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The Scientific Literature

Dear Dr. Derek. . .

A minor theme around here recently has been bogus publications and bad conferences. Interestingly, I’ve had three invitations within the past few weeks to speak at meetings in China – once on antivirals, once on antibodies, and most recently on molecular diagnostics. Perhaps it’s my publication record in those areas that recommended me? Nope. I have no publication record in any of those fields. Maybe it’s because of this blog? That’s a lousy reason to invite someone to give a technical presentation, but hey, it’s better than no reason at all, right? Nope, not that either. The letters are make no mention of anything other than the fact that (on behalf of the organizing committee, natch) I’m invited to give a speech.
So let’s go with “no reason at all”, other than (1) I can breathe, (2) I can speak, (3) I can thus fill up a slot in the presentation schedule, and (4) I can presumably pay the conference registration fee. The invitations themselves all come from different contact people, with varying skills in English. The most recent one addresses me as “Dear Dr. Derek”, for example, and goes on through a tangle of subject-verb disagreements and dropped definite articles to invite me to “keep the moment going”. Now, I don’t object to bad grammar on the part of a non-native speaker (the letter’s English is a hell of a lot better than my Chinese), but then again, I’m not organizing a conference by sending out e-mails in the language, either. For which I’m grateful.
But all of the invites are from the same organization, BIT Life Sciences. These folks seem to have a real conference empire going over there, at least for the past two or three years. They have seven big ones scheduled for this year – perhaps I’ll eventually be invited to present at all of them. (I wonder if anyone will make the whole circuit like that – do you get a special T-shirt or something?) I note that one of BIT’s other sidelines is “Nobel Across China“, where they invite various life-science Nobel winners to come and give presentations. I quote from BIT:

“As we all know, Nobel Prize is reputed as an international authorized prize throughout the world, which is a scientific reward for Technology Innovation & Creations. It is designed to bring creative minds as well as exploratory spirits here rightly and stimulate domestic scientists and young generations to pursue new exploration and creation in Life Sciences with surpassing spirits for the crest of Science & Technology.”

Well, that’s fine. I know, I know: I really shouldn’t be making fun of the way that this is phrased. But it’s a mystery to me why they don’t run these things past a native English speaker. (I notice that James Fallows, a man with plenty of China experience, is baffled by the same thing). And for all I know, it’s done some good for people in the audience to attend these presentations. My hopes for BIT’s other conferences aren’t as high, though, not if they’re having to e-mail people like me out of the blue to fill out the program.
Has anyone out there had dealings with BIT, or attended one of their meetings? Are they mostly a chance to make some business contacts in China, or what? First hand experiences welcome. . .
And on the subject of odd Chinese conferences, I’m still looking around for a link to an article I read months ago – I believe on a link from James Fallows, although I can’t track it down. A group of expatriates were recruited to attend a steel industry conference in a Chinese city, even though they knew nothing about the field. Bus transportation and free food were provided, along with fake business cards, so long as they spent the day wandering around giving the exhibition an international look. . .

22 comments on “Dear Dr. Derek. . .”

  1. Vader says:

    My colleagues and I get conference spam regularly. Ours comes from Venezuela rather than China, though.

  2. processchemist says:

    We received unsolicited mails from conference organizers only a couple of times. We get spam (and also undesired phone calls) on a regular basis from “active sellers” working for some european exhibitions.

  3. SB says:

    From the BIT Life Sciences website:
    I believe that you organized a great conference and build a bridge between us and home town-China. All of you did great job, I really appreciate your effort. —- Novartis Institute for Genomics Institute, USA.
    I had a great trip in China. The meeting is very informative. Hope we will have more contacts in the future.
    —- Pfizer Global Research & Development ”
    Interesting that representatives from Novartis (USA) and Pfizer use the same sort of English found throughout the website, when recommending these meetings.

  4. Sili says:

    so long as they spent the day wandering around giving the exhibition an international look

    I smell a business opportunity …
    And my sick-‘leave’ is due to end in a month …

  5. anon says:

    “Interesting that representatives from Novartis (USA) and Pfizer use the same sort of English found throughout the website, when recommending these meetings.”
    So; that’s where I’m going wrong with my carefully crafted, UK English-written applications. Perhaps the managers who read the CVs and letters don’t appreciate the nuances of the language I use?

