Updated: 27 April 2009
Answer: Displaying One’s Erection As Part Of A Lecture At A Scientific Meeting
Question: What Happens In Vegas That Doesn’t Stay In Vegas?
Personal Commitment In Medical Research
While medical research has a tradition of impressive and even spectacular self-experimentation, sometimes putting the scientist’s life at risk,1 research presentations rarely evoke that level of drama or involve that level of personal participation.
One medical meeting presentation, however, proved the exception.
Not Your Usual PowerPoint Presentation
The setting is the 1983 Las Vegas meeting of the American Urological Association. Word of Dr. Giles Skey Brindley’s urological research has prompted an invitation for him to present his findings at the Annual Symposium of the Urodynamics Society.2 In addition, one American doubter has suggested that proof would require something “beyond charts, tables and graphs.”3 It is uncertain what that critic had in mind, but, in any case, Brindley was to prove equal to the challenge.
Brindley, a British physiologist, was an old hand at such meetings, having presented numerous papers at scientific conferences.
Despite being relatively unknown in the U.S., he had, in fact, a substantial reputation in Europe for original research, especially in bioengineering. In 1964, for example, he had devised the world’s first visual prosthesis and had implanted three pairs of electronic eyes in humans before terminating the work when the costs did not justify the results.
He also had a deserved reputation for an original approach to research. Once, to explore the effects of centrifugal force on a rabbit’s ability to land on its feet, Brindley dropped a rabbit from the roof to the floor of a car (driven, one assumes, by someone else) making a sharp turn – while the car was going eighty miles an hour. A reader of this blog contributed another example: to do his early visual psychophysics studies, Brindley sat in a bath of ice water for several hours to lower his body temperature to determine the effect this change had on the sensitivity of his eyes.
Another scientist, relating his own efforts to impress an audience with a scientific exhibition, ended his post with this memory:
All of this reminded me of a demonstration forty five years ago in Cambridge. Dr Giles Brindley, then a young lecturer in physiology, stood on his head on the class bench and swallowed water through a rubber tube from a large Winchester bottle, just to prove that swallowing does not occur by gravity but by persistalsis. The next issue of the Med. Soc. magazine demonstrated the trick. Beneath the bench was the laboratory assistant who was opening a stop cock to drain the bottle.
Who said science wasn’t theatre?4
Samples of Giles Brindley’s publications and a brief explanation of his neuroprosthetic research are available on the supplemental page, Giles Brindley – Research and Publications.
Just The Facts – Giles Brindley’s Presentation
Accounts of the details of Professor Brindley’s 1983 Las Vegas presentation vary, but almost all agree on certain points:
- Dr. Brindley’s research focused on what is now commonly called erectile dysfunction and included injecting his own penis with 33 drugs5 prior to making the original discovery that phenoxybenzamine, an alpha-blocking smooth muscle relaxant that works as a non-specific vasodilator, would result in an erection.6
- Prior to his presentation, Dr. Brindley privately injected his own penis with phenoxybenzamine.
- During his presentation, entitled something along the lines of ‘Vaso-active Therapy For Erectile Dysfunction,”7 Dr. Brindley revealed (a) the fact that he had injected himself with phenoxybenzamine and (b) the results of that action – his fully erect penis.
- The audience – consisting primarily of physicians who spent much of their professional lives performing examinations of the sort that tend to jade ones response to male genitalia – gasped.
- Brindley, a former athlete, then proved he was not using a silicone prosthesis, by descending from the stage to the audience, inviting them to inspect his erect penis.
- As Dr. Irwin Goldstein, a Boston University urologist who was present for Dr. Brindley’s presentation, describes it, “He walked down the aisle and let us touch it. People couldn’t believe it wasn’t an implant.”11
Fortune magazine observed that Brindley’s presentation put the erection “back in the spotlight.”12
And The Myths That Evolved
Accounts of some aspects of Dr. Bindley’s presentation do conflict. There are, for example, incompatible reports about the precise methodology used for Brindley’s unveiling. While some sources are cautiously silent on this point, others indicate an unzipping, and still others specify a lowering of the pants. One account insists that Brindley gave his entire talk clad only in underwear which he removed for the presentation. The consensus of reports implies that Brindley was little more than a blatant self-promoter if not a brazen exhibitionist. His presentation is frequently labeled a “stunt.” One contrary report, however, has the ring of truth and has convinced me that many of the other accounts have been contaminated with sensationalism.
