Cello scrotum

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Cello scrotum is a hoax medical condition originally published as a brief case report in the British Medical Journal in 1974.[1][2][3] As its name suggests, it was purportedly an affliction of the scrotum affecting male players of the cello.


The original letter[1] was written by Dr Elaine Murphy but signed by her husband John as a joke to compare with a previous letter regarding 'guitar nipple',[4] a condition reportedly occurring when some styles of guitar playing excessively irritate the player's nipple (a form of contact dermatitis similar to jogger's nipple), which Murphy and her husband believed was likely a joke.

Murphy now points out that even a cursory study of the cellist's posture would show that the 'cello scrotum' complaint would not occur. The unlikelihood of a cellist's posture contributing to scrotal injury was raised back in 1974, but seems to have been overlooked.[5]

Murphy admitted the hoax in 2009 in another letter to the BMJ[6][7] after an article in the 2008 Christmas edition of the BMJ made reference to the complaint.[8] The truth of the case report had already been questioned in the medical literature in 1991.[9] Others have cited it,[10] although expressing scepticism.[11][12]

The implications of this and other hoax medical letters for evidence-based medicine and public understanding of science were discussed by Séamus Mac Suibhne.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Murphy, J M (May 1974). "Letter: Cello scrotum". Br Med J 2 (5914): 335. doi:10.1136/bmj.2.5914.335-a. PMC 1610985. PMID 4827125. 
  2. ^ "Peer reveals 'cello scrotum' hoax". BBC News Online. 28 January 2009. Retrieved 2009-01-28. A top doctor has admitted her part in hoodwinking a leading medical journal after inventing a medical condition called "cello scrotum". 
  3. ^ "'Cello scrotum' exposed as a hoax". CNN. 2009. Retrieved 2009-01-28. A medical ailment that has worried male members of string sections across the music world for over 30 years has been exposed as a hoax. 
  4. ^ Curtis P (April 1974). "Letter: Guitar nipple". Br Med J 2 (5912): 226. doi:10.1136/bmj.2.5912.226-a. PMC 1610876. PMID 4857619. 
  5. ^ Scheuer, P J; Gillingham, J. (June 1974). "Musical Bumps". Br Med J 2 (5917): 504. doi:10.1136/bmj.2.5917.504-a. 
  6. ^ Murphy, Elaine; Murphy, John (January 2009). "Murphy's lore". BMJ 338: b288. doi:10.1136/bmj.b288. PMID 19174435. 
  7. ^ Pavia, Will "Cello scrotum? It’s a load of...nonsense, admits Baroness Murphy", The Times, January 28, 2009
  8. ^ Bache, Sarah; Edenborough, Frank (December 2008). "A symphony of maladies". BMJ 337: a2646. doi:10.1136/bmj.a2646. PMID 19074561. 
  9. ^ Shapiro, P E (1991). ""Cello scrotum" questioned". J. Amer. Acad. Dermatology (American Academy Dermatology) 24: 665. doi:10.1016/s0190-9622(08)80178-8.  (in reference to Rimmer et al., 1990)
  10. ^ a b MacSuibhne, Seamus "A Tale of Two Letters: Doctors, The Public, The Media, and The Evidence"
  11. ^ Gambichler, Thilo; Boms, Stefanie; Freitag, Marcus (2004). "Contact dermatitis and other skin conditions in instrumental musicians". BMC Dermatology 4 (4): 3. doi:10.1186/1471-5945-4-3. PMC 416484. PMID 15090069. 
  12. ^ Rimmer, S; Spielvogel, RL (1990). "Dermatologic problems of musicians". J Amer Acad Dermatology 22 (4): 657–663. doi:10.1016/0190-9622(90)70093-W. PMID 2138638.