Annals of BioSpam

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I've recently received an email offering me, for a mere $245, a yearly subscription to Surgical Technology International. As a teaser, the journal's marketing department invites me to view an online copy of "Site-Specific Rectocele Repair with Dermal Graft Augmentation: Comparison of Porcine Dermal Xenograft (Pelvicol®) and Human Dermal Allograft", by a long list of authors whose affiliations include not only the Harvard Medical School but also the Carolina Continence Center.

This all appears to be quite serious, not just an attempt to harvest credit card numbers from credulous urogynecologists.   Surgical Technology International does appear to exist, in a much more elaborate form than the perpetrators of phishing scams usually bother with.  On the negative side, it's slightly suspicious that the subtitle on the website's banner contains a typo: "The latest developments in surgical operative techniques and technnologies".  And ignorant as I am of modern surgical technnologies, I detect a faint air of parody in titles like "First Clinical Application of a Navigation-Controlled Shaver in Paranasal Sinus Surgery" and "Face Validity Study of the ProMIS Augmented Reality Laparoscopic Suturing Simulator".  At least, I believe that these are titles that Douglas Adams would have enjoyed creating, especially the one about the Augmented Reality Suturing Simulator. (Though paranasal shaver navigation has some promise as well.)

Still, this is probably just another company spamming the mailing lists they've bought from Science and Nature.  In other spam news, email spam is temporarily down overall, while the Hormel's employees who make the real thing "are working at a furious pace and piling up all the overtime they want".


  1. Nathan Myers said,

    November 15, 2008 @ 2:36 am

    To me it smacks of outsourcing. It's a less extreme example of the scam in which a direct-mail firm somehow acquires the rights to solicit contributions for a prominent charity or advocacy group. (E.g., some years back Amnesty International was taken in.) Of course they end up keeping the lion's share of the contributions to "pay for" mailings. The pitches become indefinitely more elaborate. It's a scam that preys on organizations' often inexperienced leadership.

    [(myl) You might be right. But this is one of a steady trickle of similar unsolicited commercial advertisements — one or two a day — that I get from outfits similar to those who dominate the advertising in Science and Nature — biomedical equipment, supplies, and services.

    This one also has something in common with the solicitations for spamferences, though I have no reason (other than the typo in the web site banner) for putting STI in the same category as IIIS and the like.]

  2. Kevin Iga said,

    November 15, 2008 @ 4:30 am

    A google search on the suspicious items you cited brings these articles up immediately:


    Those articles look real. Though why an ad would use those journal article titles verbatim like that is a bit harder to fathom.

  3. John Wesley Phillips said,

    November 15, 2008 @ 12:22 pm

    At least they should change "paranasal" to perinasal or perhaps perianal would be better!

  4. Randy said,

    November 15, 2008 @ 12:55 pm

    Augmented reality is … real. Roughly speaking, as it's been explained to me, it's a compromise between virtual reality and real reality. For example computer graphics could be projected onto physical objects, or computer generated graphics could be overlayed onto a video feed. These computer graphics could be used to assist a surgeon, for example, by telling him where to cut. It's a simplistic example, but you get the idea.

    There are two organizations that regularly send me emails about math conferences. They both smell like spam, but not enough for me to hit the spam button (in gmail). Often they end up in the spam folder on their own.

    I've been told that there are conferences out there that are not fully legitimate. They make money, and you get to add another conference presentation to your CV, so it's mutually beneficial (as long as the dean doesn't catch on). But there are no standards of quality, everyone can present, and you're not likely to find anyone there whose papers are worth citing.

  5. Garrett Riggs, Ph said,

    November 15, 2008 @ 2:04 pm

    Yahoo! I may finally be able to contribute to Language Log!

    I was an undergrad linguistics major and still consider myself a student of the discipline. I once even had dinner with the illustrious Prof. Pullum when he spoke at my undergrad advisor's colloquium, though he nixed my order at the Chinese restaurant and ordered something else! :-) Since medical school I have focused on neurolinguistics & aphasiology, but may be able to add to the confusion about the surgical email.

    I concur with Prof. Liberman that this could be a scam, but it also might be legitimate. The titles admittedly sound odd to non-medical folk, but the techniques & applications are plausible within the realm of high-tech surgical research.

    The apparent randomness of the email to a linguist is also not surprising in itself. There are now many, many online purveyors of medical information targeted to physicians & other professionals. Much of it is offered in low-tech, low-budget forums (and, often, low quality, too). Many times these mass emailings are sent to physicians outside of the logical target specialty. In this case, the email could have been sent because Mark was somewhere referred to as "Dr. Liberman."

    Lastly, the misspelling is doesn't really help us determine the medical legitimacy of the email. As Nathan Myers comments above, it could be outsourcing — to an organization with poor quality control, or to non-native speakers of English.

    Curious, indeed…but hey, it gave me an excuse to contribute!

  6. Mark F. said,

    November 16, 2008 @ 9:34 am

    I can also vouch that these are pretty normal article titles in the area of surgical technology. There's an IEEE conference called "Medicine Meets Virtual Reality" that's full of stuff like that.

  7. David Harmon said,

    November 16, 2008 @ 9:24 pm

    Even if it the articles are legitimate, Douglas Adams would have had even more fun with them!

  8. Forrest said,

    November 17, 2008 @ 8:38 pm

    I'm not qualified to say much here … but it reads ( to a non-expert, like me ) as eerily English-like. Some of the comments seem as if the things you're getting in your inbox actually do make sense; as far as I'm able to tell, they might have come from a Markov chain.

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