For those unaware of the situation, here are some links:

Messerly, Megan. 'UC Berkeley Professor Critiques Saudi University's Recruitment Process Of World's Top Researchers'. The Daily Californian. Last modified 2014. Accessed March 16, 2015.

Yahia, Mohammed. 'Are Saudi Universities Buying Their Way Into Top Charts? : House Of Wisdom'. Blogs.Nature.Com. Last modified 2012. Accessed March 16, 2015.

KAU is asking people to claim KAU affiliations on papers where no collaboration exists, thus boosting KAU's metrics in the easily-fooled US News university rankings. The existence of ancillary benefits, such as collaboration with local KAU researchers, seem to have been somewhat debunked by now, but this was not clear before. (There are some such benefits, but largely they fail to materialize.)

$72k per year is a lot of money, and there are some very accomplished people who have accepted this association. In a situation not too different from the one I am in now, I could easily see myself selling this part of my reputation for $72k. By no means can I stand above this deal on moral grounds.

Is it ethical to accept this kind of offer? What is the impact on prestige and reputation of the researchers who have accepted this offer, now that its primary motive of citation-gaming is unambiguous?

  • 4
    Welcome to Academia SE. Taken literally, your question is almost certainly unanswerable, as I doubt that a study of the general opinion on academians on this exists. If you are instead asking for our opinion on this (what I assume), it would be primarily opinion-based. There are some questions hidden in your approach that would be acceptable for this platform, like whether giving an affiliation you are not really affiliated to is academic misconduct.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Mar 15 '15 at 17:54
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    I have changed the question to give it less of a poll focus. I think I am preserving the original intent, but please correct it if I didn't.
    – Davidmh
    Mar 15 '15 at 19:17
  • Not much different from universities in Texas using oil money to get established people to go there... who'd otherwise have not the slightest interest? :) Mar 16 '15 at 0:11
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    The fact that there is a question in the last paragraph doesn't rescue this, IMHO. Phrases like "easily fooled rankings" and "somewhat debunked by now" etc. make this read more like an attempt to critique researchers who take the affiliation than an honest question looking for an answer. Mar 16 '15 at 4:40
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    @paulgarrett: I think the (perhaps minor in your view) distinction is that many of the people at KAU actually holds a full time job elsewhere and only visits KAU for a few weeks each year. Such arrangements are explicitly allowed by the employment contracts at some places (e.g. University of Oxford), and explicitly disallowed at others (e.g. Michigan State University). As far as I can tell the Texas oil chairs are actually usually full time positions. Mar 16 '15 at 12:39

This behavior seems just as unethical as to put someone's name on a paper while he has not worked on it, and for the same reason: it provides the academic world with a wrong information about attribution, and the academic world wants to use this kind of information. Less abstractly, it means that students or scholars might be fooled into going to a university expecting to be taught by or to work alongside high-profile professors while the university really has much less to offer than it pretends.

Now, it could be argued that it is the job of the rankings to design them in a way that is not so easily played, not the job of the professors to act according to such ranking.

Also, we currently do not have clear and well-admitted ethic rules for affiliation, while we do have such rules for authorship. This makes the ethical lines much fuzzier, but in my opinion the conclusion to draw is that we should give ourselves such rules.

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