The Klotz Account Of The Brindley Presentation – The Gold Standard
How (Not) To Communicate New Scientific Information: A Memoir Of The Famous Brindley Lecture by Laurence Klotz13 is not only an eye-witness account but has three important advantages compared with most other reports: (1) it was written in first person while most other stories in the press are written by journalists who, at best, interviewed those in attendance at the presentation, (2) it was published as a memoir in a professional journal where there would seem to be less pressure to exaggerate or focus on lurid material to gain public attention as might be the case in the popular press, and (3) Dr. Klotz fortuitously came into contact with Professor Brindley just prior to the lecture and thus was privy to information not available to others. I recommend reading Dr. Klotz’s two page report, which, happily, is available online cost-free at How (Not) To Communicate New Scientific Information: A Memoir Of The Famous Brindley Lecture; its style and content will, I believe, prove convincing. Pertinent points from Dr. Klotz’s article (marked in red) follow with my annotations in italics:
- It [Brindley's lecture] was relatively poorly attended, perhaps 80 people in all. Most accounts that mention the audience size describe a “roomful” or “thousands” of members of the American Urological Association in attendance, almost certainly confusing the total attendance at the annual meeting with attendance at this presentation.
- Most attendees came with their partners, clearly on the way to the reception. I was sitting in the third row, and in front of me were about seven middle-aged male urologists, and their partners in “full evening regalia.” None of the other reports I reviewed noted the presence of physicians’ spouses or that some members of the audience were dressed for a reception scheduled for later that evening.
- Dr. Klotz, who serendipitously shared an elevator with Professor Brindley 15 minutes prior to the lecture, noted that He [Brindley] appeared quite nervous, and shuffled back and forth.The notion that Professor Brindley was anxious is absent from other accounts.
- The lecture itself seems reminiscent of many, many such presentations at medical meetings. Dr. Klotz notes that [Professor Brindley] began his lecture without aplomb and proceeded to show and narrate slides demonstrating his success [inducing erections] by injecting vasoactive agents into the corporal bodies of the penis. One significant point not mentioned elsewhere is Professor Brindley’s explanation that Lacking ready access to an appropriate animal model, and cognisant of the long medical tradition of using oneself as a research subject, he began a series of experiments on self-injection of his penis with various vasoactive agents, including papaverine, phentolamine, and several others. Further, Professor Brindley acknowledged that one could not exclude the possibility that erotic stimulation had played a role in acquiring these erections.
- Also missing from other accounts is Professor’s Brindley’s preface immediately prior to the most dramatic portion of the presentation: He [Brindley] 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.
- 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. Only when it became apparent that the tightening the loose fitting pants around his genitalia didn’t, in Professor Brindley’s words, “display the results clearly enough” did he drop his pants.
- 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. This response from the audience and Professor Brindley’s reaction are unmentioned in other accounts I’ve found.
- The rest is history. Correct. But, there’s more that belongs in the history of Giles Brindley. Read on.
Professor Brindley’s seminal article from this research was published a few months later, 14 and a new era of advancement in the field of erectile dysfunction commenced. Dr. Klotz, while he spares no details, does not describe a grandiose, thoughtless performance but, instead, a presentation by one who “belongs in the pantheon of famous British eccentrics who have made spectacular contributions to science.”
I should note that I ventured to ask Professor Brindley, via a rather elaborately (over)written e-mail, about his motivation for the presentation. His reply, in full, follows
One can argue about Dr. Brindley’s appropriateness or his taste but his intent and motivation certainly appear to have more to do with scientific research than personal narcissism or showboating. And, that seems fitting for the instance in which the penile erection was transformed from a mysterious, psychoanalytic phenomenon into a composition of flesh, arteries and veins, smooth muscle, neurons, and neurotransmitters accessible to bioengineers, chemists, and physicians.
But, Who Is Giles Brindley?
Professor Giles Brindley, FRCP, FRS, is a prodigious scholar who, while working primarily at the London Hospital and the University of London, published over 100 physiological research papers, most in the areas of visual, genitourinary, sexual, and perceptual functions. Among other honors, he held the 1986 Ferrier Lecture, a triennial Royal Society prize lectureship. His knighthood was granted in recognition of his research in bioengineering.
He has also been a beloved mentor. Several memoirs by physicians and researchers note, with evident pride and respect, that it was Professor Brindley who gave them their first job, encouraged their work, arranged for funding of their research, or provided them with vital instruction and direction.
His status and intellectual honesty are portrayed in this anecdote:
Two of the most active people working in the physiology department were Guy Goodwin and Ian McCloskey. Guy was a graduate student with Peter Matthews; Ian was a fellow of Pembroke College. At the time, it was holy writ that muscle spindles act only in a servo-circuit. We are unaware of their output. Guy and Ian did a number of exquisitely simple experiments to challenge that conclusion. We are indeed aware of the output of spindles. They vibrated a flexor muscle on the upper arm. Subjects (including me) reported that they felt that their arm was extending at the elbow, as if the muscle had been stretched. They did several control experiments to validate their conclusion and proceeded to replicate and show the shortcomings of earlier studies that had allegedly provided proof that we are unaware of the output of spindles.Peter Matthews was Guy’s lab sponsor. Peter is an outstanding scientist and scholar. Skeptical of the conclusions at first, he was finally persuaded by the evidence. One of the best lectures that I ever attended was one givenby Peter at a meeting at Oxford. Without using slides, he demonstrated the key experiments on a semihostile witness. Giles Brindley had been one ofthe principle exponents of the silent spindle, but he would not lie. If he felt a limb move, he reported that he felt it move. It was a magnificent session. [emphasis mine]
And, there is more.
Get The Picture?
In one of those throwaway ironies that the gods toss off to keep themselves amused, only two photos could be initially found on the internet of Giles Brindley, a man who had not only amassed a prestigious reputation in research, many awards, multiple publications, and various honors from professional and academic societies, but is appropriately credited for presenting the most memorable visual in a lecture given at a meeting of professionals.16
On the other hand, it was through my efforts to identify the individual(s) in these photos that I was able to clarify some intriguing details about Professor Brindley.
These two photos labeled “Giles Brindley” seemed equally destined to collide. The individual pictured on the right is identified by the Urological Sciences Research Foundation web site and the web site of Zafar Khan, M.D., a urologist, as the “Giles Brindley” who is the subject of this post. The Southwark Consorts of Winds Programme also identifies the person in the photo on the left, who looks like the same fellow to me, as “Giles Brindley,” the composer of “Variations on a Theme by Schoenberg, (op. 26).”
After reviewing numerous internet sites, I found plenty of references to Giles Brindley – the physiology researcher and a fair number pertaining to Giles Brindley – the musician who composed and who developed the logical bassoon “which aimed to improve intonation and evenness of tone through use of electrically-activated key combinations that were too complex for the human hand to manage.”17
More information about Giles Brindley’s logical bassoon is available on the supplemental page, Giles Brindley – The Logical Bassoon.
I did not, however, find a single source that confirmed that both sets of accomplishments accrued to the same individual.
It was only after multiple emails to various urologists, musicians, heads of departments of music and urology, and, finally, Giles Brindley himself to ascertain that both photos were shots of Professor Brindley.18
The definitive response arrived by e-mail later the same evening I sent the email to Professor Brindley:
I did compose “Variations on a Theme by Schoenberg”, performed at the Spitalfields Festival in 2004, “Tyrolean Suite” for wind quintet, performed at the opening of the British Library in 2002, “the Waterman’s Daughter” for soprano & woodwind quartet, and other pieces for chamber ensembles. I was Director of the Medical Research Council’s Neurological Prosthesis Unit from 1968 to 1992. Music was my hobby until I retired, and my career since. There is a photograph of me illustrating an article by me (“The Logical Bassoon”) in Volume 21 (1968) of the Galpin Society Journal, pages 152- 161. The photograph is Plate XIX (19). The Galpin Society Journal can be found in musicological libraries.
As it turns out, Professor Brindley has published numerous musicological papers as well as performing and composing music.
And then I happened onto another photo of Giles Brindley.
The 1952 Ratio Club Photo Of Giles Brindley
Thank Goodness For Esoteric Dissertations
In sifting the net for Brindley information, I found his name mentioned in Enclosing the Field: from ‘Mechanisation of Thought Processes’ to ‘Autonomics’, a dissertation submitted by David Clark “in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Computer Science.” A photo was mentioned in but was not part of the online dissertation, which was formatted as a text file.
A bit of digging, however, ferreted out a photograph, archived at Wellcome Library, London, of “The Ratio Club” at Cambridge. Fortuitously, the single photo was taken at a Ratio Club meeting held May 2-3, 1952 that was attended by a guest, “Giles Brindley (London Hospital).” Giles is the gent marked by the yellow circle. (Also in this group are two pioneers in computer science that are so significant that their names are immediately recognizable: that’s Donald MacKay marked in red and Alan Turing in green. Nice club, eh?)19
More information about the Ratio Club and Giles Brindley’s participation is available at the supplemental page, Giles Brindley – The Ratio Club.
This is Giles Brindley cropped from the others.
Professor Brindley confirmed that he is, indeed, the fellow in the picture.
