Friday, December 05, 2014

Some notes on "Citations for Sale" about King Abdulaziz University offerring me $$ to become an adjunct faculty

There is a news story in the Daily Cal titled "Citations for Sale" by Megan Messerly about King Abdullah University King Abdulaziz University trying to pay researchers who are highly cited to become adjunct professors there to boost their rankings.  This article stemmed from a blog post by Lior Pachter.  I was interviewed by the Daily Cal reporter about this because I had sent Lior some of the communications I had had with people from KAU where they tried to get me to do this.

I am posting here some of the email discussions / threads that I shared with Lior and Megan.

Thread #1.

Here is one thread of emails in which KAU tried to get me to become an Adjunct Professor.  I have pulled out the text of the emails and removed the senders ID just in case this would get him in trouble.

Received this email 3/6/14
Dear Prof Jonathan, 
How are you? I hope every thing is going well. I hope to share work with you and initiate a collaboration between you and me in biology department, Kind Abdulaziz university . My research focuses on (redacted detail). I hope that you would agree . 
Redacted Name,Ph.D
Assistant Professor, Faculty of Sciences, King Abdulaziz University, Jeddah, KSA.
My response:
What kind of collaboration are you imagining?
His response:
Hi Prof Jonathan, 
Let me to explain that the king abdulaziz university initiated a project which is called Highly Cited Professor ( HiCi). This project can provide a contract between you and our university and from this contract you can get 7000 US$ as a monthly salary .So  this project will allow you to generate two research proposal between you and a research stuff here in order to make an excellent publications in high quality journals as you always do. 
I hope that I was clear. I' m looking forward to hear from you. Finally, I think that a very good chance to learn from you. 
 Another email from him:
Dear prof Jonathan, 
I' d like to tell that Prof Inder Verma will come tomorrow to our university  as a highly cited professor and he also signed a contract with us. At March 28 Prof Paul Hebert will come to our university and we actually generated two projects with Prof Paul. I hope you trust me and you call Prof  Inder and  Paul to be sure. 
From me:
I trust you - just am very busy so not sure if this is right for me
Sent from my iPhone
From him:
You will come to our university for just two visits annually and each visit will take only  one week. Take you time to think. Bye
Another email from him
Seat Dr Jonathan, 
What is your decision?

My response:
You have not really provided me with enough information about this.
From him:
Well, you will sign a contract as a highly cited professor between you and KAU. if it happen you will get 7,000 US$ per month for one year as a salary.  From  this project you would be able to generate two proposal with around 200,000 US$ and you will get incentives from each one. In the further we can initiate a mega project with 1.5 million US$.   Is that clear? 
From me:
I could use a formal , legal description of the agreement that one is expected to sign 
From him:
You can ask Prof Dr. Inder Verma he is now in my department and he did two presentation today. Also you can ask my professor prof  Paul Hebert, biodiversity institute of Ontario who will come to my department in March 28,2014.
From him:
if you would agree . Coul you please provide me with your CV with list of publication? 
From him:
Are you agree or no?
From me:
You have not provided me with anywhere near enough info to evaluate this 
Do you have any legal agreement I can look at?
From him:
Agreement from KAU
without providing me with your CV I could not be able to talk to university administration. I told you before ask under verma or Paul Hebert both of them have contract. Dr verma " editor in chief of PNAS who is left KAS since 4 hours ago. Finally, its up to.
From me:
No thanks
Not interested from what you have told me

Thread #2

Received this email on 12/17/13

Dr. Mansour Almazroui
to jaeisen
Dear Prof. Jonathan Eisen ,

I am Dr. Mansour Almazroui, Highly Cited Program Manager, at King Abdulaziz University (KAU), Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. On behalf of KAU with great pleasure, I would like to invite you to join our innovative collaboration program that is called “International Affiliation program”.

KAU is considered as the largest university in the region serving more than 150,000 students, with around 4,000 faculty members and 30 colleges. For more information please locate us at:

The envisaged program aims to elevate our local research activities in various fields. We only extend our invitation to highly ranked researchers like you, with a solid track record in research and publications to work with KAU professors.

Joining our program will immediately put you on an annual contract, as a Distinguished Adjunct Professor. In this regard, you will only be required to work at KAU premises for three weeks in each year of your contract.

We hope you to accept our invitation and looking forward to welcome you.  Please don’t hesitate to contact me for any further query or clarification.

Dr. Mansour Almazroui
Highly Cited Program Manager,
Office of the Vice President for Graduated Studies and Research,
King Abdulaziz University (KAU).
Director, Center of Excellence for Climate Change Research
King Abdulaziz University
P. O. Box 80234, Jeddah 21589,
Saudi Arabia
I wrote back

I am intrigued but need more information about the three weeks of time at KAU and the details on the contract. 
Jonathan Eisen  
Sent from my iPhone
Got this back

Dear Prof. Jonathan Eisen , 
Hope this email finds you in good health. Thank you for your interest. Please find below the information you requested to be a “Distinguished Adjunct Professor” at KAU. 
1. Joining our program will put you on an annual contract initially for one year but further renewable. However, either party can terminate           its association with one month prior notice.
2. The Salary per month is $ 6000 for the period of contract.
3. You will be required to work at KAU premises for three weeks in each contract year. For this you will be accorded with expected three         visits to KAU.
4. Each visit will be at least for one week long but extendable as suited for research needs.
5. Air tickets entitlement will be in Business-class and stay in Jeddah will be in a five star hotel. The KAU will cover all travel and living             expenses of your visits.
6. You have to collaborate with KAU local researchers to work on KAU funded (up to $100,000.00) projects.
7. It is highly recommended to work with KAU researchers to submit an external funded project by different agencies in Saudi Arabia.
8. May submit an international patent.
9. It is expected to publish some papers in ISI journals with KAU affiliation.
10. You will be required to amend your ISI highly cited affiliation details at the ISI web site to include your employment and         affiliation with KAU.   
Kindly let me know your acceptance so that the official contract may be preceded.
I promtly forwarded this to my brother with a note:
One way to make some extra money ... Sell your reputation / ISI index  
Sent from my iPhone
And my brother eventually shared this with Lior  ...

