The thirst for knowledge in the scientific community is unquenchable. Mankind’s capacity for cruelty towards one another is immeasurable. When the two collide, all manner of hell is likely to break loose.
Since the age when doctors would carve a dirty great hole into your skull at the merest sign of a sniffle, scientists have always viewed experimentation as a necessary evil in order to progress. While those being experimented upon are usually willing participants, sometimes things can go badly wrong and ruin, or even cost lives. Some of these sacrifices may be worthwhile and lead to great discoveries, but just as frequently they are the worthless products of experiments that are utterly deranged and unbelievably creepy.
While cases such as Josef Mengele’s surgery on twins are very well-known and decried as repulsive, there are many other cases which are far more obscure, but equally troubling. From cyborg rats to schoolchildren tripping on acid – and a woman whose self-love cost her the sense of smell – we shall look at ten medical experiments which were not only creepy, but borderline sadistic. Be sure to check the fine print before you next partake in medical trials.
10. The Hofling Hospital Experiment
When a dictator such as Hitler or Stalin commits mass murder, it is hard to imagine how a population can seemingly sit back and let such horrors occur. After the second World War, many questioned the complicity of civilians in Axis countries due to the fact that atrocities were committed in the name of the regime without intervention or complaint. However, this flies in the face of scientific rationale – human beings are conditioned to unquestionably accept orders from authority figures.
To prove this theory, the psychiatrist Charles K. Hofling conducted experiments in the field to test the nature of obedience between physicians and nurses. In 1966, he used a real hospital setting to give orders from nameless doctors, for nurses to administer a dose of the fictional drug Astroten, that was double the stated maximum dose of 10mg. Despite the fact that they knew the dose would be fatal to patients and it was against hospital regulations to follow orders from a doctor they didn’t know, 21 out of the 22 nurses were happy to carry out the orders.
While no patients were harmed – the nurses were stopped at their doors en route to administer the dose – the experiment is hair-raising stuff. Hofling seemed to prove his theory that a person will acquiesce to the wishes of an authority figure in the knowledge that the orders they are carrying out may have horrific consequences.
9. Bender’s Shock Treatments
Lauretta Bender is a psychiatrist most famous for the Bender-Gestalt Test, designed to monitor a child’s motor and cognitive abilities. However, not all of her contributions to the world of psychiatry were as benign and celebrated – she was guilty of some highly ethically questionable practices during the 1940’s.
Bender was working at the infamous Bellevue hospital during this period and became intrigued by what she deemed to be ‘childhood schizophrenia’. The cure she devised was unique – she basically got 98 paediatric patients higher than the sun for weeks at a time, giving them magic mushrooms and doses of LSD that would probably make the most saucer-eyed of hippies gibber like a ninny.
As if getting children loaded wasn’t bad enough, she also administered daily shock treatment to them in order to reprogram their brains. While she deemed the experiments to be largely successful, they can safely be deemed creepy and exploitative at best, and downright inhumane at worst.
8. Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment
Syphilis is an awful disease. The bacterial infection can lie dormant in your body for decades before reactivating and laying waste to your major organs. It defies belief that medics would deliberately withhold the simple penicillin injection needed to combat the initial infection – but that’s exactly what happened to African-Americans in Tuskegee, Alabama.
Between 1932 and 1972, almost 400 destitute farmers with the disease were entered into a program for free treatment. However, even after the penicillin vaccine was discovered, treatment was withheld solely so that scientists could study the effect the spread of the disease had upon the body. The shocking abuse of ethics led to a change in consent laws in the US.
Even more shockingly, Barack Obama had to apologize to citizens of Guatemala after it emerged that the US had spent 1946-48 paying prostitutes to deliberately infect up to 1,300 Guatemalans with the disease in order to research the effectiveness of penicillin. Creepy? Immoral? Obscene? Check all of the above.
