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Howard Florey

In their own words

Recorded 1967

Howard Florey
Audio: 2 minutes

Well, there are a lot of misconceptions about medical research. People sometimes think that I and the others worked on penicillin because we were interested in suffering humanity. I don’t think it would ever have crossed our minds about suffering humanity. This was an interesting scientific exercise, and because it was of some use in medicine it’s very gratifying, but this was not the reason that we started working on it. Might have been in the background of our minds, it’s always in the background of people working in medical subjects that it might be of use in medicine, but that’s not the mainspring of why they do their researches. They’re very gratified if it’s of use but it’s not essential, and the same thing would apply to penicillin.

I suppose we’re all glad now that it works, but then you’ve got to see the reverse side of the medal, because I’m now accused of being partly responsible for the population explosion, which is one of the most devastating things that the world has got to face for the rest of this century. It isn’t actually true – the tropical medicine people have done much better, the people with malaria and the people who have controlled intestinal diseases and so on – they’re the ones that are responsible for the very big increases in population taking place in all countries of the world, including Great Britain. I mean, just think of 70 million people in the British Isles in a relatively few years, it’s too terrible to contemplate. So that there’s a dark side to all medical advance. You’re probably going to have political troubles out of it now because of the increase in the population – India is a classical example, of course.

Acknowledgements

This oral history of Howard Florey is from the De Berg Collection in the National Library of Australia. For more information, or to hear full versions of the recordings, visit the National Library of Australia website.

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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.

The National Portrait Gallery is an Australian Government Agency