Stronzo Bestiale, Galadriel Mirkwood, Crosley Shelvador, …

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"The true story of Stronzo Bestiale", Parolacce 10/5/2014:

Would you read a paper written by Stronzo Bestiale (Total Asshole)? A dose of mistrust would be justified: the name says it all. Yet, in 1987, professor Bestiale, supposedly a physicist in Palermo, Sicily, authored major papers in prestigious scientific peer reviewed journals such as the  Journal of Statistical Physics, the Journal of Chemical Physics and the proceedings of a meeting of American Physical Society in Monterey.

No such person exists, it seems — the story emerges through email with one of Prof. Bestiale's co-authors:

I wrote to professor Hoover, now retired, to ask him the true story of Stronzo Bestiale. Here’s what he said. «At that time» he says «we were very active in the development of a new computational technique, non-equilibrium molecular dynamics, connecting fractal geometry, irreversibility and the second law of thermodynamics. […]

[T]he theoretical picture of this technique was clear to me, so I wrote several papers on the subject along with some colleagues. But the reviewers of Physical Review Letters and the Journal of Statistical Physics refused to publish my texts: they contained too innovative ideas.»

This is nothing new: new discoveries in science are hard to publish because scientists are rather conservative, as discussed by the epistemologist Thomas Kuhn. Meanwhile, Hoover continues, «while I was traveling on a flight to Paris, next to me were two Italian women who spoke among themselves, saying continually: “Che stronzo (what an asshole)!”, “Stronzo bestiale (total asshole)”. Those phrases had stuck in my mind. So, during a CECAM meeting, I asked Ciccotti what they meant. When he explained it to me, I thought that Stronzo Bestiale would have been the perfect co-author for a refused publication. So I decided to submit my papers again, simply by changing the title and adding the name of that author. And the researches were published».

I wonder how widely this technique would work? Across the languages of the world, we can find thousands of authors' names in the same genre. There's Prof. Connard, who seems to have thousands of publications already; but the career of  Dr. Arschloch seems hardly to have begun — perhaps I would have better luck with LSA abstracts if I adopted her as a co-author.

And there are other sources of names, of course. "Should papers be retracted if one of the authors is a total asshole?", Retraction Watch 10/9/2014, mentions the possibility of pet co-authors:

In 1978, Polly Matzinger added her impeccably-named Afghan hound, Galadriel Mirkwood, to a Journal of Experimental Medicine paper to protest the use of passive voice in scientific papers.

And in the field of linguistics, we have precedent for the authorship status of household appliances:

"Dr. Alfred Crockus and Crosley Shelvador, M.D.", LLOG 9/19/2007; "Crosley Shelvador comes in from the cold", LLOG 9/20/2007.



  1. Jerry Friedman said,

    October 10, 2014 @ 10:10 pm

    There must be a lot of Italian statistical and chemical physicists whose sense of humor overrides any desire they might have to expose a hoax.

    What I don't get is why Hoover thought adding Bestiale's name would help him get published and why it apparently did. Was there a prejudice against solo authors? Did Italians have a good reputation in non-equilibrium molecular thermodynamics?

    By the way, says stronzo is literally 'turd, shit' and as an insult 'asshole, prick, dick'.

    [(myl) Presumably it was just the random draw of editors and reviewers that resulted in rejection or acceptance, with Prof. Bestiale's participation playing only the role of authorial commentary on the process.]

  2. DavidH said,

    October 10, 2014 @ 10:51 pm

    I went to an Italian school (elementary and high school) I speak Italian since I was 6 years old and I understand why they translate stronzo bestiale as a total asshole, stronzo literally means piece of shit or turd, bestiale means like a beast but in the sense of huge so literally stronzo bestiale would be a huge piece of shit or turd, so if somebody is a huge piece of shit you can say with certainty that he's a total asshole :)

  3. D.O. said,

    October 11, 2014 @ 12:42 am

    In Russia, scientists (and others) often consult the always handy reference book of Potolotskii, but I doubt that he was ever credited in print.

  4. Kelley Cartwright said,

    October 11, 2014 @ 4:24 am

    This reminds me of a college bull session in the 1950s, in which we sat around inventing names for the characters in the opera that we proposed to write. Two names that I remember were Tivo la Fronte, the male lead, from Italian "Ti vo la Fronte" (I want your forehead), after "Ti vo la fronte incorronar di rose," a line from Susanna's aria in Act IV of Mozart's Nozze di Figaro — "I want to crown your brow with roses."

    The other name was Mirganz Gleich, a ramrod-straight, very pedantic professor of logic, from the German "Es it's Mir ganz gleich" — It's fine with me."

    Sorry, there are a couple of upper-case letters in the above that this iPad editor won't let me convert to lower case.

  5. Bobbie said,

    October 11, 2014 @ 10:44 am

    I wrote a satiric research paper in the 1980s which cited fictitious authors. I still remember the dead silence in the room as I read aloud about "research by Fitz and Startz" and that guy Farblonjet. Finally a few people realized it was a spoof. I probably still have that paper somewhere in my files.

