Who is Stronzo Bestiale?

A blogger gets to the bottom of tale concerning a physicist whose name means ‘total asshole’ in Italian

October 30, 2014

Source: LinkedIn

Vito Tartamella, author and managing editor of the science monthly Focus

“Would you read a paper written by Stronzo Bestiale [translation – total asshole]?” asks a post on Parolacce – the self-declared “only italian scientific blog on profanity”.

“A dose of mistrust would be justified: the name says it all,” the post continues. “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.”

The blog – highlighted to Times Higher Education after our story about the French phrase for “your mother in a leopard-skin G-string” being included in a paper – is written by Vito Tartamella, author and managing editor of the science monthly Focus, and it goes on to detail his investigations into the veracity of Mr Bestiale’s publication record.

“I tried to find this person in Italian telephone directories,” he says. “In Italy there are 7 Bestiale, mostly in Piedmont. None of them, however, has the name Stronzo (Turd or Asshole: who would call their own son that?)”

It turns out, unsurprisingly, that Stronzo Bestiale does not exist. The name appears “in the papers authored by Bill Moran and William G. Hoover, two influential American scientists from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory”.

Dr Tartamella wrote to Professor Hoover, now retired, to ask him the true story of Stronzo Bestiale.

He was told that while travelling on a flight to Paris, Professor Hoover had been sat next to two Italian women who “spoke among themselves, saying continually: ‘Che stronzo (what an asshole)!’, ‘Stronzo bestiale (total asshole)’.”

The phrases stuck in Professor Hoover’s mind, so he found out what Stronzo Bestiale meant. He decided the name would be the perfect co-author for a paper that had been refused publication by two journals already, so he “decided to submit my papers again, simply by changing the title and adding the name of that author”. The paper was published.

Although not everyone took the joke well (the then president of the Italian Physical Society described it as an offence “to the entire Italian scientific community”), it “laid bare how vulnerable control systems in the review of scientific research were (and still are!)”, Dr Tartamella writes.

“Incredibly, even today, years later, Stronzo Bestiale continues to be present as the author of publications in scientific databases: is it not extraordinary?”

The post was picked up by the Retraction Watch blog, which points out that “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.”

Send links to topical, insightful and quirky online comment by and about academics to chris.parr@tesglobal.com

Times Higher Education free 30-day trial

You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 6 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Most Commented

United Nations peace keeper

Understanding the unwritten rules of graduate study is vital if you want to get the most from your PhD supervision, say Kevin O'Gorman and Robert MacIntosh

Eleanor Shakespeare illustration (5 January 2017)

Fixing problems in the academic job market by reducing the number of PhDs would homogenise the sector, argues Tom Cutterham

Houses of Parliament, Westminster, government

There really is no need for the Higher Education and Research Bill, says Anne Sheppard

poi, circus

Kate Riegle van West had to battle to bring her circus life and her academic life together

man with frozen beard, Lake Louise, Canada

Australia also makes gains in list of most attractive English-speaking nations as US slips