Academic fake news: “Information Wars” Part 2 of 4

July 24, 2018
Felicia Smith
Fake conference

Counterfeit Conferences

Welcome back to part two of my four-part blog series about academic fake news. The first part of my series examined predatory journals and who is to blame. Although literacy commandos are trying to hold the line against fake news, predatory publishers constantly find innovative ways to manipulate academia. Therefore, this second part of my series deals with another alarming aspect of academic fake news; that of counterfeit conferences. What is a fake conference you ask? Basically, they mimic names and branding styles of legitimate conferences as part of their deceptive moneymaking schemes. They purportedly take place in conference venues, under serious sounding names that are usually hijacked from legitimate conference offerings. Interested presenters can simply purchase a roster spot and be listed as part of the event’s proceedings.

Actual presenter attendance at these make-believe conferences is, optional. These are typically poorly attended events, most likely because they are borderline imaginary. Although the locations are advertised as lavish venues, they are likely just single, windowless rooms, in a shoddy locale. Presumably, the enormous cost-savings add to the profit margins of these hosting shysters. The conference hosts have extremely aggressive marketing campaigns, including everyone’s favorite, direct marketing (spam) emails.

Predatory publishing is an organized, profitable industry that has spawned the latest business of sponsoring fraudulent professional conferences. A company in India, called OMICS International is an infamous leader in the growing industry of academic journal fraud. In addition to publication requirements for promotions, there is also the expectation that those same academic employees present at professional conferences. Enter the predatory profiteers.

OMICS is infamous, in the lesser well-known business practice called, conference fraud. These predators host conferences that sell slots to presenters, regardless of whether the presenters intend to show up or not. Cynical academics might see fake conferences as another quick and easy way to add credentials that are sorely needed to build their résumé. Both moneymaking schemes exploit fundamental weaknesses of the academic career advancement system.

Predatory journals are not the only ones that disseminate false information or simply nonsense-information. Two can play at that game. This was the case with, Christopher Bartneck, a college professor in New Zealand, who submitted a paper to the OMICS International Conference on Atomic and Nuclear Physics. At first glance, that sounds like a seriously impressive conference. The problem began when Professor Bartneck received a Call for Proposals, because he readily admits that he does not know anything, at all, about physics. Professor Bartneck, was drafted into the Information Wars at that moment. Luckily for our new recruit, fake conferences view subject expertise as non-essential.  

There are tales of brave souls who in the course of actual combat have picked up handheld grenades, for the sole purpose of hurling them back from whence they came. Thereby causing the enemy’s weapon to explode inside of that same enemy’s camp. Perhaps, this was the reason that Professor Bartneck composed a paper using only the iOS auto-complete feature on his iPhone. And if you have any personal experience using auto-complete you understand intuitively that his auto-generated content was utterly ridiculous and incoherent.  Notwithstanding, his paper was accepted within three hours; thus, spreading the academic fake news plague. Such an unreasonably expedited acceptance rate is usually an indication that this is a predatory company.

Just in case the thought of an auto-complete composed conference paper is not frightening enough, the predatory behavior gets even scarier. OMICS has now begun buying highly respected scientific journal publishing companies. They just detonated the fake news IED, (Improvised Explosive Device), in the Great Information Wars.  OMICS sent shockwaves through academia when it bought Andrew John Publishing Inc. (AJPI) and Pulsus Group.  This was explosive because the two acquired companies own more than twelve legitimate and reputable publications.

The military theme is meant to be hyperbolic, but the seriousness of these issues cannot be overstated. OMICS is so egregious that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) filed a realcase against this company that traffics in fake products. The FTC is a governmental consumer protection agency responsible for deceptive business practices. The FTC charged OMICS with deceptive publishing practices, claiming that consumers, academics and researchers have all suffered substantial injury because of violations regarding the nature of their publications.  The FTC added an additional charge accusing them of hiding outrageous publication fees, ranging from a few hundreds to thousands of dollars. The FTC was not done yet, it later accused OMICS of literal kidnapping, because they essentially held authors’ submissions hostage, until the authors paid the (ransom) publication fees. This company’s mere existence is proof that we are on an information death march leading to an inevitable academic fake news Armageddon.

Individual journals that were formerly owned by AJPI and Pulsus, are trying to break their contracts with OMICS. Approximately six journals have already successfully terminated their publishing contracts with OMICS. This is a case of fake news terrorism, using legitimate journals as shields. By blending in with legitimate journals, the predatory journals are less identifiable. Time to call in the information literacy sharp shooters and snipers for reinforcements.

Fake conferences are the latest mutation in the devolution of scholastic purity. These predatory businesses are information parasites earning money, at the expense of scholarship, initially but society, ultimately. Because this is such a profitable business model, there will be continued growth of predatory journals and fraudulent conferences. This growth will indubitably lead to the proliferation of weapons of mass distortion!

If you are so inclined, please stay tuned for the part three which is the most thought-provoking portion of my four-part series tomorrow.

Click here to read the first post in this series.