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How To Identify Predatory Conferences With Susan Veldsman

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Predatory conferences mimic legitimate academic events but lack essential academic standards. As these fraudulent practices continue to evolve, it is more important than ever to be vigilant in recognizing them. As director of the Scholarly Publication Unit at the Academy of Science of South Africa, Susan Veldsman is an expert on how to identify and combat predatory journals and conferences.


Veldsman was invited to answer your questions about predatory conferences in Technology Networks’ Ask Me Anything session. Click below to watch the session in full.

 Lucy Lawrence (LL): What is a predatory conference?

Susan Veldsman (SV): There's not just a simple answer in which we can give a short definition. There is a lot of dovetailing between the practices of predatory journals and predatory conferences. We can consider a spectrum approach where practices range from very predatory, to low quality, to quality (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Predatory publishing practices occur on a spectrum. Credit: Technology Networks, adapted from International Association of Universities.


Often, activities are more unethical than predatory. The dilemma is that it is not for the layman to say which practices are predatory and which are not. To define these predatory practices, one has to understand the big picture and common indicators to look out for.

What is a predatory conference then? Well, it is fraudulent, it's deceptive and it's of unacceptable quality.

Those are the three main markers that I want to lift out. This means that it’s often rapid, and it's unrealistic. There's sometimes no or little peer review.


Look at the program for a conference and start interrogating what is being advertised. In the advertisement alone, you will be able to see signs of predatory and deceitful information. There can be plagiarism of reputable outlets, fraudulent use of researchers’ names, the use of venues which do not exist and a meaningless program, for example.


LL: Who's most at risk of being targeted by predatory conferences?

SV: I think the immediate perception is that it's mainly young emerging researchers or researchers from the developing world. But let me be clear that everybody is at risk of being targeted by this practice.


I was asked to be a co-chair of the IAP report on combatting predatory academic journals and conferences. Through our surveys in the IAP report, we found that it runs across not only developing countries but the developed world too. And it's not just young emerging researchers, some experienced researchers fell into the trap of predatory conferences as well.


LL: Are there any tips you can give us to help figure out if a conference is predatory?

SV: There's a very important resource one can consult called Think, Check, Attend. It tells you how to pause and look at the invitation. It will ask you some questions about the organizers and sponsors, the agenda and editorial committee.


You can also always ask them a question; they have a help desk that responds to these questions, and they put it out there to the experts.

  • Are you aware of the society or the association organizing the conference?
  • Is it the first time this conference is being held? If not, have your colleagues attended this conference before?
  • Can you easily identify the venue of the conference?
  • Are there any sponsors involved in the conference? Are they reputable?
  • Is there clear information about the timeline and agenda for the conference? Is the scope of the conference fit for your field and focused on particular outcomes?
  • Have you heard of the keynote speakers?
  • Who's the editorial committee? Are they who they say they are? And have you heard of them before? Are they very clear about the editorial control that they are practicing?
  • Is it the right conference to attend and present your research? Is it clear what fees will be paid?
  • Is the organizing committee clear about where the proceedings will be published?
  • Is the publisher of the proceedings a member of the recognized industry or subject field where you are working? And do they make it also clear which indexing services they're proposing to use?

LL: What drives a person to put on a predatory conference?

SV: There are a couple of drivers or root causes for such behavior. Of course, the big one is the monetization and commercialization of the research sector. If we look at the academic publishing system, propriety and commercial interests may lead to conflict with research integrity.


And then, of course, the quantity over quality research evaluation systems. It's publish or perish. Any researcher out there will acknowledge the pressure to publish. If we look at the South African system, institutions are financially rewarded if you publish. It's a huge incentive that drives the system, but that's also what has led to predatory practices among some academics.


There's also a lack of transparency. Whether it's fully open, anonymized or hybrid in the peer review system, it is exasperated by poor training, capacity and recognition of peer reviews. So those are the three main drivers of predatory practices.

LL: Can the involvement of prestigious keynote speakers or organizers legitimize a conference, despite its predatory aspects?

SV: My answer is no, because I think it will still be tainted with other predatory activities. This actually taints the reputation of that experienced researcher and puts them in a very difficult position. It has consequences for researchers’ careers if, for example, they go for tenure or promotion, or for funding. It's in the perception of the evaluators whether it was a predatory conference.


In our study, we collected a number of anecdotes from people who unknowingly participated in predatory journals and conferences. What was so sad about these anecdotes were the personal accounts of young emerging researchers who say they are doomed because everybody picks up on it.


Evaluators of funding panels are very wary of these practices, so it's very dangerous. I really want to discourage any researcher, if there's any suspicion of predatory activities within that conference, please do not participate and withdraw completely. It's not worthwhile to taint your reputation going forward.

LL: If you submit a paper to what turns out to be a predatory conference, what are your options?


SV: If they publish it in the proceedings, and is a predatory conference, you can ask whether they will retract it. But I really doubt that they will. We have not had any positive feedback from anybody to say that they gladly gave it back.


What do you do if you want to resubmit it somewhere else? I suppose you could rewrite what you've done there but add new knowledge to that research, report or article. I think that would be the right thing to do. But I haven't had feedback from anybody as to how open you should be about the situation when republishing. It's a difficult situation to be in – there’s not a quick solution to it, except for trying to retract the article but I doubt whether they would allow it.

LL: Is it possible to report predatory conferences?

SV: It is, and I would really like to encourage people to do so. Normally to the publishers, or in the case of journals, go back to the to the journal publisher, explain the problem and then substantiate why you're saying that. There's a sensitivity especially with the renowned, bigger publishers but it is important to interrogate the problem. Please make other people aware, especially if you've been a victim of a predatory conference.

Susan Veldsman was speaking to Lucy Lawrence, Senior Digital Content Producer for Technology Networks.

About the interviewee

Susan Veldsman has been Director of the Scholarly Publication Unit at the Academy of Science in South Africa since 2009. Her expertise in the field of scholarly publishing led her to become a co-chair for the InterAcademy Partnership's report on combatting predatory journals and conferences.