Chemist Behind Birth Control Pill Speaks at UW-Madison

Credit to Bryce Richter

While spending time in Madison after receiving a “Distinguished Alumni Award,” Carl Djerassi, one of the scientists behind the birth control pill, spoke about his musings on science and literature. Famous for synthesizing norethindrone, the first orally, highly active progestin, Djerassi is often called the “Father of the Birth Control Pill.” Some highlights of the interview:

On the pill:

“In the new autobiography, I devote an entire chapter to, what if the pill had never been invented? People think the pill should be either credited or blamed for the sexual revolution; that’s a gross over-simplification. People forget the ’60s were the decade of hippie culture, drug culture, rock ‘n roll culture and, most importantly the flowering of the women’s movement. All these had something to do with sexual liberation.”

On competition in science:

“Science is an Olympics with only gold medals, and that has all kinds of repercussions, and fundamentally they are not very good ones. I have often talked about ambition, many of my novels and plays deal with priority struggles. ‘Calculus’ was about one of the most vicious conflicts, between Leibniz and Newton [who both “invented” calculus in the late 17th century], two of the greatest scientists of the era. I raise the question, in the case of Newton, can you be a (expletive) and be a great scientist? The answer is yes, and that’s quite unfortunate.”

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