Top 10 Banned Scientific Research Studies

Suggested by SMS

At the thought of banned scientific research the imagination runs wildly to tales of islands where dinosaurs have been reconstituted from rare DNA samples and a laboratory where children are shrunk by their father to the size of insects. Even if they are vaguely more realistic, many scientific research projects still incline us to ask, “Didn’t these people watch the X Files?” This list of the Top Ten Banned Scientific Research Studies includes the bizarre, the reckless and the politically insensitive and is intended to move from the tenth most important Banned Scientific Research Studies to the most disturbing.

10. Animal Testing

Without doubt the contemporary research practice that tugs most effectively on the heartstrings is that of Animal Testing or Animal Experimentation. It is especially abhorred when associated with the cosmetic industry, as it is seen to be causing suffering for the indulgent purpose of beautifying or pampering oneself. Yet, its banning is far from universal and, in some countries, a matter of little regard.

Fortunately, the European Commission has taken the lead in this matter and, in 2004, banned the testing of finished cosmetics on animals. By 2009, the EC had extended the ban to include ingredients or combinations of ingredients. Countries, such as Australia where no animal testing is done, lent their support to the cause by banning the importation of products that had been tested on animals.

Although the issue is not high on many lists as a banned scientific research study, it does rate highly in the emotional debate that often accompanies or inflames such matters. Extreme action taken by Animal Rights groups often testifies to this and the fanaticism associated can often draw a response from the most apathetic of observers.

9. Geoengineering Research

With the overwhelming tsunami of guilt and frustration that sweeps under the banner of Global Warming, it’s not surprising that scientists somewhere would offer a solution that combats the effects rather than addressing the cause. With a name that translates roughly to “manipulating mother nature”, Geoengineering appears to be the product of all those spoilt, and exceptionally clever, brats who used to argue, badger and twist the rules in any situation until they got their own way.

Their latest effort is to devise means by which man can alter the make-up of the environment, so that all this “rising sea level”, “deteriorating ozone layer” and “global warming” stuff won’t apply to them. One plan is to throw mountains of iron particles into the sea in areas that are iron-deficient. The hope is that this will promote the growth of phytoplankton in such quantities that the blooms will cover hundreds of square miles. The phytoplankton, as well as being a rich food source for marine life, will play a vital role in converting carbon dioxide into oxygen and reduce the prevalence of greenhouse gases.

Another theory would like to see futuristically designed ships with funnel like cannons that shoot seawater particles over three thousand feet into the atmosphere. Once there, the particles would create a cloud cover that would reflect sunlight and reduce the heating of the planet. Recent studies have shown that it will only need 1,900 of these vessels to stop the earth’s temperature increasing further.

There are many other Geoengineering solutions to climate change, including the installing of sunshades in space, which sound a little like something from the Simpsons really. What would happen if the cloud-spraying ships sailed across the phytoplankton bloom is messy to consider, maybe big green clouds of algae would drift inland and rain on the geoengineers parade. But it is the unknown nature of tampering with nature that has led the United Nations to ban research studies into the practice of Geoengineering. Perhaps they feel that the best way to convert carbon dioxide to oxygen and create shade would be to plant a tree.

8. Embryonic Stem Cell Research

There’s little surprise in finding the topic of embryonic stem cell research on such a list. However, it’s the outcry of lobby groups and political activists rather than the scientific community that has led to this research being regularly banned. The greatest concerns seem to lay in two main areas, the first being the fact that the stem cells are taken from a human embryo. While the researchers stress that these embryos are the offspring of test tubes only, there is a common concern that these embryos are being produced without respect for the humanity they could potentially become.

The second concern follows a similar line, in that many people are nervous about scientists playing with the building blocks of life. This may be borne of a genuine fear that such ventures into the realm of creation will make scientists arrogant and blind to the ethical implications of their work. It could also be that many of those protesting know that if the ability to discard the ugly and underachieving had been available forty to fifty years ago, they would probably never have made it to the birth canal.

Embryonic stem cell research has been banned in many countries, including the United States of America’s ban on funding for the research. Although the enormous potential for creating new cells to be used in the treatment of a range of debilitating conditions, including Parkinson’s Disease and Leukaemia, controversy rages. Nine of the fifteen nations in the European Union have banned the research and some countries, like the Us and Australia cannot find consensus, so research can continue in some states, but not in others.

