Imprimir Republish


Author of more than 700 articles suspended for 13 years for breach of contract

Rafael Luque Alvarez de Sotomayor, one of the most prolific researchers in Spain, received a severe punishment from the University of Córdoba, where he received his doctorate in 2005 and has since worked as a professor in the Department of Organic Chemistry. Luque was suspended without pay for the next 13 years. The sanction, which in practical terms is equivalent to dismissal, was handed down after it emerged that he had been working at two institutions abroad—King Saud University in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and RUDN University in Moscow, Russia—despite being contracted full-time to Córdoba.

In addition to the breach of contract, the case also exemplifies a disingenuous strategy adopted by some universities seeking to move up in the international academic rankings. Luque, 44, has an extraordinarily high scientific output. He has written more than 700 articles in fields such as nanomaterials, nanocatalysis, and green chemistry, which have been cited more than 29,000 times in total. He published 58 papers in the first three months of 2023 alone, averaging one every 37 hours. Since 2018, he has been included on Clarivate’s list of the world’s most highly cited researchers. Such endorsements are highly valued by rankings such as Shanghai Jiao Tong University’s Academic Ranking of World Universities, which give extra points to institutions with highly prolific researchers. Luque was invited to join the faculty of the universities in Saudi Arabia and Russia for this very reason—to improve their positions in academic rankings. He only had to visit the institutions for a few weeks every year, but they were named on every article he authored. “Without me, the University of Córdoba is going to drop 300 places in the Shanghai ranking. They have shot themselves in the foot,” Luque said of the punishment, according to the newspaper El País. He attributed the suspension to “pure envy” and claimed that he never received a salary from the foreign universities, only reimbursement for travel and accommodation, in addition to funding for his research.

His extraordinary productivity attracted the attention of misconduct experts. British engineer Nick Wise, for example, says that one of the papers written by Luque was offered on a website that sells authorships. Luque said he would never buy an article, but admitted that he does not know some of the Iranians who signed the paper as coauthors. Russian mathematician Alexander Magazinov says that some of Luque’s publications contain “tortured phrases”—strangely translated expressions included in texts to attempt to hide plagiarism (see Pesquisa FAPESP issue no. 317). The Spaniard denies any wrongdoing, but admits that he has been using the AI software ChatGPT to polish his texts in recent months. “Articles that used to require two or three days, now I do them in one day,” he told El País.