Skepticism about science and medicine

In search of disinterested science

Fake, deceptive, predatory Science Journals and Conferences

Posted by Henry Bauer on 2013/04/20

Over the last several years I’ve been mildly amused at receiving invitations to conferences, to submit journal articles, to guest-edit theme issues of journals, to write e-books, and even to become editor of new journals. I’ve been mildly amused because I’ve been retired from my university for a dozen years, which is obvious from my website, where it’s also obvious what my views and writings are: for example, believing that HIV doesn’t cause AIDS.
Without thinking about it, I  just wrote those invitations off as mistakes by incompetent minor staff at the institutions issuing those invitations, who didn’t understand that my articles in Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons, Italian Journal of Anatomy and Embryology and chapters in such books as Opposing Viewpoints: AIDS [1], Against the Tide [2], or You Are STILL Being Lied To — The REMIXED Disinformation Guide to Media Distortion [3] are heretical and that no manuscript or theme issue or journal title suggested by me would withstand review by any informed representative of mainstream beliefs about HIV/AIDS.

But a little while ago I learned about the magnitude and enormity of dishonest publishing after a friend alerted me to this informative summary:
“Because its [sic] become so easy to start a new publication in this new pixel-driven information economy, a new genre of predatory journals is emerging at an alarming rate. The New York Times just published an exposée [sic] of sorts  on the topic. Its [sic] only an exposée [sic] of sorts because the scientific community knows about the problem. There are blogs set up to shame the fake journals into halting publishing.  There are tutorials  online for spotting a fake journal. There’s even a list created and maintained by academic librarian Jeffrey Beall that keeps an eye on all the new fake journals coming out. When Beall started the list in 2010, it had only 20 entries. Now it has over 4,000. The journal Nature even published an entire issue on the problem a couple of weeks ago. So again, scientists know this is a problem. They just don’t know how to stop it”.

This led me to look back into my e-mail files, and I was astonished at how many solicitations I had received in the last few years, one every week or two. I had become so accustomed to it that I hadn’t thought beyond my initial diagnosis of incompetent junior staff who didn’t realize that what I had published about HIV/AIDS is nothing like what would be acceptable to the purported mainstream publications that were soliciting my contributions, for example AIDS Research and Treatment, ISRN AIDS, or Current HIV Research. I had noted, though, that many invitations came from Hindawi Publishing Corporation or one of its subsidiaries, or from a Bentham company (Bentham Open, Bentham Science, etc.). Now, belatedly, I realize that I’ve had just an inkling of the huge deceptive industry that Jeffrey Beall and others have been describing. Fake publishing can evidently be lucrative. Hindawi Publishing Corporation with its more than 520 journals had a profit margin of 52% in 2012, better than that of the long-established Elsevier’s 36%.

Closely akin to fake publishing is the staging of fake academic conferences, exemplified by Academic Journals & Conferences. At the “Editorial Board” page, observe the rapidly flashing counter, evidently intended to impress with the number of hits the website is getting every second. Then look at the details of their conferences: registration fees of $596 and up, which guarantee publication of the presented paper; or if you miss the conferences, pay the same amount as a journal publication fee.

The New York Times article mentioned above described another fake conference, Entomology-2013,  which had fooled a number of invited participants who mistook it for a conference organized by the Entomological Society and titled Entomology 2013 (no hyphen). Why the fake conference would fool any researcher remains rather a mystery to me, given the website’s obvious marketing tone, the lack of a recognizable academic or professional sponsor, and the FAQs which include such items as “dress code”, which I had never before seen in connection with any scientific conference.

My own invitations have included BIT’s 2nd World AIDS Day (HIV-2011) in Beijing, for the session “HIV 202: Biology, Pathology of HIV”; the 4th and 5th International Conferences on Drug Discovery and Therapy (4th ICDDT 2012 and 5th ICDDT 2013) in Dubai; 4th Annual World Summit of Antivirals (WSA-2012) in Guangzhou (China); World Biotechnology Congress 2013  (host: Eureka Conference, and listed in the Events Directory at Nature magazine); 4th Annual World Congress of Virus and Infection (WCVI-2013) in Wuhan (China) — which turns out to be just one of 8 “parallel symposia” at BIT’s 3rd Annual World Congress of Microbes-2013 (WCM -2013).
I observed that Wuhan University had also been connected earlier with instances of fake journals and plagiarized journals (“Two new journals copy the old”, Nature 463 [2010] 148).

