Scientist as Subject

I usually enjoy and look forward to the articles written by Victor Cohn; however, his recent series of columns about scientists experimenting on themselves has me absolutely horrified. As a statistician working in the health field, I can see no earthly good in a scientist experimenting on himself, a` la Dr. Jekyll. For the public to come to expect and demand such behavior would be frightening. The implication that scientists are incompetent or sadistic scares and offends me.

I can think of two reasons people might have for self-experimentation: 1) to show safety, and 2) to learn compassion; however, neither of these criteria can be reasonably met by self-experi- mentation. Safety can not be proven by self- experimentation; only a gross lack of safety will be evident. With a single trial of any new treatment, if the likelihood of harm is less than 50-50, chances are that the trial will result in no harm, and the observer will be lulled into a false sense of security.

With regard to compassion, self-experimentation is not the key. One does not have to experience the treatment in order to be or act more compassionate. Lack of compassion is not limited to medical personnel. Friends, relatives and co-workers often lack compassion as well. Compassion is more likely the fruit of broad experience -- limited experience breeds the reverse.

Science is an art of observation, and people are notoriously poor, and biased, observers of themselves. Self-experimentation is not scientific, it is stupid. Gloria Gridley Rockville

The Effects of Abuse

How wonderful to have an article {"Violence Hits Home," Cover Story, Aug. 11} that outlines so many of the social problems that could be alleviated if there were fewer children growing up with a history of maltreatment; but how sad that most persons reading the article will conclude that there is little hope for a child who is abused.

While not meaning to imply that child abuse is not an underlying factor in many of our societal problems (in fact I strongly believe it is), I must take exception to the impression of hopelessness for the victims and the implication that they are destined to become societal cripples.

We need to be clear that most studies, statistics and opinions, such as those cited in the article, are developed from dealing with specifically identified and/or clinical populations of persons with manifest or diagnosed problems. We must not infer, or allow it to be inferred, that they necessarily apply to a broader population.

A distinction that our organization has been trying to make for years is that while the following statement is true -- "most parents who have been identified as being abusive were themselves abused in childhood" -- a statement such as "the abused child will grow up to be an abusing adult" is not necessarily true, and therefore not an appropriate corollary to be drawn.

The reality is that we don't know how many children who suffer some form of abuse develop into normal, emotionally and physically healthy, contributing members of society.

We do know that there are many persons who have overcome histories of abuse or sexual molestation, and we do know that there are many parents, frightened of their feelings, their behavior or their potential for being abusive, who seek help to change and are successful in changing, so that they will not perpetuate violence from one generation to another.

Acknowledging that we are not destined to repeat the mistakes of our parents, and that we can overcome childhood victimization and trauma, is the most basic beginning. Joan Cox Danzansky Executive Director D.C. Chapter, National Committee for Prevention of Child Abuse

Not only should Judy McBride {"Killing the Abuser," Aug. 11} be pardoned by the Delaware Board of Pardons, her name should be placed in the Hall of Fame.

Police refused to help in what they viewed as a "domestic case," and idiotic social workers had the lack of judgment to advise her to try to work things out. McBride did not even control the money she earned herself, and a woman who had been systematically raped, beaten, burned and otherwise abused as severely and as long as she had, had little other choice in life than to do what she eventually did.

Women in this country and elsewhere have for too long endured extreme abuse -- both from strangers and the men in their personal lives. Each of us, in this and every case of abuse, must ask ourselves many questions, but the first should be, "What would I have done in the same situation?" Jane B. Todaro Annandale

Hand Washing (Cont'd)

In response to a Brigham Young University psychology student's research on hand washing after use of a public restroom {The Cutting Edge, July 7} and comments in a letter {July 28}, I feel it is important to note that maybe many of us do not wash our hands after use of public restrooms because to touch the facilities (faucet, soap dispenser, etc.) would make our hands dirtier than before, thereby defeating the purpose. Maybe we should address the issue of the cleanliness (or lack of) of public facilities rather than hanging posters to admonish people to wash their hands. Peggy Shibuya Arlington

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The number of tuberculosis cases in the U.S. was incorrectly stated in a story last week. The actual number of TB cases in the U.S. ranged from 22,255 in 1984 to 22,768 in 1986.