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Beginning in 1914, the Rockefeller Foundation's International Health Commission (which became the International Health Board in 1916 and the International Health Division in 1927) committed itself to the project of eradicating yellow fever. Its efforts were modeled on the sanitary techniques deployed by US sanitarians in Havana in 1901 and, more importantly, during the construction of the Panama Canal between 1904 and 1914, with mosquito control preeminent among them. William C. Gorgas, who led these campaigns and then came to work for the Rockefeller Foundation, argued for a key center approach to yellow fever eradication that targeted the remaining urban endemic foci of infection, with the assumption that once these seed beds of the disease were eliminated, yellow fever would fade from the planet. But as the IHB conducted campaigns in South America, Central America, and West Africa during the late 1910s and 1920s, they discovered that yellow fever's ecology and epidemiology were more complicated than they had assumed, and that a "key center" approach would not work to eradicate the disease. By the 1930s, and particularly with Fred Soper's discovery of sylvan or jungle yellow fever, the Rockefeller Foundation gave up on their eradicationist dream.
Planned or by Accident? The Inception of the Chinese Materia Medica Research Program at the Peking Union Medical CollegeApril 17, 2023
This report chronicles the events that led to the inception of the Chinese materia medica (CMM) research program at the Peking Union Medical College (PUMC). Dozens of herbal drugs were investigated during the decade after the program was conceived in 1921, including ma-huang, from which ephedrine, an anti-asthmatic drug of global impact, was isolated in 1924. The program was primarily born out of a serendipitous intersection of two independent pursuits by Dr. Ralph G. Mills and Mr. Bernard E. Read, two PUMC faculty members, of their interests in CMM, instead of a preconceived grander aim or strategy by the institution or by any visionary. The establishment of the program, however, was the result of pragmatic handling of personnel and administrative issues by the China Medical Board (CMB)'s key decisionmakers, who accepted the seemingly plausible scientific value and various utilitarian promise of CMM and were open to its research at the PUMC.The discovery of ephedrine is the most celebrated scientific achievement from the CMM research program, and one of the few highlights of Chinese science during the entire Republican Era. Reconstructing the origin of the program will hopefully place this highly acclaimed scientific event in an accurate historical context and enable the construction of a non-whiggish historiographical narrative.
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.
Based on primary sources from the Rockefeller Archive Center, this research report examines the leading American tropical medicine specialist Ernest Carroll Faust's initial career choice to go to Rockefeller-sponsored Peking Union Medical College in the early 20th century. It argues that Faust accepted the position and introduced a medical-zoological-based tropical medicine to China mainly because of his own career ambitions and his mentor Henry Ward's ardent promotion of this new field, within the Rockefeller Foundation's expanding global network. With this case study, my report also challenges the current dominant model which treats tropical medicine as colonial medicine.
This report provides draft excerpts from my PhD dissertation titled "The Inaudible Sounds of Science and Medicine: Animals and Media from the Galton Whistle to Bat Echolocation," a chapter of which explores the laboratory work of Donald R. Griffin – and especially the emergence of the concept of bat echolocation – as it contributed to a sonic history of "ultrasound" and other typologies of liminal sound vibrations. Such "inaudible sounds" repeatedly defied amplification (efforts to make them louder); their frequencies were too high or too low to vibrate the human eardrum. But humans have long suspected that insects, bats, dogs, and other animals could hear them and communicate through them. The following research on bat echolocation in the Griffin laboratory is one aspect of a much more comprehensive historical project, which platforms nonhuman listeners in 19th- and 20th-century experimental contexts as they repeatedly pushed the limitations of human hearing. Broadly speaking, the dissertation suggests that animal figures are useful vectors for exploring an expanded history of sounds, including high-pitched frequencies, in science and medicine. My objective is to better understand how scientists designed media and choreographed animal listeners in order to make meaning from the sounds they could not hear on their own. I am most invested in understanding how humans exploited, collaborated with, and coexisted with animals to make sense of the insensible – or, to understand the unheard bestial worlds of communication. In this report, I draw on material from the Donald R. Griffin Papers, held at the Rockefeller Archive Center, which includes a vast array of Griffin's laboratory notebooks, correspondences, sound films, newspaper clippings, and publications. The analysis spans the years between Donald Griffin's first experiment on bat navigation in the dark (1938) – conducted during his early graduate training years – and his postwar research on the physical principles of bat pulses into the 1960s. More specifically, I characterize the ways in which various forms of media were deployed in experimental settings to study bats and the inaudible sounds emitted by them for orienting their bodies in flight. Scientists and collaborators of the Griffin lab relied on an array of mixed media, from the sound transposing devices of Harvard physicist George W. Pierce, to mechanical-visual apparatuses such as cathode-ray oscillograms and sound spectrographs, through to hand-written laboratory notes and printed correspondences and – ultimately – the bats themselves, to answer their questions. Furthermore, I explore the epistemic techniques of listening for sound and silence in the Griffin laboratory, in which the ears and eyes of scientists interfaced with special acoustic media to produce certain knowledges about bats and their patterns of flight. This project also engages with the highly militarized scientific contexts that constituted Griffin's work on bat echolocation.
