Scientists must speak out about bogus conferences

I recently had my first experience with predatory conferences when I submitted a bogus abstract to an event that had been relentlessly spamming the Chemistry World Twitter account. We had been prompted to look into the issue by two chemists who told us their names had been used to promote these sorts of conferences without their knowledge or consent – a sign that the people operating these scams are getting smarter.

Since writing about these phony conferences the magazine has received a number of responses through email and social media. Many academics are vaguely familiar with predatory events but didn’t realise the lengths to which organisers will go to get their money. However, it was difficult to find anyone prepared to go on the record about their experiences at one. Some of the scientists I spoke to whose names had been used to promote suspect conferences didn’t want to be named either.

While this is perhaps understandable, it does make it difficult to gauge just how successful these conference providers are at extracting registration fees, and how much money they make. It must be lucrative enough to make it worth the scammers’ time and effort. So why aren’t more people prepared to admit they got conned?

It is possible the answer to this goes beyond simple embarrassment, and researchers are concerned they will be seen as complicit in the system. Other reports on predatory conferences have focused on less-than-honest academics attending conferences they know to be no good, just to get a certificate of attendance to bulk up their CV. No one wants anyone to think they have misused hard-won grant money, even if it was an honest mistake.

As with so many injustices, speaking up is important. It is largely due to the accounts of those who do get caught up in predatory conferences that we are finally starting to understand the scale of the problem. And awareness is one of the best tools researchers can use to protect themselves.

So if you find yourself falling prey – either by agreeing to be associated with a predatory conference, or attending one – don’t keep it to yourself. Tell your peer group and your wider network what happened and warn them not to do the same. No one likes to admit they were fooled, but sharing your experience could stop it happening to somebody else. Chances are you won’t be the only one.