Israel is tiny country, but definitely a scientific superpower with high education standards. Even the Weizmann Institute I wrote about several times before, has despite all the fraudulent data fakery going on there many decent and honest scientists without whom Weizmann would never have its elite status. But the following story is about the back end of Israeli research and education excellence: the Ariel University, which is located de facto not even in Israel, but in the occupied territories, and is described as “Settlers’ university”.
Excluded from EU Horizon’s funding and its PhD degrees subject to external vetting even in Israel, Ariel University cannot care less about delivering any real academic performance. It is all just pretence and show, to make the settlers and ultra-right politicians feel big. Which might explain why Ariel has such a peculiar rector. Michael Zinigrad, claims to have an impressive list of serious papers and a long list of PhD students he supervised. Only that he can’t really prove that. Maybe in the end it doesn’t matter: to run an academically irrelevant higher education institution in occupied territories, one rather needs political friendships than scientific qualifications.
The so-called Ariel University Center of Samaria was accredited by the Israel Council of Higher Education and given recognition as the 9th research university in Israel in 2012. The Israeli academic community struggling for the scarce public funding are not huge fans of Ariel. In all parameters of academic performance like publication output, citations and scientists’ awards, Ariel lags way behind other Israeli universities.
The lagging starts with Ariel’s own leadership. The Chancellor is a certain Yigal Cohen-Orgad who has no advanced degree but is a senior member of the Likud Party and a former Minister of Finance, where he proved his qualifications by presiding in 1983 over a hyper-inflation in Israel. As one of the “founding fathers” of Ariel he was recognized by the Moskowitz Prize as a “Lion of Zion”.
Cohen-Orgad was criticised for leading the university just as he used to run the Israeli economy, which led to the hyper-inflation: fill the university with as many students and faculty as possible, keep opening new departments, and never mind the quality or qualifications. It is the big numbers which count. Of course a politician, even if he is a Lion of Zion, needs an academic to run a university, to give a pretence of credibility. This character was found with Professor Michael Zinigrad, a former Soviet metallurgy researcher of Ural State Technical University, who emigrated to Israel in 1992. His present interests are now in material sciences and nanotechnology, which he publishes in some rather questionable journals. If he does publish, instead of cloning some publication to pad up his CV. My readers will now understand my curiosity in the subject.
Zinigrad was born in 1945, to parents from Ukraine escaping Nazi Holocaust in the Altai area of Russia. He received a PhD in metallurgy in 1972 and made an academic career in the Ural State Technical University in the Soviet Union. When the Soviet empire collapsed, Zinigrad moved to Israel and immediately joined the Ariel faculty as full professor in 1993. Until 2008 he served as Dean of Natural Science faculty and in 2008, he became the academic head and rector of Ariel.
Man of the Year
Zinigrad may have emigrated, but he maintains a very active connection to Russia, a country which he left long ago. In 2017, he submitted his candidacy for the Man of The Year in a public poll of the Russian TV. On the website of Channel 9 , which is broadcast by Russia to a large Israeli audience of Soviet immigrants, Zinigrad presented himself as a “Doctor of Physical and Mathematical Sciences”.
What followed was that the Russian-speaking academics in Israel and Russia distributed an anonymous letter exposing the dishonest CV of this candidate for the Man of the Year Award. Help arrived quickly: a certain Albert Pinhasov, Ariel’s Vice-President for research and development and Soviet emigree just like Zinigrad, defended his rector by distributing a short letter extolling Zinigrad’s scientific achievements. It was signed by all the faculty deans of Ariel. And still, Zinigrad was not elected as Russia’s Man of the Year in Israel, but rumours go that Pinhasov is to be rewarded for his constant loyalty with the succession to rectorate once the now 73-year old Zinigrad retires.
There are two versions of Zinigrad’s full CV available, both from Ariel website. A 2016 one, and one from 2010 which was meanwhile removed, but there is a cached backup. The official website at Ariel (backup here) speaks of
“2 monographs, over 200 scientific articles, 6 patents, 22 textbooks, over 80 presentations in international scientific conferences.”
