A Bluff Gets Called at Singapore Management University
Margaret Zhu gets caught committing the most brazen case of academic fraud I have ever seen
Two weeks ago, a 19-page EJMR thread appeared titled A serious fraud: Fake JF and RFS conditional acceptances in which OP states “I am 98% sure that this is a fraud.”
Fast forward 2 weeks, and there is now 100% chance that fraud occurred. The career of Margaret Zhu — an assistant professor of finance at Singapore Management University (SMU) — is toast. It looks as if she has been fired, and she might even get sued.
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According to LinkedIn, Zhu earned a Finance PhD from UT Austin in 2011, then worked as an assistant professor in Hong Kong from 2011-2021, before switching to SMU 11 months ago. An assistant finance professor at SMU typically earns a salary somewhere in the range of $220,000-$260,000 USD per year.
I am not an expert on ranking schools in Singapore, but I think SMU is the best school in the country… arguably, it is tied with National University of Singapore for #1. This means this scandal (which I am breaking right now for the first time) is a really big deal. A huge scandal at one of the most elite institutions in Asia. This is possibly the biggest Asian academic scandal of the year.
What exactly was Zhu’s crime? Her CV (archived here) lists 2 papers conditionally accepted at Journal of Finance (JF) and Review of Financial Studies (RFS). RFS and JF are the 2 best finance journals in the world. If those 2 solo publications were true, that would extremely impressive and Zhu would be guaranteed tenure at virtually any university in the world. She could coast for the next 30 years on the back of those 2 publications.
The thing is… neither of these acceptances exist!
How do I know? I emailed the 2 journals involved. Here are their responses.
“She does not [have a conditional acceptance]. In more detail: This paper is not, and was never, conditionally accepted at the JF.”
— Statement from Journal of Finance
“She does not have a conditional acceptance at RFS. In more detail: This paper is not, and was never, conditionally accepted at the RFS.”
— Statement from Review of Financial Studies
This is as close to a smoking gun as you can possibly hope to get: she listed 2 huge acceptances on her CV that simply never accepted. What makes this case so insane is just how easy it was to prove. Usually I have to waste thousands of words unravelling some grand conspiracy associated with the academic fraud, and put together all the puzzle pieces in a compelling and intricate way. But here we are, barely 300 words into this article, and the fraud is already nicely wrapped up with a bow on top.
It is impossible to understate just how baffled I am by this behaviour. The more you think about Margaret Zhu’s lie, the more insane it becomes. How can any sane person dare to fake such a conditional acceptance on CV and personal website? Who would lie to their own school about such easily verifiable publications?
Here is a hypothetical scenario to emphasize just how insane this is. Imagine a medical doctor at the top medical school in Asia putting 2 solo acceptances in “New England Journal of Medicine” and “The Lancet” on their CV. This is equally egregious.
Frankly I am surprised she got away with it for as long as she did; it was only a matter of time before she was caught. She fabricated the fact that she is a superstar for years and nobody questioned her at all. How else did she think this would end? What was her end-game? Did she think that her colleagues would simply forget that she had ostensibly published 2 solo publications in the 2 top finance journals in the world? Did she think nobody would ever ask to read her 2 career-making papers?
lmao. the biggest joke of 2022
I can easily pass mid-review or tenure-review by claiming I have two solo conditional accepted top 3. She pulled in millions of USD by making up things nonexisting
this woman is either a genius, extremely good at lie telling, or female premium has reached a whole new level in recent years across the globe
Why would she do this? Put yourself in Margaret Zhu’s shoes. 11+ years have elapsed since your PhD, and all you have to show for it is one measly publication**** which has garnered a grand total of 2 (two) citations. You know that unless you produce some noteworthy research soon, your time on the tenure track will come to an end.
**** Her published JCF should now also be put under scrutiny.
So you lie. You lie because your CV is embarrassingly thin. You lie to hide the fact that you have no talent or creativity. You lie to hide the fact that you are a lemon. You lie to get ahead. You add 2 “acceptances” to your CV and you leverage these 2 “acceptances” into getting hired by SMU. You will deal with the consequences of this serious misconduct later.
Well, the consequences are here now.
Last week, as EJMR was discussing her case — she still had a tiny shred of plausible deniability left — Zhu’s profile was deleted from the official SMU faculty website. Go see for yourself:
Furthermore, I emailed email@example.com in an attempt to reach her, but the email was undeliverable and bounced back; indicating she has been locked out of her institutional email address sometime in the past 1-2 weeks.
Margaret Zhu is no longer affiliated with SMU. Was she fired? Almost certainly. I asked SMU to provide a statement on this, but sadly they have not answered me. They are staying tight-lipped.
Despite their refusal to engage with me, SMU should be commended for moving so speedily and efficiently; we can infer from their actions everything that needs to be inferred. Contrast this strategy to say, Harvard, where it is unofficial institutional policy to drag out every little dispute for years and years and years and hope that everyone gets too exhausted and worn-down to care. Singapore acted swiftly and decisively, and this scandal was brutally quashed within two weeks of it first appearing. Ah, the perks of fascism***!
****the SG government pretty actively meddles in the business of their schools.
Singapore recently has put at least two domestic online publications out of existence through the government’s use of regulations promulgated through its censorship agency, with the Orwellian name the Media Development Corporation and has frightened the rest into silence. Given our invulnerability, we are the only publication that reports fully on Singapore government repression as far as I know.
We remain unintimidated.
