Science! The study of the unknown may represent humanity’s most noble endeavor. The eternal march towards progress has historically entailed a lot of weird crazy bullcrap, however, and the average non-scientist often finds certain experiments to be of dubious value. Worry not, unscientific peon, for all of the following bizarre tests, projects, and procedures have indisputably advanced human understanding, unless of course...they didn’t.
LET’S PEE ON A SPIDER
In the early fifties, LSD was still regarded as a possible psychological aid and topic of research rather than an evil death drug that must be destroyed. In particular, scientists were interested in the way people on acid behaved similarly to schizophrenics—maybe a schizophrenic brain produced its own version of LSD?
Following a famous (and semi-accidental) experiment that showed spiders wove webs differently after exposure to different substances, researchers at a Basle sanatorium decided to treat spiders with concentrated urine from schizophrenics. The resulting webs were different, but not noticeably similar to LSD webs, although it was discovered that spiders really hate it when you trick them into eating pee.
Spider silk is one of the strongest fibers known to science, with properties similar to Kevlar and aramid filaments.
Unfortunately for all you enterprising spider farmers out there, it’s extremely difficult to actually get enough spiders producing silk to the scale needed to make it a salable product.
Enter Nexia Biotechnologies and their transgenic spider-goat: a healthy, perfectly normal goat spliced with spider genes, gaining the ability to produce a silk-like product in their milk, as well as a telepathic awareness of oncoming threats deemed “goaty sense.”
Nexia declared bankruptcy in 2009, but research on the goats continues at Utah State University, where a flock of 30 goats battle crime on the university’s farm.
CHRIST VS. CHRIST VS. CHRIST
Ypsilanti, a small city on the outskirts of Detroit, is hardly the first place most people would go looking for the risen Christ. Imagine the surprise of the doctors at the Michigan State Psychiatric Clinic when they found not one, but three Jesuses on their hands.
Based on reports of similar incidents of multiple delusional identities, the doctors decided to introduce the three Saviors to each other to see if some sort of progress towards sanity could be made.
The experiment was largely unsuccessful (although one patient did later change his name to “Dr. Righteous Idealed Dung Sir Simplis Christianus Puer Mentalis Doctor,” at best a lateral move) as the Sons of God refused to accept the Christliness of each other, or even to understand why all these surplus Jesuses implied some kind of logical disconnect.
One patient had a simple and fairly convincing reason why the other Christs could not be Christs: they were just a couple of crazy people in a mental hospital.
THE SEXY QUESTION OF RUSSELL CLARK
Sometimes scientists design experiments just to test a commonly accepted belief. Occasionally these experiments provide valuable and counterintuitive data, but most of the time it at least manages to provide a scientifically valid basis to what was previously just a popular assumption.
Russell Clark’s low-tech sociological experiment (an attractive man or woman walking around the FSU campus, asking random students if they would sleep with him/her) definitely falls into the latter category.
75% of the men surveyed responded that yes, they would absolutely get their bone on with this total stranger who may or may not have been a serial killer, but absolutely none of the women agreed to the identical proposition and many of them demanded that the questioner leave them alone.
SHE’S NOT ALL RIGHT: COCAINE
While many people think of cocaine as merely a substance to be purchased in the bathrooms of nightclubs, it was originally a vitally important medicine refined from coca leaves as a local anesthetic—the numbing properties of cocaine made it practical to operate on sensitive parts of the body without essentially sending the patient into a miniature coma.
Unfortunately, this invaluable surgical tool could induce severe and life-threatening reactions in certain patients. Nebraskan doctor Edwin Katskee decided to figure out what the negative effects of cocaine might be in the most direct way possible.
He injected himself with a completely huge amount of coke and then attempting to write notes about his experience. Katskee’s self-experiment ended in tragedy—while his first notes reported results such as “vision excellent” and “now able to stand up,” the last legible thing he wrote was “paralysis” followed by meaningless scribbles.
Sadly, his sacrifice had minimal scientific value, as his notes were too incoherent and weird to constitute a useful record of going completely out of your mind on coke.
