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Molten gold was poured down his throat until his bowels burst
  1. A S Breathnach,
  2. P A Riley
  1. Department of Medical Microbiology, St George’s Hospital, Blackshaw Road, London SW19 3AT, UK; aodhan.breathnach{at}

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    We were intrigued by the paper of van de Groot et al describing the pathology of forced ingestion of molten metal1; however, we were concerned to note that at least one of the references was from a very dubious source. The statement that this method of execution was used by both the Romans and the Spanish Inquisition is supported by a single reference. This is an excerpt from JA Wylie’s History of Protestantism,2 a polemic published in 1878, and has been accessed via a website (, which most scientists would regard as unorthodox, and some as offensive. The authors of the website maintain, inter alia, that the earth is 6000 years old, vaccination is a Catholic plot, and Edward Jenner and Charles Darwin were secret Jesuits. We doubt if such a website can be regarded as a reliable source of historical or scientific information.

    This criticism of a not too serious paper may seem petty, but the point is an important one. The Internet has given the scientific community easy access to writings from an unimaginably wide variety of sources. Few of these sources have been “peer reviewed”, and many are inaccurate, subjective, biased, or bigoted. Doctors and scientists need to be careful to choose reliable sources for their references, especially when working from the Internet. Reviewers of articles should also remember their responsibility to ensure accuracy in all aspects of the publication—it may not be feasible to check every reference, but at least internet based sources are relatively easy to scrutinise.