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Research Ethics and Professionalism on the Line: A Critical Analysis of Rockefeller Foundation Support of Neurosciences in Nazi Europe, 1933-1945January 5, 2023
The Nazi movement, heavily rooted in eugenics, caused the persecution and exile of hundreds of neuroscientists. Additionally, eugenic research took place in Nazi Germany with the motivation of improving the so-called "German race" through elimination of hereditary neurological diseases. With the advent of illegal killing of neuropsychiatric patients after World War II started, those patients could be used unethically as research subjects. Thus, neuroscience was at the heart of immoral and unethical activities in Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1945. The Rockefeller Foundation (RF) supported at least twenty exiled academic neuroscientists who either had prior RF support, or who showed "merit" to justify their being awarded limited funds to restart their careers abroad. The RF also supported eugenic neuroscientific research in Nazi Germany (and Denmark) despite escalating racial persecution in pre-war Germany. Some RF funds went to an institute which was also funded by the elite Nazi paramilitary group, the SS. And, an initially RF-funded project, a monkey farm in Würzburg, was used in unethical experiments to prove the cause of multiple sclerosis (MS) with subjects targeted for killing. Overall, the RF walked a fine line between supporting some victims of Nazi persecution, while ironically continuing to fund some neuroscientific research that could be linked to their persecution in the first place, or to destruction of neuropsychiatric patients. While supporting academic refugees was laudable, there was an undercurrent of supporting "best science" without regard for the ethical implications, from which current neuroscientists and others can learn valuable lessons.
During several visits to the Rockefeller Archive Center (RAC) in 2017 and 2018, I viewed papers from a handful of collections which provided perspective on the early history of the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER). In my book project, tentatively titled Mapping the Future. A Euro-American History of Business Forecasting, 1920-1980, I investigate the history of four economic forecasting tools that have been developed, disseminated, and applied in the United States, in Europe, and beyond. One of them, leading indicators, was originally developed at the NBER in the 1930s and remains, till today, one of the most prominent forecasting tools worldwide. In what follows, I offer an overview of my book project and outline the history of the formation of the NBER. In it, I make extensive references to the sources of the Rockefeller Archive Center, which provide the most profound insights into the early history of the NBER.
This project examines the phenomenon of intellectual relief in Europe following the end of the First World War. Intellectual relief is defined as aid that was specifically aimed at intellectuals and cultural institutions and constituted not only food and medicine, but also specialist reading material and equipment. My project aims to establish why intellectuals were targeted for bespoke relief and what philanthropic and humanitarian bodies, such as the Rockefeller Foundation, Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial, and Commonwealth Fund, sought to achieve by it. It also poses the question of who the "intellectuals" were and how they were identified. In a wider sense, my research will provide a new means of understanding how Europe transitioned from war to peace and how contemporaries sought to build stable democratic states.
I am working on a history of the psychiatric profession in the United States during the long twentieth century – roughly speaking from 1900 to the present. Any such history must perforce take account of the enormous role the Rockefeller Foundation (RF) played in shaping developments in the middle decades of this century. Though Rockefeller support for some aspects of psychiatry began in the nineteen-teens and –twenties (for example with support for the work of Thomas Salmon at the National Committee on Mental Hygiene, and as part of the more general support for the Institute of Human Relations at Yale), at the beginning of the 1930s, psychiatry was elevated to the major focus of the Medical Sciences division of the Rockefeller Foundation, and under Alan Gregg, the RF poured resources into both supporting individual researchers in the field, and underwriting academic departments to upgrade the training of future generations of psychiatrists.
This research report is part of my dissertation project, "Creating the Well-Adjusted Citizen: The Human Sciences and Public Schools in the United States, WWI - 1950," which examines the ideas of psychological adjustment and shifting meanings of the "well-adjusted citizen" in the human sciences and in public schools. The goal of the dissertation is to explore the implications of adjustment thinking upon the scrutiny of emotional fitness among its citizenry in the United States. This report focuses specifically on how human scientists and educators approached the interpretation or measurement of personality in the interwar years. I argue that within scientific constructions of personality, there existed two tendencies: one sought to quantify and standardize personality into separable traits or measurable quotient; the other treated personality as a dynamic and holistic process in the context of individuals' interactions with culture. Both tendencies bore epistemological and political implications in the history of psychology and schooling. Ultimately, the ways in which experts and educators conceptualized personality shaped ideas of human differences and functioned to reinforce hierarchical understandings of human nature.
Every day, millions of Americans prick their fingertips, feed blood into a glucose meter, and adjust their diet in a ritual to stay healthy. This is the diabetic way of life, what many older diabetics call having the "sweet blood." And it has become an American way of life, affecting about one in ten people with rates among minorities and the poor in double-digit percentages. The complications are serious and deadly—neuropathy, blindness, cardiovascular disease, and renal failure—with total costs around $245 billion for 2014 alone. Dr. Frank Vinicor, former American Diabetes Association president, has called diabetes "the Rodney Dangerfield of diseases": expensive to treat, hard to manage, and easy to ridicule.
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