We agnostics have a love affair with the scientific method: it embodies an uncertainty about knowledge at large which resonates with the agnostic's uncertainty about matters spiritual.
The agnostic acknowledges science does not cover everything: the experience of redness is an obvious example of where science stands back, scratches its head and says "I dunno" - totally unable to explain anything that can only be explained in transcendental terms.
But sometimes science, or scientists who have forgotten why they are scientists, let humanity down in such a big way, even we hard wired members of the fan club have to ask "what where they thinking of".
The case I want to consider today dates back to 1972 - but it was the most egregorios lapse in ethics ever since Atilla the Hun slaughtered slaves to settle his curiosity on the effect of hard work on the digestive system.
The base outline does not sound so bad, at face value. An expirement was constructed to see if a life long homosexual could be given heterosexual tendencies. (Back in 1972, the AMA and the APA considered homosexuality to be an abnormal human condition, so that is not where the lapse lies).
Psychiatrist Robert G. Heath had been involved in the 1950's with studies on how the pleasure sytem worked in the mind of monkeys, and later with the minds of humans. He teamed up with psychiatrist Charles E. Moan to see if that knowledge could be used to treat homosexuality.
They took a subject (now only known as B-19) and implanted 9 electrodes in his brain. They found that one close to the septum, as expected, gave him intense and overwhelming feelings of pleasure and sexual arousal.
On to phase two: a heterosexual porn movie that had previous induced disgust in B-19 was shown to him again, this time with some help from the electrode. Success! He thoroughly enjoyed it.
And then to the acid test. A female prostitute was brought to the laboratory, and despite all the ECG wires attached to him, she was able to successfully seduce him. A cure? We shall return to that question later.
You might ask why this case is considered to be the high point of unethical treatment.
Let me tell you a bit more about B-19: the few bits we do know. He was a homeless, compulsive obsessive on suicide watch, diagnosed with temporal epilepsy, when Heath and Moan took notice of his homosexual orientation. A person in dire need of medical help and therapy, They told him that they would carry out an operation to cure his temporal epilepsy. And then performed their experiments without his knowledge, informed consent nor best interests at heart.
How could modern scientists take on such a medeval approach to research? Because if they were right, everyone would overlook the wrong they did to achieve success.
So - were they right. And the answer is a resounding "Not necessarily so". What they proved was that artificial stimulation of the septum invoked pleasurable reactions regardless of what was being shown. A sort of more formal proof of the old adage "if you get a man drunk enough, he will believe anything." Dressed up to look more formal, but still a paper of non-sequiturs given, straight faced, as relevant findings from the experiment.
The world of science was not impressed, and the condemnation that Heath and Moan received meant that they never attempted to cure any more homosexuals. But they never seemed to take the hint that they had done something that they should not have done.
Medical science stayed mainstream, and came to realize that sexual orientation in humans is as natural as it is in other mammals, and there was no pathological condition that caused healthy heterosexuals to degenerate into homosexualy activity.
But one lasting legacy of this failed experiment is that it gives those with a religious axe to grind a source to support their viewpoint that homosexuality is a curable condition. I wonder if Heath and Moan ever contemplated the irony of t