By their nature, scientific experiments require us to push the boundaries of existing knowledge to understand and improve our world. As shown by history, however, those carrying out the experiments can sometimes step beyond what most people would consider acceptable boundaries. And yet, science has saved billions of lives.
Some scientific experiments have been great. For example, Richard Lewisohn, whose work perfected the science behind blood transfusions, is estimated to have saved over a billion lives on his own. Yet even the most successful scientific discoveries have caused some controversy. One such case is of Edward Jenner, the father of vaccination, who decided to infect a perfectly healthy boy in order to prove his theories. Of course, he was working back in the 18th century, when no one really gave ethics on science a second thought!
For all those lives that have been saved, however, scientific discoveries have also killed… in huge numbers. Robert Oppenheimer and his fellow scientists working on the Manhattan Project–the U.S. bid to develop nuclear weapons–all expressed their feelings of guilt after the Air Force dropped nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The experiments in the list below are among the worst ever conducted in the name of science. Which do you find the most disturbing?
15. Glow-In-The-Dark Pigs
In 2013, scientists from the South China Agricultural University announced that they had managed to create piglets that glow in the dark, after their embryos were injected with the DNA of a jellyfish. They claimed that the unusual party trick wouldn’t affect the health of the piglets and that they could expect to live just as long as any ordinary pig. Well, that’s apart from the fact that they were destined to spend their lives as luminescent lab rats, of course. The scientists believed that the glow-in-the-dark pigs would make it easier to test new drugs, leading to cheaper medications for human consumption.
14. Dr. Mengele’s Sadistic Experiments On Twins
When it comes to disturbing science experiments, the Nazis could almost produce an entire list of their own. Probably the most disturbing, however, was Dr. Josef Mengele’s infamous work on twins. Mengele worked at the Auschwitz concentration camps and carried out a number of scientific experiments on inmates. His favorite test subject was twins. He would inject one with a disease to see how he/she and his/her twin would react. He even tried to create conjoined twins by sewing their bodies and blood supplies together. If one twin died, the other would be killed simply to compare the differences between them on the autopsy table.
13. CIA Brainwashing
If the Nazis could have a list of their own disturbing biological experiments, the CIA wouldn’t be far behind when it comes to their ethically-questionable psychological research, especially during the Cold War years. Project QK-HILLTOP was the code name given to the CIA’s work in 1954 on brainwashing, using techniques from Communist China to break down a person’s entire belief system before training him/her to believe in something else entirely. Dr. Harold Wolff, the man behind QK-HILLTOP, experimented on live subjects, using drugs, torture techniques, and hypnosis among other methods to establish which were successful in brainwashing his victims.
12. Artificial Blood
Fans of vampire TV show True Blood will be familiar with the concept of artificial blood, which is used by vampires who have assimilated into society to stop them from feeding on humans. However, when Northfield Laboratories introduced their artificial blood in 2004, it was much less successful. Patients at several hospitals around the U.S. were given the artificial substitute, PolyHeme, instead of blood without their consent and knowledge in a series of live subject trials. Many of these subjects died, as PolyHeme was found to narrow blood vessels, leading to increased numbers of deaths from heart attacks and aneurysms.
11. Harlow’s Monkeys, An Experiment On Attachment Theory
American psychologist Harry Harlow wanted to research attachment theory, the idea that young mammals form bonds with their parents and other adults when they are very young. Now, even in the 1950’s, Harlow knew that it wouldn’t be acceptable to experiment on children so he carried out his disturbing experiment using rhesus monkeys instead. He placed one group of monkeys with a surrogate mother made of cloth and noted that the baby seemed to form the kind of attachments he expected. In order to prove that the bond had been formed, he then took away these surrogate mothers, leaving the poor babies bereft at the loss of their parent.
10. Prisoners Were Used For Experiments On Skin Conditions And Medications
Prisoners have been used in lots of experiments. After all, you have a population that is going to stay in one place for the duration of the research, and they will happily sign up to anything that nets them a few extra dollars. When Dr. Albert Kligman arrived at Holmesburg Prison in Philadelphia in 1951, he immediately saw the opportunities for his own research into skin conditions and medications. For 20 years, he conducted experiments on the prisoners, paying them a few dollars to undergo procedures that were often painful and which exposed them to potentially dangerous chemicals, all in the name of science.
9. Japanese Scientists Grew Human Ear On Rat’s Back
In 2016, Japanese scientists combined to work on a project that could lead to replacement human ears being grown from scratch, instead of being rebuilt from rib cartilage as currently happens. However, the method they chose caused some controversy when images emerged of a live rat with a human ear apparently growing on its back. If their technique proves successful, new ears could be grown for people with genetic abnormalities or who have suffered injuries in just a few months, although for some, the sight of a human ear on the back of a rat was a little too much to take.
