Thursday, 29 January 2009

Joke over

It always amuses me how vaguely plausible hoaxes and frauds go undetected for years or even decades without anyone debunking them. The most intelligent people can be taken in.

An apparent medical condition called "cello scrotum" has just been exposed as a hoax after 34 years. Even the British Medical Journal, which revealed it in 1974, never realised there was no such thing.

Baroness Murphy, who dreamt up the hoax, only decided to come clean when it was mentioned yet again in the BMJ. She first thought of the idea after reading about "guitar nipple" - an equally unlikely condition.

Many people must have wondered about this strange musical hazard, but none of them publicly queried it. And no doubt the overworked journalists at the BMJ never got round to checking it out thoroughly.

There are people out there who devote their whole lives to hoaxing, to making idiots out of the "experts". They find it a lot more exciting than being what they're supposed to be. Why not keep everyone guessing?

I love all those wide boys who can fake just about any style of painting so adeptly they have all the professionals fooled. I'm not so keen on those heartrending memoirs that turn out to be pure fiction and only exploit their readers' emotions. But I have a sneaking admiration for the effrontery and ingenuity of a good hoax, as long as it does no real harm to anyone.

If a hoax is endorsed by enough experts, those with doubts keep silent and the hoax snowballs. Virtually everyone believed in the millenium bug, and we all half-expected planes to fall from the sky and heart pumps to fail. How could so many experts be wrong?

Oh, by the way, did I tell you about that nasty new condition they've discovered? Bloggers' eyeball, they call it....

Cello scrotum: when the size of the cello prevents the circulation of fresh air around the scrotum, leading to numbness and swelling (I think)


  1. I remember reading about a book of poetry someone brought out some years ago to great critical acclaim. They basically got a book about butterflies and used all the big words they found in it.

    The critics were pretty embarrassed when it all came out

  2. Caro - Interesting. I hadn't heard about that one. Do you have any details?

  3. I went to a lecture recently and found out that there was never a dinosaur called a Brontosaurus. It was a pastiche of dinosaur bones put together by some scammer and debunked in the 80's. There's a lot of kids books out there with an erroneous reference to a fictitious beastie!

  4. Baino, are you trying to hoax ME? No such thing as a brontosaurus? Well, I looked it up in Wikipedia and it says it's just another name for the apatosaurus, which did exist. Any dinosaur experts out there? And don't get me started on Piltdown Man....

  5. The question is, was there ever a cellist's scrotum hoax at all, or did you make it up?

  6. Not to mention all those missing kids that turn up in email inboxes, along with brain-tumour causing shampoos, etc.
    But cello scrotum?
    Luvs it.

  7. Jo - Ha, nice one. Yes, I made the whole thing up, well spotted. No seriously, the BMJ were asked about it and said it was a delicious hoax and no harm was done. Very sporting of them.

    www - Ah, all those 101 urban myths we know and love. Mind you, there really is a condition called fiddler's elbow. Maybe.

  8. Cello scrotum, I read about this. I am amazed that this got published. Had they ever seen a man play the cello? Does it look like there would be any friction or lack of air circulation?????
    Seemingly if you are already published and can write well you can say anything and get it in print.
    No harm was done but what about other published articles that careers are built on that will be found out as a hoax?

  9. Muddy - Every so often I read about some famous bit of research that turns out to be bogus or deliberately slanted. The career of the person concerned is wrecked. Why do they do it?

  10. I even heard somewhere that the world might actually be ROUND and not flat, can you believe it?

    I mean, how gullible do they think we are, anyway?

  11. Heart - The world is round? Whoever told you that? Do they think we're stupid? We all know that if you go west from San Fran, you'll never be seen again....

  12. I suffer from a condition called BBB. Can you guess what it is? It is quite legitimate although they have not named the condition yet officially it exists!
    Life would be boring without delicious hoaxes. Who calls a hoax delicions... Did they run out of adjectives or what? How about harmless instead. Meh.

  13. GayƩ - Bored blogger's brainwave, maybe? Yes, interesting how things are described in terms of food. Like a tasty woman or a half-baked idea or cooking the books.

  14. Phew, what a relief, I thought you were going to refute the notion that 'scone bottom' was hereditary, when clearly it is.

    I want to go out for a few drinks with the guy who succeeded in selling the scrap metal rights to the Eiffel Tower. Now that's really something!

    I am guessing people will believe anything if they have enough invested in its truth. My third career choice is hustler (after lawyer and psychotherapist). Had I lived in the 19th century, I would have been a performing spiritualist or indeed one who discovered bearded ladies. Job descriptions were so much more interesting then lol.

  15. Hulla - Ah, scone bottom, a nasty business. Haven't had it for a while, thank goodness. You'd have a job discovering bearded ladies these days. Even a touch of upper lip hair is shameful enough to be purged instantly.

    Hustler, eh? Perhaps I should consider that one in my jobless situation.

  16. I read, and loved James Frey's 'A Million Little Pieces' and was amazed at the uproar when Oprah found out that his story of drink and drug rehab was , ahem, embellished, to say the least. Did I care? Was I outraged? NO! it was still a really enjoyable, moving, well written book. Long live the literary hoax, that's what I say.

  17. Babycakes - Sorry, can't agree on this one. I think authors should either write the truth about their lives or write a life-inspired novel. They shouldn't pass something off as the truth when it isn't. It can falsely arouse people's sympathy and compassion and make them feel very used.

  18. Im not the largest fan of hoaxes but this one caused no harm so I really have no place to complain. I just wonder if there was a more elaborate approach to such a simple hoax. But to each there own.

    Narconon Vista Bay