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A high school fresh graduate was applying to undergraduate schools in the united states. He is a friend of a family acquaintance. Despite the fact that I did not even know his name, I was surprised when the family acquaintance asked me to write a letter of recommendation for him and for his friend. I do not know them at the slightest level. It seems that they were working on a research project, which looks completely silly to me (paranormal research related to the secrets of the pyramids, I did not bother to look carefully). I refused the requests to write the letter of recommendation. In the letter that the student sent me for me to submit, he says I worked with him on various things and I think that he is a genius. This was completely dishonest.

Now, I discovered that the student posted the said project on pyramid secrets (I think it is related to non-sensical theories on generating power from triangular structures) on a website, called academia.edu. In the acknowledgement section, he repeated the same claims that I worked with him on the project. I actually have never talked with him before. Now, I am a graduate student in science. This has been incredibly annoying to me. I wonder what is the best way to proceed. I have sent that person a message on academia.edu but he did not respond. I do not know how to contact him. I tried looking for a way to contact academia.edu to report this dishonest behaviour, but I do not know if there is a way to contact them. Any suggestions will be helpful.

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    Normally, mailing the helpline email id works. I had a problem with research gate (on a completely different issue) but they replied to me after a week or so! – Aymuos Apr 16 at 14:21
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    I'd ignore cranks as well. However, I am still an un-experienced first-year graduate student and this is the first time I encounter a situation like this (that a crank claims in some writing that I actively worked on the measurements with him). I was annoyed because this is completely dishonest act. I think the best course of action is to ignore him. – gradstudent Apr 16 at 22:24
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    Note the extreme similarity to this question from late last year. Is OP the same querent in both?: academia.stackexchange.com/questions/158360/… – Daniel R. Collins Apr 17 at 2:12
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    Also, incidentally, here is a whois lookup of the contact information for academia.edu: whois.com/whois/academia.edu It looks like it's run by a company called Academia, Inc. based out of San Francisco. – nick012000 Apr 17 at 15:56
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    This is bizarre. Did you talk with your "family acquaintance" about this incident? – Bumblebee Apr 18 at 20:03
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Move on. There is little you can do about it: People can claim whatever they like on the internet and if they say that you worked with them, that's a nuisance but there is little you can do about it (in most jurisdictions) as long as they do so on websites that do not have strong ethics. academia.edu is not one of those websites with strong ethics.

Continue to do good work and build a reputation for yourself through your own publications. That's what you should focus on. The likelihood that anyone will find the pyramids publication is pretty small, and in the worst case if someone asks you about it, you can always explain the story (or just say that that must be someone else with the same name as you).

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Don't worry about it.

Even if people might wonder why you'd be involved with a crank, they should know/realize that cranks do entangle other people. Also that one has no practical power to prevent bogus "thanks", in any case.

This is one of those sorts of sad ironies, that the only way to keep distance from cranks is to keep distance from nearly everyone. If nothing else, "crank" is very relative. Many kids' judgement would make them be declared "cranks", if we forget that they're just kids, and have essentially no experience.

Yes, it is disquieting to be connected to dubious stuff... but, again, there's no reasonable way to avoid this, I think, without cutting oneself off from most positive social/professional connections.

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Talk to a lawyer about defamation/libel.

Regardless of where they've posted it, by alleging your support of their pseudoscientific claptrap, they're doing harm to your professional reputation by lying about you, and there's a term for that: defamation.

So, I'd suggest talking to a lawyer about drafting a letter ordering them to retract their paper and refrain from publishing any further papers claiming your support, and stating that if they fail to comply, you'll sue them for defamation. If you're a grad student at a university, you might want to talk to one of your university's legal staff; most universities should maintain legal staff to assist their faculty with things like IP law.

You might not have the contact details of the website they've posted it on, but you do have the contact details of the crank who's posted it, right? You'd just need some means for your lawyer to deliver the letter to them.

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    Talking to a lawyer for something like this, especially if the obvious ways of correcting the situation have not been exhausted, is something of an expensive overkill. – ZeroTheHero Apr 17 at 18:23
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    I'm nearly always against recommendations to involve a laywer on this website. This is an exception. There is a clear tort, and there is a clear remedy. Moreover, it seems very plausible that if the crank receives a letter from the laywer informing them of the impending libel suit, they'll carve in and remove that stuff. Sure, it might cost a bit to make this happen, but for me personally that would definitely be worth it. – Arno Apr 18 at 11:22
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    @Arno this will be somewhat jurisdiction dependent, but in e.g. the UK, the threshold for establishing defamation is very high and what might seem like a "clear tort" to you may be in fact not be. It isn't sufficient that someone has said something untrue and negative about you, nor is mere harm sufficient. There must be serious harm and you must prove that this has actually been caused or is likely to be caused - the mere extistence of the words doesn't mean there is any actual harm. – JBentley Apr 18 at 17:14
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    @Arno, "if the crank receives a letter from the lawyer informing them of the impending libel suit, they'll cave".... Filing lawsuits strictly for the purposes of intimidating people is, in most circles, considered an uncool thing to do. It is also illegal in many jurisdictions – Him Apr 19 at 2:41
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    @Him Arno's suggestion has nothing to do with frivolous litigation. The latter is something you do as a form of harassment when your case has zero prospect of success (e.g. is not even based on legal principles, or is obviously and flatly contradicted by the facts). Pre-court negotiations where the outcome in court is merely uncertain (as opposed to hopeless) are completley normal and expected. – JBentley Apr 19 at 10:21
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Try contacting academia.edu .

