Monday, October 13, 2014

A Co-Author That Never Existed?

I don't know what to make of this. One one hand, these are adults and, presumably, responsible physicists. Yet, on the other, this is the type of practical joke pulled by a juvenile.

Someone found a paper with a coauthor by the name of "Stronzo Bestiale", which, supposedly, in Italian means "Total Asshole". The author doesn't exist, the coauthor gave him/her/it an affiliation at Institute of Experimental Physics, University of Vienna. Of course, there's no one there by that name. The paper with all 3 authors, including this non-existent person, was published in the Journal of Statistical Physics back in 1987 (it took that long to discover this?).

One of the coauthors was contacted, and this is the story that was given:

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. The idea was born during meetings at CECAM (Centre Européen de Calcul Atomique et Moléculaire) in Lausanne,Switzerland, and the Enrico Fermi summer school organized at Lake Como with Giovanni Ciccotti, professor of condensed matter physics at the University La Sapienza University in Rome. In these meetings, the 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

"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 research was published.

Let's start with the misleading title of this article. To claim that this non-existent author has "...
published research in some of the world's most esteemed physics journals,... " is a stretch by any imagination. I did a Google Scholar search on that name, and non appeared linking this person to any paper published in Nature, Science, PRL, Phys. Rev. journals, etc. And these are "some of the world's most esteemed physics journals" in anyone's book!

Secondly, I don't quite get the point in all of this. The refereeing process is focused on the content of the work, not who or what sent it in. In fact, we certainly don't want a referee to have any bias for or against an author, and so, should not pay attention on who wrote the manuscript. In fact, there is a movement to make the authors to be anonymous to the referees the same way the referees are anonymous to the authors. So inserting such a name into the authors list has no bearing, and should have no bearing on evaluating the work.

After this, I wouldn't be surprised if Journals still start to vet out the credentials of the authors submitting anything to them.



noddeat said...

"Yet, on the other, this is the type of practical joke pulled by a juvenile."

Well, but adults don't make such jokes not because they don't want to, but more because they are not supposed to be that "non serious".

I think such jokes make science "cool" for young people and don't do any harm. Actually, didn't you wrote in this blog about Andre Geim who put his hamster as a co-author?

coraifeartaigh said...

One thinks of Gamow's famous paper, where he couldn't resist including the name Bethe on the author list to get Alpher, Bethe and Gamow!
Actually, I read a suggestion somewhere that Gamow's joke wasn't all that arbitrary, in that Bethe was in fact one of the referees for the paper - have not been able to verify this story...