Exclusive: Researcher outs Indian university’s publishing scam after it fails to pay him

On March 12, a senior administrator at a university in India sent a business proposal to a prolific economist in Ethiopia. If he joined the school’s stable of adjunct professors, the administrator promised, easy money could be made. 

All the economist had to do was “add our affiliation for incentives in your papers,” explained Lakshmi Thangavelu, dean of international affairs at Saveetha Institute of Medical and Technical Sciences (SIMATS), in Chennai, in a written exchange.

“Surely I will do that. Not a big deal,” replied Mohd Asif Shah, an associate professor at Kebri Dehar University, in eastern Ethiopia.

But the deal turned sour. Although Shah listed SIMATS as an affiliation on at least two research papers he published this fall, in December he still hadn’t received any payments from the school, he complained. Then he turned to LinkedIn to share his frustration in a post that included screenshots of his conversation with Thangavelu, who is also a professor at Saveetha Dental College, part of SIMATS.

“Hello Guys,” Shah began, “I am here today exposing one of the biggest scams done by a few higher educational institutions in India.”

According to the post, which has now been deleted, Thangavelu:

contacts professors across the globe for working as an adjunct faculty for her institution and asks them to publish the research papers for her institution by using the affiliation.

In exchange for this she is promising money by mentioning incentives.

This is all done to get good national and international rankings.

SIMATS’ dental school, which advertises itself as the world’s most published institution of its kind, has a track record for manipulating publication metrics. A Retraction Watch investigation published earlier this year in Science found Saveetha Dental College had soared to the top of India’s national rankings thanks in part to a massive self-citation scheme involving thousands of student papers.

Paying researchers to be added on publications from other institutions may be yet another way the school is gaming the system to get ahead in the rankings. While the extent of the scheme is not clear, according to a status report from 2021:

The institution encourages students and faculties to publish their work in high-impact factor journals by providing incentives. The institution has spent Rs. 4.8 crores [about US$ 584.000] as publication incentives. 

The tactic is not unique to SIMATS. In 2011, Science described how Saudi universities offered tens of thousands of dollars to highly cited researchers overseas to boost their academic standing. Although European institutions have recently pushed back against this practice, scientists in other parts of the world may face less scrutiny and still be attractive targets for universities hungry for publications.

Neither Thangavelu nor SIMATS’ chancellor replied to requests for comment. Shah told us by email:

I wanted to bring to your attention that the LinkedIn post/message was inadvertently shared in a public group, it was a private message. I would like to clarify that I do not endorse the content of the statement and do not consent to the use of my message for any publication in any form.

With Shah onboard, SIMATS would have had access to a very productive author. In 2023 alone, Shah published more than 100 research papers on everything from the fabrication of graphene-based nanocoatings to predatory arthropods in rice fields and the sensory profile of spiced yogurt

According to his ORCID profile, Shah is trained in economics and is an adjunct professor at 10 different universities in Afghanistan, India, Malaysia and Iran, in addition to his position at Kebri Dehar University. SIMATS is not among those institutions because, as Shah wrote on LinkedIn, “as you publish the research papers, you are not paid.”

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14 thoughts on “Exclusive: Researcher outs Indian university’s publishing scam after it fails to pay him”

  1. Looks like Dr. Shah was already discovered by a Wiley journal:

    “The above article from IET Software, published online on 7 February 2023 in Wiley Online Library (wileyonlinelibrary.com), has been retracted by agreement between the Editor-in-Chief, Hana Chockler, the Institution of Engineering and Technology (the IET) and John Wiley and Sons Ltd. This article was published as part of a Guest Edited special issue. Following an investigation, the IET and the journal have determined that the article was not reviewed in line with the journal’s peer review standards and there is evidence that the peer review process of the special issue underwent systematic manipulation. Accordingly, we cannot vouch for the integrity or reliability of the content. As such we have taken the decision to retract the article. The authors have been informed of the decision to retract.”

    https://ietresearch.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1049/sfw2.12115

    1. Has this “economist” ever met most of co-authors in his papermill articles, discussed matters in meetings, etc.?
      Just making a deal online, transferring money, fabricating papers with fake data. They can run papermill plants through extended circles of similar people from around the world.
      They are dangerous to academia and science, should be sanctioned and thoroughly investigated. And they are brutal to anybody who shed some light on their corrupt business.

  2. His LinkedIn post clearly states that he was in on the game but got angry for not being paid. Wow, just wow.

  3. The aforementioned Lakshmi Thangavelu is a very familiar character, known for publishing with everyone and on every topic.
    https://pubpeer.com/search?q=authors%3A%22lakshmi+thangavelu%22+OR+authors%3A%22l+thangavelu%22
    See also this post by Nick Wise and myself:
    https://forbetterscience.com/2022/10/19/the-incredible-collaborations-of-renaissance-men-and-women/
    A clear-cut case, it seems. But not for publishers: only one retraction found so far.
    https://pubpeer.com/publications/ED5A904079744EF6F08812AC6CA792
    Aside from that, it is not very clear what taxes should have been applied to eventual payments, had they happened, and whether relevant authorities could be bothered at all.

  4. To add a note , collaborations are common every where across the globe and collaborating with authors across all the universities are common . Retractions happens everywhere for many authors . Even if it’s observed in same Saveetha institute in pub peer database many authors have lots of retractions in single year as well .even other private university authors also has lots of retracted papers either its authorship concerns or it will be publishing ethics . There are few authors who publish many articles in same journal as well .

  5. Th fact that Shah accepted the deal ( getting paid for “add our affiliation for incentives in your papers” ) shows that he is not worthy of being called a researcher.Al the rst is just bull……

  6. “According to his ORCID profile, Shah is trained in economics and is an adjunct professor at 10 different universities”
    This is not the case, at least not currently. You guys should start using the waybackmachine in all your links so that the reader gets the same page as of the publishing of the post.

  7. Oral cancer detection using convolutional neural network optimized by combined seagull optimization algorithm

    Navid Razmjooy (b, c, d, corresponding author)
    (c) Department of Computer Science and Engineering, Division of Research and Innovation, Saveetha School of Engineering, SIMATS, Chennai 602105, Tamil Nadu, India
    A familiar character got a match with a familiar affiliation. Other than that, if anyone guessed that this article-shaped artifact is a citation delivery vehicle to Noradin Ghadimi, they are absolutely correct!

  8. I think there’s another related discussion to be had about the dubious practice of low grade institutions in places like India offering “professorships” to Western academics for no discernible reason except to bolster the institution’s reputation and massage the individual’s ego. They don’t seem to manifest in teaching, research or organisational governance support, and should be called out for the nonsense they are.

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