Haley Scholar Reading Groups
By Cindy Lyles
In “John Rock’s Error,” Gladwell details how medical doctor and devout Catholic John Rock invented and rationalized the use of the birth control pill. His justification supported how the oral contraceptive was natural because “…the Pill’s ingredients duplicated what could be found in the body naturally” (104). The drug specifically allowed for three weeks on the Pill and a placebo during the fourth week to allow for woman’s “natural” bodily process of menstruation.
This natural menses process is eventually challenged in the article as later research demonstrates that women with higher rates of menses tend to be at higher risk for cancer; whereas women with more infrequent menses are at less risk. If the Pill replaced the placebo week with a dosage of hormones that mirrored the other three weeks, the drug could, in fact, help prevent cancer in women; however this was unknown during the time Rock advocated for the Pill. Consequently, he failed to receive the support he expected from the Church and was shunned for his scientific advances.
If the Church had known of the anti-cancer benefit of the Pill during Rock’s platform, perhaps, the Pill would have been more accepted. However, Rock’s case is an instance of “progress in advance of understanding” (125), which is seen as detrimental to the scientific cause.
What other cases, scientific or otherwise, has “progress in advance of understanding” been viewed unfavorable?
Or, based on the reading, when is "progress in advance of understanding" advantageous instead of detrimental?