How not to communicate a scientific discovery

G. S. Brindley made one of the most important contributions to the treatment of erectile dysfunction. He discovered that injecting papaverine into the penis causes an erection. He announced this discovery — in a rather unique way — in 1983 at a meeting of the Urodynamics Society. Laurence Klotz was at that talk and described Brindley’s eccentric (and to some audience members, horrifying) presentation in a paper published in 2005. Here is an extended excerpt from that paper:

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. This was the first time that an effective medical therapy for erectile dysfunction (ED) was described, and was a historic development in the management of ED. The way in which this information was first reported was completely unique and memorable, and provides an interesting context for the development of therapies for ED….
The lecture was given in a large auditorium, with a raised lectern separated by some stairs from the seats….
Professor Brindley, still in his blue track suit, was introduced as a psychiatrist with broad research interests. He began his lecture without aplomb…. His slide-based talk consisted of a large series of photographs of his penis in various states of tumescence after injection with a variety of doses of phentolamine and papaverine….
The Professor wanted to make his case in the most convincing style possible…. 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…..
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 screams seemed to shock Professor Brindley, who rapidly pulled up his trousers, returned to the podium, and terminated the lecture.

Figure 1. What Professor Brindley’s clothed erection may have looked like at his 1983 talk.

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Klotz, L. (2005), How (not) to communicate new scientific information: a memoir of the famous brindley lecture. BJU International, 96, 956–957.  doi: 10.1111/j.1464-410X.2005.05797.x

Note: A pdf of the paper can be found at: