Archive for Andre Geim

Fake Authors in Physics

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on May 30, 2017 by telescoper

Back to work – and exam business – after the Bank Holiday weekend (during most of which I was a bit under the weather), I thought I’d try to get back into the swing of blogging with a brief post about fake authorship.

What provoked me to write this was a strange news item about a Caltech professor who apparently created a fictitious female collaborator called `Ursula C. T. Gamma’ and got her name added as author on scientific papers as well as official email lists on the Caltech website; she also appears in an acknowledgement:

Finally, we thank Ursula C. T. Gamma for continued inspiration.

The professor responsible for all this was none other than Christian Ott, whom I’ve mentioned in a blog post before, because he was placed on unpaid leave by Caltech for harassing two female colleagues.

I don’t know what Ott hoped to gain by inventing a female co-worker. Was it just for a joke, or was there some ulterior motive? I’m not going to speculate here.

If you’ll excuse a bit of frivolity this episode reminded me that a few years ago I toyed with the idea of adding my cat, Columbo, under the pseudonym `Felix Columbo’, as a co-author on a paper I was writing. That would have been for my own amusement – and also because I thought Felix Columbo was a cool name for a physicist, but in the end I didn’t do it largely because I heard about F.D.C. Willard:

The American physicist and mathematician Jack H. Hetherington, Michigan State University, in 1975 wanted to publish some of his research results in the field of low–temperature physics in the scientific journal Physical Review Letters. A colleague, to whom he had given his paper for review, pointed out that Hetherington had used the first person plural in his text, and that the journal would reject this form on submissions with a sole author. Rather than take the time to retype the article to use the singular tense, or to bring in a co-author, Hetherington decided to invent one.

The co-author he invented was his cat, whose name was Chester. The cat’s father was called Willard and the letters F.D.’ stand for `Felis Domesticus’ (the species name for a a house cat).

Other physicists have done similar things. For example, Nobel laureate Andre Geim has written a paper with a hamster as a co-author.

More famously, George Gamow added the name of Hans Bethe to a paper he was writing with his PhD student Ralph Alpher, simply so its authors would be Alpher, Bethe and Gamow. Bethe did subsequently work on the topic discussed in the paper – nucleosynthesis – but hadn’t significantly to the paper. It is reported that Alpher was upset by Gamow’s actions. The paper was published in the Physical Review in 1948 and is a classic in the field of physical cosmology.

As well as being an outstanding physicist, George Gamow was a very colourful and amusing fellow. I’m sure his decision to add Bethe to this paper was just meant as a bit of fun. Likewise with the cat and the hamster. These days, however, authorship of scientific papers is taken far more seriously than it was, as a means to assess research activity and distribute resources. You could argue that this emphasis on authorship is an unhealthy development, but nevertheless that’s the way things. A responsible senior scientist should know that. Adding a phoney author – even if intended as a joke – could well be construed by some institutions as a form of research misconduct.

And how are your real co-workers (especially students and postdocs) supposed to feel if you decide they haven’t contributed enough to merit authorship of a collaborative paper, when they see you adding names of people who don’t even exist?

Physics Nobel Prize 2010

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , on October 5, 2010 by telescoper

Just a quick newsflash: the 2010 Nobel Prize for Physics has gone to Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov (both of the University of Manchester)  “for groundbreaking experiments regarding the two-dimensional material graphene“.

For more details see the official announcement.

Heartiest congratulations to them both! Thoroughly well deserved.

ps. They were predicted to win two years ago by Thomson Reuters.

pps. It’s a clean sweep for UK-based scientists, so far. I wonder if the government is listening?