RFF #96 – In the 1950s, Quaker Oats Co. sponsored research that fed radioactive minerals to institutionalized children

The unsuspecting boys were told that they were going to be part of a “Science Club.” Meanwhile, the parents were told that their children would be fed a diet high in nutrients, which technically was true, but of course they failed to mention that the nutrients were radioactively labelled!

In case you’re wondering, researchers radioactively labelled the nutrients to enable them to track their absorption in the body. One theory is that they wanted to ensure that the cereal didn’t decrease the absorption of calcium and iron in fortified milk.

Despite the fact that the children received a dose of radiation that is equivalent to 50 chest x-rays, the task force that investigated this in the 1990s concluded that “no significant health effects were incurred.” Nevertheless, some of the subjects were financially compensated due to the lack of informed consent.

Filling out ethics applications is a task that most scientists dread. Unfortunately, it’s something I’ve been doing for the past few days. Nevertheless, stories such as this remind one of the importance of transparency in research, and thus makes the task slightly less onerous.

I learned about this fact from: A “Cold Case Episode” oddly enough, and http://tech.mit.edu/V115/N49/radiation.49n.html and http://www.disclose.tv/forum/the-fernald-experiments-t76342.html

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