There’s a long and strange history of truly bizarre experiments done in the name of science. Alex Boese has gathered twenty of the strangest examples here. There are the usual suspects, such as the Stanford prison experiment and the Milgram obedience experiment, but there were others that I hadn’t heard of. To me, the award for the most bizarre has to be a tie between the vomit drinking doctor and this one:
Ever since the carnage of the French Revolution, when the guillotine sent thousands of severed heads tumbling into baskets, scientists had wondered whether it would be possible to keep a head alive apart from its body, but it wasn’t until the late 1920s that someone managed to pull off this feat.
Soviet physician Sergei Brukhonenko developed a primitive heart-lung machine he called an “autojector,” and with this device he succeeded in keeping the severed head of a dog alive. He displayed one of his living dog heads in 1928 before an international audience of scientists at the Third Congress of Physiologists of the USSR. To prove that the head lying on the table really was alive, he showed that it reacted to stimuli. Brukhonenko banged a hammer on the table, and the head flinched. He shone light in its eyes, and the eyes blinked. He even fed the head a piece of cheese, which promptly popped out the esophageal tube on the other end.
Brukhonenko’s severed dog head became the talk of Europe and inspired the playwright George Bernard Shaw to muse, “I am even tempted to have my own head cut off so that I can continue to dictate plays and books without being bothered by illness, without having to dress and undress, without having to eat, without having anything else to do other than to produce masterpieces of dramatic art and literature.”
Also of note is the infamous monkey head transplant, which was done by someone I actually knew, neurosurgeon Dr. Robert White at MetroHealth Medical Center, which is one of the hospitals affiliated with Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, where I did my general surgery residency. Dr. White was a very likable guy and a very good neurosurgeon, but even then I did know about the notoriety he had gained through his experiments 20 years prior to my residency. I don’t know if he’s fully retired yet; as far as I know, he is still at Metro.
All of these are excerpted from the book Elephants on Acid, and Other Bizarre Experiments.