At their best, scientists represent the best in humanity: intelligence, curiosity, and sceptical rigour. This allows scientists to do things that ordinary people wouldn’t be allowed to get away with. If a random person burst into your house with a bubbling test tube and shouted “Quick! Drink this!” you’d call the police. Put that person in a white lab coat, though, and you’ll only delay long enough to thank them for coming in the nick of time.
Scientists are human, however, and humans who’ve been given that level of trust sometimes prove to be the last people in the world who should be trusted.
Warning: This article contains details of inhuman experiments carried out with varying degrees of consent. If this is the sort of thing that upsets you, congratulations on not being a monster.
This was a unit of the Japanese Imperial Army that carried out lethal human experimentation (biological and chemical warfare) during the second Sino-Japanese war. Human experiments conducted here were numerous. It included vivisection of live people (often pregnant women), cutting off the limbs of prisoners and attaching them to another part of their body, men and women infected with various diseases to follow the effects of untreated diseases, many of them had parts of their bodies frozen and were refused treatment for gangrene. Unit 731 was notorious for its experiments carried out on humans and the worst part is that Shiro Ishii (commander of the unit) wasn’t convicted for those crimes.
The Aversion Project
This was a project that was alive during South African apartheid when gays and lesbians were forced to undergo sex-change operations, chemical castration and various psychiatric methods. They were forced to take drugs, got hormone treatment, had aversion shock therapy and many more. Those that weren’t “cured” with medications and various therapies were either killed, forced to have sex-change operations or castrated.
The Tuskegee Syphilis Study
This was an experiment carried out on African-American men while they were denied treatment so the doctors can see and study the effects of untreated syphilis. They didn’t know about their condition and were denied any type of treatment. Instead, the doctors lied telling them that they have “bad blood” and saying that they will receive free rides to the clinic, meals and burial insurance in case they die because they participated in the study. The results were horrible – many of them died from syphilis, others died from complications related to the disease and many had children that were born with it.
Monkey Drug Trials 1969
While animal experimentation can be incredibly helpful in understanding man and developing life-saving drugs, there have been experiments which go well beyond the realms of ethics. The monkey drug trials of 1969 were one such case. In this experiment, a large group of monkeys and rats were trained to inject themselves with an assortment of drugs, including morphine, alcohol, codeine, cocaine, and amphetamines. Once the animals were capable of self-injecting, they were left to their own devices with a large supply of each drug.
The animals were so disturbed (as one would expect) that some tried so hard to escape that they broke their arms in the process. The monkeys taking cocaine suffered convulsions and in some cases tore off their own fingers (possible as a consequence of hallucinations), one monkey taking amphetamines tore all of the furs from his arm and abdomen, and in the case of cocaine and morphine combined, death would occur within 2 weeks.
The point of the experiment was simply to understand the effects of addiction and drug use; a point which, I think, most rational and ethical people would know did not require such horrendous treatment of animals.
Put Kids in the Wilderness, Make Them Go to War
Thus kicked off his Robbers Cave experiment, in which a group of 11 ordinary, middle-class 11-year-old boys headed to summer camp at Robbers Cave State Park in Oklahoma, anxious for three fun-filled weeks of hiking, fishing and swimming. They were completely unaware that their parents had signed them up for Sherif’s experiment, and that there was a second group of campers elsewhere on the site that they would be trained to hate.
For the first week, the groups were kept apart and encouraged to participate in separate team-building events and activities, in order to form relationships within each group. They established their own hierarchy and elected leaders and gave their groups names — the Eagles and the Rattlers. To see how much conflict they could instigate between the two groups, the experimenters arranged a tournament with events like baseball and tug-of-war, promising shiny trophies and pocket knives to the winners, because as we all know, the one prize you should always award a warring band of feral children is a knife. (Watch This Great Video on Why We Haven’t Made Contact with Aliens… Yet).
As the tournament waged on, fistfights had to be constantly broken up, and any time the two groups had to eat together, the mess hall would erupt into Road House. Finally, the Eagles won the tournament and were given the coveted prizes, only to have the Rattlers ransack their cabin and steal the bejeezus out of them Yep, Sherif and his team had successfully transformed 22 ordinary 11-year-old boys with no previous behavioural problems into a mob of aggressive savages.
It took less than three weeks. READ MORE TO THIS: Put Kids in the Wilderness, Make Them Go to War by Oliver Tran on Prezi
Homosexual Aversion Therapy (1967)
Aversion therapy to “cure” homosexuality was once a prominent subject of research at various universities. A study detailing attempts at “treating” a group of 43 homosexual men was published in the British Medical Journal in 1967. The study recounted researchers M.J. MacCulloch and M.P. Feldman’s experiments in aversion therapy at Manchester, U.K.’s Crumpsall Hospital.
