LE MONDE

The Lucrative Business Of Bogus Scientific Conferences

At the 2014 biodiversity conference in Valencia
At the 2014 biodiversity conference in Valencia
David Larousserie

PARIS — The French capital was set to be the world capital of science. On May 17-18, no fewer than 50 conferences in the fields of aerospace, mechanics, energy, the environment, civil engineering, economics, computer science, social sciences and chemistry were to be held under the same Parisian roof.

On that day, in a hotel near the Montparnasse train station, the electricity was decidedly not in the air. In a 650-square feet room rented for 500 euros for a half-day, no more than 30 people showed up. Clearly, many had canceled their participation, judging by the remaining badges left on the front desk. Or never had planned to go.

This parody of an international scientific conference was organized by the World Academy of Science Engineering and Technology (Waset). This company often sets up these types of events, which pays off thanks to two or three participants who pay a fee of a few hundred euros. "I won't do it a second time! The organization was horrible, and it wasn't even a scientific conference" says Attila Atli, a professor-researcher at an Engineering School in Lyon. He adds, "I spoke for five minutes in front of people who were not even familiar with my field of research."

A month later, on the outskirts of Paris – and not in Paris as it is advertised on the presentation brochures – one of Waset's competitor seemed to be having a bit more success. The company called Conference Series, a subsidiary of the Indian firm Omics Publishing Group, booked rooms in a hotel for a week to organize conferences about oncology, nephrology, civil engineering, chemistry and climate sciences. On June 20, however, there was a little surprise. The conferences about nephrology and hematological oncology shared the same room and the same program…

An Omics-run conference in Baltimore — Photo: Omics

"When I saw that I was named as one of the organizers, without my permission, I couldn't believe it and canceled my participation" declares Marie-Pierre Jugnier research director of the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research. "I will ask to be reimbursed and warn my colleagues about these lousy practices."

In the room, the attendance barely tops the one in Paris. A pathologist who works in the United States doesn't hide the fact that she only came here to visit family in the French capital. A colleague from Switzerland acknowledges that there isn't anyone interesting in these conferences. He only registered to enjoy the City of Lights. "I chose Toronto last year for the same reasons," he says bluntly.

Nobody warned him or asked for his permission.

And the peculiarities do not stop there. Three different companies are using the same person at the reception desk, trying to make sense of all the badges of different colors. In addition to Omics, the Singaporean firms Meetings International and the British EuroSciCon were present. The first two belong to the Pulsus Group, as for EuroSciCon, their website says that they have a contract with Meetings International for certain events.

"We have to inform researchers about these practices. People who organize these conferences don't do it for science, they do it for the money," says Thibault Sylvestre research director at the French National Center for Scientific Research. Like many others, he was unpleasantly surprised to see his name as part of the organization committee of one of Omics' conferences on optics and lasers. Nobody warned him or asked for his permission. Though he tried to have his name removed, it remained on the list.

This strategy of enrolling scientific researchers without them knowing serves a purpose: the researchers work as bait. "I registered because I saw the name of a researcher I know in the organization committee" says Paris-Sud University professor Caroline Kulcsar. "They wanted me as a speaker for one of their conferences, which I thought was a sign of recognition." She eventually decided not to attend the conference and alerted her colleagues about such practices. She also asked to be reimbursed in full, but she hasn't been.

Researchers who register to participate in these conferences are not all victims of a scam. Some see it as a way to travel for free, visit friends abroad or simply do some sight-seeing. But they don't seem to understand that they are partaking in misappropriation of public funds— their expenses being generally paid by the institution they work for (university, research institute, etc.…)

The naivety of some is quite surprising as well, they let themselves be fooled by flattering email spams, which praise their work and promises them preferential rates for attending one of their conferences or for the publication of an article.

But it's not actually that hard to smell the deception. Contrary to bonafide scientific conferences, dubious meetings organized by unscrupulous entities are not supported by respected universities or well-established companies. They rarely have a local organizing committee, but only a global one — sometimes blatently fake. A quick glance at previous programs shows that there were no scientific "celebrities."

A simple look at Waset's website is enough to get an idea. The conferences organized by the company — which Le Monde was unable to contact — are scheduled until the 2030s. The last scheduled conference in the program is set for December 28th and 29th 2031 in Paris. Researchers who want their work to be presented have to send a summary of it just a month before the conference.

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The Olympic torch is lit at the Archaeological site of Olympia in Greece.

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Asham!*

Welcome to Tuesday, where Pyongyang test fires a suspected submarine-launched missile, Colin Powell is remembered, Poland-EU tensions rise, and yay (or yeesh): it's officially Ye. Meanwhile, our latest edition of Work → In Progress takes the pulse of the new professional demands in a recovering economy.

