Top 10 bizarre experiments

Here are 10 of the most bizarre experiments of all time - which, it must be said, mostly fall closer to madness than to genius.

All were performed by honest, hard-working scientists who were not prepared to accept common-sense explanations of how the world works. Sometimes such single-mindedness leads to brilliant discoveries. At other times it can end up closer to madness. Unfortunately, there's no way of knowing in advance where the journey will lead.

1. The vomit drinking doctor

yellow feverHow far would you go to prove your point? Stubbins Ffirth, a doctor-in-training living in Philadelphia during the early 19th century, went further than most. Having observed that yellow fever ran riot during the summer, but disappeared over the winter, Ffirth hypothesised it was not a contagious disease. He reckoned it was caused by an excess of stimulants such as heat, food and noise. To prove his hunch, Ffirth set out to demonstrate that no matter how much he exposed himself to yellow fever, he wouldn't catch it.

He started by making a small incision in his arm and pouring "fresh black vomit" obtained from a yellow-fever patient into the cut. He didn't get sick.

But he didn't stop there. His experiments grew progressively bolder. He made deeper incisions in his arms into which he poured black vomit. He dribbled the stuff in his eyes. He filled a room with heated "regurgitation vapours" - a vomit sauna - and remained there for 2 hours, breathing in the air. He experienced a "great pain in my head, some nausea, and perspired very freely", but was otherwise OK.

Next Ffirth began ingesting the vomit. He fashioned some of the black matter into pills and swallowed them down. He mixed half an ounce of fresh vomit with water and drank it. "The taste was very slightly acid," he wrote. "It is probable that if I had not, previous to the two last experiments, accustomed myself to tasting and smelling it, that emesis would have been the consequence." Finally, he gathered his courage and quaffed pure, undiluted black vomit fresh from a patient's mouth. Still he didn't get sick.

Ffirth rounded out his experiment by liberally smearing himself with other yellow-fever tainted fluids: blood, saliva, perspiration and urine. Healthy as ever, he declared his hypothesis proven in his 1804 thesis.

He was wrong. Yellow fever, as we now know, is very contagious, but it requires direct transmission into the bloodstream, usually by a mosquito, to cause infection.

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