Artificial Blitzkriegs

I came across a description of this experiment in an old newspaper (Reno Evening Gazette, Sep 8, 1941) and have never found any other references to it. The experiment was conducted by British psychologists who wanted to find out if "civilian populations can be made immune, through familiarity, to fear caused by air raid noises." The methodological problems with the design of the experiment are obvious, but it's interesting that it was conducted nevertheless. The details follow:

The London experiment consisted of herding workers, children and bomb-shocked neurotics into underground vaults and there subjecting them to an 'artificial blitz bombing.'
Sound effects used in the test were recordings made during one of London's worst air raids last year, amplified to simulate the real thing. An Associated Press writer who witnessed the experiment reported:
"The sounds swelled in the dark vault. The guns kept banging. Then big bombs burst. The guns kept up. More bombs. Then the crackle of flames. Next clanging fire engines added their noise, the other sounds continuing."
According to the reporter, the subjects stood the test very well: 'No one was crying out. A flashlight swung around the room, revealing drawn faces and frightened eyes. But no one was swooning. The experimenters stepped up the amplification.'
The British psychologists responsible for the experiment were reported delighted with the results. They said it proved their theory that whole populations could be exposed to 'artificial blitzkriegs' and thus rendered immune to fear during air raids.

Posted By: Alex - Thu Apr 09, 2009 - Comments (8)
Category: Science, Experiments, Psychology, War

Why Tinfoil Hats Don’t Work

You might have seen the newspaper reports last fall about this experiment. Here's how it was done.

Posted By: Paul - Fri Mar 27, 2009 - Comments (6)
Category: Eccentrics, Science, Experiments, Psychology, Technology

Bertillon Measurements

You've probably heard of the Bertillon System, one of those discredited "scientific" theories detailing how body measurements indicated racial and/or criminal aspects of a person.

Well, here's how the NYC Police Department went about securing Bertillon measurements, circa 1908--courtesy of the George Bain Collection at the Library of Congress.





Posted By: Paul - Fri Feb 06, 2009 - Comments (7)
Category: Crime, Fads, Science, Anthropology, Experiments, Stereotypes and Cliches, 1900s

Decomposition of a Pig

A time-lapse movie of a decomposing pig, taken by Dr. Jerry Payne in the 1960s as part of his graduate studies. It's four days compressed into six minutes. Not much happens at first, but around the 3 minute mark things get pretty interesting. There's a nasty little surprise at the end as well. (Note: the pig died of natural causes.)

The purple dots that appear around 2:40 are beads to show the movement of soil by insects.

You may not want to watch this while you're eating a meal.

Posted By: Alex - Thu Jan 08, 2009 - Comments (13)
Category: Death, Science, Experiments

Cat-Rat Cooperation Disproves Darwin

Chuck's post last week about the guy who trained a rat to sit on top of a cat sitting on a dog, reminded me of the groundbreaking research of Dr. Loh Seng Tsai, conducted back in the late 1940s/early 1950s.

Dr. Tsai trained a cat and a rat to cooperate together in order to get food. From the LA Times, July 15, 1951:

The latest research was done with the aid of special apparatus composed of three sections separated by electrically controlled screen gates. First section is the entrance or release box, where a cat and a rat assemble for a test. The second section is the reaction chamber where cooperation takes place.

To get into the third section, where a dish of food awaits, the cat and mouse must each step on a floor button simultaneously. When this is done by perfect cooperation the gate drops and both animals thus gain admittance to the food chamber.

Dr. Tsai reported that, "Soon all the pairs of cats and rats began to work together. Finally their cooperation was so perfect that they took only three seconds to reach their food from the entrance."

Dr. Tsai figured that these results disproved Darwin's concept of the Survival of the Fittest. He told the LA Times reporter: "In the face of the fact that even alley cats and rats live together, eat together, sleep together, play together and work together, Darwin's theory seems at most only a half-truth."

What's really amazing is that this guy was a professor of biology at first the University of Chicago, then Tulane, then UCLA, and yet he didn't seem to have a clear understanding of what Darwin meant by the Survival of the Fittest. Nor, as far as I can tell, did anyone ever call him out as a crackpot. In fact, there was talk of nominating him for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Posted By: Alex - Tue Dec 23, 2008 - Comments (6)
Category: Animals, Science, Experiments

Dr. Dove’s Unicorn Bull

In 1933 Dr. W.F. Dove, a biologist at the University of Maine, conducted an experiment to find out if he could create a "unicorn bull." He removed the two knots of tissue on the side of the bull's head that would normally have developed into horns and transplanted them to the center of the forehead. The experiment was a success. A single, massive horn grew there.

