This page outlines the differences between good conferences, bad
conferences and academic scams.
The purpose of conferences
Why would anyone organise a conference?
To promote the exchange of ideas in a particular area
- To promote networking by researchers
- To generate funds for a non-profit organisation
- To focus attention on a particular area
- To promote the organisers' reputations
- To make a profit for the organisers
Why attend a conference?
- To learn about the area
- To interact with other researchers
- To add a publication to your CV
- To have a holiday somewhere nice
Most of the motivations above are generally altruistic, but the last two in
each list are not. Promoting the organisers' reputations and adding to your CV
are not necessarily bad; this is how academia works. However, these four
motivations result in a lot of low-quality work being published.
Quality: If your motivation for attending a confernce is to have a holiday or to add (uncritically) to your CV the quality of the conference won't matter much. In
contrast, if you attend for the other reasons quality is a major concern.
Imagine attending a conference and not making any useful contacts or coming
across any good ideas: you would not have not gained much!
You might still consider this conference worthwhile because you got a
publication out of it. After all, having publications may help impress your
supervisor or thesis examiners or potential employers. Publications will also
help your career as a scientist: you will be more likely to get funding, to be
promoted, to attract students, to be invited to give talks and so on. However,
quality is vital and there is a huge range in the quality of conferences and
journals. These days it's possible to get anything published. In fact, in the
famous SCIgen affair a
computer-generated nonsense paper was accepted by a conference. As a result,
publications in themselves mean little; what matters is their quality. In fact,
if you publish in low-quality conferences, or, worse, junk conferences, you will
find this hurts your reputation more that it helps.
Spam and junk conferencesA spam conference (or spamference) is one which is advertised with
junk mail (spam). It is genuinely difficult to reach a large number of
researchers in a particular area to advertise a conference, and some organisers
of legitimate conferences are tempted into using junk mail. These conferences
tend, however, to be lower quality ones, or new (or one-off) events which need
to boost their attendence in this way. Well-established, high-quality
conferences are well-known in their area and don't need to resort to junk mail.
These are the conferences which count most on your CV.
The conferences which send the most junk mail tend to be junk conferences,
which have little or no academic value and are only run to make a profit for the
oraganisers. Some researchers participate to get a free holiday and a
publication but others participate in good faith, not realising the nature of
the event. The point of this page is to ensure that you are not one of hem.
Where the money goesMost conferences charge a fee for attendance which is put toward the cost of
running the event. Some events also raise money for a non-profit organisation
with which they are affiliated. The Association for the Advancement of
Artificial Intelligence is an example of such an organisation, and it is a
legitimate one, although I don't know whether fees from their conferences
contribute to the association.
Some conferences, especially larger ones, subcontract some of the
non-academic organisational work. Many conferences, however, are organised
entirely by volunteers, although there may be concessions to the main organisers
such as free registration. Invited speakers generally get free registration, a
contribution toward travel costs, and possibly an honorarium (a small payment).
The details of these arrangements are not usually publicised and there is the
potential for dubious use of funds, but as each incarnation of a particular
conference series is generally organised by different people each year it is
difficult for misuse of funds to persist.
Although I see no reason why for-profit conferences cannot be of good quality
there are a number of junk conferences which are run solely for profit, and
where the quality of work is given little or no consideration.
Here are some warning signs but note that bona fide conferences may show some of
these warning signs; in particular many reputable conferences are held in nice
- The conference is advertised using spam
- The conference has the same chair every year. (Bona fide conferences may
have the same people on an executive committee for many years, but probably
not the same chair.)
- The call for papers emphasises repeatedly that it is a "reputable"
conference with many "famous experts"
- The call for papers, and subject of the conference, is very general
- The chair has chaired dozens of other conferences but probably has few
good publications and does not work at a reputable institution
- The conference is in a very nice place
- You are invited by a stranger to organise a special session, or to
undertake some other activity for the conference which would normally
require some stature in the area, when you in fact do not have this stature.
For example if you are a PhD student it's unlikely you will be asked by a
stranger to take a high-profile role. Having said that, invitations to serve
on a programme committee are not that uncommon or that high-profile, and
advertising for special session proposals is fine as long as they're not
automatically accepted. http://fakeconferences.blogspot.com/
Open access journal scamsRecently open-access journals
have begun to appear. These journals provide free access to readers on the web
and charge authors to publish. This is a big improvement over the traditional
model of subscribing to journals since it makes results freely available to all.
However, it allows for a new type of scam.
In August 2008 I was invited to join the editorial board of a journal, which
is normally quite an honour. I work in the area of the journal but didn't
recognise the editor and decided to check him out on the web before replying. It
soon turned out this was an open access journal scam, which was new to me. The
"publisher" was in fact a single individual at a private address who was
attempting to recruit academics to serve on his various editorial boards in an
attempt to make them look legitimate and so attract others to the editorial
boards and to submit papers. This is what a major publisher does when setting up
a new journal, but a major publisher has the resources to do this properly
(remember the section on quality!). This individual appeared to be working on
his own and apparently is not affiliated with any insitution and doesn't even
have a degree. This is something like trying to pass yourself off as a doctor
without having gone to medical school.
See also: http://academic-spam.blogspot.com/