Ronald W. Jones, a retired gynecologist, obstetrician, and former professor at the University of Auckland, has been awarded the 2022 Scientific Freedom and Responsibility Award from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).
Jones is being honored for his role in exposing one of the biggest medical scandals in New Zealand’s history. He was a part of a group of three Kiwi doctors who exposed ethical abuses in a study examining cervical carcinoma in situ, or CIS.
In 1973, Jones joined the staff of National Women’s Hospital in Auckland as a junior obstetrician and gynecologist. At this time, Professor Herbert Green had been conducting a study into CIS that had been in progress for seven years. Despite common knowledge at the time that CIS was a precursor to cancer, Green had embarked on a study of women with CIS, without their consent, that involved merely observing rather than treating them.
Sadly, many of the women subsequently developed cancer and some died. In 1984, Jones and his senior colleagues Jock McLean and Bill McIndoe published a scientific paper that exposed Green’s experiment. There were also three additional people who played an important role in exposing the scandal to the public, journalists Sandra Coney and Phillida Bunkle, and patient Clare Matheson.
In 2017, Jones published a book on the study called Doctors in Denial: The forgotten women in the ‘unfortunate experiment.’ All royalties he received from the sale of the book were donated to gynecological cancer research and care. In 2017 and 2018, the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Auckland District Health Board issued official apologies to the women impacted by the experiment.
Jones has spent much of his life confronting justifications for the scandal he considers revisionist and incorrect. Jones says he believes he had a moral duty to record his personal journey, extending over more than 40 years, and his role in exposing the “unfortunate experiment.”
The AAAS Scientific Freedom and Responsibility Award was established in 1980. The award honors engineers, scientists, or their organizations whose exemplary actions have served to foster scientific freedom and responsibility. Achievements can include acting to protect the public’s health, safety or welfare; focusing public attention on important issues related to scientific research, education, and public policy by their responsible participation in public debates; establishing important new precedents in carrying out the social responsibilities of scientists; or in defending the professional freedom of engineers and scientists.
[Associated image: Ronald W. Jones]