This is the story of how a professor was so intent on convincing the public of his findings that he put on the most bizarre and salacious public display conceivable, completely oblivious to what he was doing. I’d heard of this before, but today’s “Seriously Science” column at Discover Magazine recounts a lecture given in 1983 by Professor Giles Brindley, a British physiologist born in 1926 and still with us, undoubtedly still shamed by what he did in 1983.
The column quotes from a 2005 paper by Laurence Klotz in the journal BJU International (formerly the organ of the British Journal of Urology; the paper is, sadly, behind a paywall): “How (not) to communicate new scientific information: a memoir of the famous Brindley lecture.” Here’s part of the column that details Klotz’s eyewitness account of the incident:
“In 1983, at the Urodynamics Society meeting in Las Vegas, Professor G.S. Brindley first announced to the world his experiments on self-injection with papaverine to induce a penile erection.
. . . The Professor wanted to make his case in the most convincing style possible. He indicated that, in his view, no normal person would find the experience of giving a lecture to a large audience to be erotically stimulating or erection-inducing. He had, he said, therefore injected himself with papaverine in his hotel room before coming to give the lecture, and deliberately wore loose clothes (hence the track-suit) to make it possible to exhibit the results. He stepped around the podium, and pulled his loose pants tight up around his genitalia in an attempt to demonstrate his erection.
At this point, I, and I believe everyone else in the room, was agog. I could scarcely believe what was occurring on stage. But Prof. Brindley was not satisfied. He looked down sceptically at his pants and shook his head with dismay. ‘Unfortunately, this doesn’t display the results clearly enough’. He then summarily dropped his trousers and shorts, revealing a long, thin, clearly erect penis. There was not a sound in the room. Everyone had stopped breathing.
But the mere public showing of his erection from the podium was not sufficient. He paused, and seemed to ponder his next move. The sense of drama in the room was palpable. He then said, with gravity, ‘I’d like to give some of the audience the opportunity to confirm the degree of tumescence’. With his pants at his knees, he waddled down the stairs, approaching (to their horror) the urologists and their partners in the front row. As he approached them, erection waggling before him, four or five of the women in the front rows threw their arms up in the air, seemingly in unison, and screamed loudly. The scientific merits of the presentation had been overwhelmed, for them, by the novel and unusual mode of demonstrating the results.
The screams seemed to shock Professor Brindley, who rapidly pulled up his trousers, returned to the podium, and terminated the lecture. The crowd dispersed in a state of flabbergasted disarray. I imagine that the urologists who attended with their partners had a lot of explaining to do. The rest is history. Prof Brindley’s single-author paper reporting these results was published about 6 months later.”
What a great story! The image of a professor waddling up the aisle, hobbled by his trousers with erect penis waggling proudly in the faces of the audience, is stupendous. But as a scientist, I can almost understand how, suffused with pride about his accomplishment, he was determined to show his results in the most compelling way possible, completely oblivious to the effect of his “display” on the audience. There was no intent to be salacious, but merely to convince others. Brindley was simply bursting with pride.
But imagine having to live with this the rest of your life!