After submitting my doctoral thesis, I studied documents on public health research in colonial India at the Rockefeller Archive Center (RAC). The visit, from the end of September to early December 2019, allowed me to expand my research on medical infrastructure and sanitary regulations in colonial India. My thesis looked at the sanitary interventions by the British colonial state and Christian missionaries in British Indian port cities in the nineteenth century for protecting the health of European seamen. In my follow-up research, I wanted to explore the development of the study of health and disease in the twentieth century. The governance of public health in this phase was arguably driven by new explorations into bacteriology and virology in various institutes across India. The Rockefeller Foundation (RF) was substantially involved in many of these disease research centers as part of its global fight for public health. It was instrumental in establishing the All-India Institute of Hygiene and Public Health (AIIHPH). As a scoping study for my pile-up project on public health in the first half of the twentieth century, I read reports and correspondence regarding the planning and early years of the institute. I spent a highly fulfilling two months with the RAC, reading important documents on the RF's medical philanthropy and its role in shaping public health research in British India. The stint also enabled me to connect with researchers working on similar subjects.
Donald Redfield Griffin (1915-2003) was an American zoologist best known for his discovery of echolocation and for his later work on animal consciousness. He was a central figure in behavioral biology and sensory physiology in the United States, and he made important contributions to the disciplinary and intellectual development of animal behavior research in the second half of the twentieth century. During his early career, he focused on the sensory physiology of animal navigation. Along with fellow Harvard graduate student Robert Galambos (1914-2010), in the late 1930s, Griffin discovered the ultrasonic method of orientation in bats; in 1944, he coined the term "echolocation" to describe this phenomenon as a general method of perception. In addition to his discovery of echolocation, Griffin also made several contributions to understanding the physiological basis of bird migration and navigation, and he popularized in the United States zoologist Karl von Frisch's (1886-1982) dance language theory of the honeybee. In 1976, Griffin surprised the scientific world by raising the question of animal consciousness, a taboo in professional science for most of the twentieth century. Beginning with his provocative book, The Question of Animal Awareness (1976), Griffin devoted the second phase of his career to making animal consciousness a scientifically respectable topic once again. Here again, he made significant contributions to the study of animal behavior by establishing a new field of science, cognitive ethology, which is centered on the evolutionary and comparative analysis of consciousness and cognition in animal behavior.
The study of mosquito-borne diseases, such as yellow fever and malaria, promoted an important international cooperation effort throughout the twentieth century. These activities are already well represented by a historiography dedicated to the so-called field of Rockefeller Foundation studies. Scholars have looked at the International Health Division of the Rockefeller Foundation (IHDRF) in Brazil as one of the great promoters of this cooperation, which was frequently involved with a series of complex negotiations, setbacks, and controversies. On the other hand, few studies have explored the development of cooperation between Brazilian and American scientists regarding fieldwork and continuity of research related to medical entomology and the study of microorganisms transmitted by mosquitoes. I intend to explore how scientific cooperation between Brazilians and Americans continued in light of the many challenges. They pursued their research objectives, even after the end of the cooperative eradication campaigns promoted by IHDRF, which had specific objectives, delimited by budgets and defined steps. Such is the case with the Cooperative Yellow Fever Service (CYFS) and the Malaria Service of the Northeast (MSNE). My research has benefitted from the reports, articles, and publications found in the collections of the Rockefeller Archive Center (RAC) and has resulted in historical reflections on fundamental aspects of cooperation between researchers involved in IHDRF projects and on the history of mosquito-borne diseases. The research carried out at RAC has contributed to my publication of articles and important updates in a recently published book, and has also outlined plans for future projects.
This paper looks at the cooperation and rivalry between the Rockefeller Foundation and the French Pasteur Institute during the development of the 17-D and Dakar vaccine strains for inoculation against yellow fever. Using sources held at the Rockefeller Archive Center, this paper recovers the tenuous relationship between the researchers funded by the two institutions, and shows how their work was shaped by national, imperial, and scientific rivalries. In the race to the yellow fever vaccine, the Pastorians, in particular, utilized their imperial network, which allowed them to bypass ethical concerns raised by researchers in Paris and elsewhere, and proceeded to human trials using a vaccine that had been criticized for its adverse neurological effects on certain subjects.
In May 1963, Dr. Sheldon Segal convened a meeting of reproductive biologists at the Population Council's offices in New York City. He had called them there to consider "the possibility of concentrating efforts to increase fertility control research by means of establishing a large primate center in India." The proposal was an outgrowth of Segal's consultancy work for the Ford Foundation in New Delhi, and he was keen to pursue it. Segal regarded India – "a country with an abundant monkey supply" – as an ideal place to establish a cost-effective primate center for contraceptive research.
This paper examines the activities of Saiki Tadasu, a leading Japanese nutrition scientist of the early twentieth century. According to his American counterpart, Dr. Victor G. Heiser, Saiki's work was "of great benefit to the human race." Using a variety of sources in Japanese archives, the Rockefeller Archive Center, and the League of Nations Archives, this paper focuses on Saiki to explore Japan's role in the making of a global science of nutrition, and to map out an international network of intellectual cooperation and knowledge circulation on nutrition science during this period. Inspired by the work of Iris Borowy and Tomoko Akami, it illustrates a world of scientific knowledge-sharing about human well-being which extended geographically beyond the Atlantic world, and thematically beyond disease control. Following Saiki's lead, from 1900 to 1927, Japanese nutrition scientists contributed to growing public recognition of the importance of nutrition science and championed its global development.
This report provides an overview of the history of physics in Latin America through the intervention of the Rockefeller Foundation. It is mainly based on reports and correspondence located at the Rockefeller Archive Center, documenting the interaction of Rockefeller Foundation officers with Latin American physicists, providing insight into how these scientists represented themselves. It focuses on the policies of the Rockefeller Foundation behind its support for physics communities and institutions in Latin America from the 1940s to the 1960s. It provides a panoramic – but not exhaustive – view about how these orientations changed according to the group, the topic, and the geopolitical context.
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