The unicorn horn made the bull the unchallenged leader of its herd. But Dr. Dove observed that the unicorn bull was actually an extremely docile creature. He wrote:

Although he is an animal with the hereditary potentiality for two horns, he recognizes the power of a single horn which he uses as a prow to pass under fences and barriers in his path, or as a forward thrusting bayonet in his attacks. And, to invert the beatitude, his ability to inherit the earth gives him the virtues of meekness. Consciousness of power makes him docile.

Link: Unicorn Garden

Posted By: Alex - Wed Dec 17, 2008 - Comments (5)
Category: Animals, Science, Experiments, 1930s

Eating Glass

The new Google magazine archive is a goldmine for weirdness. Here's another find from Popular Science, Nov 1931:

Glass beads, strands of knotted thread, and even tiny pellets of gold is the diet of Frederick Hoelzel, Chicago, Ill., university student, since he offered to aid physiologists of the University of Chicago in research work on indigestion. The foreign objects are mixed with his meals, and his stomachaches come under laboratory scrutiny. They are no novelty to the subject of this unusual experiment; he volunteered for the tests because he already suffered from severe digestive troubles.

The full results of Hoelzel's glass-eating study were published in the American Journal of Physiology, (Mar 1, 1930), "The Rate of Passage of Inert Materials Through the Digestive Tract." The article includes a helpful chart, detailing exactly how long it took for various substances (including steel ball-bearings and bent silver wire) to pass through Hoelzel's system:

Hoelzel was an interesting character. He became an expert on nutrition and often subjected himself to grueling diet experiments -- particularly experiments involving fasting for extended periods of time. The Life photo archive has a picture of him, taken in 1955. He seems to have been one of the first researchers to make a link between calorie-restriction and longevity, though it didn't really work for him. He died in 1963 at the age of 73.

Posted By: Alex - Fri Dec 12, 2008 - Comments (8)
Category: Food, Nutrition, Science, Experiments

The Hard-To-Get Woman

Why do women play hard to get? According to research recently conducted at the University of Bristol, it's so that "men can prove themselves more worthy than their rivals."

Here's how it works. The woman acts coy. The man acts eager and helpful. Eventually the woman decides, "I am going to have a child with this male." I assume she says this in a robotic voice.

The researchers hope their study "could eventually lead to a model that could work out the optimal amount of coyness for a woman to use in choosing a male."

I wrote about some similar research in Elephants on Acid. In 1973 researchers from the University of Wisconsin instructed a Nevada prostitute to play "hard to get," and then studied the reactions of her clients. Hard to get, in that context, meant that she didn't indicate to her clients whether she wanted to see them again. Client response was measured by the number of times the guy returned during the following month. The researchers concluded that men don't like women who play hard to get. Instead men like women who are easy for themselves but hard for everyone else to get. (Thanks, Sandy!)

Posted By: Alex - Tue Dec 09, 2008 - Comments (7)
Category: Science, Experiments, Psychology, Women

How much heat can the body withstand?

In 1948 Dr. Craig Taylor at the University of California at Los Angeles created a heat chamber to determine the human tolerance for extreme heat. He experimented on himself. In the picture (from the Life archive) you can see him sitting in his hotbox, heated to a pleasant 220° fahrenheit. The egg on the metal pan in front of him was frying. The highest temperature he ever endured was 262°.

There was a practical point to this. He was trying to determine the maximum heat a fighter pilot could withstand, should the refrigeration system in their plane fail.

For more info about Dr. Taylor's heat experiments, check out the old article from Popular Science posted on the Modern Mechanix blog.

Posted By: Alex - Tue Dec 02, 2008 - Comments (15)
Category: Science, Experiments, 1940s

The Mechanics of Stabbing

In a paper recently submitted to, researchers describe an attempt to determine the exact amount of force required to stab someone. No, they didn't stab real people. They stabbed synthetic materials such as polyurethane, foam, and ballistic soap. But oddly, no one had previously determined the exact amount of force needed for stabbing. Forensic scientists had simply used qualitative terms such as "mild force" or "severe force".

Some of their findings: 1) The best household knife to stab someone with is a utility knife:

Four different commonly available household knives (cook’s, utility, carving and kitchen knives) were tested. The utility knife required the least amount of force or energy to penetrate the skin and was associated with the smallest amount of out of plane skin displacement, while the cook’s knife required the greatest force, energy and out of plane displacement.

2) However, not all knives are created equal. Even two identical knives by the same manufacturer can vary greatly in sharpness and ability to penetrate skin:

Evidence suggests that the quality control processes used to manufacture knives fail to produce consistently uniform blade points in nominally identical knives, leading to penetration forces which can vary widely...
the penetration forces associated with nominally identical knives, even virgin knives, can vary by as much as 100%.

Posted By: Alex - Mon Dec 01, 2008 - Comments (7)
Category: Science, Experiments

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Alex Boese
Alex is the creator and curator of the Museum of Hoaxes. He's also the author of various weird, non-fiction, science-themed books such as Elephants on Acid and Psychedelic Apes.

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