From your question I gather you have not contacted the academia.edu site managers/editors/owners. Do so! They have a Contact Form.

Explain the situation - making it clear how the paper is injurious (perhaps even libelous?) to you; explain how you tried to contact the author directly but were ignored; and ask that the paper be removed. I wouldn't threaten legal action.

Will this work? Frankly, I have no idea, but it's the obvious next thing to do, IMHO.

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Talk to the boy's friend and his parents.

You said that your malefactor is

a high school fresh graduate

and that

He is a friend of a family acquaintance.

Ok, so interact with him along those channels. Get in touch with your family member who is the guy's friend. Explain to him - not angrily - that his friend has done something inappropriate, which is inconveniencing you and is also inherently wrong. Try to get him to talk to his friend, and ask/tell his friend to take your name off of the acknowledgements.

In parallel to that, or following a failure of this approach, ask your family member for the contact information of your malefactor's parents. Then have the same conversation with them, but maybe throw in a sentence about how in academia, mis-attribution of claims this is considered a serious ethical violation - and of course you don't intend to pursue this in professional channels (i.e. "of course" but this is a hint that that's an option), so out of courtesy and respect for them and considering the boy's age you're suggesting that they talk with their son about this. You'll need to carefully balance friendliness, respectfulness, condescension and threat.

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First, as already answered, don't worry.

Then, some secondary action you may take.

"He is a friend of a family acquaintance" Then explain the situation as clearly as possible, without giving details on the quality or kind of research (i.e., just focus on the part "we never worked together") to your family or directly to the family acquaintance to pass the message to the "writer".

If you find out your name is associated with that text on google, you can ask to google for removal of that results (and I suggest any results) associating your name with academia.edu .

If academia is not responsive, you may think about enrolling yourself in that site and publishing yourself a clarification text (as dry and short as possible) stating that you had no involvement whatsoever with the crank's text. I am not familiar with academia.edu, I guess you can link different texts, so you can provide always a link to that text. Hopefully, in short time you will build a bigger scientific profile than the "crank", so your document will appear first in search engines.

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If arguing about removal with a truthist outlet fails to work, another possibility is to use the webspace under your control to mention something like:

Please note that at least one contentious paper has been published online alleging my endorsement in the thank you section. While this is flattering, it is also untrue.

If you do this, keep it nuanced to avoid making it personal.

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    It's definitely not flattering to be drawn into a fake paper. – FooBar Apr 19 at 13:53
  • If I read that on someone's bio, I'd be tempted to search to find the "contentious paper". Don't think that is what the OP wants. – Dragonel Apr 19 at 17:09
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I am providing this alternative perspective which might not be the answer you wish to see. From what I can tell, you think that the kid is doing pseudo science.

I agree that he is somehow cheating; however, if your two families are very well connected, then I won't suggest you to fight against your parents and close relatives and friends.

You could write him an email, listing some literature showing that his research is pseudo science.

You require him to include your name in the acknowledgement only if he did the literature review. You require him to to list your name professionally, just like any other academic paper. You can provide him an exemplar acknowledgement, something like: I would like to thank gradstudent for helps; all errors are mine.

If he does this, you write him a fair letter.

This will be win-win for all parties.

  1. The kid is happy that you did help.
  2. The two families are happy because you helped; they will be indebt of you.
  3. You will be gaining a good reputation of selflessly helping a perspective student, no matter how ignorant he was.
  4. The university will have a fair reference letter.

All it costs is 30 min of your time: 15min for finding references and 15min for writing a generic, high-school level letter. Hell, writing a question on SE will take you more than 15 min.

Again, no one will look down upon you for helping the weak. Most people will be impressed with your selflessness.

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  • A literature review doesn't turn a bogus paper into a serious paper. Probably not serious enough for OP wanting to being acknowledged, anyway; let alone write a letter of recommendation. – henning -- reinstate Monica Apr 25 at 6:21
  • @henning--reinstateMonica Probably I was not clear enough. I mean, by writing the literature review, the student will learn that his research is pseudo science, and therefore work on making his research rigorous enough to not be consider a pseudo science. I don't understand why would anyone turn down an acknowledgement, if they are not binding with any responsibility. – High GPA Apr 25 at 12:26

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