Tuesday, March 22, 2011

First mention

Every once in a while, NYTimes presents a brief history of key scientific advances, starting with their first appearance in the newspaper itself. This week's First Mention features In Vitro Fertilization, 1974:

When The New York Times first mentioned in vitro fertilization, the paper might have been reporting on a casually uttered lie.

The article appeared on July 16, 1974. A British physician, Dr. Douglas Bevis, gave a presentation on embryo implantation, work that had been going on in animals for some time. After his talk, during a question-and-answer session, he said that three test-tube human babies had already been born, and that he had “learned about the births through exchanges with colleagues in ‘chit-chat.’ ” [...]

... That September The Times Magazine published “The Embryo Sweepstakes,” an article that suggested Dr. Bevis’s claims might be fraudulent; it also described the work of two British doctors, Patrick C. Steptoe and Robert G. Edwards, who did seem close to achieving the feat. Dr. Bevis, who died in 1994, never spoke about the issue again.