The Quantum Pontiff

Pseudonyms in Science?

A while ago a message from Kris Krogh appeared on about ariXiv:0712.3934 stating Kris’ belief that the paper appeared under a pseudonym (the comment contains the contents of the link which was sent to the arxiv’s administrator.) Today I checked with the arxiv and found that the paper had been removed:

This submission has been removed because ‘G.Forst’ is a pseudonym of a physicist based in Italy who is unwilling to submit articles under his own name. This is in explicit violation of arXiv policies.
Roughly similar content, contrasting the relative merits of the LAGEOS and GP-B measurements of the frame-dragging effect, can be found in pp. 43–45 of: this http URL

Humorously (I guess) while the statement goes to pains to not name the Italian physicist, the link is to a Nature article…by an Italian physicist.

I’ve often wondered about pseudonyms on the arxiv and when I would see an article authored by someone in such a manner. But reading this, I was trying to think of whether there have been any famous scientists who have used pseudonyms. Anyone?


  1. #1 Steve
    January 21, 2008
  2. #2 Steven
    January 22, 2008

    I’m not sure why Steve’s comment is a “related note”: Terry Rudolph is the actual name of a real person, who can’t help having that name.

    I also wish to note that “Steve” is not my pseudonym.

  3. #3 Carl Brannen
    January 22, 2008

    The rumor mill is that the author of the Nature article is not the same as the author of the pulled article, but is yet another Italian physicist. (Small country, lots of physicists I guess.)

  4. #4 david
    January 22, 2008

    Xiatra Anderson, however, is fictitious.

  5. #5 Jonathan Vos Post
    January 22, 2008

    Dear Dr. “Isaac Asimov.”

    Though your letterhead is from the Biochemistry Department of the Boston University Medical School, we warn you about our anti-pseudonym policies.

    You claim to have immigrated from Russia, yet have no independent documentation, relying rather on the interactions of your parent with the US Government. Your parents, by the way, not being part of the scientific community but, rather, owners of a candy and cigarette store in Brooklyn.

    You have the same first name as Isaac Newton, and are known to write about History of Science. Mere coincidence? Don’t make us laugh. No, really, I mean don’t make us laugh. Those puns in the submission were atrocious.

    You are well-known for writing “sci-fi” — deeply suspect sub-literary field closely related to comic books, such as found at candy stores.

    Although you do have some original ideas, I am forced to agree with the other referees and suggest that your work not be published.

  6. #6 Jonathan Vos Post
    January 22, 2008

    Two words: Nicolas Bourbaki!

    Nicolas Bourbaki is the collective pseudonym under which a group of (mainly French) 20th-century mathematicians wrote a series of books presenting an exposition of modern advanced mathematics, beginning in 1935. With the goal of founding all of mathematics on set theory, the group strove for utmost rigour and generality, creating some new terminology and concepts along the way.

    While Nicolas Bourbaki is an invented personage, the Bourbaki group is officially known as the Association des collaborateurs de Nicolas Bourbaki (“association of collaborators of Nicolas Bourbaki”), which has an office at the Ecole Normale Superieure in Paris. Bourbaki is a respected name now, but it was initially a clever prank played on the entire scientific establishment. For a few years, people thought that Nicolas Bourbaki existed and admired his talent, which was of course the combined talent of the group.

  7. #7 Lassi Hippeläinen
    January 22, 2008

    Unfortunately Bourbaki died many years ago. He fell in an acute singularity :-(

    Then there is Platon. He put much of his teachings in he mouth of Socrates.

    A borderline case is the Alpher-Bethe-Gamow paper that Hans Bethe had nothing to do with. But that happened just because Gamow couldn’t resist an opportunity for a practical joke.

  8. #8 Lassi Hippeläinen
    January 22, 2008

    In a more serious vein: M. LeBlanc, a correspondent of Carl Friedrich Gauss, turned out to be Sophie Germain; and IIRC also Sofia Kovalevskaya was at some time forced to hide behind a masculine pseudonym.

    I’m not sure how many ethnic reasons there have been to adopt a less conspicuous name.

  9. #9 Jonathan Vos Post
    January 22, 2008

    I’m grateful to Lassi Hippel�inen for giving the two extremely cogent examples of the great women scientists Sophie Germain; and Sofia Kovalevskaya, both of whom I’ve taught classes about, published about, read (in trnslation). Both are crucial in feminist history of science, most explicitly for Sofia Kovalevskaya as a proto-feminist activist and propagandist.

