on Twitter, #receptiogate rocked the world of medievalists

On Christmas Eve, an English scholar specializing in ancient manuscripts exposes the dubious practices of a Swiss publishing house… An incredible event, which highlights several abuses in the system of university.

Lights with silver highlights and insults formed by a bot : those who liked the rose name, by novelist Umberto Eco, will love its modern version, #receptiogate. Either an inescapable case of plagiarism, which trembles as much as it pleases the twittosphere and the small circle of medievalists. At the source of the disagreement, a forgotten manuscript of the XVIe century, the Louis de Roucy’s Book of Hours – Sieur de Montmirail, as in The visitors, it was not invented. Its origin? Châlons-en-Champagne, according to an English scholar, Peter Kidd. The work has since been divided and scattered among several collections.

The affair begins on Christmas Eve, when the said specialist learns that excerpts from his blog have been “taken” in a publication accompanying the online reconstitution of very old work. Its author, Carla Rossi, is full professor – an honorary title, with no teaching duties – at the University of Zürich (UZH) and director of the Center for European Philological Tradition (Receptio). Never mind, the expert notifies the affiliated publishing house before his secretary gently dismisses, threats of lawsuits in support: “No one is interested in your blog! » (sic)

The case may have stopped there and never gone beyond the small circle of philologists. But we do not interfere with medievalists: far from being an ordinary blogger, Peter Kidd, who is a curator at the famous British Library, began to search the Receptio site… and was shocked. More than a simple plagiarism, it reveals what appears to be a fictitious publishing house, created from scratch to get subsidies.

Anonymous emails

The residence? A rented post office box in the UK, along with about three hundred other businesses. The employees ? The company’s organizational chart is illustrated with a thrombinoscope made from image banks – special mention to the lawyer, who can also be found posing for a law firm in Minnesota. There are so many discoveries that Peter Kidd puts online on his blog and on Twitter, starting a real soap opera. Since then, the story has spread, the community of researchers and, more broadly, Internet users taking up the investigation.

Medievalist Sarah Baccianti says that the seat of the Receptio and its so-called twenty thousand manuscripts was a simple town house inhabited by private individuals in Lugano, in Ticino. The linguist Cerstin Mahlow noticed that the ISBN code of the published book was strangely fluctuating, and so on… On the Receptio website, the exhibits were gradually disappearing. And surprisingly vengeful anonymous emails arrive in the mailbox of Peter Kidd – perhaps, a twitto with a mischievous underline, the first insulting emails generated by an artificial intelligence, ChatGPT, a shame for a medieval that thriller.

In the other camp, Carla Rossi strongly denied the allegations of plagiarism. The latest development, the publication, on the site of the Receptio center, of a support list of a dozen academics and students denouncing a “witch hunt” 2.0, hundreds of harassing emails and the discredit thrown, on almost a week, over three decades of activity. Everything was accompanied by a long demonstration in Italian to dismantle the accusations point by point. Two justifications are presented: first, a minor loan (but a loan all the same), five lines – that is, 0.0005% of the total 258 pages of the book in question. Then a real research center and publishing house, but dedicated to publishing work online, which therefore does not require physical anchoring, especially since the pandemic. So an unupdated website, which does not however explain the embellishments of his team and his work.

Race for funding

Genuine academic scandal or illustration of a system drifting? #receptiogate would be funny if the researcher Carla Rossi was not a priori financed by the Swiss National Science Foundation and therefore by Swiss taxpayers − if the professor does not receive any funds directly through Receptio, however he received at least 20,000 Swiss francs for putting a reconstruction of the old manuscript online. In his defense, this initiative allows everyone to admire all the beautiful vellum with golden halos that make up the fragmented work – a common practice today unfortunately and which Carla Rossi fights against, against the background of trafficking in works. of art. To shed light on these dark disputes, the University of Zürich has already indicated that it is launching an independent investigation. As for the accused, he filed a defamation complaint with the local police.

Both delicious and terrible, the #receptiogate questions, however, more broadly, in the public march of research, its race for funding, validation, and the outbidding for the new discovery that results… A function that it seems necessary to rethink, at the dawn of this year 2023.

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