“Predatory” conferences now outnumber official events organised by scholarly societies following an explosion in the number of such symposia held across the world, a researcher has warned.
Tens of thousands of academics are now likely to be paying to give papers at conferences of questionable value because of the “incredible demand” to present at international events, often the “difference between getting hired or promoted or not”, said James McCrostie, associate professor at Daito Bunka University in Japan, who researches the issue.
“I can attend a predatory conference somewhere in Japan nearly every week of the year,” he warned, although the most prolific organisers tend to centre their operations on major cities including London, Paris, Dubai and Bangkok.
Times Higher Education examined the activities of one conference organiser, the World Academy of Science, Engineering and Technology (Waset), after it was contacted by a UK cybersecurity worker who attended one of Waset’s events in Copenhagen earlier this month.
The event – titled the 19th International Conference on Political Psychology – was billed as an “interdisciplinary platform for researchers, practitioners and educators” in that field and its website appeared consistent with other reputable conferences, he told THE.
However, after having his paper accepted and travelling to Denmark, he was left sorely disappointed: proceedings were compressed into two hours on the first morning and one on the second, and barely 10 people attended the event, held in a single small room, he said.
With other speakers addressing subjects as diverse as robots, solar energy, Islamic finance and food safety, he concluded that multiple “conferences” had been loaded into the same room.
“We lost the conference registration fee of €450 (£400), plus roughly £400 for the flight and two nights’ accommodation,” he said. He has subsequently found 153 accepted submissions from UK academics listed by Waset in 2017 alone, which, if they all paid the same, would represent registration revenue of €68,850.
Subsequent research into Waset, which is registered in the United Arab Emirates, shows that it will hold some 183 events in 2018, although these will cover almost 60,000 individual “conferences” – averaging 320 at each event.
Conferences are scheduled almost every day up until the end of 2030.
“Many might question why anyone would sign up…but to the untrained eye, however, the site is pretty consistent with other legitimate conferences I’ve previously spoken at,” said the researcher.
“The giveaways are certainly there if you dig a little deeper, but first you have to have your suspicions aroused,” he said, adding that his US research collaborators had mistakenly believed that the event was linked to the International Society of Political Psychology.
“We came across the event by googling it – if you’re looking for a niche conference and happen upon it, everything looks quite legitimate,” he said. "Other academics I've spoken to have said they want to give their PhD students a chance to speak at a conference, so don’t go for the most prestigious ones, but [they] have no idea what these events actually are.”
The last Waset event to take place in London occurred on 19 October at the Holiday Inn, in Wembley, where events take place each month. According to Waset’s site, 387 separate conferences were due to take place that day, while January’s event will host 618 “conferences”.
Universities should do more to raise awareness about these events, the researcher said, adding that “he had no knowledge” of the problems associated with such conferences.
THE has been unable to contact Waset.
Mr McCrostie said that he was not surprised that UK-based scholars had fallen prey to organisers of predatory conferences.
“Multidisciplinary events that combine different fields into one conference like Waset does should be a huge red flag, but there are academics who legitimately haven’t heard of the term,” he said.
Universities, especially graduate schools, have done “essentially nothing” to raise awareness of the issue, he added.
The bigger problem is a failure to properly research the conference organiser before accepting invitations, submitting papers or agreeing to host events, Mr McCrostie added.
“Scholars seem to spend more time considering the timing and location of a conference than doing basic research into the organisation behind it,” he said.
Mr McCrostie said that the need for action was urgent if scholarly standards were to be maintained.
“In terms of sheer numbers, predatory conferences by for-profit companies now outnumber legitimate events put on by scholarly societies,” he warned. “Predatory conference organisers have seen the demand and are doing their best to meet it.”