Armpitin – “A Peerless Contraceptive”

March 21st, 2012

This article from 1965 might be the first example of the publication of a purely farcical chemistry paper in a respectable journal. This article also appears to have completely eluded the attention of blogs, most likely because bloggers were especially lazy in the 60s. The unmistakable quality of the paper is certified by a consequent letter to the editor, in which a concerned member of the Canadian Medical Association wrote:

I was appalled to read J.S. Greenstein’s Very Original Article on “Armpitin”…I am very sorry to observe that the official journal of Canadian doctors has published this article.

The paper describes the development of armpitin as a powerful contraceptive agent. While the author provides a structure for a portion of the molecule, he refuses to provide the full details of its synthesis because he “intends to make a fortune.”

The results seem unsurprising. I would wager that a majority of us have collected anecdotal evidence that a repetitive string of NOs can be very effective at preventing pregnancy. The author reports he serendipitously stumbled into the field of contraceptives while designing deodorants. One deodorant led to a noticeable increase in libido without concomitant increase in pregnancy. His initial studies proceeded from there:

With typical male self-assurance, we undertook to examine the females for the causative factors leading to their infertility. We employed every known gross anatomical, histological, histochemical, biochemical, endocrinological, physiological and psychological test of reproductive capacity and could find no evidence of malfunctioning of the female reproductive systems and accessory structures. We could only conclude, reluctantly, after months of exhaustive investigation, that the females were normal in all respects, and that we should turn our attention to the males.

When we took the trouble to examine the ejaculates obtained by masturbation, artificial vagina, or by post-coital recovery from the site of deposition, the answer to the enigma stared back at us through the narrow barrel of the microscope tube: THERE WERE NO SPERMATOZOA IN ANY OF THE SEMEN SAMPLES.

Yeah, this paper was actually published in a respectable journal—and in 1965, when by all accounts, people were humorless. (There is simply no other rational explanation for the popularity of Jerry Lewis.) What shocks me more than anything is that the content of the paper is 98% pseudo-legitimate technobabble and only 2% punchlines, yet the editor allows the damn thing to go on for 5 pages. That said, the list of references is particularly amusing. The author acknowledges “A. Gabriel” for divine inspiration in the form of a personal communication, and also cites a paper on orgasm by C. Men as well as a child’s guide to erotica by M. Goose.

While I regularly advocate that Carl Djerassi should be recognized by the Nobel Committee, I don’t think that Dr. Greenstein’s seminal contribution rises to the same level.


12 Responses to “Armpitin – “A Peerless Contraceptive””

  1. excimer Says:

    seminal contribution

    I see what you did there.

  2. Stu Says:

    Paul – how do you find this stuff? We’re also enjoying the lazy bloggers comment here in the office…

  3. Paul Says:

    @Stu: I was recently thinking back to a class at NYU taught by the late, great Edward McNelis. Part of the course focused on how chemistry has influenced society, and one of the subjects we discussed in detail was the Pill. I vaguely recall that McNelis once mentioned in passing a paper that had slipped past the reviewers of a Canadian journal with a fabricated NO-NO-NO structure. I thought McNelis said that Djerassi had something to do with it, but this very well could have been a consequence of the long interval (since ’99) or just a figment of my imagination. (Also, it turns out the paper was included in the journal as an obvious piece of comedy; no reviewers were fooled.)

    Anyway, I decided to go looking for the paper. Searching for Djerassi did nothing but confuse matters, and searching NO-NO-NO did nothing. I eventually got to the paper by searching for Canadian journals and contraception. I got lucky and stumbled across the negative letter to the editor.

  4. Wavefunction Says:

    You should send this to R S Santorum. Soon he will be railing against putting aspirin in your armpits.

  5. Stu Says:

    @Paul: good work!

  6. Special Guest Lecturer Says:

    Bet it works as well as aspirin between the knees…

  7. See Arr Oh Says:

    This reminds me of the “world’s shortest paper” contest we had back in grad school. I think someone found an entire Barry Trost monograph (JOC?) that only occupied 1/2 of one page, authors and SI included!

  8. Bend Says:

    Angewandte published an essay about Australia’s plastic banknotes just the other year. You should take a look at the risque suggestion on serial number of the mock-up $7 banknote in figure 10.
    http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/anie.200904538/pdf

  9. jb Says:

    That last sentence, aaargh……

  10. XYX Says:

    I read such paper in ChemTech April Issue ( perhaps 78 or 79 ) with its publication again after 10 years in the same journal at same page.
    The serendipity experiments regarding the Chemicals in Animal house and their actvities and its consequences on fellow workers have been described with the structure.

  11. Biochemhelp Says:

    The name sounds funny.. armpit-in

  12. Cojones Says:

    Someone here doesn’t have any sense of humor. This was known to me in the 70s and was written specifically for “The Pill” researchers. I worked for a company that made birth control pills and birth control devices. PhDs in Pharmaceutical Science raved at this humor. I couldn’t remember the reference, so I Googled it. Have no idea why the original article didn’t pop up.


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