    Sofia Kovalevskaya HAD to marry to be able to go from Russia to Germany, more or less and arranged marriage to a scientist, which blossomed into love, and then tragedy. She was the FIRST PhD in science in all of Western Europe. She had to write 3 dissertations, each far more than worth a PhD. Even today she is the posthumnous victim of slader and libel that she took credit for men’s work. Or that she slept her way to success. And the like.

    Women do NOT today need to write under pseudonyms (as was also the case in literature in the sense of novels, i.e. Georges Sand, James Tiptree, Jr.). But there is very good statistical evidence that woman’s name affects refereeing of science articles as opposed to male name. So the issue has not gone away. Ask the former President of Harvard.

    Sophie Germain Primes, and her work on fermat’s Last Theorem. I actually have written Sofia Kovalevskaya in, explicvitly, in both a novella (“Sex, Savagery, and Semiprimes” now at Interzone) and a novel manuscript.

  10. #10 Jonathan Vos Post
    January 22, 2008

    I mean:

    She was the FIRST *** FEMALE *** PhD in science…

    and first *** FEMALE *** University Department Chair in science…

  11. #11 Michael
    January 22, 2008

    on a totally unrelated note: is there a special reason why you write your posts in such a way that they appear only in part in the rss-feed? Or is this something you have no power over? It’s kinda annoying to often have to transfer from rss-reader to browser for reading this (otherwise excellent) blog.

  12. #12 Dave Briggs
    January 22, 2008

    Didn’t Benjamin Franklin write a newspaper column under a female name? I got that from the movie National Treasure.
    Dave Briggs :~)

  13. #13 pedant
    January 22, 2008

    Way back ,about twenty years ago, a paper appeared in J Stat. Phys. authored by, amongst others, one Stronzo Bestiale (“bullshit”). This got through the journal’s gamut of review processes and hit the streets. The following issue contained an editorial apologizing, in particular to its Italian readers, and expressing shock and horror that men of science could behave in such an infantile way. Those were the days.

  14. #14 StrBes (Street Best)
    January 22, 2008

    one Stronzo Bestiale (“bullshit”).

    “Bestial Turd” to be more precise…

    I believe this well-known story to be apocryphal, can you give a reference to that paper that supposedly “hit the streets”?

  15. #15 windy
    January 22, 2008

    “Isidore Nabi” of the sociobiology debates?

  16. #16 Franck
    January 22, 2008

    Hello all !

    Familliar with probability theory, have practiced normal law, Student law ? Well, the famous Student distribution was invented by William Seally Gosset, alias Student.

    Actually, he was quality control chief engineer at the famous Guiness brewery during the 1920′-30′. He published papers under this pseudonym, apparently because Guiness did dot want to lose such a precious asset leave for a better place and wages ! They allowed him to publish research papers but not under his true name. Statistics owes thus a lot to Guiness beer ! Student was a disciple of Pearson.

    Have guiness folks !



  17. #17 proportional
    January 22, 2008

    Not even a name is needed: “tanquam ex ungue leonem”

  18. #18 Kris Krogh
    January 22, 2008

    Hi Dave,

    Thanks for the mention! Isaac Newton gave his solution to Johann Bernoulli’s brachistochrone problem as “an anonymous Englishman.” Bernoulli recognized him “as the lion is known by its paw.”

    That line ran through my head reading the paper by “Gerhard Forst.” But from the ArXiv comments you mentioned, maybe I had the wrong Italian.

    Cheers, Kris

    P.S.: Great ski photo!

  19. #19 Kris Krogh
    January 22, 2008

    Oops. “Proportional” has bested me. That’s Bernoulli’s original statement in latin.

  20. #20 pedant
    January 23, 2008


    This tale is not apocryphal. The paper, by Bill Moran, William Hoover and SB, was entitled ‘Diffusion in a Lorentz Gas’ and appeared in J. Stat. Phys. Vol 48, p709, 1987. A Lawrence Livermore preprint can be accessed at

    Joel Lebowitz was the editor of J Stat Phys at the time; he seemed to be genuinely appalled by what took place.

  21. #21 Jonathan Vos Post
    January 23, 2008

    There is a subtle linkage between pseudonyms, and rule-breaking. As discussed here, women were forced to use male pseudonyms to break the (ethically unacceptable today) rule against women in science. Thie may run in reverse, i.e. men writing with female pseudonyms within Romance Writers of America.