7. Great Ape Research

Next time you’re sitting on a bus or stuck in a traffic jam or both, take a moment to look around and see if you can spot a Great Ape. Chances are, you won’t even recognize the one in the mirror next time you’re checking that you’re looking your best. As much as it sounds like a joke an aging uncle might play on you, the reality is that humans are classified as Great Apes.

This fact led a number of nations, including the entire European Union and New Zealand to ban scientific research that involves Orangutans, Gorillas, Chimpanzees and Bonobos. Such testing is considered unethical as these animals have been shown to be so cognitively close to humans that it’s almost like hooking up the electrodes to that same aging uncle.

Although some scientists have presented scenarios that might override these bans, the principle has been maintained. In spite of this, there are approximately 1,200 chimpanzees currently being provided with accommodation and meals in U.S. laboratories, as thanks for playing vital roles in the area of biomedical research.

In Austria, the authorities have even gone one step further than the rest of the E.U. and banned experimenting on gibbons, as well. But the Animal Rights activist could well be excused for asking if the only reason these animals have been shown such mercy is that they may resemble a relative. Why is it permissible to cause suffering as long as the victim doesn’t remind us of an old uncle of whom we’re particularly fond of?

6. Human Cloning

The discussion around the banning of research into cloning is continuously baffled by the distinction between human cloning and therapeutic cloning. While the former evokes images of the “Boys from Brazil” and “Joshua, Son Of None”, the latter entices scientists and health workers with the temptation of cloned cells, tissues and organs that could be introduced to a patient without fear of rejection or the need for immunosuppressive drugs.

Most, if not all, governing bodies faced with the dilemma have come to the same decision. Human cloning and research studies into human cloning are banned without compromise. While there are some that debate the matter through some administrative principle, for the most part the concerns are as stated in Dignitas Personae, a statement of Pope Benedict XVI. This makes the point that human cloning constitutes a “grave offense to the dignity of that person as well as to the fundamental equality of all people.”

However, the issue of therapeutic cloning is still a matter of debate. Some countries have taken the bold step of distinguishing between the two forms and refrained from banning scientific research into the latter. These have included the United Kingdom and Australia. The United States of America have tried on four occasions to pass a bill banning all cloning, but on each occasion, while human cloning is banned without great contention, therapeutic cloning has remained the point at which consensus cannot be reached.

While Dolly, the cloned sheep, may have excited the scientific world with the possibility of cloning on a larger scale, the ban on scientific research studies into the human applications of this technology continue to thwart those that would lead us to our own “Brave New World”.

5. Tuskegee Syphilis Study

While it may be encouraging to note that the banning of research studies into the Great Apes occurred because it was too much like testing on humans, it is equally disturbing to learn that it is only through the National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioural Research that regulations regarding testing on humans have been developed. This has effectively banned secret scientific research studies like the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, the discovery of which led to the establishment of the Commission.

In order to study the nature and effects of syphilis, the U.S. Public Health Service in Macon County, Alabama, instigated a study observe the progress and phases of the disease when left untreated. Six hundred African-American men unknowingly took part in the study, almost two thirds of them suffering latent syphilis. The identity of the disease was kept hidden through the low socioeconomic status of the participants and the high level of illiteracy. Even when members of the study group enlisted in the Armed Forces during World War II, the government conspired with the study organisers to see that they were not treated for the disease directly.

While all six hundred men were provided with adequate health care in all other aspects of their lives, the treatment of “Bad Blood”, a euphemism for syphilis, was governed by the study organisers. By 1972, when the study was exposed, twenty-eight men had died of the disease, a hundred others had perished through related complications and at least forty wives were infected, along with nineteen children who had been born with the disease.

Reparation was made by the government at a rate of less than a thousand dollars for every year of the study, but at least the sufferers could be consoled by the fact that this form of secret scientific research study was banned.

4. Stanley Milgram Experiment (1961)

While the Tuskegee Syphilis Study was notable as a study that neglected to inform the participants of their involvement, Stanley Milgram’s Obedience Experiment or “Shock” study gained notoriety far more openly. The work was completely transparent in all regards, save the use of an actor as the “Learner” in the experiment. However, the ethical fallout of the experiment led to the banning of unauthorised scientific research involving human subjects.

It must be acknowledged that Stanley Milgram’s work was focussed on explaining one of the most difficult psychological problems of the twentieth century. It was devised to gain an understanding of the behaviour of the soldiers who participated in the atrocities of the Holocaust. To this end, he enlisted the service of forty men and instructed them that they, as the “Teacher”, would be administering electric shocks to the “Learner” each time they submitted a wrong answer. The shocks would begin at thirty volts and continue in increments of fifteen volts to a maximum of 400 volts. However, once each experiment began, the “Authority” would instruct the “Teacher” to continue giving the shocks despite the requests from the “Learner” to cease.

