Forget the Christmas panto — the most hilariously bizarre show in town this holiday season has got to be #ReceptioGate.
Our story begins with Peter Kidd, a researcher specialising in medieval manuscripts, who found that his work had apparently been plagiarised by one Dr Carla Rossi of an obscure Swiss “research institute” called Receptio. In a recent publication, Rossi used not only written descriptions, but also images of manuscript fragments identical to materials from Kidd’s well-known website, representing them as her own work of “reconstructing” a manuscript using a proprietary scholarly method. Kidd contacted Receptio to ask for an explanation and received a diatribe from her “secretary” threatening legal action in reply.
Kidd documented the threatening response from Receptio, and some of the evidence for Rossi’s appropriation of his research, on his blog. This is where #ReceptioGate took off: Kidd’s Twitter followers began to notice that certain elements of Receptio’s website were suspect. For a start, many of the photos of its so-called staff and board members were stock photos that had been taken off the internet and Photoshopped onto a consistent background. No independent evidence could be found that most of them — including the “secretary” who had threatened Kidd with legal action — ever existed. Receptio’s London address was revealed to be a registered office home to 268 other companies; office photos on the institute website were likewise phoney.
In revenge, Rossi’s husband David La Monaca — one of the few staff listed on the Receptio website who actually appears to exist — set up a Twitter account and email bot to spam Kidd with angry messages under the name “John Does”. Unfortunately, IT guy La Monaca neglected to consider that the email headers showed precisely who had set up the spam bot; the reply-to email address was his own. La Monaca couldn’t even bother writing his own threatening copy: at least one email was produced using ChatGPT.
#ReceptioGate took its most bizarre turn when a correspondent posted a screenshot purporting to show that Professor Antoni Rossell, listed as a member of Receptio’s scientific advisory committee, had been dead for over a year before his joining the institute was announced. A video subsequently posted on the Receptio YouTube channel showed Professor Rossell — still very much alive — defending Rossi in a stilted performance whose resemblance to a hostage video did not go unnoticed by its bemused audience.
Meanwhile, the people behind Receptio were frantically editing the institute website and Rossi’s publications to remove or alter these damning bits of evidence. One of the colour images Rossi had used without permission was converted to black and white in an updated version of her publication; Rossi claimed that the image had been sourced from elsewhere and then “colorized” using software to produce an image identical to the original from Kidd’s blog. Evidence mounted of Rossi using the research — including verbatim passages — of various scholars in her other publications, uncredited. By trying to cover her trail and intimidate colleagues into silence with threats of legal action, Rossi triggered that least-appreciated of all internet phenomena: the Streisand effect.
Why should anyone beyond a small subset of Very Online medievalists care about what seems to be a fairly cut-and-dried case of academic malpractice, even one with all of the twists and thrills of a detective novel? Because #ReceptioGate has something vital to say about the frankly insane way that historical research is funded and disseminated, both on the Continent and in the UK.