A Newly Found Photo Provides A Different Look At Giles Brindley
My personal blog, Heck Of A Guy, features significant information about Leonard Cohen. 20 It turns out that a reader looking for information about the talented and iconic Mr. Cohen knew Professor Brindley. Through that viewer, we now have an altogether different look at Giles Brindley, orienteering enthusiast. (Some of the information duplicates data already discussed.)
Giles To His Friends
I came across your site chasing up a link to Leonard Cohen of whom I am a big fan. When I looked around it I was surprised to see a reference to our old friend Professor Giles Brindley, the delightfully eccentric physiologist and professor at London University. I can confirm that both your photos of the older Prof Brindley are indeed of Giles – who we met around 20 years ago ago (and before the “notorious” lecture you describe.)
I don’t know if he is aware of his research being used to promote male potency aids but I don’t imagine it would raise more than a wry chuckle. Regarding Las Vegas, it is entirely in keeping with Giles’s personality and interests that he should carry out such an experiment and display the results to the audience and it would all be in the interests of scientific research. Well nearly all! He would know it would get publicity. He is NOT quite that unworldly But he IS completely unembarrassable
I knew Giles back in the 1980s and most of my recollections relate to that time. Back then Giles was in his 50s and in his spare time he was an orienteer, a cross country runner and a marathon runner. Orienteering is a family friendly sport and Giles, with his wife Hilary and young children John and Emma were members of SLOW (South London Orienteers and Wayfarers), a London orienteering club.
SLOW shared a club house in Wimbledon in south west London with Thames Hare and Hounds, a cross country running club for alumni of Oxford and Cambridge universities.Giles was also a member of TH&H which was a male only club for a long time so his wife Hilary would not have been a member until it later admitted female members. Hilary was however also a keen cross country runner like Giles.
Besides orienteering, marathons and cross country running, Giles was also a cross country skier and a fan of the Scandinavian sport based on this called Langlauf. This is difficult to take part in the UK, obviously, as we do not have a lot of snow, so Giles would travel abroad to compete to events in places like Scandinavia and Switzerland. All this made him very fit. In the SLOW club newsletter in the 1980s,21 its editor Paul describes how he trailed behind Giles when running from the car park to the start of an orienteering race. At the time Paul was a very fit young man in his late 20s and Giles was in his fifties.
It was also in the late ‘80s/early 90s that Giles decided to train for the UK over 60s pole vaulting title. (I don’t know if he was successful by the way). Taking up pole vaulting at that age was I am sure motivated by both professional and personal interest in finding out what the aging body is capable of. It is all in keeping with routinely testing ideas out on himself, yes that is absolutely in character. I have not heard about the cold bath but can quite believe it. These things are all done in the interests of research.
Giles’s title was Emeritus Professor of Physiology at London University and the London Hospital. He is also a Fellow of the Royal Society, the highest scientific honour. Although he is described as a urologist in some accounts, he is in fact a physiologist with a particular interest in neurophysiology which would explain his interest in male erections. His interests extend across a wide range of physiological and neurological conditions.
For example a member of his running club had a son with cerebral palsy and one of the unfortunate side effects was its impact on the swallow reflex . Giles arranged an operation that resulted in a temporary reduction in the drooling which results. Sadly the results only lasted for a few years – but the family were very appreciative of his efforts.
Physically he is slight, medium height with a spare build (well at least the last time I saw him). He is always clean and well presented and has a bespectacled and unassuming but enquiring manner. He could pass for a family lawyer say – he is not a disheveled academic unable to communicate with the world. Far from it, he is polite and curious and quite chatty. As I said before one of his main characteristics is his total lack of embarrassment. He is not scornful of convention but disregards it, even though it must occasionally dawn on him that some of his activities raise a few eyebrows.
Giles’s interests are not confined to sport. He belongs to a choral society near where he lives in south east London. He is also interested in wind instruments and has designed a theoretical bassoon. He is married to Hilary, a very pleasant and long suffering lady a few years younger than him who shares many of his interests including music and running. She also writes poetry. They live in South East London. Their children John and Emma are grown up now. I don’t know if the Brindleys are grandparents. Probably.
One Final Point
Dr. Brindley was 57 at the time of his Las Vegas performance, an auspicious age that I reached during the preparation of this post. I noted when I first posted this item that, upon reflection, I felt inspired and perhaps even stirred.
And, I still do.