In preparing the experiment and assembling the participants, it was anticipated that only 2% to 3% would follow the instructions of the “Authority” once the “Learner” had made clear that they no longer wanted to continue. Disturbingly, rather than the one or two out of forty participants that this was expected to uncover, 65% of the participants conceded to follow the orders of the “Authority” figure.

While there is much that is unsettling about Milgram’s experiment, the response of banning unauthorised scientific research studies was profound. The “shock” study left a huge proportion of its subjects with psychological scars from the trauma involved and led to the establishing of an Institutional Review Board in every university in the United States which brought a new level of ethical responsibility to the psychological research.

3. Studies into race and intelligence

In a world that seems determined to deny any subject the right of moral or ethical taboo, the very mention of a study into the link between race and intelligence can see liberals and free-thinkers scuttle for cover. In some regards their desperation to declare the subject off-limits almost suggests that they think there is something to find with which they don’t want to deal.

The potential to attract widespread disdain by suggesting that all races aren’t the same beneath the skin seems to outweigh any foreseeable benefit of further study. The consideration that races may have evolved to have intelligences and attributes that met the needs of the environment in which they developed does, to those who try to see the issue in the black and white of scientific rigour, almost Darwinian.

But, it would seem that the God-fearing people in power are happier offending creationists than the racist-fearing people in power are of offending a political majority.

2. Galileo

Commonly our thoughts of banned scientific research studies run to experiments of the twentieth century or later, where the process involved cruel or controversial practices. But one of the most notable bans to be place on scientific research was characterized more by the cruel practices employed to enforce the ban. Gallileo and his support of a Copernican view of the universe came into conflict with the Catholic Church in the seventeenth century and the ban placed on this research by the Church was enforced through the powers of the Inquisition.

The observations and subsequent research carried out by Gallileo into the heliocentric nature of the world offended the biblical account of creation which positioned the Earth at the centre of the universe. This was an Aristotelian philosophy as well as a biblical one and the Church judged that, on the basis of these two authorities, it was right to dismiss Copernicus’ heliocentric proposal.

However, when Galileo wrote to Madame Christina of Lorraine, the Grand Duchess of Tuscany, regarding the use of the Bible as a source of scientific knowledge, he attracted the attention and disdain of the Church. He was banned from teaching, defending or even discussing the Copernican view.

Sometime later, Galileo published a book that further supported the Copernican view. This brought him into further conflict with the church and, under threat of torture and death, Galileo recanted swearing that he would “never again say or assert, verbally or in writing, anything that might furnish occasion for a similar suspicion regarding me”.

While the modern Catholic Church cannot be held responsible for the actions of some of its members almost four hundred years ago, this was one of the most significant and public bans ever placed on a scientific research study. In hindsight, it acts as a template for oppressive bans founded in political and personal gain and using an otherwise positive institution as a vehicle for prejudice.

1. US and China Collaboration

The concept of a banned scientific research study can take many forms. The practices of the study can be considered erroneous, cruel or traumatic; the purpose of the study can be seen as pointless or wasteful; the science behind the study can be questionable. But it is rare that a scientific research project is openly banned because of the personnel involved in the study.

This is the case, though, in a recent decision by the United States of America Congress to ban the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) from working on any collaborative scientific project with China. As two of the major powers in the world today, there was much goodwill and common purpose in the possible joint project, but the fear of losing technological advances to a rival outweighed the benefits in the eyes of Congress.

On the basis of National Security, the venture was scrapped and a further bill was passed into law that no joint project with China should go ahead in the near future. A spokesman for Congress made it clear that espionage and a long-term weakening of the status of the US were the primary reasons for the ban. It was acknowledged that China was spying on the US and that, in cooperating with the Chinese, “We (America) have nothing to gain from dealing with them”.

The reason given for the banning of scientific research that would be shared with China may never be fully known. It is, however, worth recalling that should the fears of Congress be found to be true, it would not be the first time that a genuinely good idea was abused and those involved cheated.

In compiling this list, one research practice that seemed relevant, but didn’t quite fit the criteria was that of whaling. That is because whaling for anything but research purposes has been banned and scientific research is the banner under which countries like Japan and Norway continue to hunt. To include this topic in the list would have meant changing the parameters of the list to include research studies that should be banned, which would have been a significantly longer list.