7. Remote Controlled Rats
It’s everybody’s worst nightmare – rats that can stalk you and keep tabs on what you’re up to. It may sound like the stuff of science fiction – or a particularly dark Pixar film – but we all live in the future now and this sort of thing is happening as we speak. Almost inevitably, the military are involved.
Scientists at the University of California developed cyborg beetles by implanting electronic components in the pupae stage. The insects could then be controlled via a receiver unit and instructed how and where to fly, all remotely. The experiment was then pushed a stage further with the miniaturisation of microprocessors and batteries, meaning that the payload that a beetle or rat carries can be larger, potentially carrying heat sensors or small cameras.
The army hope that the breakthrough means that rats or flying beetles can be used in search-and-rescue missions or for surveillance. While the development of this technology could break boundaries in the field of combat, the thought of the government spying on you from behind a beady pair of eyes and whiskers is undeniably creepy.
6. Tesla’s Death Ray
Death rays are an unutterably cool proposition; from Darth Vadar to Stewie Griffin, all the best fictional characters have one. Of course, death rays look great on screen because no matter how awesome Vadar melting Luke Skywalker’s caravan from 6,000 miles away may look, we know they’re not real and nobody in their right mind would try and develop one in real life. Nobody, that is, bar the greatest mind of all time.
When asked what it was like to be the smartest person alive, Albert Einstein famously replied, “You’d better ask Nikola Tesla”. The serb scientist was a brilliant visionary, developing the idea of wifi technology in 1893 and x-ray imaging long before it was widely used. His reputation as an archetypical mad scientist was justified – one of his last ideas that he expressed interest in patenting was a death ray. The device used electromagnetic repulsion to create an all-penetrating beam of particles that could melt any aircraft engine from 250 miles away, rendering the country absolutely impregnable from the air.
Tesla tried in vain to sell his idea to the USA, the UK, the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, all of whom politely backed out of the door while never taking their eyes from the inventor. If even the Americans and Russians think your weapon is too dangerous to handle, then you should definitely put it into a locked safe and fire the damn thing into space.
5. Harlow’s Monkey Madness
Monkeys are better than humans. A monkey can swing naked with a banana in his hand, a cheeky grin on his face and still look cool; you try that in Starbucks and you’re suddenly “creating a scene”. The only people in the world who would ever think that abusing monkeys is a good thing are scientists, who make the little fellas smoke cigarettes before lopping their skulls off to see the effects on their brains. However, one particular scientist decided to take simian cruelty to new levels of nope.
Psychologist Harry Harlow was determined to test the effects of clinical depression upon macaques monkeys, so he took youngsters that had just begun the bonding process with their mothers and put them into dark isolation pits by themselves. The infants were left in the dark cages for up to ten weeks completely alone, while some test chimps had a substitute mother made up for them out of blankets and buttons. The chimps with the dummy mummies clung desperately to them while the majority of the others developed deep clinical depression and became psychotic, to the point that they had become untreatable.
The synopsis of the experiment would seem to be that it is unhealthy to separate infants from their mothers. Quite why Harlow had to psychologically scar baby monkeys to arrive at this conclusion is probably beyond everybody but he.
4. Unit 731
World War II was the scene of some of the most unimaginable horror that man has inflicted unto man, with much of it revolving around the treatment of prisoners by the Nazis, Soviets and Japanese. While the atrocities carried out in the name of scientific discovery by Josef Mengele are reasonably well known, less so are the experiments conducted by Japan on Chinese prisoners of war.
Japan had been at war with China long before the official start of World War II in 1939, and the two countries viewed each other’s citizens as being a sub-species. Though horror stories were carried back to the West about cannibalism, torture and cruelty being rife amongst Japanese prisoner camps, special treatment was reserved for Chinese captives. The Japanese cut off soldiers’ limbs to induce gangrene, conducted live vivisection and created ‘plague bombs’ to drop over Chinese cities and see if they could spread cholera and typhoid.
