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What are ‘predatory’ conferences and how can I avoid them?

By AuthorAID Team | Feb. 6, 2017  | None  | Research skills Conferences

- Andy Nobes provides a checklist of questions to consider before you register for your next conference

Presenting your research at an academic conference can be one of the highlights of a researcher’s career, but it can also be time-consuming and expensive – so it’s very important to make sure you pick the right event. At AuthorAID, we regularly hear from early career researchers who are looking to attend their first international conference – many are applying for our travel grants, and others are looking for advice or alternative funding.

Increasingly we are asked whether specific conferences are genuine and reputable. This has coincided with the growing phenomenon of so called ‘predatory’ conferences. Many people might not be familiar with this term – you might have heard of ‘predatory’ publishers or journals, which have become quite notorious for exploiting researchers by charging for a low-quality or non-peer-reviewed publishing service.  We have tried to respond to this particular problem by helping to establish the Think. Check. Submit. campaign – a resource which helps researchers assess whether their target journal is appropriate and suitable for their research.

But what are predatory conferences?

Sign at University of Ghana. Writing can be a difficult process, and it can be difficult to know which way to turn.

Choose your next conference carefully

For several years we have heard worrying stories of fake or low-quality conferences – for example, see Barbara Gastel’s 2014 blog post on being sceptical of conference invitations via email. However, this has become an increasingly common trend, as demonstrated in the recent number of high-profile news stories on this subject. According to these articles, ‘predatory’ conferences continue to exploit and profit from researchers eager to present their research at an ‘international’ conference. The conferences tend to be poorly organized (see this article in the Times Education Supplement), and low-quality, with little or no peer review of submitted research. For example, in this Guardian article, a researcher from New Zealand recalled how his ‘gibberish’ paper was accepted for a conference in the United States. It’s common for these events to be hosted in high-profile destinations, and often the organizers are more interested in marketing the tourist destination rather than the academic value of the conference.

Alternatively, conferences based in Africa and Asia have been known to book university meeting rooms to give their event credibility. As one researcher in West Africa told us:

“Organizers of these predatory conferences are very clever, and have subtly penetrated many universities in [my country], using them as venues to deceive innocent researchers. Many senior colleagues have attended such conferences only to discover later that publications by such group as well as conference attendance are discarded at point of promotion”.

Some organizers arrange hundreds of events every year across multiple subject areas. It is not unusual to see conferences arranged on different floors of the same building on the same day, in order to save money on venue hire, as noted in the New York Times.

It’s very important to make sure that the conference you attend is suitable for your purposes, whether it’s a small, niche conference or a large, international conference – will you be presenting your valuable research to the right audience and making useful contacts? Will the conference presentation look good on your CV?

To help you decide, we’ve put together some questions you should ask if you are in any doubt about registering for a conference:

Conference subject and scope

  • Have your peers and senior colleagues in your field heard of, or attended this conference? Would they recommend it?

  • Is the content of the conference relevant to your field?

  • Is the topic of the conference focused enough for you to a) hear about relevant research and b) meet relevant researchers? For example, an “International Conference of Social Sciences” or “International Conference on Business and Economics” may be too broad and probably raises questions about the purpose of the conference.

  • Does the conference prioritize the academic value of the conference more than the tourist destination? (You should judge the conference on its content rather than its location.)

  • If the conference title includes the word ‘international’, are you confident that it is a good-quality, truly international event?

Conference website

  • Does the conference website seem knowledgeable about your subject field? Does it spell key technical terms correctly, and is it up-to-date on key themes in your field?

  • Does the conference programme list respected speakers who you or your colleagues have heard of? Consider checking their credentials on Google if you are unsure.

  • Does the conference website have full contact details (email, phone and postal address) so that you can contact them to ask questions?

  • Is there a report on the previous year’s conference? (Unless this is a new conference.)

  • Does the website look reputable, with good spelling and grammar?

  • Is the conference listed on a source (e.g. a magazine, journal, blog, website, or sector-specific source) that you trust? This is especially important if you heard about the conference via an unsolicited email.

Conference organizers

  • Who is organizing the conference, and for what reason? Is the goal or theme of the conference clear and specific? (Please note that generic phrases such as ‘to promote scientific innovation’ or ‘to facilitate dissemination of research findings’ are not specific.)

  • Do the organizers seem fully focused on making this a high-quality conference? Or are they involved in multiple events in the same day/week/month?

  • If the conference is being hosted by a university or research institution, do they seem like the most appropriate host? Are they also advertising the conference on their website or at their campus?

  • Is the conference organized by a scholarly or non-profit organisation who you have heard of? Does this organization list the conference on their website?

  • If the conference is organized by a commercial company:

    • Is there a clear partnership with a reputable institution/society/research institute, either international or local to the conference?

    • Is there a partnership with a reputable publisher or publication?

The answer to most of these questions should be ‘Yes’. If you are in any doubt, why not post a question on the AuthorAID discussion list, or register or connect with an AuthorAID mentor.

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