UPDATE 1: 12/5/2014

One key question is - what are the rules and guidelines and ehitcs of listing affiliations on papers.  Here are some tidbits on this

From Nature Communications:
The primary affiliation for each author should be the institution where the majority of their work was done.
From Taylor and Francis
The affiliations of all named co-authors should be the affiliation where the research was conducted.
Present the authors' affiliation addresses (where the actual work was done) below the names.

UPDATE 2: Some other posts of relevance

UPDATE 3: A Storify
UPDATE 4: Wakelet (2018) Storify is dead. Converted it to a Wakelet. See


  1. Jon, on your invitation, I'm commenting here.

    I'm pushing back against the righteous indignation to discover boundaries and consider the broader questions.

    As you say, buying rankings more or less directly seems distasteful. It is my perception that this occurs as the main theme of many activities, which is why I have little interest in major league baseball, basketball, football, hockey, etc. I think I would have more interest if the team members had to be 'native sons' of the city or state they represent, but that quickly becomes a morass of nativism, almost by definition.

    What it ends up coming down to is the questions of motivation, loyalty, and pride.
    These kinds of affiliations have significant consequences for the community as a whole, particularly if organizations are incentivized to augment the stature of already successful persons rather than invest in the performance of more marginal individuals. It creates or exacerbates a lottery system, in effect.

    People have critiqued this before - in the context of identity politics - by suggesting that transnational superstars push local people out of positions of regional leadership when they are allowed to retain their affiliations and also accrue additional ones.

    But as we briefly discussed, there are two things going on.

    One is that an institution is pushing for higher ranking. My assertion is that if they authentically think that the ranking accurately recognizes higher quality, then pushing for a higher ranking is not hypocritical. Misguided, perhaps, but that is based on my own suspicion of the ranking system. In the case you are describing, the institution is offering a kind of salary support, and internal research funding. These are the sort of offers that most institutions make for hires. They are requiring some physical presence on campus, collaborations with other faculty, and perhaps other kinds of service, as well as the citations. Yes, they are using citations to choose whom to hire, but that is simply more bald then most hiring committees - which count publications, citations, grants, etc. As far as I can tell, they aren't asking for overhead - which is somewhat more noble than many other institutions, which sometimes seem to make hires based entirely on calculations of future overhead.

    The second is that an individual faculty is having to decide how much effort constitutes 'institutional authorship' if you will, on a citation. We both know people with multiple affiliations - a national lab, a university, and a research institute, for example - or HHMI and a university - or multiple hospitals and a university. As an Army Reservist, I have some affiliation across two branches of the military. What is it that justifies joint affiliations? Are some people justified in accepting a KAU adjunct appointment?

    Finally, in our conversation, you brought up the problem of not disclosing outside employment to UC Davis. In most cases, that would be an ethical issue, agreed. One wonders what conditions UC Davis would agree to, and whether institutional agreements would create an ethical situation or would simply tempt the UC Davis administration to make poor decisions about hiring and salary.

    Thank you for the platform to air my questions and observations.

  2. Question #1 - what is the evidence that they require any type of collaboration or present on campus?

    In the Cal article they report regarding Chris Somerville:

    "He was supposed to travel to KAU earlier this year but said that, for one reason or another, it never worked out."

    Regarding Martin Chrispeels

    "While under contract, he traveled to Saudi Arabia and submitted a research proposal for KAU researchers to sequence the genome of desert plants. But he never received a response from KAU about the proposal"

    I believe this is a simple money for ranking scheme. Sure they would be happy if someone came to their campus and did other things. But I would bet that people would get paid if (and only if) they listed KAU on publications and in ISI.

  3. Question #2: regarding

    "My assertion is that if they authentically think that the ranking accurately recognizes higher quality, then pushing for a higher ranking is not hypocritical."

    I think as a default when someone offers money in exchange for changing ISI listings and adding affiliations it is pretty clear that they are trying to game a system and NOT interested in quality per se. I cannot imagine anyone believes this is about honest belief that having someone list an affiliation on papers proves the institute is high quality.

  4. Regarding "The second is that an individual faculty is having to decide how much effort constitutes 'institutional authorship' if you will, on a citation" --- I am digging into guidelines and almost all say that one should only report an affiliation if the work was done at that place or if the place/department/institution had some sort of profound role in one's work

  5. Yes, I reviewed similar guidelines for a couple journals when I was planning to publish but the work had been done before a job transition. The basic answer was to publish under the old affiliation with a 'current address' indicated.

    So, basically, it seems that if KAU wants to have various faculty affiliated with it, the appropriate strategy is to create a large number of institutional agreements with various universities and insist on faculty rotations as part of the arrangement. Then the other universities are on the hook to deliver; the benefit to them being largely financial.

    Thank you for the discussion.

  6. Well, or KAU could actually hire full time faculty to do research and given them a lot of resources and help them build their careers to become internationally known researchers ...


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