Stronzo Bestiale has published research in some of the world's most esteemed physics journals, and his co-authors are often leading members in their fields. But Stronzo Bestiale, whose name means "total asshole" in Italian, has a secret. He kind of doesn't exist.
Science writer Vito Tartamella recently uncovered Bestiale's secret when he came across a paper by physicists Bill Moran and William G. Hoover that lists Bestiale as a co-author. The paper in question: "Diffusion in a Periodic Lorentz Gas," originally published in 1987 in the Journal of Statistical Physics.
Tartamella – who is not only Italian, himself, but the author of a book on surnames – immediately noticed Bestiale's unusual designation and decided to look him up in the phonebook. Nothing. The man has a Scopus profile that lists him as an active researcher at the Institute of Experimental Physics, University of Vienna, but he doesn't appear in the phonebook. Puzzled, Tartamelle reached out to one of 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. 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 Physicsrefused 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."
Tartamella has been updating his post with other scientific jokes and made-up authors that have made their way into scientific journals, which are definitely worth checking out. One of our favorites comes from Ivan Oransky at Retraction Watch (where we first heard tell of Stronzo Bestiale), who recalls the case of immunologist Polly Matzinger, who, in 1978, listed as one of her co-authors one Galadriel Mirkwood (her Afghan hound).