Trans Tech from a Zurich flat
The “Selected References” list consists of 23 articles. This is where scientists usually put their best-of. What did Zinigrad list there then? Mostly papers with the publisher Trans Tech Publications/ SciPress/Scientific.net which is located in a flat at Reinhardstrasse 18 in Zürich, Switzerland. The (main) owners are Christian Wöhlbier and his sister Anne [relationship corrected following Wöhlbier’s comment], there is a long list of interesting internet domains all registered to Wöhlbier, while his publishing business’ only cost-consuming bit, the IT, is likely outsourced to competitively-priced Ukraine, via the Wöhlbier-owned company GConnect. Since the house in Reinhardstrasse is newly built (after 2014), and other Wöhlbier publishing businesses are still registered at yet another apartment house in Switzerland, at Seestrasse 24c, Bach, one can assume that Wöhlbiers’ scholarly publishing business is doing well. All thanks to academic elites like Zinigrad who publish with Trans Tech, and you are a slanderous envious fool if you have any other but the highest opinion of this Swiss scholarly publisher which operates alternatively from Mr Wöhlbier’s kitchen, bedroom or, when urgent, from his toilet.
And as for professor Zinigrad’s other publishing achievement, those are even more slippery.
Elusive Text Books
The publications summary section of Zinigrad’s CV notes that he published “22 textbooks”. Not all of them are actual books, but are rather brochures: 14 of the text-books listed have between 12 to 36 pages. In any case, they cannot be found online. Maybe Zinigrads owns the only copy. Two more of those text books turn out to be actually “Chapters”, and also these cannot be found.
Only one of the books in the list is associated with a named publisher: Springer (or as Zinigrad prefers it, Shpringer), this book from 2012 does actually exist, and described on the publisher’s site as authored by “Boronenkov, V., Zinigrad, M., Leontiev, L., Pastukhov, E., Shalimov, M., Shanchurov, S.” In his CV however, Zinigrad listed himself as the first author, and his colleague Vladislav Boronenkov of Ural Federal University was delegated to third position.
Zinigrad apparently started this practice of post-publication author reordering already early in his career. In the first two papers listed in the “Articles” section of his CV, Zinigrad has placed his name as the first author. But, in the Web of Science records these two articles list Zinigrad as the third author. No, it is not a Soviet academic peculiarity where a third author is equivalent to Western first.
Unfortunately, it is all but clear how this pattern of author name shuffling continued, because the “scientific articles” numbered 3 to 5, and a number of others are not listed either in Web of Science or Scopus databases.
How many papers?
Zinigrad’s CV states that he has over 200 scientific articles and over 80 conference presentations. Thing is, not all of them are available on Web of Science. Granted, it may be due to a number of Soviet scientific records being lost to posterity, but then again, maybe some of those items from Zinigrad’s CV might have not been published in proper scientific journals, and this is why they never made it in either Web of Science or Scopus.
What Web of Science delivers for Zinigrad for the years 1950-2018 (from “All Databases” , and not just the “Core Collection”) is not “over 200” but merely 69 documents, and even of those are only 57 scientific articles, the rest being conference presentations (17) and other publications (3). A search of the competitor database provider Scopus provides 63 documents. Where is the rest? Left behind in Sverdlovsk, maybe?
Zinigrad’s Google Scholar profile is not much of a help either. Only 72 items there are marked as “Journal articles”. But even this number seems to be exaggerated because the list of publications includes many duplicate items – up to at least five times per a single article!
How does one find these duplications? One could import Professor Zinigrad’s Google Scholar Profile into an Excel sheet like this one using Publish or Perish software by Harzing. By sorting the columns one can then find the duplicates. For example:
The above mentioned book from 2011 with the title of “Phase Interaction in the Metal-Oxide Melts-Gas System: The Modelling of Structure, Properties and Processes” appears twice. Its second copy has a different title: instead of “Systems”, the singular “System”, and the authors list is shuffled, so Zinigrad gets to be the first author in the extra version.
A common strategy of duplication is the listing same paper as two separate ones using both the English and the Russian name of the journal. Here some examples:
- The article entitled “Reaction Kinetics of Multicomponent Metal With Slag Under a Diffusion Regime” published in 1979 in “Russ. Metall“, re-appears as “Kinetics of the interaction of multicomponent metal with slag under diffusion conditions” under the full Soviet journal name in “Izvestiya Ac. Nauk USSR. Metal“, de-abbreviated and translated: Proceedings of USSR Academy of Sciences, Metallurgy. Web of Science confirms that the article indeed exists only once, in journal now renamed “Russian Metallurgy” and published in English by Springer.
