In Iran, your PhD is just a mouse click away – at least that's what all the Internet ads promise. Plagiarism is so yesterday; in the Internet Age, the magic word is 'ghostwriter.'
Go to Google in Iran and type in the words 'buying a doctorate' and you'll get around 4 million hits. Many links take you to online shops where you'll find anything your heart desires – from toasters, to fashion, cosmetics and…ta-da…PhDs – on any subject you want. One provider even supplies the address of his office in Tehran and touts the irresistible offer: "It's all prepared! All you have to do is sign your name and print it out!"
So, who needs to spend excruciating hours researching a topic, or cutting corners by quoting others as if it were your own words? Why plagiarize when you can have a ghostwriter do ALL the work?
That's what Hamid B. discovered at a Tehran university when he met a few friends for dinner and talk turned to dissertations.
"When I complained that I wasn't making any progress, they started laughing. They told me I could get somebody to write it for me," he said.
PhD providers in Iran even offer all-inclusive services. They not only write the requested thesis based on the latest standards, but they'll also give you coaching on how to defend your paper in front of your professors. And if you're just halfway through, they'll finish it for you.
You name it, they've got it
As far as price is concerned, there's something for every budget. If you just want some sample theses, you can have a collection of DVDs with suggestions, or you can order the ghostwriter who will supply you with a tailor-made finished product.
Engineering? Liberal arts? Languages? It doesn't matter. Private or public university? Who cares?
The demand, in any case, is so high that even private individuals are getting on the gravy train to pawn their completed PhDs. One Internet user bragged that he had sold his dissertation to six different people.
Just off campus from the University of Tehran, even a casual search will unearth hundreds of ads for buying and selling PhDs. Even bookstores, which normally specialize in textbooks, appear to openly welcome PhD inquiries.
But the brazen hawking of counterfeit credentials doesn't stop in academia.
Perhaps the best known case in Iran is that of former interior minister Ali Kordan. Under intense public scrutiny he admitted in 2008 that his honorary doctorate degree from Oxford was, in fact, a forgery. There was nothing else he could do but resign.
Many deputies in the Iranian parliament are said to believe that the PhD held by first vice-president Mohammad Reza Rahimi is also a forgery. There are also doubts about the doctorate of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who supposedly wrote his dissertation during his tenure as the provincial governor of Ardebil.
University guidelines in Iran, however, demand compulsory attendance for all doctoral candidates while writing their dissertations. An open letter to Ahmadinejad was written in 2009, asking how he had managed to combine these two strenuous tasks. It was never answered.