Filth Parties

What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear the word “party”? Some of you would think of booze, others would be excited that there would be dancing. Some would just be happy to chat and mingle with the others. What about doctors, scientists and researchers? Do they party.? And if they do, do you know that they can get downright dirty…. or rather Filthy? Read on.

Joseph Goldberger was born on 16thJuly 1874 in Slovakia. He was a physician and an epidemiologist. He initially wanted to become an engineer but then as fate would have it, he became inclined towards medicine which drew him to become a doctor and ended up doing various things that would offend a lot of people and at the same time help in the progress of medicine.

Pellagra is an extremely painful skin disease. Many researchers at the time assumed that it was a contagious disease i.e. it spreads through touch, sharing clothes with an infected person or through bad air (Miasma theory). But Joseph Goldberger believed that it was a disease that manifested through dietary deficiencies. But just believing was not enough especially in those days because the “germ theory” had just been discovered and everything was attributed to germs and infections. He had to prove to the world what he believed in was indeed true. So, he did it very methodically using experiments which would turn out to be very questionable.


He chose an orphanage which had high number of pellagra patients. Infact the one he chose had 178 pellagra patients and 168 normal children. He put them all on a balanced diet of fresh meat, vegetables, milk and eggs. Over a period of time he noticed that all 178 patients recovered and there was only 1 new case reported after 2 years of the experiment. This was one of his milder experiments which no one would question.


Now obviously Goldberger had to step up his game. He chose a mental asylum with high number of pellagra patients and this time he divided them into two groups- Control group and Research Group. The Control Group received the same food that they had been receiving at the asylum all through their lives whereas the Research Group received healthy nutritious food. Over a period of time, most of the Control Group suffered from Pellagra while the Research Group members were healthy and fit.


The next level of experimentation was what many would call cruel and heartless. He decided to use the prisoners at the Rankin State Prison Farm near Jackson, Mississippi for his experiment which lasted 9 months. The difference here being that no cases of Pellagra were reported in this prison at the time of the experiment. Goldberger and the governor of Mississippi (who was a friend a Goldberger) told the inmates that if they agreed to be on a traditional southern diet (lacking nutritious elements) and ran the risk of getting Pellagra they would get a full pardon. Here he chose 12 volunteers and put them on a corn-based diet which didn’t have any of the essential nutrients. The subjects soon became weak and suffered incredibly but they weren’t allowed to drop out of the study even though they begged to after a while.

This experiment was widely criticized by everyone. His theory was rejected by physicians who argued that the prisoners might have been weakened by the poor diet in the prison which made them more susceptible to the real cause of pellagra i.e. infectious.


But Goldberger was not a man to be discouraged by these oppositions. In his mind he knew that Pellagra was not infectious, and he had to prove it somehow. He believed that whatever he experimented on the orphans & the prisoners, he should be ready to do it on himself and so should his colleagues. That is where the concept of Filth Parties came into being. To test the infectious nature of the disease he attempted to transmit the disease by administering secretions or fecal matter(poop/shit) of the pellagra patients to volunteers including himself and his wife. He even injected the blood of the Pellagra patients to these individuals. He collected skin extracts, nasal drippings, urine and faeces from pellagra victims. He mixed these specimens with wheat flour and cracker crumbs, rolled them in to pills and ate them. The experiments were conducted over a period of 2 months. Although some of the volunteers developed side effects like vomiting and diarrhea, nobody developed pellagra. Goldberger even swallowed sodium bicarbonate tablets so that nobody could accuse the acid in this stomach of killing the bacteria.

At the end of 2 months Goldberger wrote “We had our final Filth Party- Wheeler, Sydenstricker and I this noon. If anyone can get Pellagra that way, we three should certainly have it good and hard. It’s the last time. Never again

His wife, Mary Goldberger who was a part of the experiment wrote “The men would not consent to my swallowing the pills, but I was given by hypodermic in the abdomen an injection of the blood of a woman dying of Pellagra. This was an act of faith, it took no courage”. My only curiosity regarding her testimony is why would the men object to her swallowing the pills? Because, for me being injected with the blood of a dying person would seem more dangerous than swallowing a pill!

Though Goldberger established the link between pellagra and diet, he never managed to prove which nutrient deficiency was responsible for the disease. The credit for that goes to Conrad Elvehjem in 1937 for discovering that pellagra is caused by dietary lack of B Vitamin niacin, along with essential amino acid tryptophan

Goldberger died on 19 January, 1929 from renal cell carcinoma.

So, there you have it. Not your typical party and definitely not the starters and main course that you would expect to be served. But when scientists, doctors and researchers party, they really get down and dirty and also filthy.




  • Pellagra is a disease caused by a lack of the vitamin niacin (vitamin B3)
  • There are two main types of pellagra, primary and secondary
  • Treatment is with either niacin or nicotinamide supplementation.
  • The classic symptoms of pellagra are diarrhea, dermatitis, dementia, and death (“the four Ds”)
  • Foods that contain Niacin and thereby prevent Pellagra are –


  1. Liver, heart and kidney meats from animals.
  2. Chicken and chicken breast meat.
  3. Fish, tuna, halibut and salmon
  4. Sweet Potatoes.
  5. Leafy vegetables.

This post is a part of the #AToZChallenge 2018





  1. I read this story to my 16 year old daughter who was particularly horrified that Goldberger’s wife was on board. I was bothered that the prisoners must have gotten a better diet than the patients in the asylum, and the orphans, prior to the experiment. Is this why grain products are now fortified with niacin?

  2. Whoa I have never heard of this term and it sounded ridiculous to subject oneself with such filth! Then again he was on a research and probably wasnt deterred by the sickening thought of what was ingesting!

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