    Men were forced to use pseudonyms to publish politically inflamatory pamphlets (cf. Alien and Sedition Act). The linkage is somewhat different on the internet. Anonymity has strengths and weaknesses. Supose the pseudonymous author is a plagiarist? Peter Woit has hosted a debate on the arXiv plagirism scandal recently, at Not Even Wrong. Having made 2 comments there which he posted, here’s a 3rd which he declined to post:

    122. Jonathan Vos Post Says: Your comment is awaiting moderation.
    January 23rd, 2008 at 5:45 am

    Physics is an inappropriate realm for the doctrine of “appropriation” common in postmodernist arts, literature, and the
    humanities. The arXiv plagiarists have done something profoundly reprehensible in science (as discussed in this blog thread) which might be valorized by a Marxist Literature department.

    Physics has an empirical (independently reproducible) standard
    of truth, and rests on mathematics (with an axiomatic standard of truth). This differs existentially from Politics (in Turkey or
    elsewhere) with a pragmatic standard of truth (what money, power, or votes can obtain). This differs from Arts (with an aesthetic standard of truth). These in turn differ from Religion (a revealed standard of truth). These magisteria must not be confused with each other, ever, by abuse of the common (but differently interpreted) words “proof”, or “truth.”

    I have noted a bifurcation between the protocols of plagiarism in science versus in the arts. The distinction is deep, and seen in different ways by practioners. There is a romantic notion that creativity in the arts and literature depends upon breaking rules. In science, however, breaking rules in a formal sense (assuming a different axiom set than standard, and exploring the implications) is
    distinguished from breaking legal, administrative, or scholarly norms of practice.

    Science, as embodied in its protocols of refereed journals, refereed, conference presentations, and unrefereed preprint archives, has a different set of expections.

    As recently noted on

    Lethem, DJ Spooky and others on copyfighting and creativity on
    public radio
    Posted by Cory Doctorow, January 22, 2008 9:30 AM | permalink

    A recent episode of Public Radio International’s To the Best of
    Our Knowledge dealt with remix, reuse, and plagiarism, talking to some
    of my favorite people on the subject:

    Author Jonathan Lethem talks to Jim Fleming about his “Harper’s”
    Magazine essay, “The Ecstasy of Influence: A Plagiarism.” As the
    subtitle indicates, Jonathan Lethem appropriated the words of many
    authors to cover the subject of plagiarism, although he provides full
    attribution of his sources at the end of the essay. Also, Paul D.
    Miller (aka DJ Spooky, That Subliminal Kid) talks to Anne Strainchamps
    about his book, “Rhythm Science,” and how the art of music sampling
    relates to plagiarism. We also hear a DJ Spooky/TTBOOK interview

    {see the boingboing page for the MP3 link}

  22. #22 Jonathan Vos Post
    January 23, 2008

    (1) Re “‘Diffusion in a Lorentz Gas’” did “Stronzo Bestiale” have an institutional affiliation claimed, perhaps the university from which he’d earned a B.S.?

    (2) When I was in the Software Engineering Department of the Space Transportation Systems Division of Rockwell, my department manager, Ernie L. “ELF” Freddolino was once involved in determining who wroite a particular document — me or a pre-emptive accuser of plagiarism, later definitely proven to be a liar and plagiarist himself. ELF immediately concluded that I was the actual author, and said he recognized me “by the paw print of the lion.” He attributed to quotation to a Leonardo da Vinci anecdote, but, as an actual engineer, he may have recalled it from the historical Isaac Newton / Johann Bernoulli tale, and conflated it with the “Leo” in the name “Leonardo.”

    (3) One might mention that there are people MUCH better known by their pseudonyms. This includes Screen Names and Stage Names, and writers such as: Voltaire, Lewis Carroll, Mark Twain. The Charles Dodgson / Lewis Carroll example — is there another of that magnitude in the sciences, not already mentioned in this thread?

  23. #23 Markk
    January 25, 2008

    As Franck said, a “student” is probably the pseudonym that has confused the most generations of stats students. I wonder how many of them tried to figure out the relevance of “Student” in the “Student’s T Test”. I know I did before hearing the Guinness story.

  24. #24 chik67
    February 4, 2008

    Victor Kac and Ernest Vinberg published a paper (about spinors)
    on Advances in Math 30, (1978) at the beginning on the 70ies as Gatti and Viniberghi, sort of Italian version of their names. I don’t know if that was related to problems with USSR
    scientists on US journals or else. The article is correctly linked to the right name in mathscinet. Why always Italy in between?