J. Van der Geer’s 2000 paper “The Art of Writing a Scientific Article” has been cited more than a thousand times, yet it doesn’t exist. Neither does the journal it appears in, the Journal of Science Communications.

The original was a “phantom reference” that had been presented only to illustrate Elsevier’s desired reference style. It seems to have been picked up by authors who didn’t understand that it was only a template, or who’d inadvertently retained the template while using it to format the rest of their references.

Anne-Wil Harzing, a professor of International Management at at Middlesex University in London, who described the confusion on her blog, concluded that the mystery “ultimately had a very simple explanation: sloppy writing and sloppy quality control.”