All of us are here because we fucking love science. But, there are some who go a little overboard with the whole thing. If you are reading through these and thinking “where the hell was the ethics board?!” please remember that most of these happened at a time when they didn’t exist. In fact, they probably now exist because of batshit crazy mad scientists like these.
Hanging out with Nicolas Minovici
Execution by hanging has been around for thousands of years, but there are a lot of variables as to what actually happens to the human body when suspended by a noose. Nicolai Minovici, a scientists from Romania, had observed and analyzed about two hundred hangings, but he still felt that he was missing key data. After all, every case he analyzed resulted in the subject’s death, so there was no way to get a first-hand account. He felt the only way to get the answers he sought was to actually hang himself.
Over the course of two weeks, Minovici and his collaborators hanged themselves several times in order to see what it actually felt like. The ever-so-surprising result? It hurt. A lot. None of the researchers were able to tolerate the pain for more than a few seconds; a fact for which they apologized repeatedly. It’s okay. We’ll forgive that one.
The best part of waking up is fresh vomit in your cup!
Stubborn doesn’t even begin to describe Stubbins Ffirth, who was training to be a doctor in the early 1800s. He hailed from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, which had fallen victim to a yellow fever epidemic a few years prior. Ffirth noticed that yellow fever cases were much more prevalent in the summer than in the winter and concluded that it must not be a contagious disease, otherwise there wouldn’t be that discrepancy. In order to prove his position, he collected bodily fluids from yellow fever patients including saliva, sweat, urine, blood and vomit.
He then began to pour these fluids into open wounds, into his eyes, ingesting it in pill form, and even drank vomit straight. Throughout all of this, he remained healthy and believed his results supported his hypothesis. Unfortunately, it was eventually discovered that the patients who supplied him with all of those bodily fluids were actually late-stage and no longer contagious. Either way. None of that shit is acceptable to do under any circumstances.
Yellow fever is more prevalent in the summer months because it is typically transmitted by mosquitos.
Stomach-eating bacteria are not a beverage
In the early 1980s, Robin Warren and Barry Marshall collaborated on the research of the bacteria of H. pylori and both predicted it was linked to certain ulcers and gastric cancer. This idea was not popular, as stomach acid was thought to be too hostile of an environment for bacteria to survive. The pair tried in vain to use the bacteria to cause ulcers in piglets, leaving Marshall frustrated. He then ingested the cultured bacteria thinking it could possibly contribute to gastric troubles a few years down the line. Instead, the results came within days.
In less than a week, Marshall developed nausea, bad breath from the bacteria’s waste, and considerable inflammation. The bacteria was then cultured out and he took a course of antibiotics two weeks after the onset of infection, after all of the necessary tests had been done. The pair published their results in 1985, though the link to gastric cancer had not been made at that time. In 2005, Marshall and Warren were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their discovery.
Have a heart
In the early 1930s, Werner Forßmann believed that a catheter could be inserted into the heart for delivering drugs and radiopaque dyes. He was unable to gain permission to test this idea, for the fear that interacting with the heart would end up killing the patient. In direct defiance of his department’s chief surgeon, Forßmann convinced the nurse responsible of the sterile supplies so he could just try it on himself, to show it could be done. Reluctantly, she agreed, though only if she could be the guinea pig so he would not operate on himself. If Forßmann’s boss couldn’t get him to listen, this nurse sure as hell wasn’t going to be successful either.
When the nurse was restrained on the operating table, he acted like he was using a local anesthetic on her arm, while he was actually doing it on himself. He made an incision just above the inside of his elbow and fished the catheter up through the antecubital vein into his right ventricle; a 65 centimeter-long journey. The nurse eventually caught on and assisted with the catheter’s placement. The pair then WALKED (!!) to the x-ray department to confirm it had been placed correctly. The next thirteen years included severe disciplinary action from the hospital, a change of field from cardiology to urology, a stint as a medical officer for the Nazis, getting caught as a US POW, working as a lumber jack after the war, and then a return to medicine as a country doctor.
The dangerous experiment was all worth it when Forßmann was jointly awarded the 1956 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for the development of the heart catheter.
Black widow spider bite
In 1933, Allan Walker Blair allowed a female black widow to bite him for a full 10 seconds in order to study the effects the venom would have on a grown man. He had difficulty breathing within minutes, due to the massive cramping that overtook his entire body. A couple hours later, he was rushed to the hospital due to a drastic loss of blood pressure, accompanied by sweating and collapsing on the floor, writhing in pain.
Despite the pure agony he was in, he managed to lie still long enough to have an electrocardiogram taken. He had taken one a few days prior to the spider bite in order to have a control comparison. Despite everything else, his heart remained relatively unchanged throughout the ordeal. It took several weeks for all of the symptoms to subside, but Blair did arrive at the ever-shocking conclusion that the venom of a female black widow is “dangerously poisonous for man." Duh.
Full stop, Doctor
Chuck Yeager first broke the sound barrier in 1947, though nobody knew what would happen if the pilot needed to eject from the aircraft at those speeds. The sudden deceleration from ejecting was assumed to inflict more Gs than could be tolerated by the human body, and the pilot would die instantly. At the time, 18 Gs were thought to be the maximum a human could endure. Flight surgeon John Paul Stapp decided to use his body to determine how suddenly the pilots could decelerate and survive.
The US Air Force designed a sled that would rocket Stapp forward and then come to a sudden stop into a pool of water . Starting at 145 km/h (90 mph), the speed was gradually increased. By the time he ran his last trial at 1017 km/h (632 mph), he had suffered a host of injuries, including broken ribs, concussions, broken bones, migraines, and even lost his vision for a few days when his eyeballs nearly popped out of his head. He topped out experiencing 46.2 Gs, which is the equivalent of having a 3175 kg (7000 lb) elephant land on him.
Go eat worms
Giovanni Battista Grassi was performing an autopsy in 1878 when he noticed the the large intestine was filled with tapeworm eggs. At the time, it wasn’t entirely understood how tapeworm infections occurred, so he decided to try it out for himself. After making sure he wasn’t already infected, he ate about 100 of the eggs (that had been sitting in a dead man’s fecal matter, mind you) to see if the infections are caused by ingestion.
A month later, Grassi began exhibiting the signs of tapeworm infection, supporting his hypothesis. After clearing himself of the tapeworms, other parasitologists followed suit in a creepy rite of passage. Subsequent doctors kept trying to outdo one another by swallowing more eggs and allowing them to develop into maturity. This continued for many years, until almost everyone realized it was a pretty horrible plan. However, one researcher ingested the eggs taken from a reindeer brain as recently as 1984.