THE DIY APPENDECTOMY
If you want a job done right, you’ve got to do it yourself, and nobody embodied that principle more than Dr. Evan O’Neill Kane. The chief surgeon of a hospital he personally founded, Kane was about to undergo surgery to remove an inflamed appendix when he abruptly sat up and declared that he would performing the operation himself… on himself.
With the aid of the new local anesthetic Novocaine, the sixty-year-old doctor sliced himself open and fished out the offending organ, remaining alert, conscious, and healthy enough that he was able to leave the hospital the following day.
Kane’s explanation was that he wanted to understand the experience of a surgical patient under local anesthesia (which he judged as being less dangerous than the ether-based general anesthetics of the time) but it’s possible that he was inspired by simple bravado; Kane had earlier cut off an infected finger under a local and was known for tattooing patients with the Morse code for his name.
Kane’s tendency towards self-surgery may have been his downfall—eleven years later, a self-performed hernia operation left him weak enough to succumb to a bout of pneumonia.
THE UNSTOPPABLE ELECTRIC JERKOFF MADMAN
Alessandro Volta’s invention of the world’s first practical electric battery revolutionized the world of electrical science, as experimenters around the world took advantage of the Voltaic pile’s energy storage to test the boundaries of modern thought.
Among them was German physicist and wunderkind Johann Wilhelm Ritter, known earlier for his discovery of ultraviolet light, who took it upon himself to comprehensively test the human body’s reaction to electrical current.
Zapping his tongue, he discovered that his sense of taste was altered; zapping his nose, he felt compelled to sneeze; zapping his eyeballs, he saw weird blotches of color, and zapping his own personal Wilhelm, he found he had a really super awesome time. Ritter became obsessed with self-zapping, declaring in his personal correspondence that he would marry his Voltaic pile if he could, and took his experiments to such great lengths that he frequently required weeks of bed rest and opium to recover from the pain (or pleasure).
Ignoring the pleas of fellow scientists, Ritter eventually zapped himself into an early grave, his lungs and immune system so compromised by repeated electro-sex experiments that he died of tuberculosis at the age of 33.
OW OW OW: THE SCIENCE OF YOUR BALLS
British scientists Herbert Woollard and Edward Carmichael were men on a mission: exploring the phenomenon of “referred pain,” where damage to an internal organ registered as physical pain to a completely different body part.
As it turned out, the simplest and least risky way to explore referred pain was to experiment on what science refers to as “deez nuts,” a fairly resilient organ system that nevertheless transmits pain signals throughout the body when harmed.
The experimental procedure outlined in their papers was that one scientist (never named) laid spread-eagle on a table while the other carefully examined one testicle before placing a number of weights on it, during which each scientist constantly reassured themselves that what they were doing was not gay.
The resulting data showed that pain inflicted on one testicle often manifested itself as pain spreading across one side of the subject’s torso, and also that no matter how many nerves were medically numbed prior to the experiment, damage to the testicles remained incredibly painful. An unofficial result of the survey was that when you’re examining the effects of testicular pain, you really really don’t want to lose a coin toss.
THE TURKEY: NATURE’S HORNIEST ANIMAL
Turkeys may be among the wiliest and most difficult to hunt wildfowl, but when it comes to making sweet turkey love, male turkeys are extraordinarily dumb and known for trying to mate with even the cheapest and simplest decoys.
Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania in 1965 became curious about exactly how bad a decoy turkey hen could be before males rejected it, designing a series of experiments where they removed the legs, tail, wings, and even the body of a decoy and recorded the male turkey’s response.
As it turned out, turkey dudes would mack on virtually anything that had the head of a female turkey, even when it was just a balsa-wood head on a stick, conclusively proving a link between turkeys and desperate frat brothers.
NAIL-BITING AVERSION THERAPY: A WEIRD GUY IN YOUR BEDROOM
Professor Lawrence Leshan had a novel hypothesis: if a phrase was stated over and over again while a patient was sleeping, they would eventually internalize the meaning of that phrase, possibly eliminating neurotic problems such as nail-biting.
He carried out his experiment in the summer of 1942 with a camp of young nail-biting boys and a phonograph that endlessly repeated the phrase “My fingernails taste terribly bitter.” Unfortunately the phonograph broke down, but Leshan was undeterred—he simply snuck into the boys’ cabin and repeated the phrase himself.
