On June 1, 1962, Claude Buxton, the chairman of Yale University's Psychology Department, received the following letter from a junior faculty member:
I wish to announce my departure from the Linsly-Chittenden basement laboratory. It served us well. Our last subject was run on Sunday, May 27. The experiments on "obedience to authority" are, Praise the Lord, completed.
In the end it took almost a thousand subjects and twenty-four experimental conditions in Bridgeport and New Haven to answer the several questions that inspired the research. At this point the findings look very strong, but need to be written up in a clear and intelligent fashion. The year ahead will pose an exciting challenge at the level of thinking and writing.
The day before, the Israeli government, after a long trial, carried out Adolf Eichmann's death sentence for his role in the murder of a large proportion of European Jewry, presaging a more substantive connection that was to be made later between these experiments and the behavior of the Nazis during World War II.
The letter writer was a brash and energetic twenty-eight-year-old junior faculty member driven to make his mark with a distinctive piece of research. As he wrote an old friend soon after arriving at Yale in fall 1960, he was ruminating about designing the boldest and most significant research possible. His name was Stanley Milgram, ...