28 January 2009

cello scrotum.

Peer reveals 'cello scrotum' hoax

A top doctor has admitted her part in hoodwinking a leading medical journal after inventing a medical condition called "cello scrotum".

Elaine Murphy - now Baroness Murphy - dreamt up the painful complaint in the 1970s, sending a report to the British Medical Journal.

She came clean when the hoax resurfaced in the 2008 Christmas edition.

A BMJ spokesman said the inclusion and subsequent debunking of "cello scrotum" had "added to the gaiety of life".

Anyone who has ever watched a cello being played would realise the physical impossibility of our claim
Baroness Murphy

The spoof was inspired by a similar report of a phenomenon called "guitar nipple", which happened when the edge of the guitar was pressed against the breast, causing irritation.

"We thought it highly likely to be a spoof, and decided to go one further by submitting a similar phenomenon in cellists, " wrote Murphy - and her husband, in the latest edition of the journal.

"Anyone who has ever watched a cello being played would realise the physical impossibility of our claim.

"Somewhat to our astonishment, the letter was published."

Baroness Murphy, formerly a professor at Guy's and St Thomas' Hospital in London, did not sign the 1974 letter herself, fearing that she might get into trouble.

Her husband John, now chairman of a Suffolk brewery, signed it instead.

Scrotal flak

The couple said that they had been "dining out" on the hoax for years, but decided to confess after seeing "cello scrotum" referenced in an article last month in the journal.

A spokesman for the BMJ said that, 34 years on, no-one faced the sack for failing to spot the implausible condition.

He said: "We did, actually, get a letter from another doctor at the time pointing out how unlikely it was.

"We may have to organise a formal retraction or correction now. Once these things get into the scientific literature, they stay there for good. But it all adds to the gaiety of life."

His point was illustrated by a brief search of other medical journals - with "cello scrotum" referenced several times over the years, including by one scholar who debated whether it was in fact an awkward contact with the chair, rather than the instrument itself, that might be the source of irritation.

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