Acres Of Skin

Acres Of Skin

Human Experiments At Holmesburg Prison : A True Story Of Abuse And Exploitation In The Name Of Medical Science

Book - 1999
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At a time of increased interest and renewed shock over the Tuskegee syphilis experiments, Acres of Skinsheds light on yet another dark episode of American medical history. In this disturbing expose, Allen M. Hornblum tells the story of Philadelphia's Holmesburg Prison.
Publisher: New York : Routledge, c1999
ISBN: 9780415923361
Branch Call Number: 174.28
Characteristics: xxii, 297 pages :,illustrations ;,23 cm


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Feb 15, 2017

Years after he first visited Holmesburg Prison outside Philadelphia, Dr Albert Kligman recalled his initial impression - "All I saw before me were acres of skin. It was like a farmer seeing a fertile field for the first time." For over two decades, Dr Kligman and his colleagues exploited that field, using the skin of prisoner volunteers for research on everything from dioxin to poison ivy to cosmetics to diet drinks.

In Acres of Skin, Allen Hornblum chronicles the history of human testing at "the Burg" and throughout the American prison system more generally, starting during the Second World War and stretching into the seventies. Beginning with military programs, the industry boomed with the proliferation of consumer products and increased government regulation which mandated extensive human trials. Prisons were ideal for experimentation - a stable population kept in a controlled environment for an extended period of time. The prisoners were generally eager to claim the high pay (by prison standards) and other perks of participation. The prison itself was also compensated, and prison officials soon discovered that, despite their initial concerns, the experiments actually made prisoners more manageable, as participation provided another carrot to be offered for good behavior. With everyone seemingly benefiting, concerns over things like informed consent - extremely problematic in a prison atmosphere in the best of circumstances - were ignored.

Hornblum is a less than ideal writer and researcher. The book is poorly organized and is severely lacking when it comes to quantitative information on the programs. Some of the latter problem may be due to incomplete, unreliable, or destroyed documentation, but the former makes it difficult to tell. Hornblum is, however, clearly deeply passionate about the subject, and the book really shines in the oral histories of the experiments as related by the subjects themselves.


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