“Can you write me a thesis?” asks the woman, who has called a number from a flier taped to the main gate of Iran’s prestigious University of Tehran. The woman, an actress, is posing as a botany graduate student from Islamic Azad University (IAU), Abadeh, in Fars province. Her topic is the flora of the Khuzestan region, she explains with a Fars accent to the salesman at the other end of the line. He obligingly lays out a schedule for delivery of thesis chapters. “If your subject doesn’t need lab work,” he says, the cost will be a mere 1.8 million tomans ($600), plus another $400 if she desires a paper, published under her name in a reputable journal.
The firm is one of a veritable army of outfits in Iran that offer to write theses and scientific papers for a fee, advertising on the internet, through fliers, and via the placard-carrying touts who line the sidewalk outside the University of Tehran. The actress, a movie star in Iran, was helping out a friend at the university who is infuriated with the firms—but the call she made on his behalf was hardly a sting. The transactions may be unethical, but they are legal. For now.
This autumn, Iran’s parliament, the Majlis, is expected to take up work on a bill that would outlaw shady practices in scientific publishing. That’s none too soon, says Javad Rahighi, director of the Iranian Light Source Facility (ILSF) here. “It’s very bad for Iran’s science image,” he says. “This is one of the problems of an oil and gas country,” adds Sorena Sattari, Iran’s vice president for science and technology. “We think we can buy everything.”