According to one of my customers at Admiral Storage, there is a money-making scheme run by some particularly disreputable people that is currently doing the rounds.
He’s not part of it, of course, but over a coffee he told me a most disturbing story that calls the moral fibre of one or two people in the academic community into question.
The tale involves offering a conference for which delegates have to register in advance. Anyone who then actually does turn up to the conference finds that, not only is it not taking place, but that the address for the conference that is given is in fact not a conference venue at all. Generally speaking it is a pub. And not even an upper class pub at that.
These conferences can be on anything – “Climate Change” conferences (normally with the name “International” in the title) are particularly popular in this regard. But choose an academic subject and you’ll find a conference on it going on somewhere this week.
The unsuspecting recipient of the promotional emails is invariably invited to submit a paper to be delivered at the conference, and when this is paper is accepted (as it always is) there is the request for an “administrative fee” to be paid by the speaker.
On the other hand delegates from developing countries can attend for free – a nice touch since it suggests there will be a big audience.
Of course, the address of the conference office is a fake, as is the address of the conference itself (pubs in north London seem to be nominated quite often – although I am not quite sure why. Maybe addresses in south London don’t have the right ring).
So, I wondered, why would serious scientists be taken in by such a scam? Wouldn’t they go a-checking before they submit their payment for delivering a speech or simply attending to listen to speeches?
Indeed I wondered that even more when I started to look at some of the email adverts for these scamferences as they have become known, because even without having any knowledge of or interest in some of the subjects that they deal with I could tell that the events were likely to be fraudulent.
The use of repeated exclamation marks (as in “delegates from developing countries can attend for free!!!!”) is normally quite a giveaway. As are the misspellings, the misuse of scientific jargon, and the complete misunderstanding of scientific measurement.
For example, in one advert I saw, a description of the space available in the “Main Conference Hall West” was accompanied by a statement that this is 3002 m x 3002 m – which would actually give us a room with four dimensions. This, of course, could be fun and would presumably involve time travel, but doesn’t actually give one a sense that the organisers actually know about any science whatsoever.
However, as I discussed these matters with my colleagues at Admiral while contemplating the writing of this little note, I had it pointed out to me that the august “Central Hall Westminster” which is advertised as “Central London’s Largest Conference Venue” and most assuredly does exist, and does host some important conferences, has (according to its website) a “space” of “292sq”. Square what, we are not told. Just square.
But, as I say, Central Hall Westminster is real and not involved in anything untoward. However the scamferences are completely unreal. So how is it that people sign up to go to them even when to me, as a total non-scientist, and indeed non-academic, I can see that this is not real?
I spoke to a few friends who are more in touch with the academic world than I am, and was told something rather alarming.
Obviously what I am going to reveal here relates to just a tiny, tiny, tiny number of people in the academic world, and not the overwhelming majority who are dedicated, hard-working people, who would never do anything amiss.
But it seems that there are a couple of reasons why a handful of scurrilous people could get involved.
The first is that participation in an international conference can look really good on a CV, and once the conference is over there may well be very few ways in which one can check that the conference actually took place.
However in this regard the scammers are themselves being scammed it seems, because in reality there is no need for the would-be academic even to register for the conference. Just saying that he/she had been there could be enough.
The second is that some scurrilous academics are so certain that the administration of their august institutions is not all that it ought to be. They are in fact simply looking for their institution to pay airfares and hotel bills and are certain that no one in admin is going to check that the event they are attending is actually taking place.
Indeed some (so I am told) even offer to pay for the admission to the conference themselves if the university will pay for the travel and residency costs. “We’ll have to see receipts” says the administrator, attempting to appear efficient. And for this there is no problem.
It is indeed becoming a most murky world.
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