Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

An accomplished philosopher invented a pseudonym. Why?

with 6 comments

Amélie Rorty

In 1980, Leila Tov-Ruach published a book chapter in which she thanked the editor of the book, Amélie Oksenberg Rorty, “for the hospitality that made the writing of this paper possible.”

Normally, such an acknowledgement wouldn’t raise eyebrows. But, the trouble is, Tov-Ruach and Rorty are the same person:  Leila Tov-Ruach is a pseudonym for Rorty, an accomplished philosopher. The University of California Press (UC Press) officially outed Rorty as Leila Tov-Ruach when it issued corrections for two chapters she published decades ago under the pseudonym (1, 2).

The corrections explain the author of the chapters is Rorty, who also edited the two books in which the chapters appear. Although Rorty didn’t note in the original versions of the books that she is Tov-Ruach, she has not tried to hide her pseudonym either.  She has acknowledged she is Tov-Ruach in her CV, and at least some philosophers know about the pseudonym (1, 2).

Why would a philosopher—who has an impressive publishing record that spans 50 years and, at 85 years old, is still a lecturer at Harvard—choose to write under a fake name?

People use pseudonyms in publishing for a variety of reasons. A fake name can protect a whistleblower’s true identity, or allow researchers to run a sting on a journal to expose the flaws of academic publishing. Occasionally, as in the case of Bruce Le Catt, an author may use a fake name as an inside joke.

We don’t know Rorty’s motivations; we tried calling and emailing Rorty on several occasions but did not hear back. In this instance, Rorty—who was married to the prominent (now deceased) philosopher Richard Rorty did more than publish under a pseudonym. She was also the editor of the two books in question—Explaining Emotions, published in 1980, and Perspectives on Self-Deception, published in 1988. Both books include a chapter under her real name.

Rorty and Tov-Ruach also have separate biographical entries on the “Contributors” pages in each book. In Explaining Emotions, for example:

1) Leila Tov-Ruach is an Israeli psychiatrist, who writes on lectures on philosophic psychology

2) Amélie Rorty is a professor of philosophy at Livingston College, Rutgers University

The name Leila Tov-Ruach has several possible meanings. The name is similar to the Hebrew expression “Laila Tov,” which means “good night.” Ruach can translate to spirit, soul, breath or wind.

Here’s the erratum, published on October 3, for the chapter “Jealousy, Attention and Loss,” published in Explaining Emotions:

It has been brought to the attention of UC Press that the following chapter in Explaining Emotions is published under a pseudonym:

Leila Tov-Ruach, “Jealousy, Attention, and Loss,” pp. 465-488.

UC Press would like to clarify that “Leila Tov-Ruach” is a pseudonym used by the editor of the volume, Amélie Oksenberg Rorty.

The erratum for the other chapter—“Freud on unconscious affects, mourning, and the erotic mind” published in Perspectives on Self-Deception—is almost identical.

Quick action

The corrections were prompted by Michael Dougherty, chair of the philosophy department at Ohio Dominican University, in Columbus. Dougherty, who is writing a book on research integrity in philosophy, has been tracking down authorship violations in the field, including the use of undisclosed pseudonyms.

Dougherty first came across a reference to Rorty’s pseudonym in The Oxford Companion to Philosophy, published in 2005:

In collections she edits herself, Amélie Oksenberg Rorty sometimes includes essays of her own signed by ‘Leila Tov-Ruach’.

On September 27, Dougherty contacted the publisher to request errata for the two UC Press volumes; less than a week later, the errata appeared.  

Dougherty also pointed out:

Under the guise of “Tov-Ruach,” Rorty commends her own work and speaks about herself in the third person.

He added:

It’s odd to have a dialogue with yourself under two names in the published literature. I have no idea why she is doing this. Dr. Rorty is a distinguished philosopher, and the use of pseudonyms can impede a genuine history of philosophy.

We contacted the publisher as well as her co-editor on the 1988 book, Perspectives on Self-Deception, Brian P. McLaughlin, to ask if they knew about the pseudonym when the book was published. We will update the post if we hear back.

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Written by Victoria Stern

October 13th, 2017 at 8:15 am

  • Albert Gjedde October 13, 2017 at 11:44 am

    Why is this important, to extent that you wish to make an issue of it?

    • SaG October 13, 2017 at 2:53 pm

      Why is the fact that they make an issue of it so important that you must comment on it?

  • Lee Rudolph October 13, 2017 at 12:13 pm

    Time, perhaps, for a sequel volume to Perspectives on Self-Deception: say, Perspectives on Other-Deception.

  • thom prentice phd October 13, 2017 at 12:31 pm

    Behold the Dominican prof in his Inspector Javert-style search for the narcissism of small differences … does he understand that the Federalist Papers were, well, published under pseydonyms aka pen names aka nom des plumes?

    That Martin Luther and Percy Bysshe Shelley published under pseudonyms?

    That publishing under pseudonyms has been, well, a regular practice among writers and authors for various reasons … ? Agatha Christie, Benjamin Franklin, C.S. Lewis, J. K. Rowling, the list is endless and several are available via google search.

    Leave her alone for crissakes.

    • CD October 15, 2017 at 4:55 pm

      The OP makes no direct criticism. It asks a plausible question. Nor does it claim Rorty invented pseudonyms.

      Nor are other uses of pseudonyms relevant here. *Academic* publishing is a game with strict rules. If Jorge Luis Borges plays games with pseudonyms and references to non-existent works, that’s one thing — part of the fun of reading him is working out the tangles of jokes.

      There are two obvious criticisms of pseudonyms in this context.

      (1) Academic *authorship* matters. It’s a way people make sense of a field. Muddying your own authorship does nobody any favors. So Retraction Watch has just done future readers of Tov-Ruach a favor.

      (2) Reception by other academics *really* matters — in a way, it’s the only thing that matters, and pretending to be someone else to comment favorably on your own work is not really good behavior.

      That said this does sound like an elaborate prank rather than anything to get upset about.

  • Joshua Perrin October 15, 2017 at 6:42 am

    Given the lack of apparent intent to deceive, and the closeness of the subject matter (so no need for a pseudonym to distance oneself from unrelated work) this really smacks of a in-joke. It’d be interesting to know why.

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