A puzzled reader sent along this notice of a meeting next month in London. It’s ostensibly on natural products, but he noted a conspicuous lack of anyone he’d ever actually heard of in the field, and the more he read into the details of the conference, the more otherworldly it seemed.
He’s right. There have been conferences of this sort for years, but this is the first one I’ve seen in a high-profile venue like London, since the last time I looked, industrial cities in China were their classic habitat. (I freely admit to not having kept up with this evidently booming business, though). There are a number of giveaways, such as the way that the phrase “Pharmacognosy, Phytochemistry and Natural Products” seems to have been dropped into a bunch of template text, over and over (three times in the first paragraph, for example, which is not bad going for just two sentences). The part about how the conference proceedings will be abstracted by all sorts of people (why, even Google Scholar!) is another warning sign that this is a combination junket/CV padder. I found the phrase “The conference solicits contributions of abstracts, papers and e-posters that address themes and topics of the conference” to be particularly fetching as well. A look into the organizer’s web site shows that they have booked twenty other “conferences” in the same two days in the same hotel on a ridiculously wide range of topics. An infallible mark of quality, that.
In case you’re wondering, an “e-poster” appears to be a five-minute presentation, five slides maximum. I have seen (and given) five-minute talks, but they’re not easy to do, and my suspicion is that this format is on the program in order to increase the number of people who will pay the registration fee. That’ll be 450 euros if you want to present, and 250 euros if you just want to show up and sit through the presentations, God help you. That will, though, get you a “certificate of attendance”. The conference organizers, if that’s the word we’re looking for, have published a selection of the accepted presentations, and I’ll be hosed down if I can figure out the relevance of several of them to the supposed topic of the meeting. And if these are the ones they’re advertising, the others must really be something.
Why am I so uncharitable? Because this whole thing is sponsored by WASET, a known predatory publisher, run by a former science teacher in Turkey (and his family) whose domain is registered in Azerbaijan. Here’s a report from Armenia (we can assume that they have no love for the Azerbaijanis) on a scandal last year in the Egyptian press, when a supposed Egyptian-invented “Complete Curing Device” that could kill HIV and the hepatitis C virus from outside the body made a big splash there. (The thing seems to have been a combination of a dialysis machine and a dowsing rod, and if you Google it you will be taken on a tour of some of the least reliable news sources known to mankind). It was published in one of the array of WASET journals, which all have titles in the form “International Journal of Adjective, Adjective, Adjective, Adjective and Adjective Engineering”, and thus fooled some credulous Egyptian press outlets, until someone actually looked into the situation. An Egyptian news organization – and good for them – tried the classic copy-a-pile-of-unrelated-text trick on WASET, and got their “paper” accepted within hours along with a request for $400.
So these people publish crap. And they organize “conferences” that have the same names as legitimate ones (and sometimes the same copy-pasted organizing committee!), forcing the original organizers to send out email warning people not to fall for the WASET one. These charades allow people to fly in from around the world and listen to themselves speak for five minutes at ninety euros a minute, all for a line on their CV and a trip to London, paid for (I presume) out of someone else’s funds. It’s a scam. It’s a waste of time. Even a tourist junket to London is going to be a bit complex under these conditions, because despite the obligatory shot of Westminster on the conference home page, you’re going to be ten miles away, in the Holiday Inn out by Wembley.
And besides, how clueless can someone be? You have to have an internet connection to have heard about the meeting, not to mention sending your 450 euros to these carnival barkers. You could use that same internet connection and about five minutes of your time to find out that the WASET conferences are widely reviled as bogus. The most likely explanation by now for anyone attending one of these things is a joint exercise in fraud.