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Emet m'Tsiyon

Thursday, November 06, 2014

More Arab Corruption of the Academy

The latest ranking of mathematics departments in universities around the world shows the department of math in a Saudi Arabian university coming out in seventh place, behind the top three, Berkeley, Stanford and Princeton, in that order, but ahead of the renowned MIT in only eleventh place.
Taking seventh place was King Abdulaziz University in Jedda. This institution was founded only in 1967 (Osama bin Laden studied there in 1975, by the way), unlike the other, more venerable institutions mentioned above. Its math department only began to offer a doctoral research program just two years ago. And the department chairman Professor Abdullah Mathker Al-Otaibi (he got his doctorate in 2005) , has no academic publications to his credit in the field of math -- or any other apparently. So with its recent beginnings and its undistinguished department head, how did this Saudi math department manage to beat out MIT?  [come si chiede Daniele Raineri, "Come fa il dipartimento saudita a battere il Mit di Boston?" -- Il Foglio, 4 Novembre 2014]. Just how did something so seemingly unlikely happen?
Daniele Raineri writing in Il Foglio, says that he is on to the trick. If you think that the trick has to do with all of that Saudi money, well then, you would be -- right.

The rating drawn up by US News & World Report [published in USNWR about a week ago] is based on the number of academic publications  by department members and on how often these publications have been cited by other scholars and by researchers. This is a common enough method of academic evaluation. So how did King Abdulaziz University's math department manage to beat out the department at MIT? Representatives of the Saudi university went around to prominent scholars in the field and asked them to "also" be scholars in the math department in Jedda. That is, in return for compensation, they would identify themselves when publishing their articles as professors in the math department of wherever they had positions and add to that they were "also" on the faculty at King Abdulaziz. As compensation they would get $ 6,000 dollars per month. The contract also stipulated that they had to spend three weeks per year in Jedda, staying at a 5-star hotel as part of their compensation, The three weeks need not be consecutive. The eminent profs would fly business class with expenses included. And meanwhile, they would still have their positions in their present institutions and get paid by them too. of course.

Raineri's source referred to an article in Science in 2011 entitled --backtranslating from the Italian translation-- "The Saudi universities offer cash in exchange for academic prestige"  [“Le università saudite offrono cash in cambio di prestigio accademico”]. Raineri adds that the trick works with mathematical precision. Such are the standards in the academic world today. 

Arab money also functions in the field of Middle Eastern studies [who would have imagined?]. 
There is no need to take the opinions of university "experts" as representing truth or wisdom. And scholarship is obviously not always pure. Consider too all of the university departments of Middle Eastern studies that are Arab-funded. How about professors who are on the take from Saudis or Kuwatis or Qataris or Dubaians? How about the famous Yale University which allowed its hunger for Arab money to eliminate a center studying antisemitism? The academy ought to be judged by its reality that is very much down to earth and interested in filthy lucre like everybody else. And has prejudices and bigotries and so on and so forth.

Here is a link to Raineri's article:

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