Only as I started to write this did I bother to look at the websites of these “conferences”, and to be astonished that anyone could have been taken in by them — as hundreds of people evidently have been, given the group photos and the names and affiliations of speakers listed in the programs. The blatant absurdity of all this may be illustrated if one attempts to locate the website of the 4th Annual World Summit of Antivirals (WSA-2012)  in Guangzhou (China). Google delivered it to me at first under the heading of BIT’s 2nd Annual World Congress of Microbes-2012.  The page marked “Full program” then took me once to the Microbes-2012 program  and on another occasion to Virus and Infections-2010 (WCVI-2010) in Busan (Korea).  When I asked Google only for “Annual World Summit of Antivirals” I was brought an announcement  for a 2009 get-together that looks like a proposal for a conference rather than an active one, albeit with photos and affiliations of 18 “Renowned Speakers”, a  group photo from WSA-2008 and praise for the 2007 event from Harald zur Hausen, 2008 Nobel Prize Laureate in Physiology or Medicine (and responsible for the notion that papilloma viruses cause cervical cancer, which led to the deadly vaccines Gardasil and Cervarix) and Dr. Flossie Wong-Staal, CSO, Executive Vice President Research, iTherX Pharmaceuticals. The group photo for 2009  shows 100-150 people.

The old saw attributed to Groucho Marx certainly applies here: I wouldn’t want to join in any conference that knows so little about me as to invite me to join — though if I had the money, time, and mischievous inclination, perhaps it could be amusing to deliver a critique of HIV/AIDS theory at a conference where David Ho (of anti-HIV cocktail infamy) and Flossie Wong-Staal (co-worker of Robert Gallo, and reputedly more) were also speakers.

Evidently there exists a huge confidence racket of spurious academic publications and conferences. And the responsibility, the blame, lies squarely with mainstream science and academe and the wider society.

Confidence tricksters, their pursuers, observers, and assorted pundits have often pointed out that confidence tricks work so well because those who get tricked somehow want to be tricked: they think wishfully that they can get something for nothing, or at least for less than it’s worth. Pyramid or Ponzi schemes, for example, work over and over again because so many people want to believe that they can become wealthy without effort or insight.

Fake journals and conferences succeed because academics are so desperate for preferment that they neglect no opportunity to pad their résumés; or, having attained prominence, neglect no opportunity to strut their status and prestige by accepting keynote speaking engagements and board memberships at journals and conferences. Jobs, promotions, honorary appointments, status and prestige all follow from abundance of publications, editorships, invitations to conferences, service on editorial boards and conference committees, etc. etc.
Look into the details of some of the fake journals and conferences. Observe that quite a few senior academics have their names on those editorial boards and conference committees and are apparently happy to serve as keynote speakers, all of which in turn gives those journals and conferences the appearance of professional respectability. Observe that quite a few of the less senior academics involved in those journals and conferences adorn their résumés with articles published in those journals and presented at those conferences.

The little story that brought all this to my attention concluded, “scientists know this is a problem. They just don’t know how to stop it”.

Well. The reason no one knows how to stop all this is because it isn’t an aberration, it’s part and parcel of what has happened to scientific activity: decadence and corruption because of too many conflicts of interest (From Dawn to Decadence: The Three Ages of Modern Science). “Science” has become a bubble, in which profits can be made by selling fake goods that are not obviously distinct from the genuine article — think sub-prime science and “derivatives” of actual science analogous to sub-prime mortgages and their bundled derivatives; in both cases, those whose responsibility it is to evaluate quality have not only failed to do so, they have conspired to mislead others by lending their credentials to deceptive practices. Science has become too big for its own and everyone else’s good. It has outgrown its usefulness and become a danger to society, quite akin to the recurrent economic bubbles. (For a wonderfully insightful survey and analysis of economic bubbles, just as applicable decades after it was written, read J. K. Galbraith’s A Short History of Financial Euphoria [Whittle/Penguin, 1990/93/94].)

