My long-term friends are well aware that from time to time I divert for a laugh at some of the totally STUPID science which gets published and my amazement that someone, or any organized body, would ever finance such drivel.

For example we had a “scientific study” that amazingly proved—yes actually proved—that football fans tend to over-estimate their team’s chances of winning and under-estimate the capabilities of their opponents! I mean, what can one say… It’s awesome that such breakthrough discoveries should take place in my lifetime!

Well, the latest fiasco is a bunch of researchers studying the “unprofessional” conduct of young doctors, who post pictures of themselves in social media, such as wearing a bikini or holding a glass of wine. I mean, who would EVER trust such a doctor?

The study, published by researchers at Boston University School of Medicine in the Journal of Vascular Surgery, sought to quantify the prevalence of “unprofessional” content on the social media accounts of vascular surgery trainees.1 

On Friday, as the hashtag #MedBikini started to go viral, two of the study authors apologized for the research, and the journal issued a statement saying the editors had decided to retract the article.

In this research paper, the study looked at 480 surgical trainees who graduated between 2016 and 2018. The study found that about half of the trainees had a searchable social media presence, and 26% of those accounts included content matching their criteria as “unprofessional” or “potentially unprofessional.” 

Notice those words: their criteria. Whose call was “unprofessional”? As several angry respondents pointed out on Twitter, all three of the authors reviewing the social media accounts were men in their 20s and 30s. The inference was that there was blatant sexism in the study. But, hey, couldn’t the Twitter attack also be sexist; implying a problem with young curious males?

A tricky call. Me? I’m from the mind-your-own-damned-business party!

What was clear is that the criticism of wearing a two-piece bathing suit was considered highly inflammatory and obviously sexist to most people. In fact one male doctor who commented said, obviously, if he wore a bikini, it would be rightly considered unprofessional! Ha ha!

Actually, the study authors did define “clearly unprofessional” postings as intoxicated appearance, unlawful behavior, possession of drugs or drug paraphernalia, and uncensored profanity or offensive comments about colleagues/work/patients.

Fair enough. And there really was some of that, apparently. Unfortunately, most people haven’t grasped that everything you post on Facebook is there FOREVER. You can never take it back. So it pays to be very careful, and men boasting of their illicit exploits with women, or wives telling secrets about their husbands, should know this and NEVER, ever, indulge in such postings.

Meanwhile, what they defined “potentially unprofessional” behavior included holding/consuming alcohol, controversial political comments, controversial religious comments, censored profanity, and inappropriate/offensive attire.

This is where the B*S* starts. Who is to define what is a controversial political statement might be? Pro-abortion or anti-abortion is so rabid and polarized, either side would claim they—and only they—are right. What is offensive attire? Obviously a KKK suit would be a problem to most of us. But a man in drag; is that offensive? Really?

The authors defined inappropriate attire as including “pictures in underwear, provocative Halloween costumes, and provocative posing in bikinis/swimwear.” This is pure opinion and nothing shows up worse in the American national character than prudism and puritanism. It’s wall-to-wall hypocrisy, of course.

Teal Bikini

Would you trust a doctor like this to take your pulse? Mine would be pretty fast, I’m sure!

In Europe, nudity, topless, and even genitals are seen as a matter of course on TV, in magazines and on the beach. Here it’s NORMAL, whereas the US dirty-minds brigade insist that even adult content has smudgy representations of body parts on TV (like Naked and Afraid). It wouldn’t do to frighten the kids with knowledge that the human body has parts that can cause excited reactions in certain circumstances! (I’m speaking as a doctor, you understand, not as a social commentator).

“You Must Speak Up Against This Disturbing Study”

The backlash against this highly provocative, judgmental (and in the end, worthless) study has been decisive, with men and women alike calling out the paper and its authors for sexism. Fellow-doctors on Twitter pointed out that wearing a swimsuit and posting a picture of it bears no relevance to someone’s ability to do their job, in many cases retaliating by posting revealing pictures of their own.

Other posters have also shared pictures of themselves drinking alcoholic beverages and pointing out that doctors and healthcare professionals are human beings outside of work and shouldn’t be shamed for it.

“A scientific publication just announced that holding alcoholic drinks and wearing bikinis are unprofessional behaviors for a doctor,” said one respondent. “Wait till they hear that med schools started letting women wear pants!” he remarked.

“We, healthcare professionals, have lives, Hell yeah, we have. We have fun the few free times we have. And guess what? We don’t wear scrubs in the pool. We even eat and drink, and post pics like ordinary people. We are ordinary people. And excellent professionals,” wrote a woman MD.2

The callouts go beyond swimwear and beverages, however. Several physicians and medical trainees also pointed out that “professionalism” in medicine is a term that can be used by those in power, who are often white and male, to police the actions of women, people of color, and people who identify as LGBT (I hope you know this term for gays, transvestites, etc.) Many physicians also noted that avoiding controversial political and social statements isn’t always best and could mean staying neutral on key political issues that affect their patients.

Given all of these concerns and objections, physicians (male and female alike) called for the paper to be retracted, and questioned how it was published in the first place.

“As a former editor in chief of a medical journal I’m appalled that this study was published.”  wrote Dr Monifa Seawall, MD. “Who in the world is vetting articles over there at that journal? The whole study is flawed. How did that editor allow this to be published? Trash trash and more trasssssshhhhh.”

Other than that, it was OK, I suppose! Ha ha! 

It turns out that the authors had not received permission to use the database of vascular surgery trainees for their social media analysis. They simply setup a fake account for themselves and started snooping.

Not cricket, as the English would say!

“You must speak up against this disturbing study,” wrote Mudit Chowdhary, MD. 

“3 men created fake social media accounts to purposefully spy on applicants… Worse, they are shaming our women physician colleagues for wearing bikinis,” said another.

I hope you laughed at some of it. Most of it is beyond a joke, actually. Quite disturbing in fact. 

To your good health,

Prof. Keith Scott-Mumby

in the city of Angers, northern France

References:

1. J Vasc Surg. 2020 Aug;72(2):667-671. doi: 10.1016/j.jvs.2019.10.069. Epub 2019 Dec 25.

2. https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/934587