Science is an awe inspiring subject for many of us. We wouldn’t have many of the advances in our lives if we didn’t have scientists willing to push the envelope with research and experimentation. Scientists have to know how far to push before it becomes morally and ethically wrong to continue. Many recognize the limits and stay well within them, but there are always those that either just don’t understand it or just don’t care. History shows us the horrifying and disturbing results that can occur when curiosity overwhelms the usual common sense and discipline that scientists are trained with. In our quest for scientific advancement, we have to remember to stop and think about what we’re doing. The age old adage of “just because we can do something, it doesn’t mean we should” is one that should be heeded in our journey toward the latest scientific breakthroughs. Our journey definitely has some creepy branches and offshoots that more closely resemble science fiction than real science. We can take a look back on these as scary lessons in what not do. Hopefully, we’ve learned from these darker, more sinister treks in our quests. With our knowledge of our mistakes and our history, we can make more ethical decisions in our research.
20. MK Ultra – Interrogation and Torture Methods
Movies and stories have been written about the concept of mind control and government secret experiments. But this horrifying situation doesn’t just happen in fiction, though. Governments have an extensive history of secret experimentation and projects and this includes the US government. In the 1950’s, the CIA ran a program of experiments on human subjects to find drugs and methods to be used in interrogation and torture as well as weaken the individual in order to force confessions. This program was designed and organized by the Scientific Intelligence Division of the CIA and coordinated with the Special Operations Division of the U.S. Army’s Chemical Corp. It was officially sanctioned in 1953.
19. Operation Midnight Climax – Drugging People With LSD
This study was a sub project of the CIA sponsored mind control project in the 1950’s. It was a study that attempted to understand the effects of LSD on individuals. Non-consenting subjects were lured to safe houses in San Francisco and New York by prostitutes that were being paid by the CIA. These subjects were unknowingly given LSD and other mind altering drugs and then observed through one way glass. When the CIA program was found to be experimenting on human subjects and that Operation Midnight Climax was doing the same, the safe houses were closed down in 1965 after being run for more than a decade.
18. Experiments on Newborns
The University of California committed some horrifying experiments in the 1960’s. During this time period, scientists the world over were pushing boundaries, but the researchers at this university went too far. They were conducting experiments to study changes in blood pressure and blood flow. These truly unethical researchers thought it was okay to test on over one hundred newborns that were between an hour and three days old. They inserted catheters through their umbilical arteries and up into the aorta. Then these poor babies would have their feet submerged in ice water to test the effects on aortic pressure. They were also strapped on circumcision boards and inverted. This caused their blood to run to their heads. The researchers did these horrible things to watch for changes in blood pressure. The fact that researchers thought it was okay to put newborns through this is staggering.
17. Russian Human Experimentation
Beginning in 1921, the Soviet Union employed “poison laboratories” as covert research facilities of the secret police agencies. The three most well known are Laboratory 1, Laboratory 12 and Kamera. Starting in the 1920’s and lasting through most of the 21st century, prisoners were exposed to multiple poisons in the search for a colourless, odourless chemical that would be undetectable during an autopsy. Men and women of all ages were brought in to these laboratories and given a variety of different chemicals that were being disguised as “medication”. They would also hide these toxins in meals. Some of the poisons that were identified were mustard gas, Digitoxin, Ricin and Curare as well as others.
16. Unit 731
In 1937, the Japanese delved into a terrifying biological and chemical warfare research experiment that is truly listed as one of the biggest atrocities in history. They called it Unit 731, and it ran from 1937 to 1945. The Japanese performed some of the most atrocious war crimes in history. Chinese and Russian subjects consisting of men, women and children, were tortured during horrible experiments like organ removal from living subjects and unnecessary amputation so they could study blood loss, the effects of germ warfare attacks, and weapons testing. Unfortunately, many of the scientists who performed these obscene acts went on to successful careers as politicians, academics and teachers, businessmen and doctors despite their participation in what are considered war crimes.
15. Vanderbilt University Radioactive Experiments
During the Cold War, the fear of radiation and nuclear attacks stayed in the forefront of the news and in the thoughts of every American. Researchers became obsessed and fixated with experiments in radiation and chemical warfare. Researchers at the University of Vanderbilt conducted an experiment to learn about the effects of radiation on fetuses. Eight hundred and twenty nine women were given “vitamin drinks” that were supposed to improve the health of their unborn babies. In reality, these drinks contained radioactive iron. They were looking to see how fast the radioisotope crossed the placenta. Seven of the babies died from cancer and leukemia. Many of the mothers also suffered health problems.