Afterwards he examined the boys and found that 40% of them had ceased biting their nails, but at no point did he examine the possible effect of having some weirdo stand over your bed and tell you not to do something. Subsequent tests relying on EEG readings of brain activity have shown that when someone is truly asleep, they won’t bother listening to somebody telling them what their fingernails taste like.
THE SCIENCE OF PUKE
Stubbins Ffirth, a Philadelphian doctor and dedicated scientist, had a unique theory concerning the origin of the devastating yellow fever plague of his time—observing that it was far more prevalent in summer than winter, he believed that the disease wasn’t of the usual contagious type, but was actually related to summer weather and/or behavior that tended towards high heat, rich food, and lots of noise.
This would’ve been a pretty ordinary claim at the time, but Ffirth took it to the limit by actually trying to test his hypothesis in the grossest way possible. The young doctor collected vomit from yellow fever sufferers and exposed it to his body in gradually more horrific ways: smearing puke into open wounds, dribbling upchuck into his eyes, frying up spew and inhaling the fumes, and eventually just drinking pint glasses of pure barf in an effort to disprove his own theory by coming down with yellow fever.
Ffirth never contracted the dreaded fever, so he proclaimed his theory as success, but more nuanced scientific studies eventually showed that blood-borne transmission by mosquito was actually the main vector of the disease.
GETTING HIGH ON LIFE (AND SHROOMS)
Being a neurological or psychological scientist in the early Sixties was pretty awesome, as you could use nearly any excuse to obtain hallucinogenic drugs and feed them to a bunch of unsuspecting grad students.
Dr. Walter Pahnke, a specialist in theology and psychiatrics, decided to use this freedom of mind-freaking to examine the differences and similarities between religious epiphanies and drug-induced freakouts. With the help of noted psychologist Timothy Leary, Pahnke dosed a number of students with psilocybin before they attended a Good Friday mass at Massachusetts’ Andover Newton Theological School as part of a double-blind study on hallucinogens and religious sensations.
While many subjects described the effects of the drug as disorienting and unpleasant, other students found the experience uniquely enlightening and remain priests to this day.
GETTING AHEAD WITH DOGGED DETERMINATION
It was tough being a dog in the Soviet Union—if the latest agricultural reforms failed, you might get eaten, if a war was declared, you might get strapped to a bomb and told to run at a tank, and if Russian scientists get a hold of you, the best outcome you can hope for is to be shot into space to die alone.
Dogs that didn’t make the cut for the space program were likely to get their head cut off and attached to a pump (the Sergei Brukhonenko experiments of 1928) or to another dog (the Vladimir Demikhov experiments of 1954).
In each case the disembodied dog head remained conscious, capable of eating and drinking (although the food would just dribble out the other end of the neck-tube), and presumably extremely confused about what was going on.
Demikhov and his associates created around 20 two-headed dogs in an attempt to learn more about human surgical transplants, but the longest any of these double-barreled dogs survived was a month before tissue rejection and infection sent them to scientific doggy heaven.
HAVING A WEIRD HEAD ON YOUR SHOULDERS
When the news broke in the west that Vlad Demikhov had successfully grafted one dog onto the other, there was a wide range of reactions: horror, disgust, disbelief, and in the case of American surgeon Robert White, a sort of professional jealousy.
“Dog, shmog,” White may have said to his assistants. “No Commie is going to out-crazy the head surgeons of the US of A. Break open a crate of monkeys—we’re taking this to the next level.”
Funded by the American government, White’s team embarked on a series of experimental surgeries that eventually culminated in the technically successful 1970 transplantation of the head of monkey A onto the body of monkey B. Upon regaining consciousness, monkey A/B was understandably pretty pissed off at Dr. White, attempting to snap at him despite having limited control over its new body, although White felt he had done the monkey a favor as he observed it would have been much easier medically speaking to put the head on backwards.
Although the monkey died soon after, White considered the experiment a success, and was surprised to find himself vilified by the press. Nevertheless, he continued seeking more funding for his experiments, touring the country with a quadriplegic man who was his only head transplant volunteer.