You can thank science for much of what makes our world go ’round, like food preservation, clean water, and comfortable homes. But as stories like Frankenstein and Jurassic Park have shown us, the road to innovation can sometimes take a gruesome detour that can lead to some unethical choices.
Here are some of the most controversial experiments ever conducted, during which scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could do it, they didn’t stop to think if they should.
Britches was a monkey who was torn from his mother and forced into animal testing at the University of California. He was assigned to a project that would test a prototype sonar device for blind people. The only problem is that Britches wasn’t blind. The scientists sewed his eyes shut. He was eventually freed by the Animal Liberation Front during a raid in 1985.
In the 1950s, the CIA’s resident scientists began experimenting with mind control, using LSD, electroshock therapy, and the repetition of sound. Most of their findings were destroyed during the Watergate scandal, but there is evidence that the government dosed unsuspecting citizens with drugs to observe them.
Criminal Testicle Transplants
Leo Stanley, head physician of the San Quentin prison in 1913, believed that males who committed crimes had less testosterone than other men, so he who would test his theory by giving inmates new testicles. Because of the shortage of human scrotums, sometimes inmates would be fixed with animal balls instead.
In an effort to make skin tougher for soldiers, Alber Kligman did experiments by using inmates as test subjects. Kligman would inject them with dangerous chemicals, but all his unfortunate test subjects got out of the deal were blisters, burns, and permanent scars.
The Stanford Prison Experiment
Subjects were organized into two groups. Some were the “guards” and the others were the “prisoners.” Even though they were assigned these roles arbitrarily, the “guards” quickly started displaying sadistic behavior, forcing “prisoners” to strip naked and sleep on the hard concrete. One “prisoner” was dehumanized so much that he had a mental breakdown and was forced to exit the experiment.
The Milgram Obedience Experiment
Participants in this experiment were told by the experimenter to press a button that would shock another person in the other room. The person being shocked was actually just an actor pretending, but the participant didn’t know that. All they were told was that experiment required them to continue shocking this person, upping the voltage until they were motionless. The study found that 65 percent of people would continue shocking the person even after they were screaming in pain. Shocking, right?
Harlow’s Experiments In Isolation
Rhesus monkeys were torn from their mothers as infants and forced into Harlow’s “pit of despair” cage, with only a water bottle to keep them company. The point of the project was to study the effects of isolation on child development and subsequent depression. Not surprisingly, the baby monkeys became depressed. They also developed physical problems like poor digestion.
Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment
The US Public Health Service purposefully injected black male sharecroppers with syphilis in order to study its effects. The effects, of course, were that they would get horrible skin disfigurations and eventually die. It seems the government neglected to treat them after infecting them with the STD. By the way, this went on between 1932 and 1970. That’s 40 years! It spanned multiple presidencies.
It turns out the whole “mad-scientist” thing may not be limited to cartoons. The crazy thing is that these people all thought they were doing a great service for mankind, and were willing to continue their questionable work at any cost.