(Soil, Water and Environmental Sciences-Microbial Ecology Laboratory)

The Dangers of Predatory Conferences and Publishers

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On this snowy Friday morning, I open my email and notice a message titled “Medical Microbiology 2017 | CME Medical Conferences.” Great! I think, this sounds like a conference we should be aware of. Before adding it to our SWES-MEL wiki conferences list, I conduct a bit of research on the event.

The message begins with a red flag: “Dear Dr. Nicole Raab,” I don’t have a doctorate. I read on. The author graciously invites me to speak at the “10th Annual Medical Microbiology Summit & Expo” on June 21-22, 2017 at London, UK. The email is flattering and explains that I’ve been selected, “based on my expertise. . . in the related field,” to serve as an “Honorable Organizing Committee Member” for the conference, and even offers reduced registration and complimentary media promotion for my organization. That’s very nice and all, but I am a just over one-year post-graduation (I wouldn’t call that “expertise”) and have never heard of this conference. Dubious, I google the conference and find a relatively official-looking webpage that showcases real researchers as previous speakers, conference topics, etc. A few more minutes confirm my suspicious – this conference is one of the many hoaxes, predatory schemes, and “spamferences” that prey on unwary researchers. I refer back to the email. It is signed, I kid you not, “Charles Xavier,” more commonly known as Professor X from Marvel’s X-Men. Ridiculous.


Professor X Art by Aaron Lopresti.

This is the ludicrous world of predatory conferences that make money through registration, accommodation, program materials, and meal fees. Da Silva, Sorooshian and Al-Khatib (2017) elucidate how to assess conferences to determine if they are predatory in “Cost-benefit assessment of congresses, meetings or symposia, and selection criteria to determine if they are predatory

Predatory publishers are also big players in the world of fake science. Jeffrey Beall, former librarian at the University of Colorado, began a running list of potential/probable predatory publishers in 2010. The list grew to include thousands of open-access journals that Beall determined may exploit researchers, but the site was wiped clean on January 15, 2017. Nature news reports on the shutdown here. Beall’s list can still be accessed via the Internet Archive Wayback Machine, with the last snapshot on January 12, 2017.

In “Investigating journals: The dark side of publishing,” Nature journal senior reporter Declan Butler offers a checklist to identify reputable publishers:

How to perform due diligence before submitting to a journal or publisher.

  • Check that the publisher provides full, verifiable contact information, including address, on the journal site. Be cautious of those that provide only web contact forms.
  • Check that a journal’s editorial board lists recognized experts with full affiliations. Contact some of them and ask about their experience with the journal or publisher.
  • Check that the journal prominently displays its policy for author fees.
  • Be wary of e-mail invitations to submit to journals or to become editorial board members.
  • Read some of the journal’s published articles and assess their quality. Contact past authors to ask about their experience.
  • Check that a journal’s peer-review process is clearly described and try to confirm that a claimed impact factor is correct.
  • Find out whether the journal is a member of an industry association that vets its members, such as the Directory of Open Access Journals (www.doaj.org) or the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association (oaspa.org).
  • Use common sense, as you would when shopping online: if something looks fishy, proceed with caution.”

Have you ever been invited to attend a hoax conference or submit a paper to a predatory publisher?


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