Ignorance of predatory conferences means warning signs are missed

Why do smart scholars fall for dodgy conferences, asks Jack Grove

October 26, 2017
Empty conference
Source: iStock

Deleting invitations to dodgy-sounding conferences is as much a part of an academic’s daily routine as their morning cup of tea.

Occasionally, some emails will raise a smile at their sheer chutzpah. A recent opportunity to attend a symposium in Indonesia on “interdisciplinary academic research and innovation” was memorable for its catch-all opportunism.

While many might wonder how apparently intelligent academics are foolish enough to attend these events, many are jumping at the chance – with some scholars perhaps using them as an opportunity for an all-expenses-paid holiday courtesy of their institution’s conference budget.

Others – such as the UK researcher who attended an event in Copenhagen this month – fell prey to the vagaries of internet search engines. Search for a niche research area – in this case, political psychology – and a website for a related conference pops up. Its branding and sign-up patter might look a bit shonky, but no more so than the amateurish sites run by some learned societies. As it is happening in a pleasant city on a convenient date, it’s not surprising that some academics will sign up – probably aware that their paper is decent, but not yet ready to appear at a top-tier event.

That’s when serious scholars find themselves presenting to a handful of people with no interest in their subject. One academic will give a talk on music, another on crop rotation in Iran and another on beef production in Brazil – all have attended a conference in theory, but might as well have given their talk to the mirror in their hotel room for all the interest they garner.

As researcher James McCrostie has pointed out, there should be few excuses for attending these conferences. Any organiser that does not list a proper mailing address should raise suspicions. Peer review at predatory events is also too good to be true, he added. Acceptance in under two weeks is standard, the next day is not uncommon.

However, a lack of awareness of these issues will lead some well-meaning scholars to find themselves presenting to a virtually empty room.

“Most of those in the room knew the deal but did not care,” explained the Copenhagen speaker, saying that he was surprised that many had quickly added their presentation details to their LinkedIn profiles.

While the problem of predatory publishers is well known, it seems that this spin-off problem has attracted much less publicity.

Unfortunately, while scholars perceive a benefit in attending these events, predatory conference organisers will be there to meet the demand.


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