When science writer Vito Tartamella noticed a physics paper co-authored by Stronzo Bestiale (which means “total asshole” in Italian) he did what anyone who’s written a book on surnames would do: He looked it up in the phonebook.
What he found was a lot more complicated than a funny name.
It turns out Stronzo Bestiale doesn’t exist.
In 1987, Lawrence Livermore National Lab physicist William G. Hoover had a paper on molecular dynamics rejected by two journals: Physical Review Letters and the Journal of Statistical Physics. So he added Stronzo Bestiale to the list of co-authors, changed the name, and resubmitted the paper. The Journal of Statistical Physics accepted it.
27 years later, Bestiale is still listed as co-author on several papers. He also has a Scopus profile that lists him as an active researcher at the Institute of Experimental Physics, University of Vienna.
This isn’t the first time a scientist has added a fictional co-author to a paper to make a point. 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.
Hilarious as these examples are, it does prove a point that’s a little less fun: The scientific community needs to be on its toes about who (or what) is writing the papers they publish, to help keep merde out of the literature.
Hat tip: Fabio Turone (who inspired our tongue-in-cheek headline, too)