- An extreme case is an article listed at least five times. In Web of Science this publication has the title “Synthesis of bulk nanostructured manganites LaMnO3+delta by quasi-static and dynamic deformation methods” and was published in Doklady Chemistry 405: 247-250 in 2005. But in Zinigrad’s Google Scholar profile this article is listed FIVE times. Here is the breakdown: 2 times with tits translated English title and journal name, 2 times with its original Russian title and journal name “Academy of Sciences Reports”, the difference between each duplicate being the Greek letter “δ” spelled out as “delta”. The fifth duplication of this article is more interesting. Instead of the article title, the fifth copy lists the names of the final authors who got abbreviated in the other four versions. The paper in “Dokl. Chem.” is titled “SV Naumov, SA Petrova, VP Pilyugin, A. Ya. Fishman, and NM Chebotaev”.
- In 2007, Zinigrad published an editorial titled “Mathematical modeling of physicochemical processes – Foreword” in the Israel Journal of Chemistry 47:I. This editorial appears twice in his profile, the second time with the alternative title of “Foreword by the guest editor: Mathematical Modeling of Physicochemical Processes”.
- In another case, same article “Effect of Surface Concentration of Oxygen in Me–S Melts on the Kinetics of Its Transfer Through the Interphase Sulphide–Oxide Melt Boundary” in Zhurnal Fizicheskoi Khimii (Journal of Physical Chemistry) appears twice. The main difference: one version is all written out in caps. Some works of science must be shouted out, in addition to being spoken.
- A conference proceedings paper published in 2003 is entitled “New approach to welding materials design”. A second copy is nearly identical, except of being spelled in caps also. It bears no journal name and no year of publication though.
- Another conference proceedings paper from 2004 is entitled “Mathematical representation of a modified structural Schaeffler diagram”. A copy, also from 2004 goes as “The mathematical concept of the modified Scheffler structural diagram”. The journal name is same, but transcribed differently, just like poor diagram inventor Anton Schaeffler. Both articles have same authors and the same page numbers (114-119). There is also a Russian-spleed version form the same year. Even earlier versions from different conferences seem to exist: from 2002: “Mathematical representaiton (sic!) of a modified Schaeffler diagram” and from 2000 “Predicting weld structure using modified Schaeffler constitution diagram”.
The lack of journal name and year of publication is a common problem in Zinigrad’s Google Scholar Profile, by last count it affects 23 such publications in his list of publications. One paper is titled “Ariel University Center of Samaria”.
The main lesson here is probably not to take anyone’s Google Scholar profile at face value. People can do funny things there, just to impress colleagues and themselves.
A journal named Sverdlovsk
Seven of Zinigrad’s articles have been published in a journal he decided to call “Sverdlovsk”. There is no such journal, Sverdlovsk is a place, or rather used to be, in the Soviet Union where cities were renamed after high Communist Party cadres. This city in the Ural region is now back to its original name Yekaterinburg (there is also another, smaller Sverdlovsk in Ukraine, now renamed Dovzhansk while occupied by pro-Russian separatists who probably prefer the USSR version). Why did Zinigrad invent a publisher named Sverdlovsk then? Was he presenting there at some Ural metallurgy conference? But then why is this not in the more appropriate section for “Conference Proceedings” at his CV?
Indeed, Zinigrad likes to parade conference proceedings as peer-reviewed publications. For example, the items in his CV section “Articles”, numbered 102 through 106, were presented at the “Fifth Bi-National Israeli – Russian Workshop” held in Novosibirsk, Russia in 2006. And the items numbered 117 and 118 were presented at the “Sixth Bi-National Israeli – Russian Workshop” held in Jerusalem the next year, in 2007. Both events were basically meetings of Zinigrad with his mates from Ural, and sponsored by the Ural Institute of Metallurgy and the College of Judea and Samaria (that is what Ariel University used to be). If anyone peer reviewed those submissions, it was Zinigrad himself.
His “Conference Proceedings” section includes four articles presented at the “Second International Conference on Mathematical Modeling and Computer Simulation of Metal Technologies” held in 2004, and six articles (numbered 52-56) presented at the “Fourth International Conference on Mathematical Modeling and Computer Simulation of Metal Technologies”. Both were held in Ariel University. Apparently Zinigrad’s research is so exciting, only an audience he himself hand-picks is qualified to see it.
