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Typical British overstatement

I saw a BBC headline, “Huge payout in US stuttering case“, and figured that somebody who stutters must have been harassed at work or something, and got a settlement of $5 mil. WRONG.
What happened is this:

Six US citizens who, as children, were used in an experiment that tried to induce stuttering have been awarded nearly $1m (£500,000) in compensation.
In 1939, the plaintiffs – all orphans in state care – were tormented for six months by Iowa University researchers.
The study was testing the theory that children develop speech impediments because of psychological pressure.

The truth behind this atrocity came out in 2001. Again, the Beeb:

The 1939 experiment was dubbed The Monster Study because of the researchers’ methods.
Over a period of six months, Dr Wendell Johnson, a pioneer in speech pathology, tested his theory on 22 children from the Iowa Soldiers’ Orphans’ Home.
Some were subjected to prolonged harassment, while the remainder were used as a control group.
None of the children became stutterers but some became self-conscious and reluctant to speak, according to the study.
In 2001, a Californian newspaper revealed details of the secretive study, basing its story on the testimony of a former research assistant.

Iowa’s Attorney General, not to mention the people that govern its University system, should hang their heads in shame. A million bucks for psychologically abusing orphans for six months is a pittance.

6 comments on "Typical British overstatement"

  • Nicko says:

    Huge is a relative term. Damages settlements in the UK are generally a couple of orders of magnitude smaller than they are in the US. While the behaviour of the researchers is unconscionable I have a hard time accepting your assertion that $1 million is a pittance without full knowledge of the case. I suspect that you came to that opinion having been brainwashed by stories of jury awards of eight or nine digit damages for hot coffee spills and self-inflicted fast-food consumption.

  • Rob Newby says:

    Typical British overstatement? £500,000 is a huge amount of money to me, maybe it’s because money means less in the States when you spend so much time litigating. Maybe it’s because I’m British and I’m overstating things. Maybe it’s because I live in Spain and they would find this a ridiculous and appalling twisting of justice.
    Lawyers in Spain are some of the lowest paid workers, it’s not glamorous like it is in the US. A “huge” payout here would be a hundredth of that figure. They are also some of the most law abiding people on the planet. I haven’t heard of a single shooting here whilst I’ve lived here for example. They don’t have to have labels on their peanuts saying “Warning, may contain nuts”, because they’re not pathologically stupid.
    I think it’s sad when a society has to impose sanctions on itself with punitive damages of such proportions that you are effectively paying for abuses, and the populace is nannied to a point where it turns soft and flabby. Sadly, Britain’s now going the same way. “Huge” is appealing to capitalist societies, especially when you don’t have to put any effort in.
    So, I suppose it IS relative, but what cost would you put on tormenting a child for 6 months? Or is that something for the US legal system to decide?

  • Chris says:

    A million bucks might well be a huge amount for an individual to receive as a windfall. It is a pittance when it comes to acting as an incentive for an organization as large as a state university to think twice next time.
    I agree that it is sad when punitive damages are needed. It’d be nice if the people leading these institutions had had any ethical sensibilities. Miraculously, they seem to have developed them after the Nazi “medical” experiments were revealed, but not to such a degree that they didn’t keep quiet about this study for decades thereafter.
    If morals aren’t there, what alternative is there but to hit them in the wallet? Criminal sanction is warranted, but I think we can assume it was not possible in this instance.
    [BTW – “typical British overstatement” was intended to be a reference to the general view that the British are masters of understatement. Typical American subtlety got me again :^)]

  • Rob Newby says:

    Ah, it’s all starting to make sense. Yes, I suppose the best way to hit someone amoral is to take their money, even if it seems a bit like fighting fire with fire. And you’re right, an institution isn’t going to flinch at $1m, no matter how much it is to the individual concerned.
    It’s the focus that’s wrong. Rather than being something that provides for the abused, it should be something to deter the abuser, and therefore any future potential abusers. This clearly doesn’t hurt them too much, although the publicity might I suppose.
    I get it now. Didn’t take that long (understatement). Typical British stupidity I’m afraid (also, sadly, understatement).

  • Chris says:

    Speaking of corporate nannies, get a load of this, which I found via Stupid Security:

  • Arthur says:

    So my lovely wife is a linguist and has been following this for some time. Dr Johnson didn’t actually do the work. He had one of his grad students do it and after the six months of work and nearly getting their dissertation, it finally occurred to him that his might not be the most appropriate thing to be doing. Said grad student was not granted a degree and was completely drummed out of academia. This is one of the reasons that IRBs exist today…..

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