stories from the wilder side of science

3. Nicolas Minovicis Hanging Studies (1905)

There are subjects that seem to be outside the range of self experimentation for principal reasons. One of them is hanging. That did not deter Roumanian forensic scientist Nicolas Minovici from trying it. In his 238 pages long paper "Studies on Hanging" (1905) he not only analyses 172 suicides putting them into different categories like gender, place, season, kind of knot, circumference of the rope and so on, he also tried it himself.

He first did some preliminary trials with a non contracting noose ("I let myself hang six to seven times for four to five seconds to get used to it."). The pain was almost intolerable as Minovici writes. It persisted for two weeks. Still Minovici felt "comforted by the results" and went for the real thing: He and some of his collaborators put their heads into a regular contracting noose and asked an assistant to hang them – twelve times.

As when describing former experiments Minovici apologizes again and again that "despite of all our courage we could not take the experiment any longer than three to four seconds."

Minovici was well aware of the danger the experiments represented. But he seemed to have had a distinctive propensity for reality as he advised his assistants to pull the rope until his feet were one to two meters above ground.

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