Ellen Baum, PhD, Janssen Research & Development, LLC
Predatory conferences are “for-profit, low-quality academic meetings that exploit researchers’ need to share and publish their research” (1) and have been variously described as “questionable” (2), “fraudulent, bogus” (3), “fake” (4), “scam” (5), “dubious” (6), “scientifically bankrupt” (7), and “the dark side of the open access movement” (8). Predatory conferences are the in-person counterpart to predatory journals, which were exposed and publicized by librarian Jeffrey Beall (Univ. Colorado, Denver) as a service to the scientific community. (Beall’s website https://scholarlyoa.com describing predatory journals and predatory conferences is now defunct but is partially archived at https://goo.gl/Z3y9S7 .)
How to Recognize a Predatory Conference
How do you recognize that a conference is predatory? If you have been invited to attend or to speak at a predatory conference, several “red flags” may be evident in the invitation itself. First, you may receive an adulatory email to deliver a keynote lecture at their “prestigious” international conference, perhaps in a field in which you have never published or worked. You may be required to pay to attend the conference even as a speaker, and you may be offered the opportunity to chair a session, which will frequently increase your cost (5). The conference website may contain spelling and grammar mistakes or stilted English, and use a free email address (eg, @gmail) (1, 8). In short, the invitation may appear “off” in ways that those from reputable conferences are not.
Cress (8) and McCrostie (9) have provided an in-depth summary of the features of predatory conferences, which (among numerous other suspicious and even dishonest practices) are provided below.
- Falsely claiming to be a non-profit;
- Falsely claiming involvement of people on advisory boards or organizing committees and/or universities or other organizations as partners or sponsors;
- Lack of transparency by using fake names to hide the identity of organizers or their country of origin;
- Inadequate peer review with rapid acceptance of submissions;
- Higher fees than typical in the field, with presenters paying more than attendees;
- Organizer simultaneously holds multiple conferences at the same time and place, with the same conference held multiple times a year in different locations; and
- Conference papers appear in known or suspected predatory journals.
Examples of Suspicious Practices of Predatory Conferences
Various situations associated with predatory conferences have been published in the scientific literature, or in reputable newspaper articles or scientists’ blogs. These examples illustrate how these predatory conferences fail to uphold even minimal ethics or scientific standards.
In a particularly egregious case of false advertising, a predatory conference name was easily confused with the name of an established, respected conference, differing only by a hyphen: Entomology 2013 was the reputable conference, but Entomology-2013 was the imposter (3). Scientists also report having their names appear without their permission as organizers or speakers or session chairs (6, 7).
In an illustration of how suspect the alleged “peer review” can be, a New Zealand professor invited to speak at the “International Conference on Atomic and Nuclear Physics” wrote a gibberish abstract using the autocomplete feature on his iPhone; it was accepted within three hours of submission (4). Similarly, J. McCrostie (1) tested predatory conference “standards” by creating fake abstracts using SCIgen, an online tool “to maximize amusement, rather than coherence.” His nonsense proposals were accepted by all six suspected predatory conferences.
An enlightening exposé of a predatory conference is provided through the experience of R. Edwards (7) at a conference organized by OMICS, reportedly one of the more prolific organizations in the world of predatory conferences (4, 5, 7, 8). Edwards was invited to speak at the OMICS Group 3rd International Conference of Proteomics and Bioinformatics, held in Philadelphia. Since 24 organizers, 57 presenters, and 11 tracks were listed, he was expecting a well-attended, high-level conference. Instead, he described the meeting as “disorganized…a shambles…bordering on farce,” with about 50 attendees. Edwards speculated that all were invited speakers, and that the organizing committee did not actually organize the conference (and some apparently never agreed to be meeting organizers). Many speakers were “no shows.” He stated that although “some of the science and individual presentations were of good quality…this was the worst scientific conference that I have attended by a long stretch.” To add insult to injury, he later found that without his permission, he was listed as an “Executive Editor.” Edwards admitted that “a little more research on my part would have warned me off” from attending this predatory conference.
Aside from wasting participants’ time and funds, there is also the possibility of damage to one’s professional reputation. A university instructor reported that after accepting a speaker invitation for a Higher Education Forum (HEF) conference in Japan, he was then listed without his permission as “Honorable Chair” or “International Liaison” for 10 HEF conferences. When these conferences were exposed as predatory, the instructor found his job in jeopardy from the resulting unfavorable publicity to his university (1).
Investigate an Invitation from a Suspicious Conference
If you (or a colleague or stakeholder) receive an invitation to attend or speak at a conference that you suspect could be predatory, it’s worth the effort to look closely and to do some investigating before accepting the invitation. Although Beall’s list is no longer available, a recent list of some confirmed predatory conferences and organizers has been assembled (8). There are enough reputable conferences out there that are worthy of participants’ time, funds, and professional reputation—beware the imposter.
The ideas presented represent those of the author and not her employer Janssen R&D, LLC.
- McCrostie, James (2016). Predatory conferences’ stalk Japan’s groves of academia. http://www.japantimes.co.jp/community/2016/05/11/issues/predatory-conferences-stalk-japans-groves-academia/#.WYn8fYTys2w. Retrieved Aug. 8, 2017.
- Beall, Jeffrey (2015). Considering presenting a paper at a scholarly conference? Choose carefully. https://www.editage.com/insights/considering-presenting-a-paper-at-a-scholarly-conference-choose-carefully. Retrieved Aug. 8, 2017.
- Bowman, John D. (2014). Predatory Publishing, Questionable Peer Review, and Fraudulent Conferences. Am J Pharm Educ. 78(10): 176. doi: 10.5688/ajpe7810176.
- Carey, Kevin (2016). A Peek Inside the Strange World of Fake Academia. https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/29/upshot/fake-academe-looking-much-like-the-real-thing.html.Retrieved Aug. 8, 2017.
- Pai, Madhukar (2016). Predatory Conferences Undermine Science And Scam Academics. https://naturemicrobiologycommunity.nature.com/users/20892-madhukar-pai/posts/12706-predatory-conferences-undermine-science-and-scam-academics. Retrieved Aug. 8, 2017.
- Ruben, Adam (2016). Dubious conferences put the ‘pose’ in ‘symposium’ http://www.sciencemag.org/careers/2016/11/dubious-conferences-put-pose-symposium. Retrieved Aug. 8, 2017.
- Edwards, Richard (2013). OMICS Group Conferences – Sham or Scam? (Either way, don’t go to one!). http://cabbagesofdoom.blogspot.ie/2013/07/omics-group-conferences-sham-or-scam.html. Retrieved Aug. 8, 2017.
- Cress, Phaedra E. (2017). Are Predatory Conferences the Dark Side of the Open Access Movement? Aesthet Surg J. 37(6):734-738. doi: 10.1093/asj/sjw247.
- McCrostie, James (2016b). Proposed Criteria for Identifying Predatory Conferences. https://scholarlyoa.files.wordpress.com/2016/06/proposed-criteria-for-identifying-predatory-conferences.pdf. Retrieved Aug. 8, 2017.