Among the corollaries of all this is that even informed pundits can find it difficult to distinguish “genuine” science from “fake” science. Try your hand at it with a few examples. Then regale yourself with the list of Senator Proxmire’s Golden Fleece Awards at the website of the Wisconsin Historical Society.
I’m not suggesting that Proxmire was justified in each and every case. There are certainly instances where an absurd-appearing project is substantively justifiable. But what cannot be gainsaid is that there is an enormous amount of academic publishing that is quite useless from the viewpoint of advancing knowledge and understanding because it is not done for that purpose at all, it is done for career advancement by building a record of “publication” for one’s résumé.

At any rate, the need for academics to get published, together with the low cost of “publishing” on-line, has brought a cornucopia of entrepreneurial “publishers” who make money by creating “journals” where authors pay to have their articles published. The payments are not described as costs of self-advertising, of course, but as costs of administrative expenses and the like. Librarian Jeffrey Beall  lists publishers and journals that seem to be blatantly dishonest, for example in claiming to use peer review while not doing so, or by not even publishing actual journals, only citations (e.g. “The suspicious case of Science Record journals”; “The epitome of predatory publishers”). The lack of any serious editorial or peer review means that authors can publish the same thing over and over again, and that plagiarists can re-publish others’ work freely (“Does scholarly open-access publishing increase author misconduct?”).

Academic Journals & Conferences, mentioned above, is perhaps an extreme case in being so obviously fake — except that it apparently is not obviously fake to the 3 dozen members of its Editorial Advisory Board, some of whom are senior academics and not all of whom are from second- or third-rank colleges. They provide the appearance of respectability by lending their names, just as financial analysts at respected institutions rated junk as AAA quality.

Fake conferences and journals are lucrative
because they are so much like “genuine” ones.

Scientific conferences long ago became job markets and venues for self-advertising rather than opportunities for intellectual exchange. Scientific journals published by professional associations have been requiring authors to pay “page charges” for decades now, and scientists see publishing as career-building rather than disseminating worthwhile truths. After all, “Political savvy is intrinsic to a scientific career” (HIV and AIDS: Context and perspective).

More about that in the future.

[1] HIV does not cause AIDS, Ch. 1:2 (pp. 30-39) in Opposing Viewpoints: AIDS (ed. Roman Espejo), Gale – Cengage Learning (Greenhaven Press), 2012
[2] Ethics in Science, pp. 169-82 in Against the Tide: A Critical Review by Scientists of how Physics and Astronomy Get Done, ed. Martín López Corredoira & Carlos Castro Perelman (2008);
[3] Confession of an “AIDS denialist”: How I became a crank because we’re being lied to about HIV/AIDS, pp. 378- 82 in You Are STILL Being Lied To — The REMIXED Disinformation Guide to Media Distortion, Historical Whitewashes and Cultural Myths, ed. Russ Kick (Disinformation Co., NY, 2009)

3 Responses to “Fake, deceptive, predatory Science Journals and Conferences”

  1. Dear Mr Bauer,
    I agree with you, that “those who get tricked somehow want to be tricked”. Somehow it’s because the pressure to publish to get credits for promotion. This fact is especially true for Academia in developing countries, and/or low rank Universities, who get difficulties in publishing in a reliable and reputable journals due to their research results that have so many limitations, and/or language barrier. Therefore, these fake journals and conferences can flourish, because there is an increasing demand for journals/conferences with rather loose peer review.


    • Henry Bauer said

      Jeanne Adiwinata Pawitan:
      I have no first-hand knowledge of academe in developing countries, and certainly accept your judgment. In the USA the pressure is nevertheless enormous, especially for people starting their careers, and — just as you say — especially for people at other than the very top-ranked places.
      The expectations are also very high here. In science and engineering, getting tenure almost everywhere requires getting sizable research funding from outside the university.


  2. Nancy said

    It was really helpful article to me. Thank you so much!!


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