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Don't worry, cellists, it's not real

January 29, 2009 | 10:17 am

Thirty-four years after the fact, a British physician who is now a member of the House of Lords has confessed to fabricating a disease called "cello scrotum" and getting its details published in the prestigious British Medical Journal. The new "disease" was ostensibly characterized by chafing of the scrotum when the instrument was placed between the cellist's legs.

In a follow-up letter to the journal published today, Baroness Elaine Murphy confessed that she and her husband, John, had concocted the letter after reading another report in the journal describing a disease called "guitarist's nipple" that they thought was also a hoax. That disorder, which is apparently real, is characterized by inflammation caused when the instrument is repeatedly pushed against the chest.

Every Christmas, the journal publishes a collection of humorous articles that have a thin tether to medical reality, but the Murphys seem to have pushed the boundaries of creativity a little bit too far. "Anyone who has ever watched a cello being played would realize the physical impossibility of our claim," they wrote.

Their article lay dormant until the recent Christmas issue, when a team of researchers described a series of (real) ailments called "A symphony of maladies" that included fiddler's neck, flautist's chin and cellist's chest. A footnote in that article referenced the Murphy's original publication -- which was signed only by the non-physician husband -- and the couple decided that it was time to come clean.

Fiona Godlee, editor of the journal, said, "We frown on misconduct, and medical fraud is taken very seriously. But in this case, I hope I am right in saying that no harm has been done."

-- Thomas H. Maugh II

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