Dr. Sam J. Cooley is a chartered psychologist with the British Psychological Society and a research fellow at the School of Sport, Exercise and Rehabilitation Sciences at University of Birmingham. His work in the fields of sport and exercise psychology is in an applied setting, “using pragmatist philosophy to investigate real world issues”. You can follow him on Twitter at @SamJoeCooley and read more about his work at his website, www.samjoecooley.com.
His new book The Museum of Bizarre and Extreme Science: A Collection of the Most Outlandish Experiments in History is available for purchase through Amazon. You can enter to win a copy of his book this month by signing up for the Read More Science Book Club, a monthly newsletter for readers of popular science books.
Welcome to the Museum
Are you ready for a journey through the scientific macabre?
Like a tour-guide, Cooley walks his readers through a collection the most outlandish experiments throughout history. In each chapter, he provides a brief introduction to the study, why it captured his interest, and mentions background information and facts about the research. Cooley is a curator of disturbing science — and he has designed for readers a stunning collection of some of the strangest scientific studies ever performed.
“My search criteria for the experiments to be included in this book was pretty simple,” Cooley writes in the first chapter. “First, there were two ways an experiment could be classed as outlandish: either by testing a hypothesis that, with the luxury of hindsight, now seems utterly bizarre; or through being downright unethical and extreme in the approaches used.”
“Secondly, I needed to be able to get my hands on the original scientific report, preferably published in a credible source such as a peer-reviewed academic journal,” he continues. “After establishing my search criteria, I went on an adventure through historic library archives, blowing off the cobwebs of journals some 200 years old.”
The depth to Cooley’s research is obvious: he’s pieced together studies nearly lost to history alongside the strange ones we still hear about today, such as that of the scientist who minced animal testicles and injected himself with their testosterone in order to feel young again. It’s also difficult to read about some these experiments without feeling somewhat disturbed and slightly sick to your stomach, yet fascinated nonetheless.
Yet Cooley has not compiled these horrifying studies simply to shock his readers. They ask an important question: were these studies justified for the sake of scientific discovery, or were they “driven by the distorted desires of mad scientists”? By providing the original articles accompanied with his introductions, Cooley hopes his reader will draw their own conclusion from the evidence.
As he explains in the first chapter, uncovering these macabre experiments was sometimes challenging: “I hit many dead ends during this endeavor, usually the result of tracing an experiment back to nothing more than a brief mention in someone else’s tale. But each time I came across a hidden gem it made it all worthwhile.”
The experiments are definitely hidden gems. Cooley’s book is unique in that he includes the original studies — he wants readers to see the evidence for themselves. It also makes his book feel more authentic.
It helps that his commentary is amusing, interesting, and authentic as well. Cooley is curious and aims to better understand the obscure experiments he’s dug up. Although this book is his first and, at times, can seem amateur, it deserves recognition for having used a novel approach to examine a unique subject. His book is an amusing attempt to better understand the strangeness of antique science. I could see it expanding into a larger volume, complete with vintage photos or modern illustrations of the strangest experiments. It already deserves a place alongside Ripley’s Believe it or Not.
Not all of the experiments in the Museum of Bizarre and Extreme Science have been lost to antiquity. “Some of the experiments featured are still making headlines today, whilst many others have faded from memory over the course of time,” writes Cooley. “This book is about reliving and preserving these artefacts.”
If anything, Cooley’s book is sure to inspire bemusement and intrigue in enthusiasts of antique science.