[*Oromo - Ethiopia and Kenya]

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• North Korea fires missile off Japan coast: South Korea military reports that North Korea has fired a ballistic missile into the waters off the coast of Japan. The rocket, thought to have been launched from a submarine, is the latest test in a series of provocations in recent weeks.

• Poland/EU tensions: Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has accused the EU of "blackmail" and said the European Union is overstepping its powers, in a heated debate with EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen over the rule of law. The escalation comes in the wake of a controversial ruling by Poland's Constitutional Tribunal that puts national laws over EU principles.

• Colin Powell remembered: Tributes are pouring for former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, after his death yesterday at age 84. Although fully vaccinated, Powell died from complications from COVID-19 as he was battling blood cancer. A trailblazing soldier, he then helped shape U.S. foreign policy, as national security adviser to President Ronald Reagan, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs under Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, and served as the nation's top diplomat for George W. Bush. Powell's legacy is, by his own admission, "blotted" by his faulty claims of weapons of mass destruction to justify the U.S. war in Iraq.

• Russia to suspend NATO diplomatic mission amid tension: Russia is suspending its diplomatic mission to NATO and closing the alliance's offices in Moscow as relations with the Western military block have plunged to a new low. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced the move after NATO expelled eight diplomats from Russia's mission for alleged spying. Relations between NATO and Russia have been strained since Moscow annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in 2014.

• Ecuador state of emergency to battle drug crime: President Guillermo Lasso declared a state of emergency amid Ecuador's surge in drug-related violence. He announced the mobilization of police and the military to patrol the streets, provide security, and confront drug trafficking and other crimes.

• Taliban agrees to house-to-house polio vaccine drive: The WHO and Unicef campaign will resume nationwide polio vaccinations after more than three years, as the new Taliban government agreed to support the campaign and to allow women to participate as frontline health workers. Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan are the last countries in the world with endemic polio, an incurable and infectious disease

• Kanye West officially changes name: Some say yay, some say yeesh, but it's official: The-artist-formerly-known-as-Kanye-West has legally changed his name to Ye, citing "personal reasons."

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

The Washington Post pays tribute to Colin Powell, the first Black U.S. Secretary of State, who died at 84 years old from complications from COVID-19.


💬  LEXICON

Jashn-e Riwaaz

Indian retailer Fabindia's naming its new collection Jashn-e Riwaaz, an Urdu term meaning "celebration of tradition," has been met with severe backlash and calls for boycott from right-wing Hindu groups. They are accusing the brand of false appropriation by promoting a collection of clothes designed for Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, but giving it a name in Urdu, a language spoken by many Muslims.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Work → In Progress: Where have all the workers gone?

After the economic slowdown brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, companies all over the world are taking advantage of loosened lockdowns and progress on the vaccine front to ramp up operations and make up for lost productivity. But the frenetic spurts of the recovery are getting serious pushback. This edition of Work → In Progress looks not only at the coming changes in our post-COVID economy, but also the ways our world is re-evaluating professional obligations.

🗓️ Hail the 4-day week Across the planet, the shorter work week trend is spreading like wildfire. Four is the new five. Spain began experimenting with the concept earlier this year. New Zealand launched a similar trial run in 2020. And in Iceland, efforts to curb working hours date all the way back to 2015, with significant results: 86% of the country's workforce gained the right to reduce work hours with no change in pay.

🚚 Empty seats In the United States, meanwhile, a severe lack of truck drivers has the country's transportation industry looking to hire from abroad. The only problem is … the shortage is happening worldwide, in part because of the e-commerce boom in the wake of worldwide quarantines. The Italian daily Il Fatto Quotidiano reports that companies will be scrambling to fill the jobs of 17,000 truck drivers in the next two years. The article blames low wages and the dangerous nature of the job, stating that Italian companies are making moves to employ foreign workers.

💼 Key help wanted It's all well and good to question current working conditions. But what about 20 years from now? Will we be working at all? A recent article in the French daily Les Echos posed just that question, and posits that by 2041 — and with the exception of a few select jobs — automation and digitalization will decimate employment. The piece refers to the lucky few as "essential workers," a concept that originated with COVID lockdowns when almost all labor halted and only a minority of workers capable of performing society's most crucial in-person tasks were allowed to carry on.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

I'm worried for my Afghan sisters.

— Nobel Peace Prize recipient Malala Yousafzai Nobel Prize tells the BBC that despite the Taliban's announcement that they would soon lift the ban on girls' education in Afghanistan, she worries it "might last for years."

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Are you more yay or yeesh about the artist currently known as Ye? Let us know how the news look in your corner of the world — drop us a note at info@worldcrunch.com!

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