  6. Dan Lufkin said,

    October 11, 2014 @ 10:46 am

    A colleague of mine had an evanescent co-author named Morgan D. Velt. Prof. Velt doesn't seem to have made it into Google Scholar, but there is a veritable plethora of images puzzlingly associated with him.

  7. Mark Mandel said,

    October 11, 2014 @ 11:32 am

    And let us never forget Quang Phúc Đông of the South Hanoi Institute of Technology (Jim McCawley), author of "English Sentences Without Overt Grammatical Subject" and "A Note On Conjoined Noun Phrases".*

  8. Y said,

    October 11, 2014 @ 11:35 am

    I read something once about someone signing off on a loan or something as Pago Domani ("I pay tomorrow") but the details escape me.

  9. Jerry Friedman said,

    October 11, 2014 @ 12:11 pm

    Kelley Cartwright: I've long wanted there to be opera singers named Sue Profetessa and Eddie Pensiero. Apparently there are people named Sue Cacciatore.

  10. Rodger C said,

    October 11, 2014 @ 12:12 pm

    I had a friend once whose phone number was listed under Maria Himmelfahrt. I believe I once suggested we go somewhere and I'd be her brother, Christy Himmelfahrt.

  11. Neal Goldfarb said,

    October 11, 2014 @ 12:22 pm

    The Google Image search results for Morgan D. Velt (click on Can Lufkin's link). Is fascinatingly bizarre. At first it looks like a collection of visual non sequiturs, but pretty quickly some themes emerge: dresses, gravestones, basketball, elephants, women in bikinis, shoes, bras, images of newspaper pages, closeups of food. However, it's hard to see what the recurring themes have in common with one another. So while the images themselves aren't don't seem random, the collection of themes does.

    But is it really random, or is there some higher-order order to it? This would probably be a fruitful research topic for someone in the field of Computational Semantico-Imagistic Meta-Categorization Studies.

    Although now that I think about it, something may already have been written about this. see Bestiale, Gleich & Farblonget (2016).

  12. Neal Goldfarb said,

    October 11, 2014 @ 12:24 pm

    If you have trouble finding Can Lufkin's link, try Dan Lufkin's.

  13. Piyush said,

    October 11, 2014 @ 2:21 pm

    Doron Zeilberger, a combinatorialist at Rutgers, routinely co-authors papers with Shalosh E. Ekhad (a pseudonym for his computer, coined by substituting substituting the Hebrew words for "3" and "1" in ATT 3B1, the fist model he owned). He even maintains a personal journal of the computer where others can submit articles about experimental and computational mathematics.

  14. Piyush said,

    October 11, 2014 @ 2:21 pm

    That should be "Shalosh B. Ekhad".

  15. Piyush said,

    October 11, 2014 @ 2:25 pm

    In Mathematics, there is an even grander precedent of it. Nicolas Bourbaki, the "author" of many trend-setting textbooks in advanced mathematics, is actually a fictional front for a group of (mostly) French mathematicians. Similarly, the British mathematician Tutte and his co-authors published several papers under the pseudonym Blanche Descartes.

  16. Piyush said,

    October 11, 2014 @ 2:25 pm

    In Mathematics, there is an even grander precedent for this. Nicolas Bourbaki, the "author" of many trend-setting textbooks in advanced mathematics, is actually a fictional front for a group of (mostly) French mathematicians. Similarly, the British mathematician Tutte and his co-authors published several papers under the pseudonym Blanche Descartes.

  17. TR said,

    October 11, 2014 @ 3:39 pm

    Speaking of opera, there is of course the well-known Spanish tenor of French descent, Placido Rémy-Fasol.

  18. Dan Lufkin said,

    October 11, 2014 @ 5:09 pm

    I don't think this was original, but a classmate of mine used to fossick around in the phone book until he found a name like Giselle Wrzbeczek Piffle. Then he'd call and say, "This is Karl Ecklund, Giselle. From high school. Remember me?" He'd carry on just long enough to leave poor Giselle with the impression that there was another Giselle Wrzbeczek Piffle out there.

  19. a George said,

    October 11, 2014 @ 5:19 pm

    Many of our inventions were claimed to have been first invented by Soviet scientists, and the way it was told to me, their most famous inventor was one Reguspatoff, and it was marked on many products to celebrate him.

  20. Roger Lustig said,

    October 11, 2014 @ 6:45 pm

    @Dan: Her name was Gisela Werbezirk-Piffl, though she didn't use her husband's (Hans Piffl's) name professionally. She was a noted Austrian actress who fled to the US in the 1930s, where she took minor roles on Broadway and in Hollywood, and put up with phone calls from drunks for years.

  21. Roger Lustig said,

    October 11, 2014 @ 6:46 pm

    My wife has published under the name of Nona Vero, and I've used Ben Trovato on occasion.

