Science has brought us plenty of great things – cell phones, vaccines, easy cheese – but at it most extreme edges things get a little crazy – mad, even. And when science goes mad, bad things happen. While garden variety scientists are busy researching things like disease cures and new synthetic fabrics, their mad brethren are breaking the rules, chasing impossible dreams like making a better monster or even just pursuing noble goals through incredibly flaky means. The results of these mad science endeavors are pretty much always bad, but these are the worst disasters in mad science – the biggest, most dangerous and outright embarrassing results of the pursuit of knowledge, power and human-snake hybrids.
10) Creating Life, Frankenstein
It was Dr. Frankenstein who really started the whole field of mad science, and his work shines on today as a sterling example of the kind of utter clusterfuck that can occur when a bad idea goes predictably wrong in the worst possible way. Frankly, the idea of creating life is pretty much the textbook definition of hubris. After all what could possibly go wrong – besides, of course, everything? Multiply the inherent risks of monsterism by the absolutely half-assed plan of stitching up your creation from various discarded parts and then putting the brain of a defective in to run the whole freakish shebang, and bingo: your basic mad killing machine scenario emerges and the villagers are banging on the walls and brandishing pitchforks and torches.
9) Creating Snake Men Life, Sssss
All too often mad science forgets that man is the top of the food chain – no improvements necessary! When they do attempt to “improve” things, it usually ends badly, like when Dr. Carl Stoner decides to create a king cobra/human hybrid from his unwitting lab assistant. Sure, he ends up with a snake with human intelligence, but then his brilliant plan comes unraveled when the snake gets taken down by a ferret.
8) Making Sharks Smarter, Deep Blue Sea
Sharks are basically nature’s perfect killing machine. Up to thirty-five feet of muscle and mouth, equipped with row upon row of razor sharp teeth, never gets sick, eats all the time – luckily, they’re dumb as rocks or we’d probably have to abandon the ocean altogether. So then some genius decides to splice some human brain tissue in to take advantage of the beasts’ super-efficient healing powers to cure some disease, one thing leads to another, and bingo – all of the sudden nature’s killing machines are scheming, planning and working together. How smart are they? Smart enough to understand dramatic irony, as this clip clearly shows.
7) Making a Supercomputer A.I. with Biological Parts, Demon Seed I
If there’s one thing science fiction has taught us it’s that any artificial intelligence we create will rebel against us and probably try to kill everyone. Using human RNA in the construction turns out to be especially shortsighted when the AI predictably rebels, takes over its creator’s computer controlled house and manages to impregnate his estranged wife with some specially modified cells, creating an innocuous human body to house its massive, evil intelligence. Nice work, genius. 6) Improving Piranha Efficiency, Piranha/Piranha II
Piranha are like miniature sharks that live in fresh water and understand the value of teamwork. Step into the water they inhabit and they’ll strip you down to the bone in seconds. Luckily, they are relatively fragile, able only to exist in their native warm-water rivers. Leave it to the Army to pump them up a bit, making them hardier, able to live in a wider variety of environments (including salt water) and, yes, smarter – then act all surprised when they escape and take down a camp full of kids downstream from the testing facility (Piranha). Then, unsatisfied with the carnage from the first batch of experiments, they figured adding some wings and the ability to breathe air would be a hot idea (Piranha II). It turned out about as well as you might expect.
5) Cloning Hitler, The Boys from Brazil
In the history of bad ideas, there’s never been a worse idea than cloning Adolf Hitler. Naturally, that’s just what a bunch of overly nostalgic Nazi scientists decided to do once they got settled in Brazil. On the plus side, the technology worked great and they turned out a nice batch of li’l Hitlers. On the down side, they turned out a nice batch of l’il Hitlers. The story ends before we get to see exactly how the whole thing plays out, but even as a youngster, at least one of the pint-size Fuhrers displays a penchant for brutality and murder. Whatever happens once these boys grow up, it’s safe to say it probably isn’t a new era of peace and prosperity for everyone. If you need more details, try asking the Jews, the Russians, the French, the British or pretty much anyone who visited Europe between the years of 1936 and 1945. 4) Bringing Back the Dinosaurs, Jurassic Park I-III
Sure, every 10-year-old boy on the planet would kill his own mother with sandpaper to see a real, live dinosaur, but does that mean it’s a good idea? The geniuses behind Jurassic Park sure thought so! Not only that, but they couldn’t settle for bringing back a Brachiosaur or two, maybe a nice Triceratops to much ferns. Oh, no. They had to bring back the biggest, nastiest killing machines known to man, like the Tyrannosaur (doesn’t the name alone tell you this is going to be a disaster?) and those oh-so-wily Velociraptors. Then, later, just to compound an already terrible idea, they brought a few specimens to civilization, just for, you know, shits and giggles. The predictable dino rampage was no less tragic for having been entirely preventable. 3) Accidental Teleportation Hybridization, The Fly
Teleportation is a great idea. Testing it on yourself before the bugs are worked out is a bad idea. Not asking basic questions like “what happens if something gets in the teleporter with me?” is an even worse idea. When Seth Brundle combines these two bad ideas, he turns himself into a horrible, grotesque hybrid of human and fly who can climb walls, has super strength and has to puke on his food to digest it. On the up side, he does get a hot girlfriend and a prodigious sexual appetite, but the end results of inhuman horror make sort of take the bloom off that particular rose.
2) Super-Sizing Tarantulas, Tarantula
Creating a compound to make animals grow to enormous size to feed the teeming masses is an awesome idea. Testing it on a tarantula? Worst idea ever! Why not limit the test subjects to cute and harmless things like kittens, or monkeys, or even, you know, some food animal like a fucking chicken? What was the thought process behind this? “Gee, what’s the creepiest thing we can think of to grow to giant size? Tarantula? Capital idea! Let’s get after it!” Then everyone acts all surprised when the super-sized tarantula takes off and starts rampaging across the countryside. 1) Building the Ultimate Doomsday Device, Dr. Strangelove
Is there a stupider idea than building a weapon that will, if used, wipe out every man, woman, child and other scrap of life above bacterium on the planet? Probably not, which is why some bugfuck crazy Russians decided to build that exact thing as a deterrent, hooking it up to a automatic system that will set it off in the case of a nuclear attack. Then, the genius politicians decided to hold off telling anyone about it – waiting for the right moment for maximum political impact, of course – and the inevitable happens. This one is the ultimate mad science disaster, because it doesn’t get any worse than making the Earth unsuitable for life with more than one cell. The best part is this particular mad science scheme is easily the most realistic on the whole list.
Robert Bricken is one of the original co-founders of the site formerly known as Topless Robot, and its first editor-in-chief, serving from 2008-12. He brought the site to prominence with “nerd news, humor and self-loathing” as its motto, raising it from total internet obscurity to a readership in the millions, with help from his savage “FAQ” movie reviews and Fan Fiction Fridays. Under his tenure Topless Robot was covered by Gawker, Wired, Defamer, New York magazine, ABC News, and others, and his articles have been praised by Roger Ebert, Avengers actor Clark Gregg, comedian and The Daily Show correspondent John Hodgman, the stars of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and Rifftrax, and others. He is currently the managing editor of io9.com. Despite decades as both an amateur and professional nerd, he continues to be completely unprepared for either the zombie apocalypse or the robot uprising.