The technical program kicked off in style with the plenary lecture by Professor Carl Djerassi on Monday morning. His lecture consisted of a reading of several excerpts from his recent novel “NO” (Nitric Oxide), as well as a short video clip of one of his plays about the highly controversial intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) technique for inducing pregnancy. This writer does not ever recall a talk at a scientific meeting given by a chemist (and an organic chemist, to boot) that contained no slides or transparencies! Judging from the conversations overheard in the hallway after the lecture, Dr. Djerassi’s talk appeared to have been very well received. The lecture, as well the novel, addressed three issues in contemporary science: the historical marginalization of women in this male-dominated (“testosterone-heavy,” in Djerassi’s parlance) culture; the Asianization of the American research enterprise; and in a broader vein, the relative insularity of “scientific tribalism” from the lay public.
As was discussed in more depth in the last issue of this magazine (Interface, Vol. 9, No. 3, fall 2000), Professor Djerassi, through his literary efforts, has been attempting to narrow the ever-widening gulf between the scientific community and the other sub-cultures of contemporary society. His argument is that this bridge is best made by an insider of the scientific tribe, so that the science itself can be described correctly. Thus he differentiates his efforts from other attempts to popularize science by calling his genre “science-in-fiction.” The plenary session culminated in an immensely popular book-signing session by Djerassi.