Afterword By Laurence Klotz, MD
In April 1983, I was a senior resident in the last few months of my residency training, and heavily focused on preparing for my upcoming qualifying exams. To top up my knowledge, I vowed to attend every session at the annual meeting of the American Urological Association that I could. That was the only reason that I attended the evening session of the Urodynamics Society, since urodynamics was not my primary interest. At that lecture, I was witness to a unique and historic experience. The lecture, at which Giles Brindley announced to the world his historic self-experiments in penile injection therapy, and demonstrated its effectiveness in a highly convincing way, has remained very fresh in my mind. The lecture rapidly took on a mythic quality in urologic circles. There were 2 reasons for this: a) Dr. Brindley’s courage and idiosyncracy in demonstrating the effects of penile injection on himself in a public forum, and b) the importance of his discovery. Penile injection therapy revolutionized the management of erectile dysfunction, and is widely used around the world.
Allan Showalter has written an extraordinary description of this extraordinary and unique individual. Dr. Brindley is one of a kind and he deserves to be remembered. Dr. Showalter has made a major contribution by portraying his multi-dimensional qualities. His article is wonderful.
President, Canadian Urological Association
Credit Due Department:
The photo atop this post, Las Vegas, 1983, was taken by Monika Betley.
- Consider these two instances (of many, many possible examples) of self-experimentation: A. To support his theory that Helicobacter pylori caused peptic ulcers, gastroenterologist Barry Marshall drank a broth containing the bacteria, causing nausea, vomiting, and biopsy-proven gastritis. B. In 1929, Werner Forssmann, a German surgeon, catheterized his own heart by inserting a 65 cm cannula through a vein in his arm, then climbed a flight of stairs to the X-ray department to produce a radiograph demonstrating that the end of the catheter was, indeed, lying in his heart. Both examples are from How far would you go to advance medical research?, Manjulika Das. BMJ Career Focus 2004;329:142-143. ↩
- The Annual Symposium of the Urodynamics Society was held during and as an element of the annual meeting of the American Urological Association,↩
- The secret history of Mr. Happy Salon.com↩
- From A Discovery with a Frozen Grape by Dr. Nick Read, posted 27 December 2009↩
- Not tonight, dear… The Age, 25 Oct 2003) ↩
- The physiological mechanics by which a smooth muscle relaxant leads to an erection is nicely explained in the How Stuff Works article, How Viagra Works and is straightforwardly illustrated by a definitively non-lurid Quick Time clip at The Urological Sciences Research Foundation↩
- Klotz, Laurence (2005) How (not) to communicate new scientific information: a memoir of the famous Brindley lecture. BJU International 96 (7), 956-957.↩
- Excerpt from A Mind of Its Own by David Friedman, 2001 http://www.powells.com/biblio?show=0684853205&page=excerpt↩
- The Rise of Viagra: How the Little Blue Pill Changed Sex in America Meika Loe. New York University Press, 2004↩
- Consultants Try the Hard Sell Jill Rosenfeld. Fast Company February 2001↩
- The Rise of Viagra: How the Little Blue Pill Changed Sex in America Meika Loe. New York University Press, 2004↩
- Klotz, Laurence (2005) How (not) to communicate new scientific information: a memoir of the famous Brindley lecture. BJU International 96 (7), 956-957.↩
- Brindley GS. Cavernosal alpha-blockade: a new technique for investigating and treating erectile impotence. Br J Psychiatry 1983; 143: 332–7↩
- The History of Neuroscience In Autobiography, Volume 5. Edited by Larry R. Squire. 2006 by the Society for Neuroscience, Elsevier Academic Press. 339-340↩
- Were mobile phones with cameras as ubiquitous then as they are now, one can only speculate about the resultant news stories.↩
- Wikipedia: Bassoon; Brindley’s original article is The Logical Bassoon, Giles Brindley, Galpin Society Journal, Vol. 21, Mar., 1968 (Mar., 1968), pp. 152-161 doi:10.2307/841438↩
- By the end of the day, ten or so physicians and musicians from the U.S., Canada, and Britain had interrupted their workday to assist in my quixotic quest to solve the Giles identification conundrum. The consensus was that there was but one Giles Brindley who was responsible for the music and the research, but no one was certain. Raymond Rosen, MD, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, was able to certify that the photo on the Urological Sciences Research Foundation web site was definitely Giles Brindley, the physiologist.↩
- The photo’s complete roster follows: “From left to right; standing: Giles Brindley, Harold Shipton, Tom McClardy, John Bates, Ross Ashby, Edmund Hick, Thomas Gold, John Pringle, Donald Sholl, Albert Uttley, John Westcott, Donald MacKay; sitting: Alan Turing, Gurney Sutton, William Rushton, George Dawson, Horace Barlow.”↩
- Now, admit it – you didn’t expect that sentence, did you?↩
- This article and other articles written by or about Giles Brindley on the topic of athletics mentioned in this section can be viewed on the supplemental page, Giles Brindley – Athletics.↩