Academics have this scheme to rank different universities — many of them revolve around publication metrics, which is one entirely reasonable way to assess one part of the research enterprise. Unfortunately, if a university is ranked by how many publications are produced by affiliated faculty, one way to jack up the numbers is to buy nominal affiliations — pay researchers with successful publishing careers to put their university’s name on their CVs. All it takes is lots and lots of money.
King Abdulaziz University (KAU) in Saudi Arabia is playing that game. They are contacting highly ranked researchers, offering them a pile of cash, and asking them to list KAU as one of their academic affiliations.
UC Davis professor Jonathan Eisen also contacted Pachter. Almost a year ago, Eisen had been solicited by KAU but ultimately declined the offer.
Most researchers, such as Eisen, were initially contacted by KAU via email and asked if they would like to join the university’s faculty as a “distinguished adjunct professor.” Eisen traded emails with several people at KAU, trying to figure out what the catch was.
“I tried to get them to explain what they were trying to do,” Eisen said. “It smelled really off.”
KAU offered him $72,000 per year and free business-class airfare and five-star hotel stays for him to visit KAU in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, according to an email sent to Eisen by KAU. In exchange, Eisen was told he would be expected to work on collaborations with KAU local researchers and also update his Thomson Reuters’ highly cited researcher listing to include a KAU affiliation. He would also be expected to occasionally publish some scientific journal articles with the Saudi university’s name attached.
So, basically, free money for sticking KAU’s name in a paper. I have to respect all the people with the integrity to turn that down, like Eisen did. Unfortunately, not everyone rejected them (and it’s also kind of hard to blame them — the life of a college professor rarely provides opportunities to get wealthy), and the stratagem worked.
Even more surprising, though, was that a little-known university in Saudi Arabia, King Abdulaziz University, or KAU, ranked seventh in the world in mathematics — despite the fact that it didn’t have a doctorate program in math until two years ago.
Who knew you could just buy an academic reputation?