#3. Living on a Weight Scale
Let's talk about Santorio Santorii (1561-1636), a Renaissance-era Italian physiologist who essentially lived on a weighing scale for 30 years to study his own metabolism.
First off, we are eager to share that he was called "Santorio Santorio" as well as "Santorio Santorii, Sanctorius of Padua."
Seen here surreptitiously flipping you the bird.
Sanctorius built a large, elaborate scale and meticulously weighed himself, everything he ate or drank and all of his bodily waste. By comparatively weighing what he ate and drank with what he pooped and peed, he noticed that what came out was less than what went in.
To account for the leftover, Sanctorius came up with the theory of "insensible perspiration," a process whereby perspiration sneaks its way out of the body via pores and evaporates before we can perceive it as moisture by the skin. His study paved the way for the modern understandings of metabolism, not to mention the impact it had on the field of poop-weighing.
"Hey, my poop weighs LESS than my Hot Pocket! Is anyone LISTENING TO ME?!"
Through his passion with measurement, Sanctorius challenged medical theory of his day, which described the body in terms of Aristotle's theory of "humours" or essences. San-San proposed a more mechanical view of the body; that it was like a clock with interlocking parts. In 1614 he published a treatise called "On Medical Measurement," which was essentially the first ever study of what we now call basal metabolism.
His work is still admired and appreciated by modern scientists, and he even swayed most of his peers, which is probably the first time the "Hey, I just spent the last 30 years measuring my own shit, so you can trust me" argument actually worked.
Which could also get him credited for the invention of this facial expression.
#2. Injecting One's Penis with Venereal Disease
If the scientist who drank cholera to prove how crazy he was and the scientist who burned his own penis to prove how badass he was somehow had an awful, awful baby, it would probably be John Hunter. Hunter (1728-1793) was a famous physician in England. His patients included Benjamin Franklin, Adam Smith and Lord Byron, and he was the personal surgeon to King George III. Other patients include his penis.
When Hunter was practicing medicine, London was a growing urban center, which (as is the case with most expanding cultures) meant that it was rife with prostitution. Some records suggest that there was one prostitute for every 27 men. Ben Franklin once famously quipped, "An apple a day keeps HOLY SHIT THAT'S A LOT OF PROSTITUTES." It was definitely a venereal disease sort of party, is our point.
"Damn, baby, I think I just discovered electricity. In my pants."
Obviously, Hunter came into contact with a lot of patients who were just silly with venereal diseases. Although it was well-established that venereal diseases were sexually transmitted, nobody really understood their courses or how they were related to each other. At the time there were two main divisions of venereal disease, clap (gonorrhea) and pox (syphilis). Gonorrhea was definitely not fun (it caused terribly painful urination, for example), but it was relatively common and not life-threatening. Syphilis, on the other hand, was much more serious, causing pervasive wart-like sores, fever, swollen lymph nodes and in its later stages blindness and damage to the brain, heart, liver and bones. Having encountered many different patients with both diseases, Hunter had hypothesized that two diseases can't occur in one body at the same time. He argued that clap and pox were in fact the same disease, just at different stages. A certain bodily "poison" caused the gonorrhea, which manifested in the genitals, and when that same poison spread to the rest of the body, the result was syphilis.
But how to prove this fine claim? Well, Hunter decided to inoculate with gonorrhea somebody who had never shown symptoms of either. He reasoned that if such a person developed gonorrhea (which he had already established would clear up on its own) and never developed any symptoms of syphilis, then it would be clear that they were separate diseases. His theory, of course, was that the previously clean test subject, after getting the gonorrhea injection, would in fact contract syphilis as well, thus proving his theory.
"It'll be like finger-painting. With diseases as paint and genitalia as fingers."
It's a simple concept but, for it to work, Hunter had to find somebody who he knew with mathematical certainty had never shown signs of either gonorrhea or syphilis. And since scientists are apparently a notoriously untrusting bunch, he decided to experiment on himself. Hunter made incisions on his own penis and inserted a bunch of infected pus from one of his gonorrhea-stricken patients, and that's the worst sentence we've ever published on this website.
Hunter obviously contracted gonorrhea, and then a few weeks later, a syphilis pox nodule did in fact appear on Hunter's penis! It was later named the Hunterian Chancre, which in no way makes injecting poison into your dick worth it.
