Junk Conferences / Spam Conferences / Spamferences / Academic Scams
Tim Kovacs. October 2008.
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
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
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
In fact, if you publish in low-quality conferences, or, worse, junk
conferences, you will find this hurts your reputation more that it
Spam and junk conferences
A spam conference
) 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
Where the money goes
Most 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
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
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 places.
- 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
- 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.
Open access journal scams
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