Last week, I described my recent adventures trying to figure out why my mother, of all people, was getting frequent emails from, asking her to upgrade to premium. I found that she did indeed have an profile, but that of course, she has never created one. She was even said to have been mentioned in a paper uploaded by a top 3% author, a quite surprising statement.

As usual, she was invited to upgrade to a pay-plan to find out more. I’ve fired off an email to to find out if profiles are sometimes created automatically and without the author’s participation, but haven’t heard back. It is, after all, a long weekend in these parts.

She continues to receive those emails. In the most recent one, she is informed that “the name Thérèse Costopoulos is mentioned in a PDF uploaded to Academia by Emmanuel Gonzalez Ortega”. Ah, finally something slightly more verifiable than a vague “top 3% author”.

There is indeed an Emmanuel Gonzalez Ortega on Academia, who works in biotechnology, mainly in HIV research apparently. This is intriguing, since my mother is an educator who works with children with learning disabilities. I searched through the 4 PDFs uploaded to his profile. There is a Costpoulos listed as an author on a paper cited in a 2010 article on which Gonzalez is a co-author. But this is a Donna S. Costopoulos, rather than a Thérèse Costopoulos. DS Costopoulos is a cell biology researcher active in the 1980s and listed on ResearchGate as “affiliated with Tufts University and other places”.

At the very least, the email from to my mother contains an untruth. The most charitable explanation is that this is some sort of machine reading error. It could also be sloppy constraining of searches (ignoring first names and initials, for example). This would be easier to believe if the email had simply claimed that the name “Costopoulos” is mentioned. But they are very specific (and repeatedly so) that it is “Thérèse Costopoulos” that is mentioned. Perhaps they ignore the first name when searching for matches, but not when notifying recipients? Whatever the case, it doesn’t look good.

Had my mother decided to find out more about her mention by an academic researcher, by paying to upgrade to premium the account she didn’t create in the first place, she would have found… nothing whatsoever that is of interest to her. This is one anecdote, but I suspect the same fate awaits many who upgrade to find out more about a claim made in one of those emails. I am half tempted to pay for the upgrade myself, and find out more about that famous top 3% author. But only half tempted. Maybe I’ll do a kickstarter to cover the cost.

11 thoughts on “My mother’s further adventures with spam

  1. I never write LOL, But I will this time. Just got this email from

    The name “Andre Costopoulos” is mentioned in a paper in Emmanuel González Ortega’s research area, “Cell Membrane”


  2. Merci encore pour cet article. Je sais dorénavant que ce n’est pas MOI! J’ai fait des recherches d’articles en histoire du Canada à Academia mais n’ai jamais payé pour cela. Continue de te retenir de payer ces énergumènes. Mon problème: je ne sais pas ce que “kickstarter” signifie exactement à la fin de ton texte. Mais si c’est un “coup de pied”, je suis d’accord. Papa me dit que c’est un “élément déclecheur”. Thé



  3. I cannot help but think that the offers I get from are self-referential and will get me my own uploads, as the algorithm specifically includes my first name (which only refers back to acknowledgements and not to bibliography?). Also, the log on with a Facebook account option does create an account?


  4. I’m not a scientist, but apparently I get mentioned in papers so often (come one, look at my name) that I started suspecting I am part of a controlled experiment I’m unaware of. But seriously, it’s a disgrace how these crooks have the courage deceive people in such a way using a medium that’s supposed to be connected with science and the pursuit of knowledge. As far as I know, this started happening after changed ownership. I any case, I think it’s a disgrace to charge for the privilege (the privilege should be to understand the literature, not to afford it) of being able to read scientific papers. Scientists need our support in many different ways, financially as well, but trying to monetize knowledge itself (patents are a different issue) is an offense against the very basis science lies upon: we only achieve progress while standing on the shoulders of those who came before us. Fortunately, the papers you have to pay for are usually the ones that tend to be oblivious of the scientific method. Any slutty inductivist gets called a scientist nowadays, especially in the field of sociology.


  5. I appreciate knowing I’m not alone in being deluged by these emails. I did sign up for a free account sometime in the mid-2000s; at that time it gave me access to summaries of papers and looked like it might be useful. I have been principal author , with four co-authors, of exactly one academic paper since then, and that paper has been cited a number of times. More recently, a free membership gives no access to anything except invitations to become a premium member. My father was a well-known anthropologist, born in 1909, which probably explains many of the academia emails, but other citations are for things like molecular biology (about which I know nothing) and petroleum geology. My degree is in Linguistics, and I get emails about citations concerning that field, but I am not aware of having published any papers in the field (with the exception of one that is better forgotten, in the 1970s). They sent me one email recently about a paper by an “N. Giddings” and allowed me to state that it was not me, but any reasonable bot could have seen that “N” was not one of my initials. Now they’ve sent me a notice referring to the paper I actually authored in 2012, offering to let me claim it and have it uploaded, but the last time I was able to check, they already had that paper in their database, so what happens if it “claim” it again? There doesn’t seem to be any way to contact academia by email, phone or mail without signing up for their premium subscription first. It looks and feels like a scam, and a potentially dangerous one at that, but I’m hesitant to just unsubscribe. Sigh!


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