14. Tuskegee Syphilis Study
In 1932, the U.S. Public Health Service began working with the Tuskegee Institute to study the natural progression of untreated syphilis. The methods that were used were unimaginably terrible. To begin the study, six hundred poor, illiterate, male sharecroppers were found and hired in Macon County, Alabama. Out of six hundred, only 399 had previously contracted the disease. No one in the study was informed that they had what, at that time, was a life threatening disease. They were all told that they would receive free healthcare, meals and burial insurance for participating. Despite the discovery that penicillin was an effective treatment in 1947, the study continued until 1972. The level of atrocity that was inflicted with this was so high, that in 1997, President Bill Clinton formally apologized to those affected by what is commonly called “the most infamous biomedical experiment in U.S. history”. We can only shake our heads in amazement that this was sanctioned.
13. Stanley Milgram’s Obedience Experiment
This story, which could have passed for a horror movie script, unfortunately was all too real. These horrible experiments became known as the “shock experiments”. This disturbing psychological study was designed to test the strength of people’s morals in the presence of an authority figure. The volunteers were simply told they would be administering electrical shocks to other subjects. The underlying and sinister reason for this was to see how far people would go to obey an authority figure even when being told to inflict painful and possibly fatal shocks to someone. It came out later that the doctors and the subjects receiving the shocks were fake. Many of the volunteers were severely traumatized by participating in this study.
12. Nazi Experiments
We all know about these. I could write whole books about this subject and only begin to scrape the top layer of the atrocities committed by these people. Some of the most disturbing and twisted were attempts to genetically manipulate twins; bone, muscle, and nerve transplantation; exposure to diseases and chemical gasses; sterilization, and anything else the infamous Nazi doctors could think up.The innocent victims of this deplorable regime and the sociopaths that became attached to it can never be forgotten. These monsters were so deplorable that their atrocities were tried during the Nuremberg trials and led to the development of the Nuremberg code of medical ethics.
11. Mustard Gas Testing on U.S. Soldiers
Anyone who knows me knows that I support our troops. I stand behind them as they continually put themselves in places many of us would never dream of having to go. They serve and protect. But our military does have dark secrets as well. In 1943, the U.S. Navy used its own soldiers in an experiment to test the effectiveness of new clothing and gas masks to the effects of mustard gas. The worst of the experiments were conducted at the Naval Research Facility in Washington. Seventeen and eighteen year old boys were offered the chance to participate in an experiment that would shorten the war. They didn’t find out until the got to the facility what the experiment entailed. Most of them suffered internal and external burns. To add insult to injury, most were ignored by the Navy and even threatened with the Espionage act. The records weren’t formally released to Congress until 1991.
10. The 1969 Monkey Drug Trials
As a species, we don’t save the dark side of our behaviour just for each other. We also have committed some horrific experiments on animals. In 1969, a study partially funded by the College on Problems of Drug Dependence, looked at the psychological dependence in drug abuse. In this terrible experiment, monkeys were trained to self administer drugs. They were given a variety of drugs including morphine, alcohol, cocaine, and amphetamines. When it was evident that they knew how to administer the drugs, the monkeys were left to their own devices with a large supply of drugs. The results were sickening ranging from self mutilation to seizures and death. I can’t even imagine the terror and pain that these animals went through.
9. The Two Headed Dog
We’re all familiar with reattachment of limbs and organ transplants. These medical marvels are an integral part of modern day medicine. But they didn’t exist in their current form until the late 50’s. A Russian scientist, Vladimir Demikhov, attempted to create a living, breathing two headed dog. In 1959, he actually succeeded in this science fiction fantasy. He and his team carefully severed a smaller dog’s lower body and attached the front to a larger dog. The surgery actually worked and both dogs were able to move independently. The gruesome experiment only survived for four days. Although this could truly be considered one of the most inhumane operations I’ve ever heard of, it did pave the way for human organ transplants.
8. Pit of Despair
This nightmare scenario occurred at University of Wisconsin–Madison. American psychologist, Harry Harlow, studied the need for companionship and caregiving in social and cognitive development. He researched this with his maternal-separation, dependency needs, and social isolation experiments on monkeys. Although the information that was learned from this was beneficial in the field of psychology, the experiments themselves were unforgivable due to their cruelty. He would take young macaques that had bonded with their mother, and place them in complete isolation, in a darkened cage, for up to ten weeks to induced clinical depression. These animals would often become psychotic and couldn’t be treated.
