Monday, January 2, 2012

Cash for Citations

Mark sent me this piece entitled Cash for Citations?. The title was a bit misleading when you click though and read the actual offer:
An astronomer at King Abdulaziz University (KAU) in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, was offering him a contract for an adjunct professorship that would pay $72,000 a year. Kirshner, an astrophysicist at Harvard University, would be expected to supervise a research group at KAU and spend a week or two a year on KAU’s campus, but that requirement was flexible, the person making the offer wrote in the e-mail.

I am actually not sure that this rises to the level of a "scam" by modern standards.  The professor would, after all, work with the students at KAU and be residential for at least part of the year.  Sure, the salary is a bit high for two weeks worth of work but access to a top researcher can be worth a lot if he contributed remotely.  To rise to the level of an actual scam, the flexible requirement would have to be negotiable to no duties.

Now, the concern is that the astronomer would have to list the KAU affiliation on all of their papers.  On the other hand, if they are a salaried adjunct professor then that would actually be pretty normal.  Several of my colleagues have positions cobbled together from multiple places and the requisite need to list multiple affiliations.

The real issue is the ability of universities to purchase reputations.  It has long been true that extremely gifted and creative researchers have better employment options at least partially because of the prestige they bring to the hiring institution.  In a world with flexible work locations (consider MITx), these issues are likely to become larger over time.

But the idea of "cash for citations" is really a salary for research productivity.  The real question is how residential does a professor need to be to count as affiliated.


  1. There is also the bigger question of what affiliation actually means. Does it suggest being part of a wider academic community (the kind we think of when we hear Gelman talking about having conversations with someone like Fisman at Columbia)? Does it leave students with the impression that by enrolling in these schools they are more likely to have contact with these gifted researchers?

    By these standards, there is clearly a problem with the KAU arrangement (and with the non-residential affiliations that we see in many other schools).

  2. I think the ambiguity comes from "supervise a research team". I could get a lot just from having direct access to certain key researchers.

    But you are correct that it walks a very fine line and should be forcing us to be a lot more reflective about what the standard should be.

  3. From the very end of the linked article:

    "He also explained that in his field of taxonomy, 'results are swift—even 70 to 80 papers a year is not unusual.'"

    20-30 papers a year, that I can believe. But 70-80, that seems a bit much. At that rate you might as well just be blogging!

  4. @Andrew: You are right, that is an amazing number of papers. If I participate in 10 papers in a year I consider that to be a really strong year. I know for sure that I could not make substantial contributions to 70 or 80 . . .