Hunter's seminal (hee hee) treatise on venereal disease.
But hey, that proves that gonorrhea and syphilis are caused by the same poison, right? They're the same disease. Hunter was right!
Except actually he completely fucking wasn't, because modern medicine has shown that they are entirely different, separate diseases. So he was crazy and wrong?
The problem was that the gonorrhea sample that Hunter used to inoculate himself with came from a patient who was, in fact, suffering from both gonorrhea AND syphilis, he just didn't know it yet. So he accidentally took two diseases from a guy, injected them straight into his dick, drew the wrong conclusion based on the results and managed to "set back medical progress in terms of the understanding of medical diseases for half a century."
But at least someone named a pus-filled, red dick pox after him. That's kind of something, right?
Even seeing this picture of him makes us want to clean our monitors with rubbing alcohol.
#1. Crushing One's Spine With Atmospheric Pressure (and Bonus! Nearly Succumbing to Poison Gases)
Oh man. Oh man. Sorry, we're excited. We just love introducing our readers to brand new badasses, because we know how much you love them. J.B.S. Haldane (1892-1964) was a British geneticist and biologist. In the 1920s, Haldane wrote a number of influential and popular essays on genetics and evolution. He helped developed the field of population genetics. And he's what happens when science tries to make its own Teddy Roosevelt.
He was cultured, large, fearless and outspoken, he had a sick mustache and his list of accomplishments reads like a Bill Brasky sketch. According to rumor, one time "he drank quantities of hydrochloric acid to observe its effects on muscle action; another time he exercised to exhaustion while measuring carbon dioxide pressures in his lungs." He'd submerge himself in ice and breathe in carbon dioxide at the same time just to see what it was like. He wasn't even replicating an actual scenario someone might conceivably go through, he clearly just got bored and felt like doing something stupid. He fought in WWI (fucking loved it), and his commanding officer called him "the bravest and dirtiest officer in my army."
When he was tasked with helping the British Navy study deep-sea diving (specifically, how best to acclimate divers back to the surface without them succumbing to decompression sickness), instead of just monitoring experienced divers, Haldane recreated diving for himself in a special decompression chamber. His self-experiments ended up giving him a severe spinal cord injury, which he walked off. When asked about the intense pain that would follow him for the rest of his life, he explained simply, "I do not complain." He'd also get bloody noses as a result of the decompression and, according to legend, whenever Haldane's colleagues couldn't find him, they would simply follow the trail of blood that inevitably lead right to him.
"Now I'm going to need each of you to punch me in the dick until you die from exhaustion. Don't worry about me, I'll be fine."
He also suffered perforated eardrums, which he commented on like the Mark Twain of action movie stars: "The drum generally heals up; and if a hole remains in it, although one is somewhat deaf, one can blow tobacco smoke out of the ear in question, which is a social accomplishment."
Speaking of genetics, it turned out that J.B.S. Haldane's badassery ran in the family. His father, John Scott Haldane, was just as cavalier with insane self-experimentation. Haldane Sr. (1860-1936) was a Scottish physiologist who investigated the toxic effects of various poison gases. On himself. Like, sealed in a chamber. With toxic gases.
"Carbon dioxide? More like carbon pussyoxide. I huff a tank before breakfast."
Haldane Sr. also investigated hazards (read: death) associated with coal mining and underground sewer work. After analyzing how the toxic gaseous samples that he collected at these sites could affect (read: kill) small animals, he was the guy who suggested that underground workers start bring canaries down with them, whose deaths would warn them that a deadly gas had leaked into the work area.
One cute father-son bonding story involved Haldane Sr. taking little J.B.S. to a North Staffordshire mining pit. In order to teach him about how certain noxious gases are lighter than air, Haldane Sr. had little Jack stand upright in the pit where they were crouched down and recite Shakespeare. He did this until he passed out from the fumes.
Via CHoM News
We're pretty sure his mustache is mostly made of diamond.
Oh, you know what else? The Haldane family motto was "Suffer."
For more badass scientists, check out 5 Famous Scientists Dismissed as Morons in Their Time and 9 Inventions that Prove Leonardo da Vinci Was a Supervillain.
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