Zinigrad left the collapsed USSR and emigrated to Israel in 1992. He joined Ariel and the western scholarly community right away. Yet not many people cited this eminent Israeli metallurgy researcher until he was appointed Ariel rector in 2008, with an h-index of 2. As soon as Zinigrad became rector, at the age of 63, his citations skyrocketed. The issue apparently became a subject of moderation at Zinigrad’s Wikipedia page, soon after a Google Scholar profile was set up to prove Zinigrad’s scholarly excellence. But just look at this beauty, from Web of Science:
What on Earth did Zinigrad discover at such an advanced age to become suddenly so well-cited by his peers? Gives the Beatle’s song “When I’m sixty-four” a new meaning.
Now, at the age of 73, Zinigrad the Scientist keeps growing. His Google Scholar citation index increased from 74 in 2017 to 124 in 2018.
In 2018, Zinigrad published 4 preprints on the arXiv preprint archive. A laudable deed, so good to see someone from his generation embracing the preprint revolution? Preprints are recorded by Google Scholar, rightly so. And it seems, Zinigrad has abused the preprint concept to please his vanity.
One of his this year’s preprints includes 31 self-citations, a second one 11 self-citations, and the other two contain 4 self-citations each. The self-citations in these four arxiv preprints add up to exactly 50 citations by which his Google Scholar Citation index grew between 2017 and 2018.
The preprint platform Arxiv is almost 30 years old. If only someone told Zinigrad about preprinting back when he became rector and sat on a long list of papers nobody ever cited even once. What a citation index he might have had by now!
Lost academic children
Zinigrad is not just a prolific producer of real or less real research publications, he also boast on his 2016 CV the “Scientific supervision: 16 Ph.D Students, 37 Master Students and 5 Post Doctorants.” . These academic children of Zinigrad’s are not named. It would have helped, especially since an earlier version from 2010 of his CV used to list 18 PhD students. A normal professor would have gained PhD students in the 6 years that passed since, but Zinigrad lost two.
The gamble for Medical Faculty
Ariel University is set to grow. It has an ingenious idea of how to solve the shortage of medical doctors in Israel: to use Ariel’s and Zinigrad’s unconventional understanding of scientific credentials and qualifications to mass-train clinicians, in a new medical faculty. The people behind it are the Las Vegas casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson (who payrolls the medical faculty plan with a $25mn pledge) and the ultra-right-wing education minister Naftali Bennet (who wants to help those settlers rejected at proper Israeli universities to their own medical school). The issue is these days very big in Israeli media, maybe because not everybody wants to be treated by doctors trained in what many perceive is not a real university. Israeli academic and medical elites run a protest storm, which Bennet decries as a conspiracy against poor oppressed settlers. This is how Haaretz described the contented issue:
“Approval for the medical school in Ariel was criticized by many Israeli academics, who claimed it was rammed through at the insistence of Bennett, the head of the pro-settlement Habayit Hayehudi party, in violation of the usual academic standards.
Bennett rejected this criticism, even after the council of university heads sent a highly critical letter on the subject warning that it would result in a “loss of trust.”
Bennett responded at the time that the country’s other universities were behaving like a “cartel,” “.
Corruptions accusations and nepotism evidence abound. Rivka Wadmany Shauman, recently installed by Bennet as member of the Budget Committee at the country’s 25 member strong Council for Higher Education (CHE), voted in favour of creating a medical faculty at Ariel, after she secretly met with Ariel officials and was offered a position of professor there. A professor at that same Ariel’s medical faculty, mind you, even though this scholar of languages and education has no medical qualifications whatsoever.
Because Ariel is legally outside Israel’s borders, a special CHE was once in place to manage and endorse the academic activities in the so-called Judea and Samaria. There are several members from that old settler-friendly CHE now sitting in the current CHE, thanks to the minister Bennet: Leah Boehm , historian Ofir Haivri , Weizmann professor Eli Pollak and Bar-Ilan University professor Haim Teitelbaum . More CHE members have other connections to Ariel: Rivka Gilat is professor at Ariel, while the Tel Aviv University professor Ilana Gozes is the former PhD advisor of Zinigrad’s groomed successor for Ariel rectorship, Albert Pinhasov (mentioned above).
In Israel, higher education is a political game. And the Ariel rector Zinigrad is sure an expert there, whatever you may think of his scientific qualifications.
If you are interested to support my work, you can leave here a small tip of $5. Or several of small tips, just increase the amount as you like (2x=€10; 5x=€25). Your generous patronage of my journalism, however small it appears to you, will greatly help me with my legal costs.