The division responsible for the development of such germ warfare was known as Unit 731, easily one of the most brutal in the army. To them, putting a man inside a pressure cooker to see if his eyeballs popped or planning to fill a sub with biological weapons and send it to California had as much scientific validity as a hearing test. What makes this especially creepy is that the US government pardoned the scientists responsible after the war and granted them safe passage to the States – in return for the findings to their experiments.
3. Frederick II’s Language Experiment
The Holy Roman Emperor was the most powerful man in Europe during the Middle Ages, a man to whose whims it was wise to bow. One such man was Frederick II, who ruled European Catholics from 1197-1250. He was a keen exponent of scientific experiments, aided by an Italian monk who secretly hated both Fred and the rest of humanity. Needless to say, most of the experiments involved spectacular cruelty that even the Old Testament’s God would be envious of.
Frederick’s medieval mischiefs included trapping a fully grown man in a barrel with only a tiny hole in the top, through which he hoped to see the soul of the unfortunate victim escape. He was also fond of feeding two prisoners before sending one out to hunt and one to bed in order to see who digested their food quicker; the only way to find out was by disembowelling them both. Still, the emperor’s creepiest caper was when he decided to find out what mankind’s natural language – i.e. the language of God – was. The experiment consisted of depriving two infants of any human interaction to see what happened when their voices matured. Presumably, they would begin to speak the same language that Adam and Eve did in a fictional fable from thousands of years previously.
Needless to say, the experiment failed miserably. The infants were not only deprived of language, but any vestige of humanity whatsoever. They sadly died both feral and psychotic.
2. Freud Mutilates Emma Eckstein
Dr Sigmund Freud has gained a reputation through pop culture of the past 40 years as a cuddly eccentric, full of endearing theories about how you secretly fancy your mum and defy your father through nudity. While this is probably underselling Freud’s legacy as the Father of modern psychology, at least social opinion has cast him in a benign light. This may not be the case had Joe Public heard of the case of Emma Eckstein.
The aforementioned woman was a patient of Freud’s, whom he was treating for a nervous illness. Due to being Freud, the psychiatrist quickly determined that Eckstein’s malaise was rooted in sexual dysfunction and diagnosed her as suffering from hysteria and “excessive masturbation”. While the diagnosis is reasonably creepy, we are not able to verify the accuracy due to the Hippocratic oath, so it can be assumed that Siggy was correct. His prescription, however, was all kinds of wrong.
Freud sent Eckstein to his physician colleague, Willhelm Fleis, who believed that the best cure for excessive self-abuse was to cauterise the nasal passages. He promptly burned the unlucky Eckstein’s nostrils shut, causing infection and disfigurement due to the careless misplacement of a surgical gauze. While Freud’s actions were definitely on the creepy side, the experiment could well have worked – having a fool burn your nose off is bound to hamper your sex drive.
1. Dr Money’s Sex-Change Experiment
By far and away the creepiest, most immoral and decidedly horrific science experiments of all time concerns the noted gender identity pioneer, Dr John Money. He had long since led the field in sexual development and was introduced to the parents of 8-month old Bruce Reimer after a botched circumcision had left the infant with a stump for a penis. Money’s solution was immediate and tied in neatly with research he happened to be doing on nature vs nurture identity theories; he convinced the parents to give Bruce gender realignment surgery and bring him up as a girl.
The experiment was a failure on all counts. Money had hoped to test Bruce against his twin brother and see if the tots identified with different genders as they grew up as brother and sister. Unfortunately, Bruce never felt comfortable as a girl and failed to identify with his lifestyle, proving Money wrong. Even more disturbingly, both twins accused Money of forcing them to engage in incestuous sex games with each other as youngsters, which led both twins to tragically commit suicide within two years of each other.
While experimentation is always necessary to push the boundaries of science, it often comes at a cost. With experiments as morally dubious and lacking in humanity as these are, it has to be asked: are the sacrifices worthwhile?