Your Source for Medical Info…?

A U.S. doctor who reads True was distressed over the story on “exploding head syndrome”.

“Dr. Robert” wrote:

I hope to be the first of likely many physicians and others to inform you that “exploding head syndrome” is, in fact, not a hoax, but is a real, recognized clinical entity.

Since you are likely to remain skeptical, I provide below a list of some of the medical journal articles dealing with this syndrome, a list I just pulled off of Medline.

I believe that in this case it is *you* (and Ms. Murray, and apparently an AP reporter) who deserve to be made fun of, since none of you apparently bothered to check whether this “hoax” might actually be true. I look forward to seeing your egg-faced retraction. Feel free to use my name.

My Response

Bob, it’s sad to consider how much education was wasted on you that you are unable to read critically. *I* did not say that the web site in question was a hoax; I wouldn’t, since I haven’t seen it.

Have you? Do you always rely on unseen signs and unreported symptoms to make your diagnoses? Does the university hospital chief of staff know this?

All I said was “caveat surfor”* — good advice in any case, but certainly good when looking at suspect medical information published on unknown web sites! “Egg-faced” indeed.

*(Please let me know if you’d like a translation of this ‘Latin’ phrase. 😉 )

The 1981 movie Scanners provided graphical fodder for the exploding head meme — and this is one of the less graphic images from that film!

Sure, a syndrome by that name does exist, but it is not the brain-splattering event that its name implies — and as shown with graphic animations on numerous gag web sites. The one the story refers to is, rather, an anxiety-based malady treated with antidepressants.

So, if you think you have “exploding head syndrome,” by all means consult your physician — This is True should not be considered your primary source of medical information. (There: happy, doc?)

P.S.: As I expected, no other medical professionals, let alone “many physicians and others,” wrote to suggest I “retract” the story. I hope Dr. Robert appreciates that I didn’t accept his invitation to identify him fully.

Made official in 2017.


The online “exploding head” meme became so ubiquitous that in 2016, an emoji of the idea was  formally proposed to the Unicode Consortium, which approved it as part of Unicode 10.0 in 2017.

I never did see Dr. Bob’s egg-faced retraction. Ah well.

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12 Comments on “Your Source for Medical Info…?

  1. Normally I am impressed by the solidity of your arguments and tend to find myself laughing at the poor person you are correcting when you respond to a complaint or unimpressed missive of some sort. I think you might have got this one wrong though.

    In your response to Dr. Bob you say that “*I* did not say that the web site in question was a hoax; I wouldn’t, since I haven’t seen it.” However, the original story, “Exploding Idiocy Syndrome”, contains the sentence “The site was a hoax.” And as the original was not surrounded by quotation marks we have to assume that it is the opinion of the author and not a quote from Susan M. Murray from the Toronto Reference Library, who had been quoted previously in the piece.

    As I say, normally a big fan of the Randy logic train but I think this one may have missed a station!

    Not at all. As stated for years and years, ALL stories in my column are summarized rewrites using facts from the original news stories. The source stories, which (again as stated since 1994) are from “legitimate, mainstream” news sources. I build my version of the story from the quotes AND factoids included in the source — I don’t think it’s possible to do it any other way.

    So that’s the general case. In the specifics here, the entire point of the story was that people were letting themselves be panicked by hoax web sites; that the web sites in question are hoaxes is a given, so why bother going to the trouble of getting a specific quote to say it when I can just relate the fact and move on? I only get about 100 words to get through it all, so every word counts. If someone reads too fast and misses the point, then they deserve the “Duh!” -rc

  2. The problem I have with satirical “news” and hoax websites is that the articles and stories posted on those sites aren’t ‘satirical’ for very long. Inevitably it seems, someone down the chain of folks forwarding the story drops the attribution. Hey, Presto! It’s now a real story. And some of this stuff is ridiculous. But unless folks actually do the work of a simple search on FactCheck or Snopes, these urban legends and hoaxes spread through the public knowledge base.

    It isn’t just the Russians who are responsible for spreading lies and disinformation. It’s the people themselves.

    • I’ve seen this several times — usually it’s a forward-forward-forward from an article in The Onion.

      The Onion has had articles about it….

    • Satire is dead, and the Americans sit upon its bloated corpse like kings on a throne. 😉

      I’d agree, except for the winkie at the end. -rc

  3. Gerry, I most emphatically agree. I get so tired of tracking down BS stories for those who won’t check for themselves, then litter my facebook news feed with easily identified hoaxes/urban legends/conspiracy theories/ etc.

  4. Poor Dr. Bob. Of course you would never see a retraction. That would require that he admit to a mistake, which is something they are taught in Medical school to never, ever do.

    Certainly some “learned” just that. -rc

    • “Rectocranial inversion”

      I am so glad I stopped by to read the comments today. 😉

      For the record, I didn’t coin that one: it’s been around for years. -rc

  5. Now, I’m confused. Is it ‘rectocranial’, or ‘cranialrectal’?

    Does the order of the terms (recto or rectal and cranial) determine the direction of the inversion?
    Are there any linguists that might wish to shed some light on this? I’m afraid I may be kept up, pondering this every night, now.

    p.s. For those who might think I misread the prompt : Norman is my name, and I live in North Central Oklahoma. 🙂

    The first term sounds more “medical” to me. As for your name/state combo, you could consider a nickname instead, like the guy from Oklahoma commenting in 2018 above! -rc

    • My opinion is that “Rectocranial” works better than “Cranialrectal”. The “tocr” flows better than the “alcr”. Of course calling it a Craniorectal Inversion might also work.


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