7. Turkey Head Experiment
This bizarre experiment was performed by Pennsylvania researchers Martin Schein and Edgar Hale in the 1960’s. They observed that male turkeys would mate with models of female turkeys just as quickly as they would live females. This led to the hypothesis that the female’s head is what caused arousal in the males. To prove this, the researchers removed body parts from the models until only the head on a stick remained. Despite this, the male turkeys still tried to mate. They continued to do so with a severed female head on a stick, a dried male head, a two year old withered female head and a head made of balsa wood. Despite all these odd offerings, the male turkeys didn’t hesitate to try and mate with them all. Obviously, they aren’t the pickiest of birds.
6. Monkey Head Transplant
I talked about the initial attempts to graft one animal head onto another animal’s body earlier. Demikhov was successful with his surgical attachment of one dog head to another dog. American scientist, Robert White, took it even further. In the 1970s, White successfully attached a severed monkey head to a decapitated monkey’s body.. His earlier experiments included a dog’s brain to another dog’s body and kept a monkey’s detached brain alive outside the body. But his experiment of attaching a severed head to another body was the ultimate in science fiction come to life. The monkey was revived and survived for a day and half. Unfortunately, it wasn’t able to move the new body, showing that the ability to attach the brain to the spinal cord hadn’t been reached.
5. Space Jellyfish
Apparently, the idea to see how humans would respond to gravity if they were born in space brought the idea of sending jellyfish into space to the minds of scientists. Dr. Dorothy Spangenberg came up with the idea of sending jellyfish into space. The scientific team packed 2,478 baby jellyfish alongside the crew of the Columbia space shuttle for their experiment. The jellyfish adapted well in orbit, and their numbers soon reached 60,000. Unfortunately, when they returned to Earth, they had a hard time adapting to the gravity that the space born jellyfish had never felt. Because humans have some similar gravity sensing appendages, scientists feel they may understand the effects of gravity on a human body that was born in space.
4. Dolphin and Human Intimacy
This truly creeped me out. I know that science has shown that dolphins are incredibly intelligent and display what could be compared to human emotions, but the idea that a scientist thought it was okay to encourage physical intimacy between a dolphin and a human is beyond my comprehension. But apparently, scientist, John Lilly, thought it was acceptable. He published a book about the experience his assistant, Margaret Howe, had while living in a flooded home with a dolphin named Peter. She taught the dolphin to speak English and even engaged in some controversial behavior when the animal started showing sexual attraction. During the experiment, Howe actually stroked the dolphin’s sex organ with her hands and feet several times. After the experiment was over, it also came out that the dolphin was given LSD to help him learn.
3. The Zombie Cat
Just a few short years before the release of the terrifying book, “Frankenstein”, that for centuries has filled the minds of readers with the nightmares of reanimation; A German scientist had already brought this theory into a horrible reality. Karl Weinhold devised experiments to look at the theory of reanimation of the dead. He cut off the head of a three week old kitten and attached wires to it’s nervous system. When electricity was applied, it caused all the muscles to stop, including the heart. He then filled the spinal cord with silver and zinc. He reported that after the spinal cord was closed up and shocks provided, the animal began hopping again until it wore down. This grisly experiment certainly added to the genre of the “mad scientist.”
2. Tripping Elephant
The effects of LSD have been studied for decades. We all know how much it impairs the judgement and can brings on hallucinations and depression in humans. Apparently, knowing this wasn’t good enough. In 1962, a group of scientists decided to give LSD to an elephant. Their reasoning for doing this totally asinine thing was they just wanted to know what it would do. They injected an elephant with 297 milligrams of LSD, which is 3000 times higher than the amount needed to affect a human. The poor, defenseless elephant turned psychotic and then dropped dead. It’s sad that an innocent animal had to suffer and die for the idiotic curiosity of some scientists.
1. Lazarus, Lazarus and Lazarus again
In the 1930’s, a scientist by the name of Robert Cornish, stepped from the name scientist to mad scientist when he started experimenting on dead animals. He killed four small dogs which he named Lazarus 1-4. In an attempt to resurrect these poor animals, he hooked their bodies up to a machine he had built to circulate their blood and then used adrenaline to shock life back into them. Surprisingly, two of the dogs actually revived. They were blind but the were alive. In 1947, he wanted to repeat the experiment on a death row inmate. Although the inmate agreed, the authorities wouldn’t allow it. This is truly a gruesome example of scientists not knowing where to stop.
I understand and approve of experimentation in science. It’s how we advance our understanding of the world around us. But, alongside the drive to learn and grow, we have to have a moral and ethical understanding of what’s right and wrong. If a scientist or a researcher is willing to overstep these lines, they take us from the realm of science and learning into the horrors of science fiction, where the mad scientist rules over life and death.
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