The Museum of Hoaxes

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A collection of strange and curious science miscellanea brought to you by the author of Elephants on Acid and Electrified Sheep
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Edward Carmichael (1896-1978), The Doctor Who Stacked Weights on His Testicles
In 1933, either Herbert Woollard or Edward Carmichael had weights stacked on his testicles for the sake of science. It's not possible to say exactly which one of these London-based doctors bore the unusual burden, because while both participated in the experiment, only one of them lay on a table and suffered the scrotal compression. The other one did the stacking. They never revealed who served in which capacity — nor how they chose who was to be the unlucky one.

Herbert Henry Woollard

E.A. Carmichael

Their motive for this self-experiment was to better understand referred pain — the mysterious phenomenon in which injury to an internal organ causes pain to be felt elsewhere in the body. For instance, a heart attack may cause the sensation of pain in the arm. The two doctors noted that, of all the internal organs, the testicles were the most "accessible to investigation" and therefore seemed ideal for a study of referred pain.

During the experiment, the subject lay spread-eagled on a table, exposing his genitals. His colleague stooped over him and gripped the other man's scrotal sac, drawing it forward and gently cradling it in his hand. He then rested a scale pan on a single testis, and carefully piled weights onto the pan, recording the reaction of the subject with each increase of weight.

One of Woollard and Carmichael's charts of testicular pain

Their results, which appeared in the journal Brain, were rather spare on colorful details. They described the agony of the victim only in dry, clinical details. For instance, they reported that 300 grams of weight produced slight discomfort in the right groin, while 650 grams caused severe pain on the right side of the body. However, they did confirm that injury to the testicles does cause pain to be referred throughout the body. For instance, as the weight on the testicle increased to over two pounds, the subject reported pain "of a sickening character" not only in his groin but also spreading across his back.

Woollard and Carmichael conducted a number of variations of the experiment, in which they numbed nerves leading to the testes in order to determine how this would alter the sensation. This produced the interesting finding that, even though they eventually numbed what they believed to be every nerve leading to the testes, they couldn't entirely abolish the pain of compression. The testes are highly sensitive organs!

Their results remain the definitive word on this subject since no other scientists have ever repeated the experiment.
  • Woollard, H.H., & E.A. Carmichael (1933), "The testis and referred pain", Brain, 56(3): 293-303.
Posted By: alex | Date: Mon Aug 01, 2011
Category: Physiology, 1900-1949, United Kingdom, Self-Experiments, Pain,
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If any scientist wants to research further, i'ld be very willing to be his testing subject...
Posted by Balletje in NL on 06/17 at 08:18 AM
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