All You Need To Know About Predatory Conferences & How To Avoid Them

With few exceptions, the behaviour of most organizations that are engaged in the organizing of international academic conferences (both physical and online educational conferences) and academic events, in general, will be consistent. Therefore, the descriptions below of the typical characteristics of both authentic, non-predatory conferences and predatory conferences are written primarily at the organizational level. The five areas on which the organizations behind conferences are judged include – 

  • Selectivity, 
  • Footprint, 
  • Nature of Transaction, 
  • Credibility, and 
  • Substance.

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  • Selectivity
    • The first set of attributes concerns selectivity. The underlying optimistic presumption is that a reputable conference aspires to accept only contributions of adequate quality. 
    • The primary mechanism that organizers can use to ensure quality is peer review, the absence of which has been pointed to as an attribute of predatory conferences.
  • Most organizations say that their abstracts are peer-reviewed, and some made it a feature, presumably to promote their credibility. 
  • For example, one organization may mention on its website that submitted papers will be double-blind peer-reviewed by its external reviewers, based on originality and technical quality. 
  • However, the timing can cast doubt on these claims. While most organizations promise to make a decision quickly, specifying deadlines ranging from 24 hours to two weeks. 
  • In some cases, decisions are made at widely varying intervals, from the same day to over two months, and on average, a delay of 7.5 days. 
  • Abstracts could be submitted shortly before the start of the conference, although some organizations make this less obvious by initially setting shorter deadlines and then prolonging them. 
  • The timing, as a result, make rigorous peer review unlikely.
  • Some organizations send what are supposed to be review comments in response to abstract submissions. 
  • They aren’t particularly substantial; for example, some organizations submit a grid with checkmarks in the boxes labeled “excellent”, “good”, “fair”, etc.
  • Some send a few short sentences, for instance – “Your great efforts are appreciated insight into the growing body of knowledge”. 
  • Some submit reports with even minimal comments beyond the checkboxes that are clearly not written in response to submitted abstracts. 
  • Some submit identical reports for all abstracts that are submitted to them.
  • Some organizations submit reports that aren’t identical but are obviously recycled from a set of sentences, with the same sentences appearing in multiple “reviews”. 
  • Some reviews include the title of someone else’s abstract. In summary, although organizations claim that peer reviews are carried out, evidence suggests that the opposite is true.
  • A second assumption about authentic conferences is that organizing a successful event may require selectivity even among contributions deemed acceptable. 
  • For example, if the number of speaking slots is capped, weaker abstracts may be discarded in favor of stronger ones, or contributions close to the conference theme may be prioritized, etc. 
  • This suggests the need to have an overview of all submissions before deciding which to accept. 
  • This is why legitimate conferences usually make decisions in batches of two after the deadline rather than on an ongoing basis.
  • Not only do a lot of organizations promise a quick decision, but they also express doing so in terms of the interval – days or weeks – after submission of abstracts. 
  • Most abstracts receive a response well before the deadline. These two facts indicate that the decisions are taken as they are made and suggest that there is no intention to exercise selectivity.
  • Footprint
    • Another assumption is that legitimate conferences exist to bring people together who can benefit from learning about each other’s work and interaction. 
    • Predatory conferences have a broad footprint that defeats this ambition in two ways. 
    • It is crucial to note that such conferences are often multidisciplinary. It is important for researchers to be “particularly wary of purported conferences that combine several unrelated topics into one event.”
    • In most cases, steps are taken by organizers to hide this fact.
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  • Only a few organizers label their conferences as multidisciplinary – their websites listed numerous topics, as broad as “biology” and “engineering”, and rounding up by “etc”. 
  • Most other organizations look for the appearance of greater specificity. In the case of some organizations, this effect is slight; their conferences represent disciplines that are marginally associated with one another. 
  • On the other hand, some organizations’ conferences have fairly specialized topics (e.g. applied aerodynamics and wind resistance). 
  • However, they still organize several conferences in the same place on the same dates. 
