dumbmatter.com
Online home of Jeremy Scheff

Butgers University

I like to read old scientific papers. They give me a broader perspective on how things became as they are today. So when I came across this paper from 1977 in the reference list of a more recent paper, I knew I had to read it. Unfortunately, even with my university-provided access to most journals and most certainly to a journal like Nature, the evil overlords at Nature Publishing Group do not include papers as old as from 1977 in our site license. So I had to send a request to the library and wait a few days for someone to scan in a copy of the paper and email it to me, a relatively minor inconvenience.

In the mean time, I read the abstract, all that was available at the time. I noticed the affiliation of one of the authors: Rutgers, my undergraduate alma mater and current graduate school! Awesome, I'm all for school spirit! Except, the affiliation didn't actually say "Rutgers", it said "Butgers". A humorous typo... or something more sinister?

A simple OCR error could mistake Rutgers for Butgers. However, after waiting for my scanned copy of the original paper, I found that it was not an OCR error, it was a typo in the original publication.

I emailed Nature and told them to fix the typo. No reply, of course. The conspiracy runs deeper.

Conspiracy? Oh, yes. I wondered how common this type of typo is. So I googled Butgers, and it seems to be most commonly used as a derogatory term by our athletic rivals. Maybe they got bored by always beating us in sports, and they decided to focus their efforts on mocking us in our own academic publications?

Let's test that hypothesis by doing a Google Scholar search for Butgers. There are only 326 results, most of them from the pre-digital era where OCR might serve as a plausible excuse. Look through that list of papers. Notice the topics. The journals. Key phrases will jump out at you:

Really? Really? Am I supposed to believe that, out of all the thousands of papers published by Rutgers University, the vast majority of the ones with "Rutgers" replaced by "Butgers" are about sanitation, sewage, and waste?

I don't know who's behind this, but whoever he is, he has a great sense of humor.