Written by cats and a hamster

It’s Extended Essay time in the Northern Hemisphere (perhaps it’s always Extended Essay time everywhere), and I’m sure that all students and supervisors are scrutinizing resources very carefully. How careful do you have to be? I thought I’d share these news stories…

F.D.C. Willard’s pawprint

In 1975, The American physicist and mathematician Jack H. Hetherington, at Michigan State University, wanted to publish some of his research results in the field of low–temperature physics in the scientific journal Physical Review Letters. A colleague, who was proofreading it, pointed out that he had used the first person plural, the “royal we”,  in his text, and that the journal would therefore reject this submission by only one author. Rather than take the time to retype the article using the first person singular, or to bring in a co-author, Hetherington decided to invent one.  The paper in question ,  Two-, Three-, and Four-Atom Exchange Effects in bcc 3He, was an in-depth exploration of atomic behaviour at different temperatures.  Because typewriters lack the fantastic ability to “find and replace” that we use so often in our word processing software today,  retyping the article would have caused Hetherington a major delay. Much quicker to invent the second author, F.D.C. Willard. Hetherington’s Siamese cat was named Chester. Too short a name for a scientific paper; he became  F.D.C. Willard. The “F.D.C.” stood for “Felix Domesticus, Chester.” Willard had been the name of Chester’s father.   Who would know?

How do we know?  In 1982, in  More Random Walks in Science,  Hetherington wrote about his decision: “…Why would I do such an irreverent thing? … If it eventually proved to be correct, people would remember the paper more if the anomalous authorship were known. In any case I went ahead and did it and have generally not been sorry.”   (In 1975 the Chairman of the Physics department invited Willard to become a member of the department.) (Jack Hetherington is currently Professor Emeritus at USM.)

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Cat with book

This is NOT a picture of Bruce Le Catt

In July this year we read that the Australasian Journal of Philosophy issued an Erratum notice on its web page: Le Catt Bruce 1982. Censored Vision, Australasian Journal of Philosophy 60/2: 158-162.  http://doi.org/10.1080/00048408212340581  The Australasian Association of Philosophy would like to clarify that ‘Bruce Le Catt’, was a pseudonym used by the author David Lewis, to discuss some work published under his own name.

The website Retraction Watch filled in the details. “In 1982, Bruce Le Catt wrote a response to a paper in the Australasian Journal of Philosophy critiquing an earlier article about prosthetic vision.  But Le Catt was no ordinary author. No, he was a cat, the beloved pet of David Lewis, a world-class philosopher who just happened to be the author of the article about which Bruce Le Catt was commenting.”

You can read Le Catt’s paper at this link. It is thought that Lewis’s friends were aware of his using his cat’s name as that of the author.  The correction was requested by Michael Dougherty a philosopher at Ohio Dominican University in Columbus, who is writing a book about research integrity. “..Not all philosophers are aware of the identity between Lewis and Le Catt, and it is conceivable that many younger members of the profession could read the 1982 article without knowing that Lewis is providing a critique of his own work….” The paper by Bruce Le Catt has been cited four times since its publication; you can read one at this link on Google Books.

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Academia Obscura, writing about animals authoring papers, tells us about ‘Detection of earth rotation with a diamagnetically levitating gyroscope‘. “All looks quite normal, until you see that the second author is H.A.M.S. ter Tisha. i.e. a hamster named Tisha. Author One, Dr. Andrei Geim, is the only academic to  individually win both an Ig Nobel Prize and a real Nobel Prize, and Author Two is his pet hamster. No

Hamster

This is NOT a photo of H.A.M.S. ter Tisha

explanation has been advanced for this, but Dr. Geim, responsible for the aforementioned levitating frogs, is clearly quite a character.”  Dr. Geim won the Nobel Prize in 2010 for “groundbreaking experiments regarding the two-dimensional material graphene” and the IgNobel Prize in 2000 for “using magnets to levitate a frog.” (You can read the paper at this link) (“The hamster contributed to the levitation experiment most directly and later applied for a PhD at the Radboud University Nijmegen, Netherlands.” link)

So, are you supposed to question all the authors of all your resources?  Hardly.  But you might read their names very carefully. How is a student (or a teacher, for that matter) supposed to “Locate, organize, analyse, evaluate, synthesize and ethically use information from a variety of sources and media [including digital social media and online networks]” (link) when some of the research has been authored by cats and hamsters?

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