stories from the wilder side of science

Films 1940-1959

Below you will find filmclips in connection to the experiments in the books. Please note "book 1" refers to "The Mad Science Book", "book 2" to "Das neue Buch der verrückten Experimente" the second volume that has not yet been published in English (see foreign rights).

1945 The Great Famine (book 1, p. 110)

Starving for Science
"Will You Starve That They Be Better Fed?" ran the slogan on the leaflet that the biologist Ancel Keys had circulated to community service workers. Keys wanted to test how to bring semi-starved people back to normal. For finding out ne needed semi-starved people. For the selected 36 volunteers the experiment that followed remained "the most significant event in their lives". Right up to the 1990s, they regularly held reunions.

After the experiment, three of them changed their profession and became chefs. In this documantary a former test subject comments on historical footage of the experiment.

1946 Holidaying in a Draught (book 1, p. 120)

Common Cold Research at Salisbury
When researcher at the British Government’s Common Cold Unit in Salisbury 90 miles southwest of London tried to find out how one gets a cold they were in for a surprise: their experiments demonstrated that the common cold had nothing to do with cold temperatures. Although most people believe differently that is true to this day.

Being a guniea pig was especially popular with students. They considered it a cheap holiday: free accommodation in spacious flats which were fully equipped with books, games, a radio and telephone and spend your leisure time playing table tennis, badminton, or golf. You even got paid three shillings a day for your trouble. The only risk was: one could catch a cold.
Watch this hilarious movie about the experiment.

1951 Nosediving in the Vomit Comet  (book 1, p. 132)



The Vomit Comet
To this day, nobody has managed to create a machine that could produce even the slightest reduction in gravity at ground level. The only way of getting 35 seconds of weightlessness was invented in 1951: by flying a bombtrajectory with a plane. The KC-135, a military version of a Boeing 707, that was later used to train astronauts was aptly called "vomit ccomet". Anyone who doubts that people in the cabin of the KC-135 really attain a state of weightlessness during parabolic flight should watch the film Apollo 13 starring Tom Hanks. The film crew hired out the actual ‘Vomit Comet’ to shoot the relevant scenes.

Stephen Hawking flies in the Vomit Comet
Here is world famous physicist Stephen Hawking who was on board of the vomit comet in 2007.

1954 Frankenstein for Dogs (book 1, p. 137)


The Two Headed Dog
Russian surgeon Vladimir Demikhov had carried out a heart transplant operation on dogs, and had subsequently conducted lung transplants and bypass operations as well. In 1954 he approached the ultimate transplantation: he sewed a young dog's head onto a second dog’s neck.

Even at the time, there was controversy over what insights were supposed to be gained from these experiments, but they did succeed in raising Demikhov’s profile. After the Soviet Union’s launch of Sputnik I in 1957 made it the first nation to put a satellite into orbit, Demikhov’s operations were hailed as the "Sputnik of surgery".

1954 Der schnellste Bremser der Welt (book 2, p. 100) 


1955 The Psychonaut’s Bathtub (book 1, p. 140)










"Altered States" (Title Sequence)
What would happen if the brain was cut off from all external stimuli? When neither a person’s eyes, ears, skin or nose could register a single thing? That was the question John Lilly wanted to answer in the 1950ies. He invented a sensory deprivation tank where he had halluzinations and other experiences "too personal to relate publicly", as he reported.

In the 1980s, Lilly had isolation tanks (also known as Samadhi tanks) manufactured and marketed as relaxation aids. He became a guru of the New Age movement, wrote several zany volumes of autobiography, and combined his spells in the tank with acid trips.

The plot of the film ‘Altered States’ (1980) with William Hurt was based on John Lilly’s experiments. To no ones surprise the real experiments were done with much less flashy equipment than the Hollywood ones. As a matter of fact Lilly sometimes had to switch of the light himself and then climb in complete darkness into a tank, that was more or less a oversized bathtub. Here is the title sequence with a very sophisticated vertical tank.

Since the initial experiment Lillys tank pops up time and again as relaxation device and meditation machine. This footage is from 2006.

1957 Psychology’s Atom Bomb (book 1, p. 150)

Controversial TV-Spot by the Republicans
This is probably the most famous experiment that actually never has been done. American market researcher James Vicary claimed that he had exposed the audience in a cinema unwittingly to the secret instructions ‘Eat Popcorn!’ and ‘Drink Coke!’ With the result that the sales of Coca-Cola in the cinema foyer increased by 18.1 percent, while those of popcorn rose by 57.5 percent. Later he admitted that the whole story had been fabricated.
Vicary’s experiment had its last major airing to date during the US Presidential elections of 2000, when in a TV advert promoting the Republic candidate George W. Bush unseen by viewers, the word RATS was flashed up momentarily across the whole screen when a Democrat policy was mentioned. See for yourself at 0:25.

1958 The Mother-Machine (book 1, p. 154)

Harry Harlow in a CBS Segment
The cloth mother psychologist Harry Harlow built for his baby monkeys is one of the most enigmatic devices ever built for an experiment. In this old news footage he explains CBS television newscaster Charles Collingwood what it is all about.