History is filled with examples of cruel and unusual experiments performed on human beings and animals for the so-called sake of advancing science. Even at the time they were performed, such experiments should have been considered crazy. And today, at the very least they should elicit a “WTF?”. In some cases it seems that the psychology professionals administering the tests were the crazy ones—not the subjects involved. In the following experiments, the victims can be categorized into five groups: chimps, dogs, gays, unsuspecting participants and Jews.
As disturbing as the experiments by Dr. Harry Harlow on rhesus monkeys were, they did generate some—albeit inadvertent—“good” results. Public outrage at Harlow’s work comprised one of the early steps toward the United States animal rights movement, which aims to wipe out the use of animals in the research, food, clothing and entertainment industries. His work is also said to be partially responsible for various ethical standards established for scientific study.
Harlow conducted his work at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he did studies on maternal separation, dependency needs and social isolation. Harlow utilized a number of questionable devices in his studies, the most objectionable of which being the incredibly cruel “pit of despair.” Also called the “well of despair,” the isolation chamber allowed baby monkeys to be left alone in darkness for up to one year from birth, or repeatedly isolated from their peers. The result was severely psychologically disturbed monkeys that became models for human depression.
In his own words, Harlow wrote, “One of six monkeys isolated for three months refused to eat after release and died five days later…the effects of six months of total social isolation were so devastating and debilitating that we had assumed initially that twelve months of isolation would not produce any additional decrement. This assumption proved to be false; twelve months of isolation almost obliterated the animals socially.”
Scientific research on chimps has been going on since 1923–when psychobiologist Robert Yerkes began using them for behavioral studies–and continues to the present. However, the United States has made progress after a blue-ribbon committee for the Institute of Medicine began looking into their ethical treatment and in 2011 established strict guidelines for chimp testing.
The standards came too late for those animals that suffered through the “monkey drug trials” of 1969. In those experiments, anonymous researchers gave monkeys and rats the means and supplies to inject themselves with a wide array of dangerous drugs, including cocaine and morphine, to study the effects of drugs and addiction in humans. The animals became so disturbed that some broke their arms trying to escape. Others tore off their fingers or removed all the fur from parts of their bodies; still others died from the experiments within two weeks.