Was there actually any useful knowledge gained from the Nazi experiments on human test subjects? Wikipedia cites freezing and phosphine gas reactions, but I would like to know other potential results from the Nazis.

At a first glance, it looks like the problem is that, in addition to the obvious ethical issues, there was also a lack if scientific rigor. Is this true or can some results actually be of some use?

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    $\begingroup$ Can you add links to the relevant wikipedia articles, or other references you have looked at. This makes it easier for others to fill in. $\endgroup$ – fileunderwater Sep 16 '13 at 8:40

Basically nothing. The Nazis did unfathomably terrible things of little value, and they did it poorly.

This* is a fascinating, albeit long, read. It goes through some of the ethics of the data, but first lists some more of the "experiments" the Nazis performed. To add to your list: high-altitude, sea water potability, tuberculosis, poisoning, artificial insemination, and numerous woundings. They also did terrible things to twins. Aside from being torturous and cruel, the "experiments" rarely if ever used anesthetics and were usually designed to kill the prisoner.

The article goes on to list a few case studies where some of the Nazi works came up and could have been considered, but were repeatedly shot down. It then details a number of reasons why the "experiments" were worthless. In particular,

  • "[I]t is doubtful that physiological responses of the tortured and maimed victims represented the responses of the people for whom the experiments were meant to benefit."
  • Nazi "researchers" were racists who were looking to validate their own beliefs. No good science comes from that.
  • The results weren't ever actually published.
  • The "data" are inconsistent.

The article moves into ethical arguments and hypotheticals, but ends up saying theoretically some of it could be considered, or that "Absolute censorship of the Nazi data does not seem proper, especially when the secrets of saving lives may lie solely in its contents." It's a complicated scenario where that would arise.

Editing a few years later to add this discussion from the NY Review of Books. It's a little removed in tone, and is over-generous as regards the intent of the Nazi torturers, but makes the interesting point that one good thing to come out of the experience was the first codified guidelines for human experimentation:

As part of the judgment, the court issued the celebrated Nuremberg Code in 1947—the first, shortest, and in many ways most uncompromising of the major ethical codes and regulations for the conduct of medical research on humans. Although the code had no legal authority in any country, it had great influence on ideas about human experimentation, and subsequent international codes and legislation.

In particular, the concept of "informed consent" is directly traceable to the Nuremberg Code:

The first provision of the Nuremberg Code is unqualified: “The voluntary consent of the human subject is absolutely essential.” No exceptions are permitted... Furthermore, the code is clear that consent must be given by subjects who are fully informed.

*I should note that the article is from a Jewish law website, so some may discount that as not a perfectly neutral source. Which is silly.


This is an interesting question and one that really has two parts: the factual and the ethical. I remember discussing this topic in my 'ethics training' classes in graduate school (where I admit that I may have acted as an ass simply to demonstrate that our ethics training was unfailable).

The factual: "Are there any valuable findings published by the Nazis?" Actually, yes. There is a classic anatomical atlas by Eduard Pernkopf, 'Pernkopf Anatomy,' that was quite probably put together using the bodies of political prisoners as subjects. However, it may be that this is the only text that has real value, but it's enough to get us to the second question.

The ethical: "Should we persist in using information assembled under unethical conditions? Doesn't this provide an incentive to these practices - or at least not condemn them sufficiently?" Here my assly behavior was meant to send a message of, 'all morals/ethics are relative. And why should we not benefit from all sources possible? I would deny funding for unethical methods, but I would still read the paper. (obviously this part of my answer is just opinion and really shouldn't be printed here, but I think the question demands that it be considered)


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