  • For many of these, information (e.g. schedules) from past events will confirm that the conferences are indeed grouped into a single, broad and multidisciplinary event. 
  • This would not necessarily be obvious to a visitor to the conference website.
  • Predatory conferences can also take place several times during the year, possibly at different locations. 
  • To varying degrees, most organizations engage in this practice. One telltale sign of a fraudulent organizer is if it announces only one date and location for all its conferences throughout the year. 
  • Nevertheless, their websites indicate that in previous years some conferences are held multiple times a year. 
  • In contrast, some organizations offer each of their conferences once or, in some cases, twice a month in multiple cities around the world. 
  • Some organizations organize thousands of events with different names that may or may not recur (their websites don’t track it), but offer talks on very similar and recurring themes (e.g., multiple conferences have “diabetes” in their titles).
  • Ideal conferences have a focus narrow enough to bring together people who understand each other’s work and broad enough to take them out of their comfort zone to a beneficial extent. 
  • They’re big enough to provide relevant people to interact with and small enough to offer opportunities to do so. 
  • The perfect balance may not be possible to quantify (which perhaps explains why legitimate conferences come in various forms), but the practices adopted by predatory organizations are hostile to it. 
  • The large footprint strategy tends to lead to smaller audiences (because the potential audience is divided into several iterations of the conference) and gatherings where the work presented covers such a wide range that it would not be significant for many attendees. 
  • Programs from some organizers’ past conferences illustrate this. Only a few papers are submitted, and their programs list a handful of participants, some of whom do not give any communication. 
  • By providing something for everyone, the possibility of intellectual cross-pollination is reduced, even as incomes increases.
  • The Nature Of The Transaction
    • Conferences regularly charge fees, and some legitimate ones produce an overage, by design or by chance, but an underlying belief is that the pricing structure should serve the primary purpose, which is to create an intellectually stimulating event. 
    • For instance, the decision to set registration fees higher than the cost may be made in order to offer subsidized fees to Ph.D. students or to build a reserve for next year’s event. 
    • The fee structure of predatory conferences doesn’t quite reflect adherence to this principle.
  • It is widely suggested that predatory conferences are expensive. Given the wide variation between legitimate conferences, a comparison is difficult, but it’s pertinent that predatory conferences tend to be short. 
  • For instance, some organizations’ conferences are advertised as taking place in a two-day window, with six hours of sessions on the first day and the second day free for sightseeing and shopping. 
  • During these events, the advertised six hours are actually reduced to four. The fee structure on the websites of these organizations usually tend to suggest that the average fee paid is high. 
  • This is considered so in comparison to the probable value of four-hour events.
  • A remarkable aspect of the price structure is its uniformity. Most organizations charge the same fee regardless of location or time of year their conferences are held, while some have only minor variations between events. 
  • The costs of hosting a conference in (for instance), Bangkok in April or Paris in June are likely to differ, so consistency may be an indication that the fee structure is not cost-driven but by an estimate of what the market will bear.
  • Predatory conferences have been found to apply a pay-to-play model, such as charging higher fees for presenting papers than for simply attending. 
  • Only a few organizations adopt this practice of charging a fee for the submission of an article. 
  • Some even stipulate that authors whose names appear on a paper have to pay a fee even if they do not attend a conference. 
  • Some charge an additional fee for the submission of a second article. Some offer a way to indicate interest in being named a keynote speaker, but their websites do not say whether additional fees apply. 
  • There are also those conferences that have some form of associated publication for papers presented at the conference and, in some cases, additional fees.
  • In other cases, publications are linked to the registration fee and presented as a benefit of participation.
  • The presentation of a paper does not increase direct costs but, subject to adequate quality control, contributes to intellectual exchange. 
  • A pay-per-play model thus distinguishes predatory conferences from legitimate conferences by prioritizing revenue over quality. 
  • It also shows that the nature of the transaction is essentially different. 
