As Furchgott reports, the episode was started after an article in Bicycling magazine in 1997 that cited an unpublished study by urologist Irwin Goldstein. Major media outlets such as "20/20" picked up the story and soon Goldstein was giving quotes like, "There are two kinds of cyclists: those who are impotent and those who will be."
But even today, Goldstein's study has never been published by a peer-reviewed journal. In fact when Furchgott asked Goldstein for a copy of his paper or the data behind his claims, Goldstein told him that they were unavailable, but that he would describe the results of his study over the phone.
There have been a number of studies on this published in peer-reviewed journals, but most of them appear to have had fundamental flaws, not the least of which is that the largest study to date study only 160 men.
William Steers, the chairman of the urology department at the University of Virginia School of Medicine in Charlottesville and a critic of Goldstein's claims, notes that if bicycles do cause male impotence it is hard to explain the continued fertility of men in countries where bicycle use is almost ubiquitous. As Steers puts it, "In China 90 percent of the male population cycles, and they don't seem to have a problem maintaining the population."
More importantly, Steers points out, it was a bit odd for the media to give such huge scrutiny to an activity like cycling which is a healthy form of exercise when behaviors like smoking, obesity and inactivity are much bigger risk factors in male impotence.
This whole episode is an almost textbook case of advocacy research trumpeted by the media despite lacking any credible scientific basis.
Skepticism.Net. Wednesday, September 5, 2001/ photo courtesy of nytimes.com