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Cellist disease a hoax, British doctor confesses

Baroness Elaine Murphy decides to come clean on inventing 'cello scrotum,' which appeared in the British Medical Journal 34 years ago.

January 30, 2009|Thomas H. Maugh ii

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 "disease" was ostensibly characterized by chafing of the scrotum when the instrument was placed between a cellist's legs.

In a follow-up letter to the journal published Thursday, Baroness Elaine Murphy confessed that she and her husband, John, had concocted their report after reading about "guitarist's nipple," which they thought was also a hoax, in the journal.

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 report 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 report referenced the Murphys' original publication -- which was signed only by the nonphysician husband -- and the couple decided that it was time to come clean.

Fiona Godlee, editor of the journal, said to Britain's Independent newspaper: "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."

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thomas.maugh@latimes.com

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