Not only did SMU cut ties with Zhu, but her previous employer cut ties with her as well. Last week, Zhu’s name and publications were deleted from the The Chinese University of Hong Kong’s publication list (archived here).
Upon a careful reflection I think this was what happened:
Margaret Zhu was already being investigated before this thread appeared. The investigation had reached a point that dismissal of Zhu was the likely outcome. All parties wanted to quietly bring the affairs to a closure - letting Zhu go and deleting the website, hoping no one would notice. Then, an insider felt that was too easy for those involved. He or she then started this thread on EJMR, which accelerated the process.
It's less likely that SMU and CUHK started the investigation as a response to a thread on EJMR. Even less likely that the investigation, involving two universities, proceeded so quickly that a conclusion was reached in a week.
The moral of the story is that next time you lie, lie in a more plausible way. Don’t portray yourself as the most elite researcher in your department, or else people will eventually ask to see your research.
The second moral of the story is that EJMR continues to provide a valuable public good. It continues to help the profession discover cases of fraud committed by researchers of all genders.
The third moral of the story is that every finance department in the world should look to SMU as a cautionary tale — they did not do their due diligence when hiring an AP, and now they have humiliating egg on their face. In your department, when you hire someone, do you ask a proof of conditional acceptance? SMU doesn’t, apparently. There were no mechanisms in place to deter this kind of behavior. It's especially shocking that they didn't seek any corroborating evidence of these “conditional acceptance” given that they were clearly the driving factors in making her a desirable hire. SMU saw “Conditionally Accepted at JF & RFS” on her CV and their eyes glazed over with lust. Their rote bean-counting and ranking chasing mentality is to blame. There are structural/institutional factors at play here.
This reveals the type of these Asian schools: pure bean counters. They don’t even read papers themselves and are incapable of judging the quality of papers themselves. If they read the papers, they should’ve been very doubtful whether the papers are really accepted at top journals before extending an offer. They only check whether a candidate has a top 3 r&r or acceptance that has not been published yet so that they can put their school name on the publication. Shameless people.
This is a case of complete moral bankruptcy and outright deception. Margaret Zhu should face a lifetime ban from academia, and she should have her PhD revoked. Furthermore, SMU should sue her for breach of contract — even if, in a perfect world, they would prefer to avoid the headlines and attention — it is more important for them to save face than it is for them to minimize attention. Zhu tricked them! She was hired under the pretense that these publications existed, and as a result, SMU were prepared to invest millions of dollars into her.
What saddens me is that Margaret Zhu advances the widely-held stereotype in academia that mainland Chinese are cheaters — I am not advocating this stereotype, per se, I am simply reporting what the perception is. And perception is all that matters.
It seems Margaret Zhu adheres to the old Chinese proverb, “"if you can cheat, then cheat.” In other words, if you can get away with cheating, why wouldn't you? It's embedded in PRC culture. Chinese students who study in the US such as Margaret Zhu typically come from rich families and cheating is how their family becomes rich.
This reminds me of this video that a British expat made about scammers in China in which he delves into the psychology of why some Chinese players cheat. His conclusion is that in general, the Chinese are friendly and hospitable, however, making money or getting ahead is more important than morals, is more important than anything else. Every advantage Chinese people can get, they will use, because they are trained from childhood to do that. Be better than the one next to you. With any means possible.
Again — I am not trying to stoke racial tensions here. What I am saying is that racial tensions are already highly stoked in Singapore, and that Singaporeans are already annoyed by foreigners as they think foreigners are stealing their jobs. If a full blown race war breaks out in Singapore the future, you can blame Margaret Zhu for doing her small part in stoking it.
Chinese are very unscrupulous and corrupt. I work in a department with many Chinese and since my parents were expats in China for a long time I grew up there and I speak mandarin but nobody knows it. You'd never believe the s**t I hear people talking among themselves or on the phone. They could never pull that stuff with foreign bros but among themselves I guess it's assumed that it's china vs. the world so they do everything in their power to prop themselves and each other up by all means necessary. Fake (reciprocal) coauthorships, multiple submissions to different journals at the same time, taking claim for s**t some other guys do just because they have the same name or even because nobody can verify anything that happens in China due to nothing being transparent and/or written in English, having huge network of editors and referees that help each others and at the same time sabotage competing papers, etc. It is unbelievable but it's very hard to get proof outside of recording private conversations and sending them anonymously to the press...and I doubt anyone will care about my small department and the little fish here.
I really try to hold my tongue. However, the amount of cheating, shady behavior, and inordinately strong in-group preference that I have seen among Chinese graduate students and APs sickens me. Collusion on homework and take home exams happened all the time among Chinese students at my PhD institution. China bros on this board and IRL often say "but others also have in-group preferences". True, but not nearly as much as the Chinese. So often I see Chinese APs with all Chinese PhD students and some of the other behavior described by other posters. Obviously, not all Chinese display all of these characteristics, but the problem is still very pervasive and not explained by a language barrier alone. To the Chinese on this board---no one in your department is going to resent you for being Chinese. People will resent you if you do shady things and prioritize being Chinese over merit.
Zinch China, a consultancy firm, found that 80 percent of Chinese students use agents to apply to U.S. colleges, with even more engaging in cheating. The company approximated that 90 percent of recommendation letters and 70 percent of college essays submitted by Chinese students are fraudulent. Additionally, 50 percent of previous grade transcripts are also fake. Ten percent lied about academic or extracurricular achievements, and 30 percent lied about financial aid information.
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