Bad Boys…

When we think of science we like to imagine dedicated men and women laboring intensely for one grand and noble aim; the pursuit of knowledge. But unfortunately, the scientific spirit has not always been quite so pure. History shows that there have been many evil empiricists who were willing to abandon all ethical considerations in pursuit of their own twisted aims. So, just who are science’s top 5 bad boys? Let’s take a look…

5) Scientist: Sidney Gottlieb, Experiment: MKULTRA

The fact that Gottlieb’s unofficial moniker was ‘Dr Feelgood’ may give you some indiciation about his particular field of scientific misadventure. An American military psychiatrist with a PhD in chemistry, Gottlieb worked with the CIA during the Cold War. Displaying an extraordinary single mindedness, he tended to prefer to solve all problems by simply poisoning the offending party.

GottliebHe was the mastermind behind the plot to place thallium in the soles of Fidel Castro’s shoes. A potent depilatory, the thallium was supposed to make all of the Cuban leaders hair fall out. One can only assume that the CIA managed to confuse Castro, the leader of the communist revolutionary movement, with Samson, the biblical mythological figure.

Still Gottlieb’s antics really began to gather steam when he started working with LSD. In contrast to most college students,  who ‘experiment’ with the drug, Gottlieb and his team were using the term literally. As head of the top-secret MKULTRA project, he was aiming to determine whether LSD could be used in interrogation procedures to help break a suspect’s mind.

After conducting some pretty rigorous tests on himself, Gottlieb decided he needed to increase the size of his cohort. Unsurprisingly, there were very few willing volunteers, but Gottlieb had decided to just forget about the tricky concept of consent. Instead, he simply travelled around the US slipping LSD into the drinks of unsuspecting victims. And, like all good sociopaths, he preyed on the most vulnerable members of society, believing they were less likely to be believed if they ever decided to recount their story.

4) Scientist: Harry Harlow, Experiment: Monkey Torture

Monkeys are majestic creatures, and some of our closest cousins in the animal kingdom. It’s for this reason that the experiments of Dr Harry Harlow prove particularly difficult to digest.

Harlow 2Like a depraved Commander Data, Harlow was obsessed with finding the behavioural basis for ‘that emotion you humans call love’. To help achieve his bizarre objective he decided to do some pretty horrendous experiments on baby Rhesus monkeys and their mothers.

The concept was simple enough. Harlow used his self-named ‘rape rack’ (yes, you did read that correctly) to force the animals to mate. He would then place the resulting baby monkeys in the ‘Pit of Despair’, where they suffered complete sensory deprivation for periods of up to one year. Most of the monkeys developed severe psychosis and never recovered. Apparently, parental care is quite important for offspring development. Who knew?

3) Scientist: Giovanni Aldini, Experiment: Corpse Reanimation

Dr Giovanni Aldini was a public celebrity during his lifetime, with his very own scientific circus that toured throughout Europe. The main attraction was a truly ‘electrifying’ spectacle, in which Aldini applied a large current to the carcasses of animals and humans in order to make them twitch. During one performance he electrically stimulated the heads and bodies of cows, horses, sheep and dogs, causing the animals’ eyes and jaws to begin moving as though they were still alive. It was a rather grotesque puppet show, which sure makes Punch and Judy look pretty tame in comparison.

AldiniHowever, Aldini’s most famous spectacle took place in London 1803, when he was presented with the body of recently hanged child murderer George Forster. Whilst the deceased remained on public display Alidini applied an electric current to the face, causing it to twitch in a manner reminiscent of a living being.

Deciding to take it one step further, and not being hampered by anything as banal as a consideration for human decency, Aldini then placed electrodes inside the corpse’s rectum, provoking such jerks and seizures that many of the audience panicked and demanded Forster be hanged again.

2) Scientist: Ilya Ivanovich Ivanov, Experiment: Monkey-Man Hybrid

It seems that Ilya Ivanovich Ivanov had something of an intellectual pre-occupation: an obsession for creating hybrids. With extensive experience in artificial insemination, Ivanov managed to find numerous outlets for his passion, crossing countless wild and domestic species.

However, the source of Ivanov’s infamy comes from his attempts to create a human-ape hybrid. In 1926, with a disturbing level of support from both the French and Russian governments, he managed to inseminate three chimpanzees with semen from human males. Unsurprisingly, none of them became pregnant.

MonkeymanUnconcerned, Ivanov concluded that the failure of his previous attempts stemmed from the fact that he had simply gotten the procedure backwards. Obvious when you think about it. So instead, he decided to have a go at inseminating human females with sperm from male chimpanzees. Worryingly, he encountered no difficulties in locating several women willing to act as willing volunteers. The chimp sperm was a little harder to find and Ivanov had to write to the Cuban heiress Rosalia Abreu, the owner of a large chimpanzee menagerie, to ask her for supplies.

Now at this point, I’m sure you’re thinking (and hoping) that things couldn’t possibly get any weirder. Well wait, because there’s more. Thankfully, a group did eventually step in to put paid to this whole sordid affair. And just who were these messengers of mercy? Why, non-other than the Ku Klux Klan, who proceeded to threaten Ms Abreu until she eventually withdrew her support. That’s right, Ivanov was a man so completely brain-bustlingly-bonkers that he managed to concede the moral high-ground to the KKK.

1) Scientist: Dr. Bryukhonenko, Experiment: Dog’s Head

The words ‘ Soviet’ and ‘experimental surgeon’ are always likely to set alarm bells ringing, and, true to form, Dr Bryukhonenko spent a large portion of his scientific career performing some truly horrifying experiments.

His most famous ‘success’ was in the field of tissue regeneration and in vitro manipulation. After proving that it was possible to sustain canine organs outside of the body, Bryukhonenko decided to remove an entire dog’s head. The canine capita was then hooked-up to the eerily named ‘Genesis Machine’, which used pumps and a central store of blood to keep it alive.

Bizarrely, the head remained fully responsive to a range of stimuli, blinking in response to light and flinching at loud noises. Staff were even able to get the unfortunate pooch to accept treats, which, in accordance with true horror of the situation, promptly fell out behind it. I’ve included video footage for the sake of completeness, but, if you want to avoid tears, I suggest you give it a miss.


Still, it seems that in Bryukhonenko’s case, there was a little method to his madness, and the reason that he takes the number spot is due to the invention of the autojektor. A device used to keep the mutilated canines alive, it went on to become the forerunner for modern heart and lung machines.

So there you are. Despite what we may all want to believe, science has not always been the righteous and rigorous intellectual practice it is today. Fortunately things have moved on and modern granting bodies tend to look down on any application containing the words ‘dog’ and ‘decapitation’. If you can think of any other scientific mavericks then please let us know in the comments below. In the meantime, I’ll leave you all to try to deal with the horror of what you’ve just read.

Paul Blakeley

Paul has an MSc in Reproductive Biology, and is currently dabbling in a bit of writing and website design…If someone would like to give him a job, that would be lovely.

More Posts

Posted on in with no comments.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

share Share on Facebook ">Share on Twitter

Visit us on:

FacebookUnpopular Science on Facebook TwitterUnpopular Science on Twitter SubscribeSubscribe to Unpopular Science