Tag Archives: alert reader

"Miracle" water for cleaning is probably not all that miraculous

Alert Reader Jason strikes again! About a week ago, the L.A. Times covered the following story.

Simple elixir called a ‘miracle liquid’

It turns out to be less miraculous than it might seem. What you have here is the electrochemical generation of dilute bleach and dilute hydrochloric acid. This is a process that has been done industrially for a century, and now you can do it at home. Or you could just buy a bottle of bleach and a bottle of vinegar.


Breaking News: Cellist disease a hoax

Cello Scrotum is a hoax! Hypochondriac male musicians inclined toward large stringed instruments will have to find a new problem with which to afflict themselves. Guitar nipple, however, is all too real.

Alert reader Jason brought this L.A. Times article to our attention. It seems that in or around 1975, a mated pair of physicians cooked up the idea of Cello Scrotum despite the fact that a properly operated cello does not, in fact, come in contact with the genetalia. The paper got published anyway. It’s an early example of a parody in the scientific literature being taken literally.

It reminds me of a more recent iteration of this phenomenon: Alan Sokal published a computer generated gibberish paper in Social Text. He tells why he did so in his book, Beyond the Hoax: Science, Philosophy and Culture.  Another instance occurred more recently: an MIT student got a conference paper accepted that was pure gibberish. To be fair, conference papers are not held to the same review standards as journal papers. Nonetheless, The Register sums up thusly:

Perhaps because of the atomization of the disciplines in both arts and science, the quality of published academic papers appears to be at rock bottom.

And these days, simply being published means you’re an authority. The MIT pranks illustrates all it takes to be published, is to submit a paper.

Maybe that’s true for Social Text, but it’s another matter for, say, Analytical Chemistry.