  • In the same way that universities charge tuition in exchange for an educational experience, legitimate conferences “sell” intellectual experience.
  • Predatory conferences are like diploma mills, shortening experience and selling merit badges, like an entry on a resume, which are, in a legitimate model, the byproduct of experience.
  • Predatory conferences have been observed to be held in attractive tourist destinations, and part of the deal is the ability to subsidize a vacation trip with conference funding. 
  • Since the fact that what constitutes an attractive destination is to a large extent subjective and legitimate conferences are also held in attractive locations, this criterion is not an easy differentiator. 
  • It can be noted, nevertheless, that all but a few organizations in some way promote their conferences through destinations. 
  • Strategies include using destination photography, including tours and excursions, and bundling two conferences in different back-to-back cities.
  • Credibility
    • Legitimate conferences gain credibility through various channels, such as past events (for those that recur regularly) and association with respected people and organizations. 
    • Lacking legitimacy, many organizations resort to several strategies to convey a misleading image of credibility.
  • Name Recognition
    • On close observation, one can notice how the names of predatory conferences and their parent organizations are fashioned to cultivate credibility, for instance by positioning a conference as international and suggesting a tradition (eg, “10th International Conference on…”), giving it a name akin to a legitimate conference or suggesting that the parent organization is a globally recognized scholarly institution.
  • A lot of organizations use different combinations of these strategies. Some have words like “global” or “international” in their names; some include a word like “academic,” and seven state or suggest by their names that they are run by learned institutions or professional bodies.
  • Conference names for most also suggest history and tradition as ordinal numbers or by including the year in the name (e.g., International Conference, 2019). 
  • In most cases, there is insufficient material on conference websites to assess whether continuity is factual. 
  • Institutional Associations
    • The false claim of universities or other organizations as partners or sponsors is one of the telltale signs of a predatory conference. 
    • All organizations claim or suggest some sort of organizational association. 
    • It is not possible to systematically test the veracity of the claims, but most engage in practices that can be misinterpreted and, in some cases, make attempts at deliberate misdirection.
  • Some organizers hold their conferences on (sometimes highly respected) university campuses. 
  • Renting a venue does not imply endorsement, but legitimate conferences are often held on the premises of the universities that sponsor and organize them. 
  • Some potential participants may misunderstand the nature of the relationship, and some organizations may choose universities as locations for this reason. 
  • Some organizations claim or imply affiliation with one or more universities, and some with non-university institutions. 
  • Often, in neither case is the nature of the association specified. For instance, some organizations simply list twenty universities or academic bodies on a web page titled “our affiliations”. 
  • Some include the names and logos of Ivy League universities on their web pages but do not even directly indicate that they are affiliated.
  • Some organizations offer publication options for papers presented at their conferences, while most, call for indexing. 
  • Some organizations which claim that their journals are in the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ), can be verified and are, in most cases, found to be false. More frequently, they are misleading and/or irrelevant. 
  • For example, a lot of conference organizers claim that their conference proceedings publications are “indexed” on platforms such as Google Scholar and ResearchGate
  • Owing to the fact that neither is an index in the ordinary sense of the term, its use is inappropriate but contributes to a discourse of authenticity. 
  • Similarly, some organizations state that their “journals are submitted twice a year for evaluation and indexing in…”, followed by the names of respected indexes and databases. 
  • Regular submissions imply that the result is a rejection or that there would be no need to reapply, but an inexperienced researcher might miss that implication. 
  • Some organizations promise opportunities to publish in peer-reviewed journals, then list the names of several traditional subscription journals from well-known publishers as well as one of their in-house journals.
  • The implication is that lecturers have preferential access to high-quality publications in the same way as they do to the low-quality journal of other organizations, but this is not specified. 
  • In this way, true but meaningless statements are used to create a tone of false credibility.
