Two weeks ago, I posed this question, “Does anyone really read anything online?” Based on some data from various sources, I concluded that not many do. I also noted that many links I tweeted were passed along by others who could not possibly have read them in the elapsed time between my tweet and their tweet.

The problem may not be limited to online readers.

Have you ever heard of “tsundoku”? Not “sudoku.” That’s a game. Tsundoku is an informal Japanese word defined as “the act of leaving a book unread after buying it, typically piled up together with other such unread books.”

This reminds me of a phenomenon that I observed among medical students and surgical residents over the course of many years.

Whenever a subject arose that they were not too familiar with, they would go off to the library and copy some articles about it and carry the articles around in their pockets for weeks. The papers would curl up at the edges and become as soiled as their white coats. But most of the time they were never read.

I would point out to them that photocopying an article, even though it can take a few minutes, was not a substitute for actually reading it.

I thought I might have been the only one to have noticed this, but a while back, a Twitter follower of mine, Terry Murray [‏@terromur], tweeted, “In the 1980s, the librarian at Hosp for Sick Children in Toronto urged ‘neuroxing’ (ie, reading) instead of photocopying.”

The Internet version of tsundoku is facilitated by programs like Evernote, which make it easy to save links or PDFs for reading later. And you don’t even have to go to the library.

Some people eventually do read them, but I’ll bet the majority don’t.

Maybe the definition of tsundoku should be expanded to include the act of leaving a link unread after tweeting it, typically piled up together with other such unread links.

Skeptical Scalpel is a retired surgeon and was a surgical department chairman and residency program director for many years. He is board-certified in general surgery and critical care and has re-certified in both several times. He blogs at and tweets as @SkepticScalpel.