Book: The Normals: A Shadow History of Human Experiment (under contract)

Between 1954 and 1995, thousands of healthy American citizens volunteered to serve as “guinea pigs” in medical experiments at the US National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. These “normal control” research subjects moved for several years, months or weeks to live inside the NIH research hospital, called the Clinical Center. Throughout the United States, private non-profit organizations — including churches, colleges, labor unions, civic groups, and federal prisons — signed contracts with NIH to send their members to the NIH Clinical Center for experiments.treadmill The Normals: A Shadow History of Human Experiment will tell their story. Since 2010, Laura Stark has collected more than 100 oral histories, as well as photographs, letters, diaries, and other memorabilia of the period, from the former “normal control” research subjects — as well as from the NIH scientists who experimented with them, and from the staff members of the organizations that coordinated the moves of their parishioners, students, beneficiaries, and wards to the Clinical Center. By pairing this new “vernacular archive” with materials from conventional archival collections, the book documents the experiences of research participants, sheds new light on the broad landscape that cultivated postwar medicine, and connects the field of medicine to religion, higher education, organized labor, and the judicial system in postwar, global America.

Book: Behind Closed Doors: IRBs and the Making of Ethical Research. (2012, Chicago) stark-cvr

Behind Closed Doors makes an important contribution to our understanding of IRBs and the ethical regulation of research.”

-Charles Lidz, Science

“[S]ignificant and fascinating.”

-Alice Dreger, Journal of American History

“The writing is lucid, the analysis sharp, and the observations keen. This will be a book to be reckoned with in the decades to come.”

-Susan E. Lederer, University of Wisconsin-Madison, author of Subjected to Science

“Laura Stark, as her book title promises, takes us behind closed doors to better understand how IRBs do their work. Comfortable both in meeting rooms and archives, she skillfully analyzes the many barriers to the ethical and legal conduct of human experimentation.”

-David J. Rothman, Columbia University, author of Strangers at the Bedside

Read more…


  1. Laura Stark. “Work, Welfare, and the Values of Voluntarism: Rethinking Anscombe’s ‘Action Under a Description’ in Postwar Markets for Human Subjects.” American Journal of Cultural Sociology.
  1. Laura Stark. “The Language of Ethics: How Ethics Review Creates Inequalities for Language Minorities in Research,” in Will C. van den Hoonaard and Anne Hamilton eds. The Ethics Rupture: Exploring Alternatives to Formal Research-Ethics Review. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
  1. Laura Stark. “Out of Their Depths: ‘Moral Kinds’ and the Interpretation of Evidence in Foucault’s Modern Episteme.” History & Theory 55(4).

2015. Nancy Campbell and Laura Stark. “Making Up ‘Vulnerable’ People: Human Subjects & the Subjective Experience of Medical Experiment,” Social History of Medicine.

(Winner of 2017 Star-Nelkin Prize for best article published in the previous two years from the American Sociological Association’s section on Science, Knowledge and Technology.Republished with permission in Krzysztof Brzechczyn, ed. Towards a Revival of Analytical Philosophy of History: Paul A. Roth’s Vision of Historical Sciences. Leiden: Brill, 2017.)

  1. Laura Stark and Nancy Campbell. “Stowaways in the History of Science: The Case of Simian Virus 40 and Clinical Research on Federal Prisoners at the US National Institutes of Health, 1960.” Studies in the History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Biological and Biomedical Sciences 48: 218-230.
  1. “Declarative Bodies: Bureaucracy, Ethics, and Science in the Making,” Kelly Moore and Daniel Kleinman (eds), Section on Rules and Standards, Handbook of Science, Technology and Society. New York: Routledge.
  1. “Chapter 11: IRBs and the Problem of Local Precedents,” I. Glenn Cohen and Holly Fernandez Lynch (eds), The Future of Human-Subjects Protections. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  1. “Reading Trust between the Lines: ‘Housekeeping Work’ and Inequality in Human-subjects Review,” Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics 22(4): 391-399.
  1. “IRB Meetings by the Minute(s): How Documents Create Decisions.” In Charles Camic, Neil Gross, and Michèle Lamont (eds), Knowledge Making, Use and Evaluation in the Social Sciences: The Underground of Practice. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
  1. “The Science of Ethics: Deception, the Resilient Self, and the APA Code of Ethics, 1966-1973.” Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences. 46(4): 337-370. (Winner of the History of Science Society’s Forum for the History of the Human Sciences Burnham Early Career Prize.)
  1. Laura Stark and Adam Hedgecoe. “A Practical Guide to Research Ethics.” In Ivy Lynn Bourgeault, Raymond DeVries, and Robert Dingwall (eds), Handbook on Qualitative Health Research. New York: Sage Publications.
  1. Mario Luis Small and Laura Stark. “Are Poor Neighborhoods Resource-Deprived? A Case Study of Childcare Centers in New York.” Social Science Quarterly. 86(5): 1013-1036.
  1. Laura Stark and Hans-Peter Kohler. “The Popular Debate about Low Fertility: An Analysis of the German Press, 1993 – 2001.” European Journal of Population 20(4): 293-321.
  1. Laura Stark and Hans-Peter Kohler. “The Debate Over Low Fertility in the Popular Press: A Cross-National Comparison, 1998-1999.” Pop Research and Policy Rev 21(6): 535-574.


2013. (first author with Rosemary Pierson). “Review: Observing Bioethics by Renee Fox and Judith Swazey.” Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics 22(3).

2011. “Review: Ethical Imperialism by Zachary Schrag.” American Journal of Sociology 117(3): 1019-1021.

2007. “Review: Twentieth Century Ethics of Human Subjects Research: Historical Perspectives on Values, Practices, and Regulations, Volker Roelcke and Giovanni Maio (eds).” Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences 43(2): 227-8.

2002. Nils Daulaire, Pat Leidl, Laurel Mackin, Colleen Murphy, and Laura Stark. Promises to Keep: The Toll of Unintended Pregnancies on Women’s Lives in the Developing World. Washington, DC: Global Health Council.