“I’m a bit worried about something, and I need your advice.”
My good friend, Ariana*, had submitted papers to two international conferences. Each of these conferences promised opportunities to engage with experts in her field, comprehensive peer-review processes for all paper submissions, and were to be hosted in two world cities – Paris, France and Tokyo, Japan. Both conferences were tied to publications. Presenters were required to submit their papers for publication in the organisation’s “journals”. This included signing-over all copyright to this organisation.
Alarm bells first started to be raised when Ariana tried to make changes to her conference abstract. The organisation did not have an email address. Instead, she had to correspond through an online interface – a messenger pop-up on the conference website not dissimilar to those found on retail shopping websites. The response Ariana received asked her to “provide her request with more clarity”, despite the communication being very straightforward and in plain-English. Examining this response more closely, it seemed to be auto-generated through a mail-merge-like program: “Dear PhD Candidate Ariana Lastname”. A surf through their website revealed the organisation had events planned until July 2029.
As it turns out, Ariana had submitted her paper to a predatory conference. Predatory conferences – often linked to an equally predatory journal – lure academics into situations where they sign-across their intellectual property ownership to corporations and other entities. These works are then published within that organisation’s “journal”. These groups are often unwilling to provide permission for the author’s work to be used beyond their own “journal”, a publication which lacks academic rigour and often features bizarre disciplinary gatherings. For example, one article accepted by the organisation was published in the “International Journal of Social, Behavioural, Educational, Economic, Business and Industrial Engineering”.
Why would an organisation do this? $$$. Predatory conferences often charge significant conference fees to make a profit. The “conferences” these organisations hold are not truly worthy of the name. Often, they feature a bizarre range of disciplines which cannot be gathered under a clear theme. These events are bizarrely scheduled – one attendee describes attending a conference which was held over 3-hours in total across two-days. Conferences are held in a single room, are poorly attended, and are not even guaranteed to take-place at all. As per the ‘Terms and Conditions’ of Ariana’s conference, the event may be replaced by an online presentation at the organisation’s discretion.
Predatory conferences not only make money through conference fees, but also by retaining copyright ownership. By claiming the copyright from unsuspecting authors, the organisation is then able to set the terms on how that work can be used. If Ariana had of signed the copyright agreement with this predatory group, she would have been unable to use that publication within her PhD thesis without first paying a fee to the organisation. This tends to be a cost of around a few hundred dollars, but may be much higher.
Despite running this conference through her supervisory panel, none of the academics saw any of the red flags raised by this organisation. Thankfully, Ariana was able to relatively easily withdraw her papers and abstracts without first signing away her copyright. While postgraduate students seem to have the most to lose from falling prey to these type of groups, all academics should be wary of these predators. The appearance of a predatory publication or conference on a resume may be detrimental when seeking funding opportunities.
In the warming oceans of academia, we must all work together to ensure that none of our colleagues fall prey to predators who seek to profit from those who are seeking to grow and contribute to our community. If you are unsure whether a conference or a publication is legitimate, it is always helpful to seek the assistance of colleagues in the area. This includes associations like the Law, Literature and Humanities Association of Australasia. By swimming together, we can weather the storm.
For a list of known predatory conferences and publishers consult the Caltech website. For more information on predatory conferences and publications, see:
- NYT: Many Academics are Eager to Publish in Worthless Journals
- Time Higher Education: Predatory conferences ‘now outnumber official scholarly events’
- The 101 on an Academic 419 (of sorts)
*Name has been changed for the purposes of this article.