The researchers’ volunteers were shown slides of men that they were told to keep looking at for as long as they considered it appealing. After eight seconds of such a slide being shown, however, the test subjects were given an electric shock. Slides showing women were also presented, and the volunteers were able to look at them without any punishment involved. Although the researchers suggested that the trials had some success in “curing” their participants, in 1994 the American Psychological Association deemed homosexual aversion therapy dangerous and ineffective.
Landis’ Facial Expressions Experiment 1924
In 1924, Carney Landis, a psychology graduate at the University of Minnesota developed an experiment to determine whether different emotions create facial expressions specific to that emotion. The aim of this experiment was to see if all people have a common expression when feeling disgusted, shock, joy, and so on.
Most of the participants in the experiment were students. They were taken to a lab and their faces were painted with black lines, in order to study the movements of their facial muscles. They were then exposed to a variety of stimuli designed to create a strong reaction. As each person reacted, they were photographed by Landis. The subjects were made to smell ammonia, to look at pornography, and to put their hands into a bucket of frogs. But the controversy around this study was the final part of the test.
Participants were shown a live rat and given instructions to behead it. While all the participants were repelled by the idea, fully one third did it. The situation was made worse by the fact that most of the students had no idea how to perform this operation in a humane manner and the animals were forced to experience great suffering. For the one third who refused to perform the decapitation, Landis would pick up the knife and cut the animals head off for them.
The consequences of the study were actually more important for their evidence that people are willing to do almost anything when asked in a situation like this. The study did not prove that humans have a common set of unique facial expressions.
Bobo Doll Experiment (1961, 1963)
In the early 1960s, Stanford University psychologist Albert Bandura attempted to demonstrate that behaviour – in this case, violent behaviour – can be learned through observation of reward and punishment. To do this, he acquired 72 nursery-age children together with a large, inflatable toy known as a Bobo doll. He then made a subset of the children watch an adult violently beating and verbally abusing the toy for around ten minutes.
Alarmingly, Bandura found that out of the two-dozen children who witnessed this display, in many cases the behaviour was imitated. Left alone in the room with the Bobo doll once the adult had gone, the children became verbally and physically aggressive towards the doll, attacking it with an intensity arguably frightening to see in ones so young. In 1963 Bandura carried out another Bobo doll experiment that yielded similar results. Nevertheless, the work has since come under fire on ethical grounds, seeing as its subjects were basically trained to act aggressively – with possible longer-term consequences.
Pit of Despair
Psychologist Harry Harlow was obsessed with the concept of love, but rather than writing poems or love songs, he performed sick, twisted experiments on monkeys during the 1970s. One of his experiments revolved around confining the monkeys in total isolation in an apparatus he called the “well of despair” (a featureless, empty chamber depriving the animal of any stimulus or socialization) — which resulted in his subjects going insane and even starving themselves to death in two cases. Harlow ignored the criticism of his colleagues, and is quoted as saying, “How could you love monkeys?”
The last laugh was on him, however, as his horrific treatment of his subjects is acknowledged as being a driving force behind the development of the animal rights movement and the end of such cruel experiments.
The Milgram Experiment
The study was to test the effectiveness of negative reinforcement (pain) on learning… oh, wait, no, that’s not what the experiment was about. That was what they told the test subjects the test was about (spoiler: the test subjects didn’t know they were the test subjects).
What the setup was is the subject, believing they were just a hired assistant… a “tester.” specifically…they would be seated in front of an intercom and a machine that looked like this.
What they were told is that the machine was connected to a “student” in the next room that they would communicate with. They would ask the student questions, and every one the student got wrong, they would flip switches on the box that would “shock” the student with increasingly more painful shocks. Truth is that what the experiment was actually for is to test obedience to authority. There was no “student;” the answers and feedback to the “shocks” were all prerecorded… and they were brutal.
They went from sounds of minor discomfort to yelling in anger, to tortuous screams and begging to quit, to complaints of chest pains and difficulty breathing, to finally, complete silence.
If there was any hesitation or doubt by the tester to administer the “shock,” there was a “scientist” in the room in a lab coat to order them to do it; to keep the experiment going. The entire experiment was to see if they could goad the average person into torturing and killing someone if someone in authority told them to… and people did… or thought they did, anyway. 2/3 of the “testers” completed the entire series of shocks. A number of them suffered psychological damage from it, even after finding out that it was a setup, just from the guilt associated with the knowledge that they had the capability to kill an innocent person for no other reason than someone told them to. While none of them suffered permanent harm, thankfully, it is still considered one of the most unethical psychological experiments ever conducted.