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Research Integrity

Highly-cited chemist is suspended for claiming to be affiliated with Russian and Saudi universities

Rafael Luque, suspended by the University of Cordoba, says he has been treated unfairly

by Dalmeet Singh Chawla, special to C&EN
April 5, 2023 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 101, Issue 12


A portrait of a man in a suit.
Credit: University of Córdoba
Rafael Luque

The University of Córdoba has suspended a highly-cited chemist for 13 years after finding that he had claimed to be affiliated with a Russian and a Saudi Arabian university despite having a full-time contract with Córdoba.

Rafael Luque, who has been on analytic company Clarivate’s list of most highly cited researchers for the last five years, was suspended for including in his signature in his published papers that he is affiliated with King Saud University and Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia.

Luque, who has published around 700 research papers so far, studies green chemistry. According to his LinkedIn page, he previously worked at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology and the University of York in England. In a statement to C&EN, Luque says he has been treated unfairly. “I would like to openly request the University of Córdoba, for the sake of transparency, to make public the full details,” he says, “in order to facilitate a public understanding of the charges and continue the discussion along these lines.”

In 2011, Science magazine revealed that Saudi universities were paying researchers more than $70,000 annually for adjunct professorships under which they would spend a week or two on campus, supervise a research group, and add the institution as a second affiliation on their papers.

Luque told El Pais, a Spanish newspaper, that he hasn’t ever received any money directly from the Saudi or Russian institutions beyond funding for his research, business class travel, and luxury hotels. The suspension is drawing scrutiny of Luque’s publication record. In 2023 alone, Luque has published 58 studies, which equates to a new paper every 37 hours. Luque himself tells C&EN that he published more than 100 studies last year and consistently between 50 and 70 papers annually over the last 6-7 years.

Luque attributes his impressive publishing record to his “many excellent teams.” He notes that he has made substantial contributions to over 90% of his papers, including coming up with research ideas, revising scientific content, improving writing, and polishing final versions.

“There are examples for the remaining <10% in which obviously my contribution could be just considered ‘acceptable’ as I was only responsible [for] the conceptual design of the work (IDEA) and drafting plus revising, however in a way that I deemed ethical to be included as co-author,” Luque writes.

More than 90 papers co-authored by Luque are being discussed on the website PubPeer, a site where scientists discuss published papers. “We have clarified some of the issues present in some manuscripts,” Luque notes, and some of them are being corrected.

“Honest mistakes are present in the manuscripts,” Luque writes. “I trust all of my teams, colleagues and collaborators in the excellent science that they have made in the past few years.”


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