8. Electroshock Therapy Used To Treat Very Young Children
Electroshock therapy was widely used in the treatment of physical and psychological conditions well into the 20th century. However, once physician, Dr. Loretta Bender, took things a step further than most in the 1940’s when she started using electroshock therapy to treat very young children who had exhibited some mild behavioral problems. She reported that children who had undergone electroshock treatment were less excitable and less anxious in the classroom, which is hardly surprising, considering that their brains had just been fried. Perhaps the really shocking part is that advocates of electroshock therapy are still supporting its use in treating children with autism and other brain disorders today.
7. Prisoners Used In An Experiment Into The Effect Of Radiation On Reproductive System
In the 1960’s and 1970’s, scientists were carrying out a series of experiments looking into the effect of radiation on the reproductive system. Given that most men would run a mile rather than risk anything happening to their testicles, those in charge of the experiment turned to that reliable source of scientific test subjects instead—the U.S. prison system. Prisoners signed up to the study to earn the $25 fee and because they were assured that it was safe. Instead, those exposed to the radiation have experienced higher than usual rates of testicular cancer, and many have since died because of the experiment.
6. The Stanford Prison Experiment That Went Haywire
Despite the name, the famous Stanford Prison Experiment did not take place in a conventional jail. It was instead a fake jail, one which had been set up by researchers to investigate the psychological effects of being a prisoner or prison guard under controlled circumstances. However, this experiment soon got dangerously out of control, with those who had been assigned to act as guards taking their role way too seriously, imposing physical punishments on the prisoners and withholding essentials such as food and water. The prisoners responded by rebelling against authority and even concocting an escape plan.
5. CIA Mind Control
Another one from the CIA vaults now. Their mind control program, known as Project MKUltra, was active between 1953 and 1964. It looked into how biological and chemical agents could be used to control the minds and, therefore, the actions of hundreds of U.S. citizens. Although no one really knew what the long-term physical or psychological effects of this experiment would be, the main reason why it was disturbing was that the CIA didn’t ask for the participants’ consent or even bothered to tell them that they were taking part in an experiment at all! They carried out experiments on military personnel, prisoners, and even terminally-ill patients, using drugs like LSD to test their theories.
4. Guatemalan Military Deliberately Infected With Syphilis
During World War II, s*xually transmitted diseases became a huge problem for the U.S. military and for their wives back home. The U.S. government decided that it needed to do more research into conditions such as syphilis and gonorrhea in order to establish what medications were most effective. Rather than experiment on animals or on U.S. soldiers already infected, doctors headed down to South America, where they deliberately infected thousands of people in the Guatemalan military, as well as prisoners and mental patients, with the diseases. Many never even knew they had been infected, passing the diseases onto their children or suffering pain and other symptoms for the rest of their lives.
3. Experiments To Bring Back Extinct Animals, Jurassic Park-Style
You would think that modern scientists would view Jurassic Park as a cautionary tale and not use the basic scientific premise to try and bring extinct animals back to life for real. While there is nothing wrong with bringing back species that have recently gone extinct, as scientists managed in 2013 when a clone of the last ever bucardo was born, there are many people who are concerned by plans to use the DNA of prehistoric animals to try and bring them back—a kind of de-extinction. Aside from the risk to other animals on the planet–including man–no one really knows what impact these species would have on our already fragile ecosystems.
2. Scientist Created A Two-Headed Dog
In 1959, Soviet scientist Vladimir Demikhov managed to create the impossible. He created a living, breathing two-headed dog. He took two dogs from the local pound and basically stitched the smaller dog to the larger, connecting their blood vessels to ensure that oxygen and nutrients made it to the smaller dog’s body. Amazingly, despite the abomination he created, the two-headed beast did live for four days after surgery. And while the experiment was undoubtedly cruel and more than a little unethical, Demikhov’s work paved way for the first successful heart and lung transplants. Without his butchered canines, medical progress might not have been made quite so quickly.
1. Stanley Milgram Experimented With ‘Electric Shock’ To See How Far People Would Go To Obey An Authority Figure
Milgram conducted experiments in psychology in the 1960’s, including a very famous one in which he tested how far people will go in obeying an authority figure. He set up an experiment where the subjects were told to administer electric shocks to an invisible participant when they got a question wrong. There weren’t actually any electric shocks or even another participant, yet people continued to obey the instructions of the scientist in charge even when they were told that they would be administering a potentially lethal shock. This kind of experiment would be considered totally unethical today, and many people who did take part in it suffered from psychological problems themselves afterwards.
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