VOICE OVER: Peter DeGiglio
WRITTEN BY: Cassondra Feltus
These scientists are pure evil! For this list, we'll be looking at medical professionals known for their controversial studies on the human mind and body. Our countdown includes Sidney Gottlieb, Aubrey Levin, Josef Mengele, and more.
10 Evil Scientists Who Experimented on Humans
Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re discussing 10 Evil Scientists Who Experimented on Humans.
For this list, we’ll be looking at medical professionals known for their controversial studies on the human mind and body.
Which human experiment shocked you the most? Let us know in the comments.
Believing that the Soviet Union was practicing mind control, the Central Intelligence Agency sought to conduct experiments of their own. In 1953, they funded chemist Sidney Gottlieb’s Project MKUltra hoping to discover a truth serum to use in interrogations. Left unsupervised, Gottlieb administered illegal drugs, most notably LSD, to his human test subjects, many of them unaware they were participants in a covert experiment. Additionally, he employed other methods such as hypnosis, sensory deprivation, and electroshocks. After twenty years of psychologically torturing subjects, Gottlieb concluded that mind control was impossible and destroyed evidence of his work. While it’s unknown how many deaths occurred as a result of Gottlieb’s experiments, the devastating lasting effects have since been made public by survivors.
John B. Watson
Following in the footsteps of Russian scientist Ivan Pavlov, psychologist John B. Watson and his assistant Rosalie Rayner attempted to apply classical conditioning in humans. Their incredibly unethical 1920 study became known as the “Little Albert experiment.” Their test subject was a nine-month-old whom they called “Albert.” Watson and Rayner presented him with a rat which he had no reaction to at first. Then they did it again while creating a loud sound. Albert eventually associated the rat with scary sounds and would cry when he saw any furry animal, including rabbits, dogs, and even a Santa Claus beard. Before they could reverse the conditioning, the child’s mother reportedly pulled him from the study, with Albert likely psychologically traumatized with a lifelong fear of animals.
In 1939, psychologist and speech pathologist Wendell Johnson and graduate student Mary Tudor set out to test the theory that stuttering was a learned behavior that could be unlearned. Johnson selected twenty-two children, a mix of stutterers and “normal speakers,” from an orphanage in Iowa. The “subjects” were split into groups with some receiving praise for their positive speech while the others were ridiculed for their flawed speech. The Monster Study, as it came to be known, was essentially gaslighting children without stutters into believing that they did have stutters, and vice versa. After months of experiments, results showed none of the non-stuttering children became stutterers. However, some did develop trouble with their speech which made them self-conscious, withdrawn, and anxious about speaking.
Researchers at Vanderbilt University
In the 1940s, more than 800 pregnant women came to Vanderbilt University’s clinic in Tennessee seeking free healthcare. Instead, they became unwitting test subjects in a radiation experiment. The purpose of the four-year study was to test the length of time it would take for the placenta to absorb iron. Researchers gave the women pills or drinks containing radioactive iron with roughly the same amount of radiation as an x-ray. At the time, being exposed to radiation thirty times higher than average was considered safe. But in the 1990s, it was discovered that at least three children died after developing terminal illnesses directly caused by the exposure.
Following atrocities committed during the Holocaust, social psychologist and Yale University professor Stanley Milgram studied the psychology of genocide. He conducted his “Obedience to Authority” experiment in 1961, testing how far a person would go if an authority figure told them to seriously harm someone. Volunteers for the study believed they were participating in a study about learning and memory. As “teachers,” they were instructed to administer electrical shocks to “learners” for every incorrect answer. However, participants didn’t know the learners were actors and the shocks weren’t real. Milgram’s results showed 65% of teachers continued to shock the learner all the way to the highest level of 450 volts, though they were uneasy about it. Many were distressed and allegedly not given a proper debriefing.
Beginning in the mid-1960s, University of Pennsylvania dermatologist Dr. Albert Kligman conducted “dermatological research” on over seventy inmates at Philadelphia’s Holmesburg Prison. In an experiment funded by the Dow Chemical Company, Johnson & Johnson, and others, Kligman set out to test the effects of dioxin on the human body. He injected prisoners, who were mostly minorities, with the contaminant, resulting in the development of severe chloracne all over their bodies, as well as blisters and lesions. Speaking about the inmates, Kligman told an interviewer, “All I saw before me was acres of skin.”
Among the many atrocities committed during Apartheid Era in South Africa was the Aversion Project led by South African Defence Force Colonel and psychiatrist Aubrey Levin. He earned the nickname “Dr. Shock” from his belief and practice that electric shock treatment could cure homosexuality which was considered deviant behavior. Since the government believed same-sex attraction was a “disease,” homosexual military personnel were put through aversion therapy. Dr. Levin administered several methods of “therapy,” most notably electric shocks and chemical castration. Those deemed incurable underwent forced gender reassignment surgery and given new identities. The psychiatrist went on to practice in Canada for decades until his license was revoked in 2010 for allegedly assaulting multiple male patients.
During the Second Sino-Japanese War and World War II, Surgeon General Shirō Ishii of the Imperial Japanese Army directed a secret chemical and biological warfare facility. Under his direction, researchers at Unit 731 committed unspeakable acts on humans including prisoners of war, alleged spies, and civilian men, women, and children. The horrific experiments, such as vivisection, amputation, and bioweapons testing, were often performed while the victims were awake and without anesthetic. By the end of the war, evidence of their experiments and the compound were destroyed, and thousands of victims were killed. In 1946, Shirō Ishii received war-crime immunity for disclosing the unit’s activities.
Researchers & Physicians of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study
In 1932, the United States Public Health Service and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention launched a study to test the effects of syphilis when left untreated. The study was conducted in Macon County, Alabama, where 600 economically disadvantaged African-American male sharecroppers were recruited to participate in exchange for free healthcare. However, the men were kept in the dark about the true nature of the experiment. Three hundred ninety-nine of the men had syphilis, and the 201 men without the disease became a control group. Originally intended to last six months, the study went on for forty years with over 100 subjects dying. After it was made public in 1972, the study was shut down.
In 1943, German SS officer and doctor Joseph Mengele became the chief physician at Auschwitz concentration camp. There, he carried out horrific experiments on children, particularly identical twins. While his young subjects were housed separately and given better food, Mengele wasn’t concerned about their actual health. He was only interested in if they were suitable for his experimentation. Some were intentionally infected with diseases and/or subjected to completely unnecessary operations just to satisfy the Nazi doctor’s anthropological curiosity. An unknown but presumably high number of victims died during the experiments or were killed after they were no use to Mengele. However, some survived the traumatizing experience and went on to tell their stories.