All in the Name of Science!

When you think of science, ideals of hallowed marbled halls, pristine white lab coats and some of the greatest minds that have ever lived come to mind. If you have any of these images in your imagination, the publicity of science worldwide has done its job. However, there is a dark side to science, the side that people vaguely remember but never talk about. These studies are recognised as several of the most inhumane experiments ever conducted.

The Monster Study – 1939

The Monster Study was a stuttering experiment on 22 orphan children in Davenport, Iowa. After placing the children in control and experimental groups, the researcher gave positive speech therapy to half of the children, praising the fluency of their speech, and negative speech therapy to the other half, belittling the children for every speech imperfection and telling them they were stutterers.

Many of the children who received negative therapy in the experiment suffered negative psychological effects and some retained speech problems during the course of their life, even if they didn’t originally have a speech problem. The University of Iowa publicly apologised for the Monster Study in 2001.

Monkey Drug Trial – 1969

In this experiment, a large group of monkeys and rats were trained to inject themselves with an assortment of drugs, including morphine, alcohol, codeine, cocaine, and amphetamines. Once the animals were capable of self-injecting, they were left to their own devices with a large supply of each drug.

The animals were so disturbed that some tried so hard to escape that they broke their arms in the process. The monkeys taking cocaine suffered convulsions and in some cases tore off their own fingers (possible as a consequence of hallucinations), one monkey taking amphetamines tore all of the fur from his arm and abdomen, and in the case of cocaine and morphine combined, death would occur within two weeks.

The point of the experiment was simply to understand the effects of addiction and drug use.

The Stamford Prison Experiment – 1971

Famed psychologist Philip Zimbardo led this experiment to examine that behaviour of individuals when placed into roles of either prisoner or guard.

Prisoners were put into a situation purposely meant to cause disorientation, degradation, and depersonalisation. Guards were not given any specific directions or training on how to carry out their roles. On the second day of the experiment the prisoners revolted, which brought a severe response from the guards. Things only went downhill from there.

Guards implemented a privilege system meant to break solidarity between prisoners and create distrust between them. The guards became paranoid about the prisoners, believing they were out to get them. This caused the privilege system to be controlled in every aspect, even in the prisoners’ bodily functions.

Dr. Zimbardo ended the experiment after five days, when he realized just how real the prison had become to the subjects.

Milgram Study – 1974

Stanley Milgram, a social psychologist at Yale University, wanted to test obedience to authority. He set up an experiment with “teachers” who were the actual participants, and a “learner,” who was an actor. Both the teacher and the learner were told that the study was about memory and learning.

The teacher read a pair of words, following by four possible answers to the question. If the learner was incorrect with his answer, the teacher was to administer a shock with voltage that increased with every wrong answer. If correct, there would be no shock, and the teacher would advance to the next question.

In reality, no one was being shocked. A tape recorder with pre-recorded screams was hooked up to play each time the teacher administered a shock. When the shocks got to a higher voltage, the actor/learner would bang on the wall and ask the teacher to stop. Eventually all screams and banging would stop and silence would ensue. This was the point when many of the teachers exhibited extreme distress and would ask to stop the experiment.

Only 14 out of 40 teachers halted the experiment before administering a 450 volt shock, though every participant questioned the experiment, and no teacher firmly refused to stop the shocks before 300 volts.

With the introduction of ethics approvals for experiments, it’s comforting to know these heinous investigations won’t happen again. Or if they do, we won’t hear about it.