Friday 2 February 2024

An (intellectually?) enriching opportunity for affiliation

Guest Post by Nick Wise 


A couple of months ago a professor received the following email, which they forwarded to me.


"Dear esteemed colleagues,

We are delighted to extend an invitation to apply for our prestigious remote research fellowships at the University of Religions and Denominations (URD). These fellowships offer substantial financial support to researchers with papers currently in press, accepted or under review by Scopus-indexed journals. We welcome scholars from diverse academic disciplines to seize this intellectually enriching opportunity.

Fellowship Details:
Fellowship Type: Remote Short-term Research Fellowship.
Research Focus: Diverse fields, spanning humanities, social sciences, interdisciplinary studies, and more.
Research Output: Publication of research articles in Scopus-indexed journals.
Affiliation: Encouragement for researchers to acknowledge URD as their additional affiliation in published articles.
Remuneration: Project-based compensation for each research article.
Payment Range: Up to $1000 USD per article (based on SJR journal ranking).
Eligibility: Papers in press, accepted, or under review by Scopus-indexed journals.

Preference: Priority for indexing before December 30, 2023.

Application Process:   

To express your interest in securing a fellowship, kindly submit your curriculum vitae to  Ahmad Moghri at When emailing your application, please use the subject line: "Research Fellowship, FULL NAME."

Upon Selection:
Successful applicants will receive formal invitations to join our esteemed fellowship program. Invitation letters and collaboration contracts will be dispatched within a maximum of 5 days.

We firmly believe that this fellowship program provides an invaluable platform for scholars to make substantial contributions to their fields while collaborating with the distinguished University of Religions and Denominations. We encourage all eligible individuals to seize this exceptional opportunity.

For inquiries or further information, please do not hesitate to contact

Warmest Regards,”

Why would the institution pay researchers to say that they are affiliated with them? It could be that funding for the university is related to the number of papers published in indexed journals. More articles associated with the university can also improve their placing in national or international university rankings, which could lead directly to more funding, or to more students wanting to attend and bringing in more money.

The University of Religions and Denominations is a private Iranian university specialising, as the name suggests, in the study of different religions and movements. Until recently the institution had very few published papers associated with it according to Dimensions and their subject matter was all related to religion. However, last year there was a substantial increase to 103 published papers, and so far this year there are already 35. This suggests that some academics have taken them up on the offer in the advert to include URD as an affiliation.

Surbhi Bhatia Khan is a lecturer in data science at the University of Salford in the UK since March 2023 and a top 2% scientist in the world according to Stanford University’s rankings. She published 29 research articles last year according to Dimensions, an impressive output, in which she was primarily affiliated to the University of Salford. In addition though, 5 of those submitted in the 2nd half of last year had an additional affiliation at the Department of Engineering and Environment at URD, which is not listed as one of the departments on the university website. Additionally, 19 of the 29 state that she’s affiliated to the Lebanese American University in Beirut, which she was not affiliated with before 2023. She is yet to mention her role at either of these additional affiliations on her LinkedIn profile.

Looking at the Lebanese American University, another private university, its publication numbers have shot up from 201 in 2015 to 503 in 2021 and 2,842 in 2023, according to Dimensions. So far in 2024 they have published 525, on track for over 6,000 publications for the year. By contrast, according to the university website, the faculty consisted of 547 full-time staff members in 2021 but had shrunk to 423 in 2023.  It is hard to imagine how such growth in publication numbers could occur without a similar growth in the faculty, let alone with a reduction.

How many other institutions are seeing incredible increases in publication numbers? Last year we saw gaming of the system on a grand scale by various Saudi Arabian universities, but how many offers like the one above are going around, whether by email or sent through Whatsapp groups or similar?

The Committee On Publication Ethics held a forum on claiming institutional affiliations in December 2023, in recognition of the fact that guidance for what merits affiliation to an institution is lacking and there are no accepted standards for how many affiliations an author should give. It looks like such guidance can’t come soon enough.

Nick Wise is a researcher at the University of Cambridge, UK.

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P.S. 3rd Feb 2024

Someone on social media queried the "top 2% rating" for Khan. Nick tells me this is based on an Elsevier ranking for 2022:


  1. What I find amazing about academia is there is usually no difference in kind between the obvious scams, and the established practise. There is little difference between predatory journals and established journals, just degrees maybe of review quality. It is hard to spot any difference between the obvious scam conferences my inbox is littered with, and the established conferences I am required to attend for my career. Similarly, here is there any difference between what these institutions are doing and what more established Universities have been doing for years. Why not look at the University of Manchester with Steiglitz and Logothetis (just two I know of). Logothetis received a 6 figure salary - he would fly in to Manchester and come straight from the airport to give his contractually required annual in person talk, often being late, then have to cut questions short to go straight back to the airport. I don't see any difference there apart from the amounts of money involved.

  2. I think it is important to clarify "top 2% scientist in the world according to Stanford University’s rankings" for readers. Stanford University has never prepared or promoted any such ranking. John P.A. Ioannidis, Professor of Medicine at Stanford, studies citation patterns. In partnership with Elsevier, he prepared the dataset linked in the "3rd Feb" update to the post. The dataset is just that. It is a way for people to study citation patterns using a common dataset that has passed some quality control. Now, less-than-honest individuals have decided to claim that if their name is in this dataset, they have been "ranked top 2% by Stanford". Such a statement is false. It is also important to note that Ioannidis initially put together such dataset to control for "[e]xtreme self-citations and “citation farms” ... [that] citation metrics spurious and meaningless", ref. In some sense, if this dataset reveals the extreme self-citations of an author, it is quite the opposite of being "recognized as top 2%"...Context matters.