8 of the most unethical scientific experiments

Science uses experimentation to develop new knowledge that allows humanity to evolve. Unfortunately, things don’t always go well. Here are some examples of scientific missteps that teach us a lesson in ethics.

This is what happened to Bobby Shafran, Eddy Galland, and David Kellman, three brothers who were the subject of a study in the 1960s by Dr. Peter Neubauer. The three brothers met by chance at university 19 years later. One of them, Eddy Galland, took his own life. 

Triplets separated for science

At the beginning of the 1960s, the American psychologist Stanley Milgram undertook a study where he told volunteer participants to give electric shocks to “students” (who were actually actors). The volunteers were led to believe that they were testing learning methods but, in reality, the study was testing the volunteers’ degree of willingness to follow an order that was contrary to their morality.

The Milgram Experiment

In 1971, the American psychologist Philip Zimbardo wanted to demonstrate that certain social situations can induce behaviours that go against an individual’s personal values, especially in a prison environment. Eighteen subjects were selected and randomly separated into two categories: prisoners and guards. 

The Stanford Prison Experiment

Did mentalist Derren Brown go too far in trying to prove that he could convince someone to commit murder? Can social pressure actually push someone to commit murder? That’s the premise of the reality TV show The Push, released in February 2018 on Netflix. In the show, 70 actors took part in an extremely elaborate setup to convince the subject to push a man off a building.

The Push

During the Holocaust, Dr. Josef Mengele conducted cruel experiments on Jewish prisoners, in particular on twins, with the goal of demonstrating the importance of heredity, thereby confirming the Nazi preoccupation with the superiority of the Aryan race.Nicknamed the Angel of Death, Mengele mistreated his subjects and many of them died during the experiments that included amputations and the intentional injection of diseases.

Nazi experiments

James Marion Sims, known as the father of gynecology and the inventor of the speculum (the cold, intrusive object used to observe the interior of the vagina), abused black slave women by conducting experiments on them in 19th-century United States.

Slaves as guinea pigs

This special unit of the Japanese Army was created in the 1930s to develop biological weapons that could spread the plague or typhus. Members of the unit, directed by microbiologist Shiro Ishii (pictured), vivisected Chinese prisoners and exposed them to deadly viruses. It is estimated that Unit 731 killed tens of thousands of people during the Second Sino-Japanese War.

Unit 731

During the Cold War, the United States took a particular interest in atomic and nuclear energy. More precisely, they wondered about the effects of radiation on health. This is what researchers from the American Atomic Energy Commission and NASA wanted to know, so they subjected 130 prisoners to tests involving their private parts.

Private parts subjected to radiation

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