Bogus scholarship and awards

The major problem with bogus conferences is the lack of oversight and quality control

Muhammad Zaheer March 25, 2021
The writer is an assistant professor of Chemistry at LUMS


The internet was recently stormed with news of a young Pakistani student winning the “Young Scientist Award 2021” at an international scientific conference. Umair Masood — a fourth-year BS student at COMSATS University Abbottabad — had reportedly presented two research papers at two conferences in Australia and the US. As per media, Masood also published a few scientific papers in international scientific journals and won the prestigious award to recognise his work on biotechnology and molecular biology. While the news pleases Pakistanis, some technical aspects have been overlooked.

Given the importance of conferences in academia, predatory conference organisers saw a business opportunity and started scamming researchers a few years ago. Every day academics and researchers receive email invitations to some international conference as a keynote or invited speaker. The event location is a deliberately chosen tourist attraction. The email content is always lucrative and portrays the event as highly prestigious by using some prominent researchers’ names. Young researchers agree to speak at these bogus meetings as an opportunity to pad their CVs without confirming their authenticity and credibility.

The major problem with bogus conferences is the lack of oversight and quality control. Most places do not peer-review and nor reject sub-standard research. But they charge a hefty fee for conference registration and accommodation. This is how predatory conferences earn.

There are multiple ways of recognising predatory conferences. Firstly, they have overambitious titles such as “international” or “global”, and the technical programme is very broad. Secondly, lots of grammatical and spelling mistakes will be there on the conference website. Additionally, the organiser’s contact details will be missing or incorrect. One would also find similar conference titles on the internet. Moreover, they have a fast acceptance rate for publication. An effusive salutation is one element shared by all such email invitations.

“International conference on molecular biology and biochemistry” — the conference where Umair has reportedly presented his work — fulfills the criterion of a predatory conference. Several conferences with similar titles were found online, all organised by unknown bodies, like the “13th International Conference on Tissue Science and Regenerative Medicine”, where Umair was awarded the “Young Scientist Award”, and was managed by Conference Series LLC Limited. A detailed investigation of this resulted in surprising findings.

Conference Series LLC Ltd is a subsidiary of OMICS International based in Hyderabad, India. The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) found fault with the peer-review process. A judge in Nevada handed a $50 million judgment against OMICS for “deceptive claims to academics and researchers about the nature of their conferences and publications.” Hundreds also reported that the conference registration fee was not refunded upon the event’s cancellation. Umair himself has mentioned that he spent thousands on these research publications.

The eligibility criterion for the “Young Scientist Award” is contradictory too. It mentions PhD as the minimum qualification and a five-year experience on their website. The benefits of the award include a certification of recognition and the publication of your research paper. It is clear that bogus organisers use such awards to attract researchers, and almost everyone who applies for the award receives it.

The European Journal of Experimental Biology — where Umair’s work got published — is a predatory open-access journal. Such journals have speedy publication time and charge a hefty fee. There isn’t any quality control and will publish anything for a fee.

I do appreciate the scientific curiosity and dedication of the young researcher despite his health. However, it is imperative to realise that he has been fooled by predatory journals and organisers. I would suggest he joins a research group at his parent institute and seeks mentorship. Publishing research in bogus journals or conferences without peer review has no academic or scientific worth.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 25th, 2021.

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