Archive for 'Improbable investigators'

Further findings in the matter of Stronzo Bestiale

Tuesday, October 14th, 2014

Vito Tartamella, in Parolacce, his blog about science and profanity, provides further information in the matter of Stronzo Bestiale (the question of the existence of whom we wrote about a few days ago, prompted by a report in Retraction Watch). Tarmatella’s Stronzo Bestiale report begins:

Would you read a paper written by Stronzo Bestiale (Total Asshole)? A dose of mistrust would be justified: the name says it all. 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.


Given that surnames always intrigued me (they are the subject of my first book), I tried to find thisperson in Italian telephone directories. In Italy there are 7 Bestiale, mostly in Piedmont. None of them, however, has the name Stronzo (Turd or a Asshole: who would call their own son that?);between the Veneto and Trentino-Alto Adige there are 4 Stronziero, but this is also a surname.

In fact, Stronzo Bestiale does not exist as confirmed, when those scientific papers were published 27 years ago, by the then Chancellor of the University of Palermo, Ignazio Melisenda Giambertoni(another unusual surname!).

So I decided to investigate more thoroughly….

(Thanks to investigator Scott Langill for bringing this to our attention.)

On the existence of Stronzo Bestiale

Thursday, October 9th, 2014

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is one of the many studies credited to co-author Stronzo Bestiale:

Diffusion in a periodic Lorentz gas,” Bill Moran, William G. Hoover [pictured here], and Stronzo Bestiale, Journal of Statistical Physics , vol. 48, no. 3-4 (1987): 709-726.

The Retraction Watch blog explains about Stronzo Bestiale:

Should papers be retracted if one of the authors is a total asshole?

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 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….

BONUS (possibly related): “On the Existence of Mikhailov

2014 Ig Nobel Prize Winners added to sortable database

Sunday, October 5th, 2014

The sortable database of Ig Nobel Prize Winners now includes data from all 24 years of prizes, including the recently announced 2014 prizes.

The information lives on the Silk data publishing platform, and helped us determine that we have awarded Ig Nobel Prizes in exactly 50 categories. It also helped University Ranking Watch compare the top 10 Ig Nobel producing countries with the Top 10 QS Ranking countries. And it helped at least one person create a list of every Ig Nobel Prize that has contained the word “beer” or “sex” in its citation.

Perhaps this database will reveal even more exciting correlations, or perhaps even causations.

Number of Ig® Nobel Prize Winners in each Category  (click the Explore button)

Marty Perl is gone

Saturday, October 4th, 2014

Reports bring the sad news that Marty Perl died.

Here’s a look back a decade and a half. This is the beginning of Lila Guterman’s 1998 article in the Stanford Report about one of Marty’s smallest improbable adventures:

A paper airplane whizzed through the air and hit Stanford Nobel laureate Martin Perl in the head before he answered the first question in an interview Wednesday evening, April 8. He and fellow SLAC Nobelist Richard Taylor were grilled about chewing gum in front of an audience of 200 people in Stanford’s Terman Auditorium.

Their interviewer was Marc Abrahams, editor of the irreverent science magazine The Annals of Improbable Research. Abrahams was at Stanford to promote the new book, The Best of Annals of Improbable Research. The result was an evening of silly science.

Abrahams chomped on gum as they discussed the lofty topic, and he offered the two Nobelists their own sticks.

“How often do you chew gum?” Abrahams asked them.

“Whenever I get a bad idea,” said Perl, munching away.

“Same,” responded Taylor. “Never.”

The airplane-throwing audience laughed upon learning that Perl uses gum to stick his telephone to his desk and to plug vacuum leaks. But Taylor adamantly denied using chewing gum. “I’m more used to bubble gum,” he said….

This photo shows the three of us that night. Marty Perl is at right, examining his gum. Dick Taylor, who insisted on being identified as “Laureate X”, is the one in the middle with his face obscured.

abrahams - taylor - perl 1998

BONUS: It’s now 2014, and chewing gum is again of heightened interest to the research community.

Dung beetle Ig winner hailed in his home country

Monday, September 29th, 2014

The University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg issued this press report:

Two Witsies among World Class SAs

26 September 2014

Wits University Professors Lee Berger and Marcus Byrne have been included in the 2014 edition of City Press’ 100 World Class South Africans that was released online on Heritage Day, 24 September 2014.

“This is a collection of South Africans who have staked a claim to greatness not only on our shores, but abroad as well,” said City Press Editor-in-Chief, Ferial Haffajee. Launched in 2013, the series is a celebration of 100 living South Africans who have achieved world-class status through global recognition of their work in arts, sciences, business, fashion and design, civil society and sports. It is a way to acknowledge the sacrifices of the past, the achievements of the present and the goals of the future and is intended to evoke a feeling of national pride, Haffajee added….

byrneFor his quirky and exception work on dung beetles, Byrnehas been included in the Newsmakers & Shapeshifterscategory. He is a professor of zoology and entomology in the Wits School of Animals, Plants and Environmental Sciences. Last year he won the Ig Nobel Prize, awarded every year at Harvard University in recognition of illustrious (and often eccentric) people whose research first makes one laugh, then makes one think. Byrne and his team won for dressing up dung beetles in designer gear and putting them under the simulated night sky at the Joburg Planetarium to show how they use the Milky Way as a compass to orientate themselves.

Haffajee said this year’s edition is an inspiring picture of those who are “building a legacy for our land, harvesting the life lessons of the good and great among us. If we are to achieve our potential as a nation then we must strive to be a world-class nation.”

The 2013 Ig Nobel Prize jointly for biology and astronomy was awarded to Marie Dacke [SWEDEN, AUSTRALIA], Emily Baird [SWEDEN, AUSTRALIA, GERMANY], Marcus Byrne [SOUTH AFRICA, UK], Clarke Scholtz[SOUTH AFRICA], and Eric J. Warrant [SWEDEN, AUSTRALIA, GERMANY], for discovering that when dung beetles get lost, they can navigate their way home by looking at the Milky Way. [REFERENCE: “Dung Beetles Use the Milky Way for Orientation,” Marie Dacke, Emily Baird, Marcus Byrne, Clarke H. Scholtz, Eric J. Warrant, Current Biology, epub January 24, 2013.]

(Thanks to investigator Gwinyai Masukume for bringing this to our attention.)