Whistleblowing, Disclosure and Anonymity

In 1965, 28-year-old Peter Buxtun was hired by the U.S. Public Health Service in San Francisco as a venereal disease investigator. Shortly after starting his job, Buxtun began hearing about a little-known, ongoing study on African-American males with syphilis. To Buxtun’s ears, this didn’t sound right — by the late 1940s, penicillin had been shown to be an effective drug against syphilis. How could there be an ongoing study of people with a disease that had become rare, thanks to a cheap and effective treatment that was discovered 20 years ago?

Though distracted by a return to school and a law degree, Buxtun continued to follow the trail, contacting the Centers for Disease Control and gathering documentation on the under the radar study. He continued to share the story with those around him, but no one he spoke with knew what to do. Was the study illegal? Surely it was unethical, but would it be possible to do anything about it?

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