Essays on Science and Society

Uses and Abuses of Tuskegee

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Science  07 May 1999:
Vol. 284, Issue 5416, pp. 919-921
DOI: 10.1126/science.284.5416.919


The Tuskegee syphilis study has come to symbolize the most egregious abuse on the part of medical researchers. It also stands as a point of reference for African Americans suspicious of the motivations of scientific investigators. The invocation of Tuskegee in public debate over research involving vulnerable populations can help to illuminate the risks of exploitation. But when used incautiously--when abused--the legacy of Tuskegee can thwart serious and sustained discussion of the unique dilemmas posed by contemporary research under conditions of social deprivation. In this article we examine the uses and abuses of Tuskegee in three highly visible AIDS-related debates spanning the last decade.

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