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One of the Largest Human Experiments in History

You might want to hold your breath for this one…

“Relativity applies to physics, not ethics.” –Albert Einstein

Food For Thought

Thursday Thrills: One of the Largest Human Experiments in History

Sandra turned on the radio and flicked through the stations until she found the morning news.

The weather report had just started.

“Looks like it’s going to be another foggy week in the Bay, Jack. We caution our listeners to drive safe and stay alert. Today’s temperature is going to be a high of 68…”

Sandra half-listened as she poured herself a cup of coffee and tried to rub the sleep from her eyes.

Little did Sandra, the weatherman, or the rest of San Francisco know that this week wasn’t going to be just another foggy week…

No, this week, under the guise of fog, something else entirely would take to the air.

In September of 1950, the government used San Francisco as their testing grounds to horrifically violate the Nuremberg Code.

For a week, a US Navy minesweeper drifted a couple miles off the coast of San Fran and sprayed clouds of Serratia marcescens and Bacillus globigii into the air. The bacterial mist mixed with the natural fog and surrounded the city. No one could tell the difference. 🙀 🙀

To answer some questions you may have at this point…

What is the Nuremberg Code?

In response to the human experiments that occurred at Nazi concentration camps, the Nuremberg Code was drafted in 1947. It established ethical rules for the conduct of research on human subjects. One of the guiding principles of the Code was the concept that test subjects must provide “voluntary, informed consent.”

(And the residents of San Francisco had certainly not given consent.)

What are Serratia marcescens and Bacillus globigii?

Both are ‘harmless’ bacteria that are easy for scientists to identify. (Serratia is particularly unique as it has a very bright red pigment.)

And most importantly, why the heck did the military do this?

The military performed this experiment to test the vulnerability of the US to a biological warfare attack.

During the testing, “the Army blasted these chemicals in 30-minute spurts, producing huge clouds up to two miles in length, then proceeded to collect and assess dozens of samples at various collection spots across the city.”

After the experimentation was complete, nearly all 800,000 residents of the Bay area had inhaled 5,000 or more particles per minute during the time the particles were airborne.

A declassified military report would consider the test a ‘success’:

“It was noted that a successful BW [biological warfare] attack on this area can be launched from the sea, and that effective dosages can be produced over relatively large areas.”

You may be wondering, what’s the big deal? The bacteria were harmless, so no harm, no foul, right?

Tell that to the eleven patients who came down with infections caused by Serratia marcescens — one of whom actually died. (More here.)

Not to freak you out even more… but this wasn’t a one-time incident.

From 1950 to 1966, at least 239 other times the military performed similar tests in cities around the country.

It wasn’t until 1969 that President Nixon terminated the order to perform this type of open-air testing.

The San Francisco test in 1950 has remained one of the largest (recorded) human experiments in history. Discover writes:

“It is one of the largest offenses of the Nuremberg Code since its inception, a deplorable betrayal of the of public health and safety, of informed consent and civil liberties.”

So are these types of experiments okay in the name of the greater, scientific good? Or are they ethically wrong? We’ll leave that one up to you to decide… *insert dramatic music* 🧐

Mission Daily

An Oral History of Silicon Valley

Switching gears to a less scary Bay area history, let’s revisit a recent interview with writer and historian Adam Fisher.

Chad sat down with Adam to discuss the history and future of Silicon Valley and his new book, Valley of Genius: The Uncensored History of Silicon Valley. In this interview, Chad and Adam touch on the most important moments in Silicon Valley’s history, the corrosive influences that have crept in in the past few decades, and what Adam foresees for the Valley’s future.

🎧 Listen to the Episode 🎧

Deep Dive

If You Don’t Like To Read…

Here’s a video that summarizes the San Francisco Biological Attack.

Thursday Thrills

If You Like A Good Scare…

We haven’t talked about thrillers very often on the podcast or in this newsletter, but that doesn’t mean we don’t LOVE the genre. (Stephen King is my main man.)

Based off of today’s topic, here are a few good thrillers to check out…


Octo… What?

Oh, the hashtag… that little ‘#’ symbol we have started to add to everything.

(In fact — not sure if anyone else struggles with this — but my brain has actually started to think in hashtags… #embarrassing.)

Turns out there’s a more technical term for it! It’s called an “octothorpe”.

Help us get #octothorpe trending on Twitter. 😂😂

Copy this tweet:

Fun fact of the day from @TheMissionHQ: The #hashtag symbol is technically called an #octothorpe.

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Happy Friday Eve!

Can you believe it’s almost Friday! This week has just flown on by. ✈️

Peace! ✌️

This was originally published on March 7, 2019 as The Mission’s daily newsletter. To subscribe, go here.

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One of the Largest Human Experiments in History was originally published in The Mission on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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