Three Nobel Prize Winners Who Went Bonkers

Three Nobel Prize Winners Who Went Bonkers
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The Nobel Prize is perhaps the most notable recognition of scientific achievement, awarded to scientists who have advanced their fields in revolutionary ways. But once bestowed the illustrious prize, laureates don't always continue their past successes. In fact, a select few have gone utterly daffy.

In an odd commemoration of the talented and brilliant scientists who will win Nobel Prizes this week, let's take a look back at three winners who fell off the sane train.

1. Alexis Carrel. French surgeon Alexis Carrel's Nobel biography references his academic achievements, his distinguished service in World War I, and his famous books. What it leaves out is his fervent belief in mysticism, telepathy, clairvoyance, and his desire to move to South America to become a dictator. It also glosses over the content of his books.

For example, in Man, the Unknown, which sold more than two million copies after being published in 1935, Carrel argued passionately in favor of eugenics. In the book, he praised Germany for its "energetic measures against the propagation of the defective, the mentally diseased, and the criminal." He also insisted that there was a key error in the U.S. Constitution revolving around the issue of equality.

"The feebleminded and the man of genius should not be equal before the law," he wrote.

Carrel's crazy days followed years of diligent work in medicine, during which he developed methods for sewing blood vessels together. These methods effectively enabled modern surgery, and garnered him the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1912.

File:William Shockley, Stanford University.jpg

2. William Shockley. By inventing the transistor with colleagues John Bardeen and Walter Brattain, William Shockley created one of the fundamental pieces necessary to build the modern computer. He received the Nobel Prize for his work in 1956. Later, he ventured out to Mountain View, California to commercialize his design. Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory would go down in history as the first establishment to work on silicon semiconductor devices in what is now known as Silicon Valley.

Those are some impressive accomplishments, but according to Shockley, they weren't as important as the work he would carry out later in his career safeguarding the genetic future of the human race. Shockley proposed the idea that people with low IQs should be paid to undergo voluntary sterilization. Most of these people, he insisted, were African Americans.

"My research leads me inescapably to the opinion that the major cause of the American Negros intellectual and social deficits is hereditary and racially genetic in origin and, thus, not remediable to a major degree by practical improvements in the environment," he said.

Cantankerous and outspoken near the end of his life. Shockley was estranged from most of his friends and family.

3. Kary Mullis. Nearly everyone who has worked in a lab has heard of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR). As a cheap and effective way to copy enormous amounts of DNA, the technique is now used in everything from disease diagnosis to identifying criminals. Mullis is the chief architect behind PCR, for which he won the 1993 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

Since then, however, Mullis has gone off the deep end. A vocal denier of the proven link between HIV and AIDS, he also believes that astrology should be included in mainstream scientific education. The description to his autobiography, Dancing Naked in the Mind Field, touts him as "perhaps the only Nobel laureate to describe a possible encounter with aliens."

(Images: AP, Public Domain, Chuck Painter / Stanford News Service, Dona Mapston)

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