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9 Signs a conference is fake

Can you spot a fake conference? It seems many researchers can’t. So here are 9 ways to spot a fake conference.

“Power is not a great place for a good time.” So confidently concludes a 2016 paper submitted to an Atlanta conference on atomic and nuclear physics. If that sentence reads like nonsense to you, that’s because it was written using iOS autocomplete. This fact didn’t seem to bother the conference organisers too much because they accepted the paper without a quibble.

Another thing that’s not a great place for a good time? A fake conference.

Much like predatory journals, predatory or fake conferences are often organised by for-profit companies who prey on the eagerness of academics and early-career researchers to publish and present. If you get duped into attending a predatory conference, you can look forward to a timetable full of withdrawn submissions, shambolic organisation and a poor-quality technical programme. And that’s before you take into account the cost of registration fees, travel and accommodation, and the work it takes to submit and present.

Like I said: a dubious conference ≠ not a great place for a good time.

What defines a conference as “fake”?

Fake conferences usually skimp or skip peer review, which any above-board conference organiser will tell you is the foundation for building a high-quality programme. They’re run by for-profit companies who may present themselves as not-for-profit. And they often funnel accepted papers into known predatory journals, or never publish a conference book of proceedings at all.

The result is big profits for the organisers, and academics and researchers left out of pocket, with little to show for their time or expense.

According to James McCrostie, too many researchers think that predatory conferences are only a problem for early-career researchers from developing countries. And with impressive-looking websites stuffed with falsehoods, it’s not always easy to tell a fake conference from a legitimate one.

Thankfully, there are criteria for determining whether a conference is predatory. So if you’re a researcher with a paper to submit, do some online digging to tell if a conference is legitimate or not.

Use these nine clues to spot a fake conference.

1. The conference has an overly ambitious title

Does the conference title seem a little too big for its boots? “International” and  “global” are two buzzwords used by predatory conference organisers to draw in would-be presenters. If the conference claims international status but the organisers or delegates seem to come from only one country, be wary. (And if the organisers use a name that implies they’re based in one country when they seem to actually operate out of another, run for the hills.)

2. The technical programme is broad. Very broad.

Does the description of the conference’s technical programme try to cover everything but the kitchen sink? Conferences with programmes that don’t seem to specialise in any way, or that try to combine different disciplines in unusual ways are likely to lack credibility. The term “interdisciplinary” can be a good tip-off.

3. The language on the conference website is…off

Is the conference website bizarrely written or littered with spelling and grammar mistakes? Poorly written content can be a good sign that the organisers behind it are less than legit.

4. Renowned organisations are sponsoring a low-profile conference

Is there a big mismatch between the profile of the conference and the profile of its sponsors? Fake conferences often falsely claim big organisations as partners or sponsors. If the conference has a host of impressive backers, but your colleagues have never heard of it, something may be off.

5. The organisers’ contact details are missing, or aren’t quite right

Is it difficult to locate clear contact details for the organisers? Predatory conferences often try to bamboozle by tucking away contact details or hiding behind fake phone numbers or P.O. boxes. Double-check the contact details are legit.

6. Another conference with a suspiciously similar name already exists

When you Google the conference name, does another conference with a very similar name pop up? An old favourite of fake conferences is to give their event a name that’s a near-match with an established and respected conference.

7. The conference or its organisers have known associates

When you search the conference or its organisers, do you find links to known predatory conferences or journals? Check the conference details against Beall’s list of predatory journals and Caltech Library’s list of predatory conferences.

8. The organisers are charging higher-than-normal fees

Are the conference fees higher than what’s standard for your field? Sure, conference fees can vary (at PaperCrowd we see a wide spectrum), but a common practice of fake conference organisers is to charge high registration fees to maximise their profits. So be wary. And if the conference is charging presenters higher fees than attendees, alarm bells should start ringing.

9. The conference is unusually frequent

When you Google the conference or the organisers, do a lot of different listings pop up? If the same conference is held at multiple times in different cities, or the organiser is holding multiple conferences at the same time, proceed with extreme caution.

Don’t fall prey to shady conference organisers

Don’t make the costly mistake of being fooled by fake conference organisers. Use the above clues to spot a fake conference before you submit your research to it.

And remember, if something smells off, it probably is.

More reading on fake conferences

The points above are adapted from Jeffrey Beall’s Criteria for Determining Predatory Conferences. Check them out to see more clues to spot a fake conference.

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Brian Campbell
Brian helps researchers find conferences on PaperCrowd. He enjoys entertaining his baby nephew, playing an insane amount of sport, and being wildly competitive at party games. (He’s a pass-the-parcel champion.) Previously, he worked as the admin of an international entrepreneurship research conference.
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