileges for their male friends. Johnson has put together an excellent selection of photographs and did the research to necessary to write informative captions. The fact that Lucy Dunlap founded the Satriwithaya School in Bangkok or that when the board of trustees approved Freedom Summer organizers use of the campus they specified it was for one time only were not found written on the back of the photograph or on the negatives envelope. Johnson had to research these facts and find a way to included them. A lot of thought and research in this book that is so well done that it looks simple. If you look closely you will even find a photo of 1962 Western graduate Donna Shalala, President Bill Clinton’s Secretary of Health and Human Services. If I were to look harder I might find Ameerah Haq, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for the Department of Field Support and a Western graduate. Maybe not. Western had to many important alumni to show them all in such a short book.

After reading Johnson’s book I am motivated to read Narka Nelson’s more detailed book but now I know that there is an updated edition that covers ten more years of Western College’s history. Now I think I need to hunt it down. This book should interest anyone who wants an introduction to the history of higher education in the United States, in particular women’s education. I am confidant that anyone who reads it will have at least one “I didn’t know that” moment. I did not learn if participating in Freedom Summer was what brought about the schools closing ten years later. That is something that won’t appear in a photograph. Only close examination of the financial records would show the truth about that.

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Review: The Shriver Report

The Shriver Report

The Shriver Report

When I saw a chance or review Maria Shriver’s new book, The Shriver report : a woman’s nation pushes back from the brink : a study I jumped at the chance. I also seem to have set my expectations about what the book would be like. My disappointment with the work is based more on its failure to meet my expectations than any failure of the book or it’s many contributors. There was nothing in the book that I disagreed with. There was some information that was new to me. The Shriver Report is a good safe study of the state of affairs women face in the United States today.
That all could be part of my disappointment. I pay attention to current events and politics but I am not a student of feminism. I expected to learn much more. I expected well reasoned and well researched essays. There were several of those but they were far outnumbered by 2, 4, and 6 page essays. Forgive me for saying it but essays that short, especially when the ratio of word to illustration is considered, cannot possibly achieve the depth required to impart understanding. They seemed to simply be shouts of “Amen!” following the longer more detailed pieces.
It surprised me that there was nothing I disagreed with. I am a male approaching sixty years old and I was raised in a conservative rural section of the country. I may be a liberal but I expect that a study like this should come up with ideas that would at least make me uncomfortable. My lack of discomfort is why I think the report was too safe. With all the discussion of pay inequality there was no mention of the historical American quest for cheap labor. Unions were only mentioned in the past tense. Why? I have seen “Norma Rae” and “The Pajama Game”, women and unions do mix.

In spited of the fact the my inflated expectations were not totally met this is an interesting work. It gives a realistic view of the economic cliff that many families today teeter on and is worth the time to read.

 

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The 5 Questions

Socrates photo by Juan P. Aparicio

Socrates
photo by Juan P. Aparicio

What can I know?

Why am I here?

What am I?

How should I behave?

What is to become of me?

I recently started reading a book by Dr. Christopher DiCarlo on critical thinking. I try to explain the topic before giving the title because it could be misinterpreted, “How to Become a Really Good Pain in the Ass: A Critical Thinker’s Guide to Asking the Right Questions”. So far the book is interesting and the author’s lighthearted approach to the difficult subject is a big plus. (Coursera’s class Think Again: How to Reason and Argue takes the same approach) DiCarlo starts off with these questions because to “know thyself” is basic to understanding why we believe what we do.

So to answer the first question, what can I know, what can we be absolutely, positively, 100% sure of, the simple answer is – not much. While studying history I came to understand that everyone is biased, everyone who writes anything has some bias that may or may not affect what they are writing. In addition there are more records in archives than any one person can look at in a lifetime. Our ideas about what happened in the past is constantly changing, usually improving, as more data on any given subject is found. Not all the new data comes from archives, some comes from research done in fields outside of history. Science sometimes explains what the written records cannot. So, we can’t know anything we read with absolute certainty.

If you watched the television program House you know that, as Dr. Gregory House says, “everybody lies”. Thanks to the same biases that prevent us from being sure of anything written we are unable to trust anything anybody says. I have never heard anyone say anything bad about my mother but is she said that she read my blog and loved everything I wrote I am not sure I could believe her.

Have you ever seen a magic act? If so then you understand why we cannot believe everything we see. But what can we “know”? Math? Is 2+2=4 even if your name is Winston Smith and it is the end of the book? I think so. II and II is IIII. But statistics are math and everybody knows that as Mark Twain said there are, “Lies, damn lies, and statistics” so how can we trust math? Back in 1954 Darrell Huff wrote a little book filled with a lot of silly little illustrations titled “How to Lie with Statistics” in which he demonstrated that lying statistics are designed to do that. Sometimes accidentally, sometimes intentionally. If you asked dentists “do you recommend Crest toothpaste? it is a leading question. If you do it at a Procter & Gamble shareholders meeting it is downright dishonest. If you announced that Mitt Romney was going to win the last election after polling subscribers to the Wall Street Journal your math was not your problem, you “random sampling” was.

We can trust mathematics and math based science that offers reproducible results but there is one more hiccup. As much math as I have studied, and I have taken a lot of math classes, that was years ago and I have forgotten or misremember much of it. So how can I know if the math I am seeing is accurate or error filled?

There is the real problem, none of us are experts in everything. We have to carefully evaluate our sources of information against our own standards for truth. Personally I want my facts as close to the truth as humanly possible. Which is why I am reading yet another book on critical thinking skills.

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