Friday, September 17, 2010

Big, Fat, Fake Conferences

This morning, I received three versions of the same e-mail about a certain academic conference, informing me that the deadline for the CFP had been extended. One of these three versions, distressingly, was forwarded from a member of my university's administration. I say "distressingly," because this particular conference seems clearly (to me, at least) to be a big, fat, fake conference.**

Real conferences have a few main goals (not necessarily in the following order): to disseminate researchers' new findings, to allow researchers to get feedback on ideas in progress, and to bring scholars together more informally to get the creative juices flowing. (Some would also say to have an excuse to get blotto and hit on people you'll never see again, but we'll leave that to one side for now.)

Fake conferences' goals are two: to make money for the organizers, and to give cash-strapped academics a way to get their universities to pay for travel to an exotic locale.

Now, depending on your own personal bent, your university's available funds, and the climate of your university's locale compared with that of the conference venue, you may indeed feel it worthwhile to apply to a fake conference. I won't presume to judge. But you almost certainly don't want it ever to show up on your CV. So here's your handy guide to telling if something is a fake conference. If you answer "yes" to only one of the following, that doesn't necessarily mean you're dealing with a fake conference. But two or more, and you may need to think about it:
  • Is the conference location somewhere that a non-academic might plan a once-in-a-lifetime vacation?
  • Does the conference venue have the word "resort" or "spa" in its name?
  • Does the conference invoke "interdisciplinarity" to allow them to accept papers from over a dozen different disciplines, but with no central organizing principle or theme?
  • Is the registration fee (not counting hotel and transportation) unusually high for an academic conference?
  • Does the organizer appear to be an individual or a commercial business, rather than an academic or creative organization or a university-related entity?
  • Do they appear to accept all papers?
  • Does the publication venue (if there is one) make the main criteria payment of registration fee rather than quality of the paper?

As I said, one or two of these things doesn't necessarily mean that it's a fake conference. Some very good conferences may be held in nice locations, are interdisciplinary in nature, or have financial support from businesses who want to use some of their profits to support culture, or are under government mandate to do so. Go, have fun, take some pictures -- but know what's legit and what's not.

**UPDATE: Historiann makes a good point in the comments. Technically, these conferences aren't "fake": academics go to them, give papers, and even attend other people's sessions. "Bogus," as she suggests, is probably more accurate (and more fun to say). But since I've already titled the post using "fake," I'm going to leave it, and figure that my meaning will be understood.


nicole said...

In Hawaii, eh? I got that today too... and I have nothing to do with arts or humanities. Bizarre.

Nicole said...

p.s. I have been to real conferences with the words "resort" or "spa" in the title... but it's always off season and conference hotel prices are relatively cheap (under $100/night).

A resort in Arizona in late August, northern Utah in late February. The surrounding town has always been mostly closed for business. And the area is quite lovely, but only if you don't actually *go* outside.

rootlesscosmo said...

David Lodge's novel "Small World" has several conferences among its settings; the dénouement is at a very dramatic MLA in New York. It's hilariously funny--I imagine professors of English Literature and related disciplines get more of the jokes than anyone else, but I'm not an academic at all and I love it. Highly recommended.

Historiann said...

I've been deleting what sounds like the same e-mails you've been deleting, Notorious, but I hadn't really considered that they might be fake conferences. (Bogus yes, but not quite fake.)

I think you're probably right!

Meanwhile, I'll pay for my own vacations, and keep them off my CV.

Comrade PhysioProf said...

In the biomedical sciences, there are FUCKTONNES of these thinges. I get several e-mails a weeke flogging them.

dance said...

I've always figured that any conference individually emailing all professor addresses they can find, is bogus. Real conferences don't do that. They email their members, H-Nets, etc.

It's really really disturbing that an admin member forwarded one of those.

*Do* people really attend other sessions at these conferences? I always assumed they were full of people who gave their paper and spent the rest of the time at the beach.

Brian W. Ogilvie said...

Yeah, I get them too. I call them "fake," though I agree that "bogus" might be better. A sure clue is that the invitation often begins, "On behalf of the organizing committee...." And the person sending the invitation (or rather, whose name is used to send the invitation) is rarely a tenure-system faculty member. I've had to disillusion a couple of our grad students who have gotten such invitations.

the unknown said...

the thing 'bout attending a conference is being able to diversify ur network.

what if u meet someone in the conference who'd be interested of commercializing ur ideas?

what if u discover new insights on ur research by mingling with people from other discipline, whom at first, appear trivial to ur standard?

i try not to be too judgmental bout conferences. if the corporation is prepared to cover all the expenses why not? opportunities tend to come from places we least expect.

i once met a research engineer who told me how he came bout to solve a complex problem in queueing theory by listening to ideas sparked by a group of sociologists.

then again, *serendipity* is an offensive notion to some researchers. if this is the case, it is best for these researchers to ignore 'em fake conferences :P

Anonymous said...

Would this conference qualify as bogus? I was just submitting when I read your post,and now I wonder:

Notorious Ph.D. said...

Anon, I wouldn't know how to call this one: They do have a very high registration fee, it's run by a commercial entity, and they make a point of going some very fancy places, so that part makes me think "profit-taking junket."

On the other hand, they have universities and faculty deeply involved as advisory board and supporters, and there are definite themes (broad ones, but themes nonetheless) that they're organizing the conference around, an interesting structure, and the publications seem to have double-blind peer review.

They are being experimental here, but we don't want to assume that anything but the traditional fusty conference held on a college campus is automatically bogus.

Anyone else out there have any experience with this particular conference?

Notorious Ph.D. said...

Okay, I've gone and taken a look at the organizing entity's information. From what I can tell, this is a business that specializes in organizing scholarly conferences, publications, etc. As a business, they do want to make a profit. But they also seem to be sincere about their mission.

I'm reading them as sort of like wedding planners of the conference circuit: they want to be profitable, but that doesn't mean that the marriage is fake.

In cases like this, the value of a conference depends on the quality and commitment of the people attending. So my best advice would be to get your hands on lists of past presenters and keynote speakers. Is this a group you want to be a part of?

the unknown said...

what is it that they say 'bout analysis?

analysis paralysis?


Anonymous said...

Thanks so much! I found the same mixed signals -- some big, respectable names, but some anomalous (to me) features, like *rounds* of submission (unheard of in my field), unnamed plenary speakers (though it's still early), etc. Also new to me, there's a list of papers accepted in previous rounds. Again, a mixed bag of names, but much of it interesting and apparently substantive. And I love the idea of a conference not limited by the same old structures in my field...

Anonymous said...

And what about a virtual "conference" where you do not have to present at all, only to upload your full paper intended to be published in the proceedings?

Recently my univesity posted an announcement about a certain "The 1 st Global Virtual Conference" which seems like a bogus event to me (or at least, rather a money-making business scheme than an academic event). They co-operate with journals included in Jeffrey Beal's "Predatory open-access publishers" list, and i really do not want any of my papers being published in such journals. But since my univesity decided to circulete their call i do not know what to think about them.

Notorious Ph.D. said...

Anonymous, my guess would be that this was one of many conference advertisements that come to the office of some dean or provost at your university, to an account that gets handled by a non-academic staffer who simply passes them on, thinking that faculty might be interested. This does indeed look like a suspect conference; I'd ignore it.