  6. chris says:

    I get these too – pharmacogenomics, mol diagnostics and med chem. I’m a geneticist.

  7. Anonymous says:

    I have the same invites. They probably want to get enough people to attend those conferences. Not knowing whom to invite, they just look up for names on the web and establish a data bank. Once your name is there, you got invited to every meeting they organize. Not a very good way to establish a reputation.

  8. Eddie Paulos says:

    And I wonder why Bharat Chowrira is represented as Vice President Merck while he heads Nektar.

  9. anonymous says:

    This reminds me of the WuXi press releases that I read on Yahoo finance. One recent release announced that WuXi selected the ThalesNano H-cube for performing hydrogenations. That is kind of like announcing that they have chosen Buchi for the rotavap needs. Another release proclaimed that Barry Trost was going to speak at WuXi. Again not a big thing for the US, but the Chinese hype it like the Pope is visiting.

  10. Michael says:

    I once had to write a glossy advertorial report on a medical conference in China. The organisers left in all my typos and technical errors (and introduced a few of their own) but insisted that I change it to feature the anodyne comments of the professors and heads of departments rather than the actual research findings. It’s all about looks, not substance.

  11. Maks says:

    My professor working doing basic research on ion channels received a couple of invitations for a conference in Paris on cosmetics. When he asked “why me?” they just said that is also interesting for people outside of this field.

  12. Thomas McEntee says:

    Before WWII, German chemists probably were saying similar things about “those wannabe bumpkins in the US”… Do not mistake naive-appearing English for anything other than that. There are reasons beyond the sheer size of China’s population that Tsinghua University and Peking University emerged in the 2004-2006 period as the top sources of undergraduates who earned Ph.D. degrees in US universities (Science, v321, p. 185, 11JUL08). They are smart, they work hard, and they are hungry. They have the same concerns about personal freedom, their health, and the welfare of their children as we do. There’s only one spaceship and we’re all on it.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Been there, done that! Thank you for the comments on behalf of my countrymen. China is still a developing country. It will take a long time (at least 50 years in terms of GDP per capita and 100 years with a fully developed infrastructure) for China to become a developed country. For now, I will send the post to the organizer and ask them to make some changes to the way they work.
    1. let scientists (academic societies or professional associations)organize conferences and BIT take care of the business such as working on meeting venues, registration and venue.
    2. hire native English speakers as translators.

  14. Anonymous says:


  15. Anonymous says:

    I do not work for Genentech or Roche. I believe both companies will try their best to keep things the same as long as Genentech keeps delivering. Otherwise, things will change!
    No one can be sure if they can keep his promises 5 years from now in such a dying industry.

  16. Anonymous says:

    I personally believe that the real people behind BIT Life Sciences are not Chinese, but the poor English is left there intentionally so that readers will be convinced that they are Chinese. One can easily recruit a native English speaker, at a pretty low cost, in China now.
    It seems quite obvious that a few experienced professional cheaters have entered China, managed to register a business for organising conferences, and initiated (perhaps rather successfully) a large-scale cheating operation. Innocent Chinese scientists and students will simply race to where Nobel prize winners are.

  17. Marly says:

    My dad works in logistics / supply chain management. Suddenly, he is a doctor and qualified to present on “Bio Nano- Materials.”
    I binged this conference to make sure that there wasn’t a legitimate organization that was confusing him with a researcher of the same name. Nope, just spam.

  18. Dave says:

    Although it may not be the case in this instance, I have seen fake conference spam where the ‘catch’ was that although you could get a free or reduced fee, you had to stay in a ‘pre-arranged’ hotel. The contact information was provided, and when contacted the ‘hotel’ requested payment in advance via western union. Once funds are remitted that way, they are untraceable and un-reversable. The ‘conference’ never actually happens. Caveat Emptor.

  19. Estelle says:

    get this chinese nonsense invites left and right. it is scam. who in their right mind would go to this drek.

  20. Tom says:

    One key bit of proof is the email addresses that the notifications come from. I’ve had two emails, ostensibly from the same person, in relation to the same conference. One is: , which might be real, I suppose. But the other – from the same person, remember – is: .
    Using multiple email addresses to avoid spam filters is a true mark of the scam…

  21. Tom says:

    … whoops: should have previewed that comment… Let’s just say that the first address included the phrase ‘neuro-talk’, while the second included ‘seafoodmarketing’…

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