MD, PhD, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd.

We probably have all heard of predatory journals. The phenomenon of ‘predatory conferences’ seems to be less-well appreciated. Hardly a day goes by that I do not receive emails like the one below:

________________________________________________________

Dear Dr. E Ernst ,

Good day!

After the success of Traditional Medicine-2018 in Rome, Italy, on behalf of the Organizing committee, we are delighted to invite you to be a speaker at our upcoming “3rd World Congress and Expo on Traditional and Alternative Medicine” (Traditional Medicine-2019) which will be held during June 06-08, 2019 in Berlin, Germany.

Traditional Medicine-2019 will focus on the theme “Natural and Scientific Approach for Treatment and Rehabilitation”…

_________________________________________________________

I have chosen this particular one because it refers to the success of a recent conference in Rome. This is a conference where I was a member of  the organising committee and have been listed as a keynote speaker. Here is the original entry from the programme:

Keynote Forum 09:15-09:55

Title: Integrative Medicine: Hype or Hope? Ernst Edzard, University of Exeter, United Kingdom

And here is the strange tale how it all came about:

After receiving a barrage of similar invitations and having ignored them for months, I thought that maybe I am unnecessarily suspicious – perhaps these conferences are not as dodgy as they appear to be. So, I responded to one email and stated the usual things:

  • I do not insist on a fee,
  • I want my expensed paid,
  • I need a topic that I feel comfortable with,
  • I need to know who else is speaking,
  • I must know who is sponsoring the event,
  • the whole thing must fit into my time-table.

I got an enthusiastic response and, even though not all my questions were answered, they agreed to fund my travel and hotel costs with a lump sum of 300 Euro. They asked me to act as chair of the entire meeting and as ‘signing authority for the conference’ (I don’t know what this means) but I declined. Yet I wanted to see how the whole thing would play out. So, I accepted a keynote lecture, agreed to be a member of the organising/scientific committee, and send them my abstract.

Then I did not hear anything for a long time (normally, I would, as a member of the organising/scientific committee, have expected to receive abstract submissions for review and other material). When someone sent me an email about it, I noted that the organisers were advertising the conference with my name and photo. I was irritated by that, but decided to play along so that I could get to the bottom of all this. Then, about 6 weeks before the event came this email from the organisers:

Dear Dr. Ernst ,

Greetings of the day!!

We are glad to have your presence at Traditional Medicine 2018.

Hope this mail finds you in good spirits.

Kindly find the attached final program for the Conference.

Could you please confirm us your check in & check out dates.

Revert back to me for further queries…

I replied as follows:

I will look at the possibilities of trains, flights etc., once you send me the promised funds for buying my tickets.

e ernst

________________________________________________________

And the rest was silence!

I did not hear a word from them after telling them that they need to send me the money before I commit myself into buying flight tickets etc. Nor did I expect to hear from them after that.

The run-up to the conference was too bizarre, in my view, for a credible conference:

  • The organisers seemed to know next to nothing about the topic of the conference.
  • They signed with English names and had a London address, but their language skills seem to be limited.
  • They had few of the features that are typical for a serious conference.
  • Almost all of their emails seemed strangely vague.
  • I got the impression that the entire organisation is not run by a thinking person but by a computer.
  • They seemed to organise dozens of conferences at any one time.
  • All their conferences were in towns that might seem attractive to visit.
  • None were associated with a leading scientist’s place of work.
  • They wanted my commitments but never committed themselves to anything tangible.

In a word, they seemed phony!

Of course, in the end, I did not fly to Rome and did not deliver my keynote lecture. Evidently, this did not stop them to email me soon after stating “After the success of Traditional Medicine-2018in Rome, Italy, on behalf of the Organizing committee…”

The reason for writing this is to warn you: there are obviously quite a few (not so) clever people out there who want to get hold of your cash by tempting you to attend an apparently interesting conference in an attractive town which, once you participate, turns out to be a waste of time, money and effort.

7 Responses to Beware of predatory conferences: they want your cash and offer nothing worthwhile

  • Thank you so much for taking the trouble to investigate these phoney conference invitations. Nine years since I retired, like you I still get an average of two invitations of this type per week, along with a similar number of invitations to contribute an article to a predatory journal.

    I routinely bin the invitations unanswered, but their frequency suggests there must be money to be made from some gullible individuals.

  • @ Prof. Ernst:
    I can´t hit the junk button fast enough whenever I get an Email starting with “Greetings of the day”, or “Dear Professor” (I don´t belong to the chosen few), etc. It happens nearly on a daily basis.

    The conference that you describe seems to be just simple and easy to detect fraud. Obviously, the fraudsters never intended to hold the conference.
    But in my view, it is far worst that many conferences actually take place that pretend to be legitimate, but are of extremely low scientific quality. These conferences also are a simple money grab, but in addition they lend credibility to unscientific work, such as CAM.

    As you will know, the investigative journalist Peter Onneken very recently made a great documentary film about this topic, where he was even able to become a speaker at the “7th World Congress on Breast Cancer”, without having any medical credentials (just a fraud publication about the (fictitious) health benefits of Chia seeds).
    For those who haven´t seen the film (in German):
    https://www1.wdr.de/mediathek/video/sendungen/quarks-und-co/video-betrug-statt-spitzenforschung—wenn-wissenschaftler-schummeln-100.html

    • I have to partly take back my statement that the fraudsters did not hold the conference in Rome.
      Actually, after having a look at the webpage, I am not sure about it. This might have been one of the conferences I referred to, which indeed took place but certainly was of extremely low (or no) scientific quality.

      How can I find out if this conference took place or not?!
      Guess I should ask one of the organizers, fortunately the list is still online:
      https://traditionalmedicine.scientifictree.com/organizing-committee

      Only one name on the organizing team rings a bell:
      • Ernst Edzard
      Professor
      University of Exeter , Germany
      (Didn´t know that we have an Exeter University in Germany…)

      So, Prof. Ernst, did you get good feedback from the participants?
      😉

      Joking aside, I think that it is extremely brazen and simpe fraud that they use your good reputation (and image) to promoter their conference. I wonder if it would be possible for you to sue them. At the very least, they should be forced to take down this website.

  • The only conference at which I have been invited to speak is at the RSM Retired Fellows next April (on Alternative Medicine would you believe!) – but these ‘suspicious conferences and alternative meetings’ (SCAAM) are what they say on the tin.
    The question is: has anyone been foolish enough to actually pay to be a registrant?

    Could there be a double scam in that registrants pay a fee to attend the ‘SCAAM’, do not actually attend (and don’t mind that there is no conference), but claim tax breaks for attending a nice place to be a visitor and have a holiday?

    There are suspicions that this tax scam is worked by some even when the conference is legitimate.
    They may go to the trouble of registering at the venue ab initio , and collecting a nice ‘certificate of attendance’, but then depart.

  • “They seemed to organise dozens of conferences at any one time.
    All their conferences were in towns that might seem attractive to visit.”

    I think they are organizing boondoggles and junkets in attractive cities, and a lot of institutions are paying to have staff go to tourist destinations for useless conferences.

    Or these are being used as tax write-offs as “professional meetings” when it’s really a vacation.

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