Given all the complaining people do about animal experimentation these days, it's easy to forget that up until fairly recently, scientific experimentation on humans was considered perfectly acceptable. While most of our scientific forefathers stuck to experimenting on random poor people like any respectable person would, others took it a step further and said, "Well, this baby in my house is already crying a lot anyway ..."
#6. The Psychologist Who Tests the Tickling Response on His Son While Dressed Up as a Nightmare
In 1933, psychologist Clarence Leuba wanted to figure out whether laughing when being tickled is an instinct we're born with or if we just learn it from watching other people do it. It seems like a fine plan, but that's when he took it to crazytown. See, he figured that the best opportunity to crack the tickle matrix was to experiment on his infant son. While wearing a terrifying mask.
In the interests of science, Leuba first banned all tickling in his household, allowing it only during special, experimental tickling periods. What's more, he explicitly banned his wife from ever laughing while she touched the kid so that he would never hear the sound of laughter and accidentally associate it with tickling. Because, you know, this question is totally important enough to sacrifice someone's childhood to answer it.
"Shut up, I'm tickling her right now! Look, she's not laughing. Shut the fuck up!"
Where It Gets Weirder:
But the most terrifying aspect of this experiment was the tickling itself. To make really sure his child would not be influenced by his facial expressions, Leuba wore a large, blank cardboard mask with only narrow eye slits, and in an effort to win the award for "creepiest child-parent interaction that doesn't involve any form of taxidermy," Leuba carefully conducted "controlled tickling" on various predetermined areas of his child's body, starting with the armpit.
Shockingly, the kid did start laughing (we sure as hell wouldn't have), but according to Leuba, the validity of the test had been ruined by his wife, who confessed one day that she had laughed while bouncing her son on her knee and saying "Bouncy, bouncy!" Exactly how Leuba reacted to this confession is not known, but we assume it had something to do with stabbing her while wearing a clown costume.
"Controlled experiment! Controlled fucking experiment!"
Nevertheless, Leuba realized how insane this whole thing was, and they all had a good laugh about it afterward. No, wait. Actually, Leuba just started the experiment over again with his second child.
#5. The Man Who Invented Vaccines by Giving His Son Smallpox
In the late 18th century, English physician Edward Jenner was trying to prove his new insane theory: that deliberately infecting people with a non-serious bovine disease called cowpox would give them immunity to smallpox, a disfiguring and potentially fatal disease that over the centuries has been known as "the red death," "the speckled monster" and "proof that nature hates us all."
We now know that Jenner was right -- he called it vaccination -- but at the time, his theory was based on the observation that people who worked with cows a lot didn't tend to get smallpox as often.
"So while we did violate the company dating policy, some good did come out of it."
Understandably, the scientific establishment wasn't convinced by this not-quite-ironclad research, so Jenner decided to do the obvious thing and deliberately infect his infant son, Edward Jr., with both diseases. The touching moment in science history when Jenner did this has for some reason been repeatedly captured in sculpture:
We think this might also be a Guns N' Roses album cover.
Where It Gets Weirder:
Inoculating people in those days wasn't as simple as a prick in the arm. What Jenner actually had to do was cut his son's arm open, take a pile of infected pus and shove it right in there, like stuffing the world's most horrifying Thanksgiving turkey.
Jenner didn't just cram diseased pus into his son, but did the same to several young boys in the neighborhood, just to be sure. Of course, if he'd been wrong and all those boys had contracted smallpox, Jenner probably wouldn't be known as a hero to the medical establishment, but would instead have some notorious serial killer name like "The London Pus Monster."
A nickname currently used only for Prince Charles.
The Royal Society apparently weighed out "This guy is cutting people open and putting in cow sickness" and "Hey, he tried it on his own son" and came down on Jenner's side. Although vaccination took a while to catch on fully, it eventually got big, to the extent that smallpox is now a hipster disease that no one's really heard of.
#4. The Guy Who Stung His Son With a Deadly Jellyfish (to See if It Was Deadly)
In 1964, an Australian marine toxicologist named Jack Barnes was investigating the jellyfish he thought might be responsible for producing "Irukandji syndrome," a collection of mysterious, hospitalizing symptoms that was popping up in some Australian swimmers.
Barnes eventually found a sample of the tiny jellyfish that he suspected might be to blame on a Queensland beach, but he needed to test that it was actually poisonous and not some pansy nonpoisonous jellyfish that wasn't worthy of its Australian status. So he tested the jellyfish's sting on three people: himself, a local lifeguard ... and his 9-year-old son, Nick.
"You're the one who said I should find more activities to do with him."
Where It Gets Weirder:
Irukandji syndrome has been described by its victims as a pain worse than childbirth, excruciating to the point where sufferers often beg to die. Nevertheless, Barnes apparently agreed to sting his son because the 9-year-old asked if he could try it. Presumably, he would also have hit his son in the face with a brick if the boy had decided to give that a try, too.
"Come on, Dad -- all the other kids are doing it!"
As should have been completely expected, everyone wound up in the hospital 20 minutes later, writhing in agonizing convulsions, because that is what Irukandji syndrome does. And as the brick house of a lifeguard was put down by the experience, the unsuspecting child didn't have much of a chance.
Luckily, all of the "test subjects" recovered just fine, but young Nick admitted later that he too had felt the desire to die during the ordeal. The experience was probably useful for bringing up later when his dad wouldn't loan him the car.