26 August, 2008

British media and Dr. Fleming(4)


But Florey had not been inactive. On 11 December 1942  he wrote to
Sir Henry Dale, then President of the Royal Society:

          as you know here has been a lot of most undesirable publicity
         in the newspapers and press generally about penicillin. I have 
         taken a firm line here and said there was to be nothing whatever
         done in the matter of interviews with press or in any other ways.

        Gardner, I know, thinks that I have been rather wrong about this.
         I had a letter from Fleming in which he assured me he was
         endeavoring to do the same and I accepted that at its face value
        and thought that this newspaper publicity would cease.

        I have now quite good evidence, from the Director-General of the
        B.B.C. in fact, and also indirectly from some people at St. Mary's
        that Fleming is doing his best to see the whole subject is presented
        as having been foreseen and worked out by Fleming and that we in
       this department just did a few final flourishes.

        You can see what I mean in the article published in' Britain Today',
         complete with photographs of Fleming and so on. This steady
         propaganda seems to be having its effect even on scientific people
         in that several have now said to us, ' But I thought you done 
         something on penicillin too'.

Florey then wet on to ask Dale's advice on the possible publicity of an article
setting out the true facts----- a suggestion urged on him by his Oxford 
colleagues.  Dale replied promptly and firmly. He asked Florey not to publish 
anything that might seem to be a refutation of statements attributed to 

He pointed out that Florey was a member of the Council of the Royal Society, 
and would thus soon have to act as one of the judges of candidates for election 
to the Fellowship of the Society. Fleming was a candidate, and any public 
dispute between Fleming and Florey at this time would prejudice the complete 
impartiality with which Fleming's claim to be worth of election must be

Florey accepted this edit from the President of the Society, to which he had 
himself been elected less than two years before. He remained silent, therefore, 
in the matter of Fleming's publicity campaign, and did not divulge the reason 
for his silence even to his closest colleagues. Fleming was duly elected to the 
Royal Society in March 1943 and, with his perverse sense of humor, he might 
have appreciated the supreme irony of a situation that enforced Florey's 
silence while his own scientific advancement was ensured.

Thereafter the 'Fleming Myth' continued to grow on an international scale, 
and Florey, in response to continued pressure from his Oxford colleagues, 
made another attempt to persuade an independent and authoritative body 
to publish the truth,