You won't believe the strange experiments people have tried!
1. Scared to death
On the day of his execution in 1938, John Deering – convicted of murder and condemned to death by firing squad – was also taking part in an experiment. He’d agreed to have his heartbeat monitored as he was shot.
This seemingly pointless test proved that, unsurprisingly, immediately before execution, a condemned man’s heart rate spikes considerably – before stopping at the point of death…
Sure enough, although calm on the outside, the electrocardiogram Deering was hooked up to revealed that his heart was hammering away at 120bpm – it then shot up to 180bpm as the ‘fire’ command was given. It stopped 15.4 seconds later.
2. The vomit-drinking doctor
Nineteenth-century American doctor Stubbins Ffirth was determined to prove that yellow fever was not a contagious disease. So, he began a series of increasingly queasy experiments involving himself and the vomit of sufferers.
He began by cutting his arm, and pouring in ‘fresh black vomit’, before moving on to dribbling it into his eyes, sitting in a room with heated vomit and breathing in its aroma, mixing it with water and drinking it – and drinking it fresh and undiluted. He also smeared himself in infected sufferers’ blood, saliva, urine and sweat.
Unbelievably, Ffirth did not get sick – and concluded that his thesis had been proved. However, we now know that yellow fever is in fact highly contiguous – although it is usually spread by mosquitoes into the bloodstream.
3. Jesus x 3
So, what happens when three men who each believe they’re Jesus are forced to live together? That was what psychologist Milton Rokeach wanted to find out in the late 1950s. Asylum patients 58-year-old Joseph Cassel, 70-year-old Clyde Benson and 38-year-old Leon Gabor each believed they were God or Jesus – Benson also claimed he’d made God. Within just a few encounters of each other, each man came up with an explanation for each other’s delusions. For example, Cassel pointed out that the other two were clearly insane, since they were in a mental hospital.
Rokeach published the results of his experiment in his 1964 book The Three Christs Of Ypsilanti – but in a later edition, 20 years later, he rejected his methods, saying, ‘I really had no right, even in the name of Science, to play God and interfere round the clock with their daily lives.’
4. These fists were made for punching
Our hands have helped us forage, hunt, make tools – and beat each other up.
In order to demonstrate that a closed fist creates the most powerful anatomical weapon, scientists have recently published the results of a rather grim experiment that involved propelling corpses with open-palmed, clenched and unclenched fists into a padded surface. The clenched fists did indeed prove to be the most effective fighting tool.
The arms of dead men were used so that living people didn’t end the experiment in ER. The arms were frozen, before being thawed out and attached to a mechanical apparatus, secured into the required fist-shape with fishing line and then sent swinging. All very hands-on!
5. The Fox effect
In 1970, Dr Myron L Fox gave a 20-minute lecture to physicians, entitled the Mathematical Game Theory As Applied To Physician Education. At the end of the talk, the audience were left impressed by Fox’s polished performance. Thing is, Dr Fox wasn’t an expert at all – he was a movie actor called Michael Fox. He didn’t know the first thing about Game Theory, and the lecture he’d just given was, simply put, nonsense.
Handed a piece of literature on the subject the day before, Fox put together a lecture full of waffle, improvisation, invented words and contradictory assertions – but presented the talk confidently, convincing the audience of his expertise.
The experiment showed that it was difficult to evaluate whether students were really learning from a lecture, or whether they were simply easily dazzled by style and showmanship.