    [(myl) And then there's the Car Talk staff credits…]

  22. Ethan said,

    October 11, 2014 @ 9:18 pm

    And yet there really was a famous paper by Alpher, Bethe, & Gamow.
    αβγ paper

  23. Kelley Cartwright said,

    October 12, 2014 @ 12:00 am

    TR, Placido should have a soprano leading lady named Lottie Doe.

  24. Mike Briggs said,

    October 12, 2014 @ 5:35 am

    Among the people regularly credited by Garrison Keillor is Amanda Reckonwith.

  25. Robert Coren said,

    October 12, 2014 @ 10:45 am

    @Kelley Cartwright: Apparently the iPad editor (with which I have had several frustrating arguments) could not be convinced that you really meant to write "ist", as well.

  26. Robert Coren said,

    October 12, 2014 @ 11:00 am

    When I was a Harvard undergraduate, many long years ago, the Harvard Student Agencies published a phone list of undergraduates, the data for which was provided in writing by the students themselves. It was a tradition to send in some bogus entries, mostly crudely obscene ("Muskok, E. Norm") but occasionally marginally plausible at first glance ("Wanamaker, G. I."). A couple of my classmates sent in a bunch of these (of which the only one I can remember is "Purebottom, Prudence") with the perfectly valid Cambridge phone number 868-7884, which happens to be what you get if you translate UNTRUTH with the standard phone encoding. (Somewhat unfortunately, that number had in fact been assigned to a Radcliffe undergraduate, who received a number of annoying phone calls, or so I was told.)

  27. a George said,

    October 12, 2014 @ 4:08 pm

    When Luciano Pavarotti was still a good Decca artiste, the in-house joke in 1994 was that his main competitor was to be known as Placi Mingo fortwith: he had lost his 'do'.

  28. Craig S. said,

    October 13, 2014 @ 7:01 am

    If you read something on sound change in Old Estonian, you might come across a citation for "Eek & Help (1987)". Seems too good to be true, but apparently it's legit.

    [(myl) Indeed — here's a bibliography entry from E.L. Asu & F. Nolan, "Estonian and English rhythm: a two-dimensional quantification based on syllables and feet", Speech Prosody 2006:

    But Arvo Eek and Toomas Help were/are both very real people.]

  29. Brett said,

    October 13, 2014 @ 8:35 am

    @Ethan: The paper was by Alpher and Bethe. George Gamow was just added by Bethe as a joke.

  30. Piyush said,

    October 13, 2014 @ 9:47 pm

    @Brett: Actually, the paper was by Alpher and Gamow. It was Bethe who had nothing to do with it, and it was Gamow who suggested adding his name as a joke.

  31. Piyush said,

    October 13, 2014 @ 9:54 pm

    Also while we are on the subject of fictional co-authors, Greg Ross at the Futility Closet website recounts the story of the physicist J.H. Hetherington who listed his cat Chester as a co-author named “F.D.C. Willard” (for “Felis Domesticus Chester Willard”', according to Ross) .

    Apparently, his motivation was to avoid a re-write of the paper in first-person singular, as was mandated by the style-guide of the journal Physical Review Letters for single author papers.

  32. Adam Stephanides said,

    October 14, 2014 @ 5:12 pm

    What the images Google Image pulls up for Morgan D. Velt have in common is that they all appear on pages which come up when you do a web search for Morgan D. Velt, and the pages come up because Google searchs for the parts of the name as well as the whole. Thus the dress there is because it's from a page that refers to "velvet," which apparently Google thinks is close enought to "Velt"; the basketball photos are from a newspaper which referred to a local basketball team as "'Velt"; and the gravestones are from pages which use "d" or "d." as an abbreviation for "deceased."

    This is obvious when you view the page in a browser that doesn't automatically load images.

  33. Xmun said,

    October 14, 2014 @ 11:31 pm

    Once upon a time I worked as a freelance with the business name "Simon and Oliver Editorial Services". Oliver was my tabby cat, who liked sitting on the manuscripts.

  34. Mark Mandel said,

    October 15, 2014 @ 1:34 pm

    Xmun: Don't they all?

  35. La storia di Stronzo Bestiale: il “dietro le quinte” da a “Science” | said,

    October 18, 2014 @ 4:18 am

    […] è stato un crescendo: ne ha parlato sul suo blog il linguista Mark Liberman dell’Università della Pennsylvania; Albany Retro, una società di […]

  36. David Marjanović said,

    October 20, 2014 @ 5:58 am

    I know what connard means, but almost all the Connards on the first page of Google Scholar results have different initials, and some of them are first authors. I fear there really are people saddled with that name.

    There's precedent. There's a Professor Wolfgang Deppert somewhere in Germany; he showed up in a science program on TV once, and the host managed to keep an entirely straight face.

    What I don't get is why Hoover thought adding Bestiale's name would help him get published and why it apparently did. Was there a prejudice against solo authors? Did Italians have a good reputation in non-equilibrium molecular thermodynamics?

    Maybe the idea was that it's less likely for two people to have the same crackpot idea than for a single author.

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