Suppose there is Al and Bob.

  • Al is a frustrated graduate student who is lacking in the creative department and can not establish any new results in his field. He has some trivialities in the thesis and will most likely get his degree but it is unlikely he will ever land a tenure-track position. Al really wants, however, to get tenure in a research university but that is impossible without papers in great journals. Al is competent enough to read papers in his field and he can give a reasonably good presentation based on a paper he has read. Al could rewrite a given paper in his own writing style should he need it.
  • Bob is a smart person with tenure who does not have much difficulty producing new results. Bob's university does not provide significant financial incentives for him to publish more and better papers. Bob would like to make a few bucks.

How can Al and Bob make their lives more enjoyable? Al pays a certain sum (say, 100,000 USD) to Bob for Bob to write some good papers for Al and then Al with his impressive research portfolio gets tenure (the contract can be spread over time as necessary). Bob got his money, Al got his tenure (and eventually he will get some money too because salary).

Q: is there a common name for this kind of transaction? Are there any websites or organizations facilitating such transactions?

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – ff524
    Aug 5, 2019 at 14:08

2 Answers 2


Q: is there a common name for this kind of transaction?


  • do you mean fraud in the legal sense? You can say that Bob generously shared his ideas with Al. As long as Al writes the text of the paper himself, I do not think this is fraud in the legal sense of the term. In some fields, established academics will sometimes suggest really good ideas to younger people and not get a coauthorship. Would you consider that to be fraud too?
    – spiderman
    Aug 3, 2019 at 18:02
  • 8
    @ajac: it seems that "Al with his impressive research portfolio gets tenure" implies that he is knowingly lying about his skillset in order to obtain a financial gain and a position. It sounds like a fraud to me. Also, the question assumes that "Bob (...) write[s] some good papers for Al", not just provide some mentoring.
    – Taladris
    Aug 3, 2019 at 18:10
  • 1
    @ajac - Given that the OP states "Al pays a certain sum (say, 100,000 USD) to Bob for Bob to write some good papers for Al," I don't think you can say in good faith that Bob merely shared his ideas with Al. Unless by "shared" you mean wrote up in a format suitable for publication.
    – user109454
    Aug 3, 2019 at 18:38
  • 6
    I've seen comments "From Review" on answers elsewhere saying "This does not provide an answer to the question." When it definitely does provide an answer, I upvote the answer to counter the comment. I would have done that in the present case, but by the time I read the comment I had already upvoted the answer because it's exactly the answer I would have given. Aug 3, 2019 at 19:06
  • 3
    @AndreasBlass A one-word answer is likely to get flagged as "low quality", even though in this case it says everything there is to be said IMO - and the number of upvotes suggests other people think the same.
    – alephzero
    Aug 3, 2019 at 22:20

This is not how it works.

Before someone is given tenure, there are often several years of working as a "tenure-track" in which one has to repeatedly demonstrate the research capacity. It is close to impossible to hide the fact that Al is not the person writing the papers.

Furthermore, if the papers Bob is writing for Al are sufficiently good and influential to attain tenure, why would Bob just give them to Al? Bob can keep the papers and get promoted or awards, which are potentially worth, over the years, more than 100000 USD.

Hiring committees do not judge applicants merely on the basis of their research portfolio. There is usually a presentation to the department, in which Al would probably perform poorly if he was not the person who did the research and wrote the papers. There is a teaching philosophy statement, research statement, ability to teach and supervise students, etc. People are hired based on their international standing in a research field. Just having papers with Al's name on them are not sufficient. Al needs to have networks of collaborators, people who can write recommendation letters for Al, reputation gained during presentations at conferences, etc. It is close to impossible to fake it.

Even if Al can make a somewhat believable illusion that he is a real researcher, applying for tenured (more likely tenure-track) jobs is a gamble. Some jobs have more than 100 applicants. Paying 100000 USD for something that has a 1% chance of getting is a stupid gamble.

  • 1
    +1 for spelling out what (I would have thought) everyone knows, and also much of what I was thinking of when I first read the question and made a few brief observations (among many more that I could have given, but I didn't feel like it was worth the effort). On the off-chance that anyone actually thinks something like this could happen, your answer helps to provide a wake-up call to reality. Aug 4, 2019 at 5:16
  • I think under certain circumstances Bob might be better off with 100K rather than keeping the papers (e.g. he already has advanced as far in the career as the universtity allows; getting awards you can rarely guarantee). I also disagree with the characterization of 1% chance; for the good applicants it is higher than 1% (significantly higher) and for the bad applicants it is lower than 1%. So I would not say that if Al really succeeds in creating the impression, he has only 1% chance.
    – wert
    Aug 4, 2019 at 5:52

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .