I found The New Mystery – Maybe Miracle – Drug, published in December of 1971, to be extremely fascinating article, full of controlled excitement and optimism.

While the article was longer than I initially anticipated, I felt as though it was very thorough and could not have been shortened very much. Certainly, it is much more factual and technical than the grand majority of New York Times articles posted today, however I think the richness of the article derives from its completeness, and perhaps some might say its boringness. Even just attempting to recall the doctors and researchers quoted or mentioned gives an idea of how much work went into extracting information from numerous trusted sources. In the first two pages alone, the article either mentions or quotes Dr. Sultan Karim, Dr. Reimert Ravenhold, a Catholic laywoman, a New York Biochemist, employees from The Upjohn Company, Dr. Maurine Golbiatt, Professor Ulf S. von Euler. Prof Sune Bergstrom, Dr. David Weisblat, and Dr. W. Vogt. Clearly this article was thoroughly researched and carefully crafted, as opposed to being churned out by the author and publisher. And while the article required my full attention and some rereading, finishing it was fulfilling. I actually felt as though I learned and understood prostaglandins to a very basic degree.

Continuing the compare and contrast of this article to current journalism trends, I fully appreciated the nuanced view that the article tied in towards the end. There was no definitive statement given to tie up the ending; instead, counterarguments were given:

  • “Some prostaglandin research has not yet advanced beyond the stage of fascinating speculation. Prostaglandins in excess seem to [do some bad things].”
  • “(…) Scientists recognize that they really know very little about [prostaglandins].”
  • “Even in their relation to the body’s hormone system, the prostaglandins present a confusing picture.”
  • Finally and most importantly: “Although the therapeutic dividends of prostaglandin research promise to be extraordinary, there seems little disposition to rush imperfectly understood drugs into the marketplace. As Yale’s Dr. Speroff says: ‘The future of prostaglandin research may well have a critical relevance to human welfare. …Enthusiasm is justified but enthusiasm has to be tempered by caution to avoid poor studies, inefficient effort and premature use.’”

YES! This is the type of nuanced and well-researched journalism that should be prevalent nowadays. The article made brief mention of opinions in the section about the use of prostaglandin in contraception and abortion, however the majority of the article was reserved for factual information and testimonies from reliable sources. There were no definitive conclusions, or clickbait openings and endings. As I mentioned in the first sentence of this post, the author employed controlled excitement and optimism. Clearly, prostaglandins offered great potential at the time, but I felt Lawrence Galton, the author, restraining himself from easily making potentially misleading overstatements. By doing so, he stops readers from jumping to false conclusions, or having misrepresented ideas in mind. The article’s ending was very open, providing the analogy of the field of prostaglandins being a vast territory, where the scientific community is only at the frontier. While this ending may frustrate some, as no concrete conclusion is being provided, I found it to be restrained and absolutely valid.

The fact that this article was published in 1971 makes it all the more fascinating as we can now approach it in hindsight. From my blurry recollection of my medical studies in France, I vividly remember my plump, rosy-faced professor lecturing at length on “prostaglandines” and their effects on the female body during different stages of pregnancy. Perhaps the joy I found thinking “oh yeah, I remember hearing about that” gave me an unfair bias towards enjoying the article, however, the point remains: the author was right. The information that was fresh and groundbreaking nearly 50 years ago is being taught today as introductory material. While the territory is large, the scientific community has certainly made strides in discovering and mapping out areas past the frontier.

This article, although outdated, was a great choice as its message (specifically the one I extracted), was more important than its content. The shocking thoroughness and dull nuance of this article speaks to the quality of the articles we’ve been fed in our lifetime, and have grown accustom to. Perhaps the molecular structures were unnecessary for the general readership this New York Times article was geared to, but the content was factual and well-presented, clear of any blatant bias or overstatement. Presented in this fashion, the readers make use of their own science senses to process, in their own way, the information in The New Mystery – Maybe Miracle – Drug.