  • People
    • Another source of credibility is the people associated with a conference, and everyone named would be involved as keynote speakers, scientific committee members, etc. 
    • The value of these claimed associations depends entirely on the reality of the association; if so, whether the appointees have sufficient expertise in the area to be able to add value; and whether they correctly assessed the nature of the conference.
  • Predatory media sometimes use the names of prominent academics without their consent. 
  • It is suggested that if website images are blurry or distorted, they may have been obtained without the knowledge of the person. 
  • Only in some cases will this prove to be a viable indicator. 
  • Sometimes, individuals are named keynote speakers at multiple organization conferences or serve on multiple scientific committees. 
  • Since few people have the expertise to perform these functions effectively at conferences ostensibly on very different topics, this may indicate either a conscious disregard for professional expertise or naivety. 
  • Neither speaks well for conferences.
  • Communication & Contacts
    • Various aspects of communication and contact can be identified as indicators of predatory conferences. 
    • These include –
      • the absence of an address or other contact information, 
      • a false pretense of a real address, 
      • the utilization of free web domains and email services, 
      • poor grammar, word choice, and spelling.
  • Some organizations offer no contact details other than an email address. 
  • Some specify an address in their acceptance letters but not on the websites. 
  • Some organizations provide addresses in different countries. 
  • Only some of these can be found on Google Maps and appear to be office buildings. 
  • Most give rise to suspicion. Some addresses cover a range of house numbers in descending order, e.g. 565–245 Elm Street. 
  • In all these cases, Google Maps will not be able to find the addresses as expressed; it cannot find each of the components (e.g. “565 Elm Street” and “245 Elm Street”). 
  • Some addresses show up on Google Street View as either car dealerships or apartment buildings. 
  • There are also those organizations that either do not provide an address or give one that appears to be inaccurate.
  • Most organizations have proprietary domains in their web and email addresses. 
  • In all but a few cases, the websites and/or correspondence contain at least some non-standard language features, although in many cases, these were not extended. 
  • Although requiring subjective assessment, the written English used on websites and correspondence apparently produced using a template should not necessarily cause concern, given that English is the lingua franca of the academic activity and that a great variety can be observed in its use. 
  • Unlike websites and form emails, ad hoc emails were less polished. 
  • It is possible to assume that efforts may be made (for instance, by employing a translator or a language editor) to avoid this visible characteristic associated with predatory conferences.
  • Substance
    • A final area to consider is the degree of content substance. 
    • The underlying belief is that a legitimate conference is intended to promote meaningful intellectual exchange. 
    • This is assessed on the basis of the programs with the names of speakers and their papers or the summary schedules showing session start and end dates and times. 
    • Conferences typically last two days, three days, or four days. 
    • Some organizations make current or past programs available, and they generally show that the days are not tight. 
    • For example, there are organizations that schedule two sessions totaling five and a half hours on the first day and a two-hour session in the morning on the second day. 
    • Some schedule sessions totaling fifteen hours on days one and three, with days two and four being entirely devoted to excursions. 
    • On average, organizations spend four hours and thirty-six minutes a day on keynote speeches and regular sessions.
  • These programs provide only partial information on the importance of the lectures. 
  • The advertised session times for programs of many conferences are sometimes reduced. 
  • Some organizations report fairly full days, but presentation sessions outnumber workshops, roundtables, and discussion sessions. It is unclear whether these are valuable interactions or fillers. 
  • Some organizations apparently use a model to schedule conferences regardless of attendance, which leads to anomalies. 
  • For instance, some organizations schedule regular hour-long sessions and allocate a varying number of presenters to them, so one slot has one presenter while another has five. 
  • Some grant thirty minutes for a slot titled “keynote + discussion”. 
  • These unconventional planning choices may indicate a greater concern with logistics rather than getting the most out of every item. 
  • Not every conference that offers tips for publishing journals and other supposedly valuable insights is a conference worth attending. 

