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Contact: Susan Joslin, (508) 289-7281; sjoslin@mbl.edu

Medical Historian to Discuss Unethical Research Studies in Tuskegee and Guatemala at Special MBL Falmouth Forum in Bioethics, July 20


WOODS HOLE, MA—Medical historian Susan Reverby, whose research uncovered a U.S.-sponsored study in Guatemala that infected patients with sexually transmitted diseases, will present a special lecture in bioethics at the next MBL Falmouth Forum on Wednesday, July 20, 2011 at 7:30 p.m. in the MBL’s (Marine Biological Laboratory’s) Lillie Auditorium, 7 MBL Street, Woods Hole. The lecture, sponsored by Drs. Gerald and Ruth Fischbach, is free and open to the public.

In October 2010, the U.S. government revealed that Professor Reverby had unearthed proof of a U.S.-sponsored study in Guatemala in the 1940s, where soldiers, prisoners, prostitutes and mental patients were infected with syphilis and other sexually transmitted diseases. Professor Reverby discovered the study, which involved as many as 1,500 men and women, among papers filed deep within a University of Pittsburgh archive.

In addition to the Guatemala study, Professor Reverby has also researched the infamous Tuskegee Syphilis Study, a United States Public Health Service endeavor that examined untreated syphilis in African American men between 1932 and 1972 without the men's knowledge of its experimental nature.

In her MBL Falmouth Forum lecture, titled “Escaping Melodramas: Reflections on the U.S. Public Health Service Unethical Research Studies in Tuskegee and Guatemala,” Professor Reverby will discuss how these studies were discovered, why the government apologized, and the limits in the ways in which the stories of both of these studies have come to be known. Professor Reverby was involved in the group that lobbied for the Tuskegee apology in 1997 and it was her uncovering of the Guatemala studies (heretofore unknown) that led to the apology this past October.

Professor Reverby is the Marion Butler McLean Professor in the History of Ideas and Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies at Wellesley College. She is an historian of American medicine, women, health care, and nursing. Her most recent book, Examining Tuskegee: The Infamous Syphilis Study and its Legacy (2009) was the winner of three book prizes. Her article “’Normal Exposure’ and Inoculation Syphilis: A PHS Tuskegee Doctor in Guatemala” led to President Obama’s apology to Guatemala for the study and an on-going investigation by the President’s Commission on Bioethical Issues.

Professor Reverby has spoken widely in the United States, Australia, Canada, and Sweden on the history of gender, ethics, and health care issues and comments frequently in the media on these subjects. She received a B.S. from Cornell University, an M.A. from New York University, and a Ph.D. from Boston University.

All MBL Falmouth Forum lectures, performances and presentations are sponsored by the MBL Associates for the Cape Cod community and feature topics in the arts, humanities and health. They are always free and open to the public. For more information visit mbl.edu/falmouthforum.


The Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) is dedicated to scientific discovery and improving the human condition through research and education in biology, biomedicine, and environmental science. Founded in 1888 in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, the MBL is an independent, nonprofit corporation.