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Scientist's Past Haunts Prestigious Space Prize

Hugh Pickens writes (1984118) writes | about a year and a half ago

Science 0

Hugh Pickens writes writes "Lucette Lagnado writes that every year since 1963, the Space Medicine Association has given out the Hubertus Strughold Award named in honor of the German émigré known as the "Father of Space Medicine," revered for his contributions to America's early space program. But it is what he allegedly did during World War II that has fueled a bitter controversy. Dr. Strughold, a former scientist for the Third Reich, was listed as one of 13 "persons, firms or organizations implicated" in some notorious Dachau concentration camp experiments, according to a 1946 memo by the staff of the Nuremberg Trials. The document referenced the infamous hypothermia, or "cold experiments," in which inmates were used, and typically died, as subjects exposed to freezing conditions. Strughold was never tried at Nuremberg and the US Justice Department never found sufficient grounds for prosecution. "He was not a war criminal," says Dr. Mark Campbell, a former president of the Space Medicine Association. "We would not have been where we are in space medicine without Strughold." Now German scholars have found that at least one set of human experiments—involving children—took place inside Dr. Strughold's own institute where half a dozen children 11 to 13 years old were taken from a nearby psychiatric facility and placed in an altitude chamber to see if the conditions would trigger seizures. "These experiments were clearly criminal," says Dr. Wolfgang Eckart, "the risk to the children was recklessly disregarded." Dr. Campbell is considering one solution: changing the award's name—but only if there is an agreement stating categorically that Dr. Strughold wasn't a Nazi or a war criminal (PDF). That isn't likely to satisfy critics. "You can't whitewash history," says Professor Robert Proctor of Stanford University, an authority on Nazi-era medicine."

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