Smoking Ears and Screaming Teeth - Trevor Norton (2010)


‘Live dangerously’ – Friedrich Nietzsche

Scientists are curious in all senses of the word. I have spent my life experimenting, but only once on myself. I had read that urinatores, the frogmen of ancient Rome, went diving with a mouthful of oil. No one knew why. Perhaps they cupped their hands over their eyes and dribbled out the oil to form the oil-bubble equivalent of a lens so that they could see underwater. I determined to put it to the test so I submerged with a large bottle of cooking oil. After repeated attempts I saw nothing, swallowed half a bottle of Mazola and had the runs for a week.

When schoolchildren were asked to draw a scientist, ninety per cent of them drew a mad scientist. The incidence of self-experimentation by researchers may seem to justify this description. In the name of science they have swallowed tumblers of cholera, hydrochloric acid and some unmentionable things that I will be sure to mention.

Why would they do such things? It’s a strange tale of altruism, vanity, courage, curiosity and – of course – stupidity.

‘If a little knowledge is dangerous, where is the man who has so much knowledge as to be out of danger?’ – Thomas Huxley