Faking Proceedings

Almost every day I get an invitation to a fake conference somewhere, usually somewhere nice (to make the event more attractive). Usually these are caught by my spam filter, but when one isn’t the conference often turns out to be in a field I don’t work in. A small fraction are in cosmology or astrophysics but fortunately those fields are relatively small and it’s quite easy to identify whether or not they are bona fide. I’ve often wondered what happens if you turn up at one of these fake meetings, but not enough to waste money on trying to find out. Perhaps one of my readers knows? One day someone should turn up at one of them with a film crew…

It seems that along with these fake conferences there are fake conference proceedings, not just proceedings of fake conferences but proceedings of conferences that didn’t actually happen.

Publishers make a killing from publishing books of conference proceedings, which generally have a very short shelf-life. I stopped contributing to conference proceedings some time ago as I don’t think they’re worth the effort any more. It’s far better in my view for contributors just to put a copy of their slides on the conference website. I fully accept however that conference proceedings or similar publications may be important in other fields and it does seem that there is still a considerable traffic in them, with some publishers – including Institute of Physics Publishing – setting up special journals to exploit the traffic.

My attention was drawn today to an article in The Times (behind a paywall). The Times piece appears to be based on this one by the excellent Retraction Watch. It seems the IOP publishing system has been comprehensively hacked by (mostly Chinese) publishing mills. As a result the publisher has retracted 494 papers:

The vast majority – 463 articles – are from the Journal of Physics: Conference Series, while 21 are from IOP Conference Series: Materials Science & Engineering, and 10 are from IOP Conference Series: Earth & Environmental Science.

A statement from the IOP explains

These articles are being retracted following an allegation that raised concerns regarding several manuscripts. IOP Publishing has conducted a comprehensive investigation, which indicated that some papers may have been created, manipulated, and/or sold by a commercial entity.

I’m told that to be named as an author of a paper costs anything from about $500 to $US5000, depending on the calibre of the journal and how prominently you want your name to appear. It’s easy to find companies willing to provide such a service, e.g. on Facebook.

Of course this episode raises serious questions about the quality of the peer review applied to these papers, but the more serious issue is how science let itself get into a mindset that fetishizes publications in the first place. The publishing industry must share some of the blame for this. As long as this absurd situation exists there will be unscrupulous people willing and able to exploit it.


5 Responses to “Faking Proceedings”

  1. I’ve often wondered whta happens if one turns up too! What do attendees talk about, do they admit to one another that they have been duped?
    Re fake proceedings of conferences that never actually happened, to be fair that seems more efficient than fake proceedings of fake conferences!
    Re non-fake conference proceedings, I agree with one exception; I often find myself perusing the proceedings of a conference dedicated to one particular scienctist (For example, the ASP books on Slipher and Gamow contain excellent anthologies of peer-reviewed essays on each of these scientists). I recently attended a conference in memory of Eddington, would love to have seen a Conference Proceedings come out of it…but none of us had the energy to put it together!

  2. John Peacock Says:

    I’ve always assumed that these “conferences” never actually happen – that they would just pocket your registration fee, and that would be the last you’d hear of them. I’m sometimes tempted to accept an invitation just to see what their next gambit is – but safer to stay off the scammers’ radar, I eventually conclude.

  3. John Peacock Says:

    BTW I encountered a much more sophisticated scam this summer. There was a real conference, where I agreed to attend in advance and was listed as a speaker on the poster. I got an email from an accommodation agency saying they were arranging hotels for speakers, and would I please give them my itinerary. I replied without suspicion, saying that I was too disorganised to book flights much in advance, but I would let them know. Only some while later came a warning from the organisers that this email was totally bogus. So if I’d had my dates, I might well have been ripped off. Unlike the false conference invitations, which are childishly generic, this one looked very professional and was full of specific information regarding me and the conference concerned – I was completely taken in. The moral: scammers can see conference details and pose as part of the organisation, so only reply to emails that come from the organisers direct (although email addresses can be spoofed, so that’s only partial protection). But the main lesson is only to book your flights at the last minute….

  4. Anton Garrett Says:

    This is certainly a new meaning for virtual reality.

    Dear Sir, Following the conference that did not take place, I would like to publish the paper I have not written in the Proceedings that don’t exist.

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