Featured in this week’s New Scientist magazine, the newly-published book Elephants On Acid and Other Bizarre Experiments includes other nightmarish tales of two-headed dogs, vomit-drinking doctors and dismembered turkeys.
The book’s author Alex Boese says all the experiments were performed by single-minded, but hard-working scientists who were not prepared to accept common sense explanations of how the world works.
“I scoured scientific archives searching for the most bizarre experiments of all time — the kind that are mind-twistingly, jaw-droppingly strange... the kind that make you wonder, “How did anyone ever conceive of doing such a thing?” he said.
The following are just the brightest examples of them:
1 . Elephants on Acid
A curiosity-led experiment from the 1960s, in which Warren Thomas decided to inject an elephant named Tusko with 297 milligrams of LSD — about 3,000 times the typical human dose — to see what would happen. The idea was to determine whether the hallucinogenic drug could induce musth — the state of temporary madness in which male elephants become aggressive.
The result was a public relations disaster: Tusko died. The scientists claimed in their defence that they had not expected this to happen — two of them had taken plenty of acid themselves, they said.
In the 1930s Clarence Yeuba, a Professor of Psychology at Antioch College in Ohio, formed the hypothesis that people learn to laugh when tickled, and that the response is not innate. He tested it on his son — the family was forbidden from laughing in relation to tickling when he was present.
Leuba’s wife, however, was caught some months later bouncing the boy on her knee while laughing and saying: “Bouncy, bouncy.” By the time the boy was seven, he was laughing when tickled — but that did not stop Leuba trying the experiment again on his sister.
3 . Raising the dead
Robert Cornish, of the University of California at Berkeley, believed in the 1930s that he had perfected a way of raising the dead. He experimented by placing corpses on a see-saw to circulate the blood, while injecting adrenalin and anticoagulants.
After apparently successful experiments on strangled dogs, he found a condemned prisoner, Thomas McMonigle, who was prepared to become a human guinea pig. The state of California, however, refused permission, for fear that it would have to release McMonigle if the technique worked.
4 . Turkey turn-ons
Martin Schein and Edgar Hale, of Pennsylvania State University, devoted themselves to studying the sexual behaviour of turkeys in the 1960s, and discovered that the birds are not choosy. Taking a model of a female turkey, they progressively removed body parts until the males lost interest.
Even when all that remained was a head on a stick, the male turkeys remained turned on.
5 . Two-headed dogs
Vladimir Demikhov, a surgeon from the Soviet Union, revealed his surgical creation of a two-headed dog in 1954. The head of a puppy had been grafted onto the neck of an adult German shepherd. The second head would lap at milk, even though it did not need nourishment — and though the milk then dribbled down the neck from its disconnected oesophagus. Both animals soon died because of tissue rejection — but that did not stop Demikhov from creating 19 more over the next 15 years.