Identifying predatory conferences or congresses

The need to publish scientific output, turned into a “publish or perish” mantra, has not only led to the emergence of predatory journals but also predatory conferences or congresses. We receive dozens of messages daily in our emails and frequently see advertisements on Facebook, inviting us to submit papers or presentations to specific events, and we might wonder, is it a legitimate conference or a predatory one?

Academic conferences and congresses

Academic conferences and congresses have become another form of scientific dissemination. A typical congress, usually organized by scientific associations and universities, often features a three-day in-person agenda where invited speakers are promoted, workshops are conducted, and work sessions are held. Invitations are extended to the academic and scientific community to submit their papers or presentations through “call for papers.” Once accepted, these are presented at the event in work sessions divided by topics and conducted in smaller groups. With the advent of the pandemic, some have incorporated a remote element into these sessions, allowing panelists, as well as keynote speakers, to present their work or give their talk via video conferencing.

These events always have a registration fee that covers, to a greater or lesser extent, the logistical expenses of the venue where the event will be held. This includes airfare and allowances for the key speakers, amenities during the event (WiFi, coffee and tea stations, water, etc.), working materials, and even welcome or farewell meals and snacks. Additionally, the fees cover the costs of publishing the conference proceedings, which compile all the papers presented at each work session in a book with an ISSN. In some cases, depending on the authors’ choice, these papers are sent to journals with which there is an agreement and, after a peer-review process, are published in these journals.

The importance of these in-person meetings lies in the updating of knowledge, learning about other topics being researched and the approaches used. Equally, they facilitate the construction and strengthening of professional networks or networking. Of course, there is also the aspect of academic tourism, which involves exploring new places, their historical sites, local universities, and gastronomy.

The registration fee for a conference is usually not economical. A common complaint among some academics is that the cost of registration, added to the expense of airfare, accommodation, and living expenses, amounts to a considerable sum that some cannot afford. To try to alleviate this, some event organizers offer discounts or even grants to assist attendance.

Predatory conferences or congresses

In the lucrative business that scientific dissemination has become, predatory conferences have also emerged, and, from my perspective, they have increased more since the incorporation of videoconferencing into these events. But how can you identify them?
Below is a list of aspects in the form of a checklist, though not exhaustive. If the conference or congress you’re interested in attending meets several of these criteria, it’s a red flag. Ultimately, trust your instincts; if it makes you distrustful, do not register.

1. Who is organizing it? This is the first thing to check. A legitimate conference or congress is organized by scientific associations, often in conjunction with universities. If the organizer is different from the aforementioned and appears to be a travel agency, or an entity that organizes a large number of congresses in various areas of knowledge each year, or an academic publisher owning the journals in which it invites to publish the papers or presentations submitted, take a step back.

2. Where is it celebrated? Predatory conferences or congresses often choose cities of high interest for their events, such as São Paulo, Paris, Abu Dhabi, Barcelona, Rome, etc. However, they never specify the exact locations within these cities, like which hotel, event house, or university campus. If the conference or congress you’re interested in does not mention the specific place or places where it will be held, especially if it’s in a city of high tourist interest like the ones mentioned, discard it. Another pattern to be aware of is when the congress is always held in the same city for each edition, for example, always in Athens. In a legitimate congress, it’s usual to rotate the cities.

3. How long does it last? A legitimate congress or conference typically has a standard duration of three days, although sometimes two. In the case of predatory congresses, particularly those that are virtual and supposedly hybrid, the event lasts for two days. In the case of in-person events that are always in the same city, they tend to be a bit longer.

4. What is its modality? A legitimate conference or congress usually opts for in-person attendance, with some remote sessions, and occasionally virtual ones (due to the pandemic impact), but in-person remains the main approach. A predatory congress typically resorts to virtual or hybrid modalities. In the latter, it claims that “sessions will be both virtual and face-to-face”, but never specifies the exact location in the chosen city for these supposed in-person sessions. Often, just days before the event or on the same day, these are canceled, and the congress ends up being entirely virtual. Another modality, in the case of congresses always held in the same city, is that they are in-person, but with a program that seems more like a tourist plan than an academic event.

5. What is the schedule? A legitimate conference or congress always discloses its schedule, which includes master lectures, workgroup sessions, sometimes workshops, and activities like welcome or farewell events. A predatory congress, particularly the virtual and supposedly hybrid ones, offers a generic schedule (never disclosing who the keynote speakers are) and focuses its activity exclusively on workgroups where each participant presents their paper or communication. In the case of those always in-person in the same city, while they still lack keynote speakers and reduce everything to workgroups, the emphasis of the schedule is on the tourist plans offered to explore the city and its surroundings (e.g., of the four days the event claims to last, one day for workgroup sessions and another for a tourist activity, or two days of workgroup sessions and the other days a tourist plan).

6. Does it provide all the information I require? A legitimate conference or congress offers very detailed information about the event: schedule, call for papers, registration cost, main theme of the event, links to previous events, and even information about hotels and accommodation in the city. A predatory congress, particularly the virtual and supposedly hybrid ones, focuses exclusively on the call for papers, how to submit them, the cost of registration, and the publication of these in journals that are likely predatory, as well as the potential cost of this. Those that are always in the same city place a lot of emphasis on the city’s tourist attractions and surroundings.

Does attending a predatory conference or congress affect my scientific or research career?

No, nor does publishing your communication in the proceedings or memoirs of the event or some of the predatory journals they propose. The real impact is in the fraud; it wasn’t an academic event or rigorous research dissemination, so the possibility of good networking was greatly reduced. There’s also the disappointment that comes with the promise of an in-person event and paying for the trip to the city where it’s supposed to be held, only for it to be canceled and the event to be entirely virtual. Or the feeling that you attended more of a tourist plan than a scientific event.

In other words, participating in predatory conferences or congresses does not directly affect a scientific or research career in terms of academic reputation. However, it can have negative consequences in terms of time and money investment, in addition to limiting opportunities for quality networking and learning. While it doesn’t damage a researcher’s credibility, these events do not offer the same value as legitimate conferences. In conclusion, before registering or submitting a communication or presentation, one should thoroughly review to avoid being scammed.

* Originally published in Spanish on the UTB Research blog

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