Your Cat Can Publish Academic Papers Without a Ph.D.


When you think of the relationship between animals and scientific research, it’s usually one of clinical trials and experimentation. For the most part, it’s not a great deal for animals. But on the rare occasion, a very particular critter can receive a promotion from household pet to academic co-author.

Over at Atlas Obscura, writer Eric Grundhauser points out that one of the most frequently cited physics papers was co-authored by a Siamese cat named F.D.C. Willard. The paper in question is a 1975 study on the effect of different temperatures on atomic behavior — not the typical area of expertise for a feline.

The story goes that physicist Jack Hetherington (of course, a physicist would own a cat) wrote the paper, asked someone to review it, and realized he wasn’t allowed to use “we” unless there were actually two authors. Since he wrote the whole thing on a typewriter and was not interested in sharing the physics prestige with anyone else, Hetherington essentially went YOLO and put his cat as the co-author. In More Random Walks in Science he’s quoted to have said:

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.

Or: the more polite way of saying “sorry not sorry.” It basically all worked out for Hetherington, who (while annoying his editors) rode the glory of the cat paper for a while. Willard was offered the role of “visiting distinguished professor” at Michigan State University.

Willard isn’t the only animal who’s had the honor of being a published academic. In the 2001 paper “Detection of Earth Rotation With A Diamagnetically Levitating Gyroscope” the authors are listed as A.K. Geim and H.A.M.S. ter Tisha. The first author is Russian Nobel prize winner Andrew Geim and the second is his (not-so-subtly hidden by the acronym) hamster, Tisha. It doesn’t look like there was any reason that this happened, other than the fact that Geim thought it was funny (which, it is).

Galadriel Mirkwood, an Afghan hound and not the elven queen, was also an animal who was able to skirt the Ph.D. process and get published. Mirkwood happened to be the pet of very cool boss scientist Polly Matzinger, who was a former Playboy-turned-cocktail waitress before studying immunology (today she’s famous for her “danger theory” and is the chief of t-cell immunology research at the National Institutes of Health).

Mirkwood, who was a “frequent lab visitor,” was allegedly listed as a co-author because Matzinger didn’t want to write in a passive voice but also didn’t want to write in the first person. But hey, now that we know dogs understand human vocabulary maybe Mirkwood wasn’t completely lost when histocompatibility antigens came up in the lab.

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