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.