Although there's no good way to verify it, writing under a pseudonym has probably been around for just a little less time than writing at all. The Internet makes it unusually easy to publish your work, with or without a name, but also provides more ways to yank the mask off than just about any previous publication format.
This lesson was learned very painfully by Rob Neyer over the last week, which SC only learned about by reading this press release (and then this article on Neyer's infrequently updated personal site).
As Neyer's version of events makes clear, it all started when he wanted to write a negative review of a baseball book on Amazon, but not damage the writer excessively by lending the review the full prestige of his 8 years as a columnist for ESPN.com. So he picked a pseudonym -- "Ike Farrell" -- and proceeded to trash the book under that name. However, Amazon provides a way to find out the real names of reviewers who aren't
smart devious enough to lie when registering, and so he was quickly exposed by a reporter for New York Newsday. There is a side story that merits additional consideration on the reliability of Amazon reviews -- Neyer probably wouldn't have been outed had he not felt compelled to respond to some clearly fraudulent positive reviews planted by friends/relatives of the author (which the Newsday reporter could verify in at least one case). Amazon apparently also has an editorial bias in favor of removing negative reviews, but not positive ones, which isn't terribly surprising to hear. On the subject of Amazon reviews, check out this review of a book by an Amazon insider who was around at the beginning and attests to the drop-off in value of reviews there, as well as this discussion of the issue from the Poynter Institute's website. Personally, SC has never bought anything on the strength of an Amazon review, and never will -- they may have new controls to minimize merely anonymous attacks/puffery, but the sort of culture that can generate 36 ratings of 4 1/2 stars for a movie that's over a year from being released simply does not encourage trust. On the subject of Rob Neyer's behavior in particular, this discussion also contains some interesting reactions and a few additional links.
Obviously, as Semantic Compositions is written pseudonymously (Mark Liberman would argue it's anonymously, and that referring to myself as SC doesn't count as a pseudonym), this is a story of more than passing interest to your host. We'll have more to say about l'affaire Neyer later, but for now suffice it to say that publishing under a pseudonym is a risky activity.