Identifying Predatory Conferences

The questions listed below all have the potential to uncover some of the characteristics that distinguish predatory conferences from legitimate conferences. However, they vary widely in terms of usefulness in this effort and availability of answers. Some of them, nevertheless, are easier to answer and more helpful in distinguishing. This section rephrases the questions to provide a guide for researchers in deciding whether or not to submit to a conference. The list starts off with the most potentially impactful indicators; those at the end are less easily usable.

1. Does the conference cover a wide range of topics?

2. Are other conferences planned at the same place and on the same dates?

Broad inclusion is a feature of the vast majority of organizations, and it goes against a basic principle about the purposes of (legitimate) conferences. However, global conferences are often disguised as different events on different topics, scheduled simultaneously, and then bundled into one event. If the answer to the first question is “no”, the second question should be investigated by finding the parent organization’s website and researching other events. Very broad disciplinary coverage, overt or de facto, should be cause for concern for potential participants.

Questions three to six deal with characteristics that are strong indicators but are not always visible. Their absence does not constitute proof of a legitimate event.

3. Are accept/reject decisions promised promptly and/or within a specified time subsequent to submission?

4. Is the deadline for abstracts near the conference dates?

If a conference promises to make a decision within two weeks, meaningful peer review is unlikely, and decisions are likely to be made as they come. This is also a characteristic of the vast majority of organizations; nevertheless, in some cases, the information is not readily visible on the website and, without careful review, could be overlooked. A submission deadline immediately before the conference dates usually indicates inadequate time allocated for serious peer review. However, the practice of frequently extending deadlines obscures this feature.

5. Do presenters pay for the privilege?

Fee structures for legitimate conferences vary widely, but they generally bear some relation to cost. Presenting an article does not create cost and adds value. If an international conference charges a higher fee for presenting one paper or charges extra for a second paper, it indicates that the commodity for sale is something other than the right to attend an intellectually stimulating meeting.

6. Does the schedule seem substantial?

Legitimate and predatory conferences often provide a rough schedule showing session start and end times, which helps to get an idea of ​​how much meaningful scientific interaction is planned. However, schedules can be supplemented or modified.

Questions 7-10 relate to the probable value of the conference experience and are, as a result, arguably the most legitimate factors on which to base a decision. Nevertheless, they are subjective and require a certain degree of experience, so less experienced researchers, in particular, may find it difficult to answer them.

7. Are the organizations and individuals associated with the conference known and respected?

If a conference doesn’t have a reputation for fostering interaction, or if the attendees aren’t known in their field, the return on investment for attendance is questionable. Predatory conferences more often than not have generic names that promote a sense of obscure familiarity. It is crucial to probe beyond them and examine what, if any, is known about this event or the people and organizations connected with it.

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8. Have past conferences been of high quality?

Programs, abstract books, or past conference proceedings can provide a basis for judging the award for the next iteration. If past events contained few articles or little self-interest, there is no reason to look forward positively to the next event.

9. Are the fees reasonable in comparison to the anticipated value of the participation?

10. Is the conference presented as a junket?

Because of the fact that many legitimate conferences have high fees and most conferences promote some aspect of their location, these questions require subjective judgment as to whether the cost is excessively high relative to the anticipated value and whether the tourism opportunities seem to eclipse the substance.

Questions 11 to 16 relate to deception and are therefore exceptional indicators. However, it is not easy to reveal misleading or deceptive practices, and it is unrealistic to think that researchers contemplating possible conferences would want or be able to carry out an investigation. However, if a conference raises concerns about any of these issues, it should be taken with utmost seriousness.

11. Is there a proper peer review process in place?

12. Are all or almost all submissions accepted?

13. Keynoters, committee members, etc., are they really associated with the conference?

14. Are the claims of institutional approval real?

Almost all conferences claim that peer reviews take place and therefore imply that not all contributions are accepted, although this is not the truth. Most call for, at a minimum, partnerships or endorsements. Assertions of this kind cannot possibly be taken at face value. Remarkably few of these claims can be tested easily, but a few, such as indexing or inclusion in DOAJ, can.

15. Are the coordinates given and are they real?

Unlike most questions in this section, this can be tested relatively easily. A legitimate business provides customers with contact information and a legal address. A company that fails to do so, or offers an unverifiable or questionable address, may be found to be lacking credibility.

16. Does it seem like there’s no connection between the words and the message intended?

Answering this question demands a dive into discourse analysis but can potentially reveal a misdirection strategy. For instance, a statement that articles published in proceedings will be published with a DOI by CrossRef is relatively meaningless, so it is worth asking why it is made. Legit and respectable search results usually have DOIs, and CrossRef is one of the agencies authorized to issue them. Of course, having a DOI does not confer or guarantee respectability, but the assertion may be intended to lead potential participants into this kind of misleading thinking. Predatory conference organizations seem to have moved out of the Wild West and into a phase of false respectability. A careful assessment of a conference’s claims can reveal the discrepancy between what is claimed and the misleading impression it is meant to create.

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