8 Red flags of a predatory medical conference

Bogus data. Pay-for-play. And even fake news. Illegitimate science has taken several forms. The most notable of all: predatory publishing. But another, less discussed, issue is the problem of predatory medical conferences.

Yet, predatory conferences, along with predatory journals, carry a cost. From 2009 to 2015, the FTC estimates that researchers spent about $26.6 million in fees for both publication payments and event registration fees to publishers it alleged were predatory.

The challenge lies in discerning between publications and events that value sound, peer-reviewed science and those that only value enriching their pocketbooks. (Of course, financial gain is part of the impetus for many conferences, though many are put on by nonprofits looking to advance science.)

With the line often blurring between conferences with lax standards and those with truly fraudulent intentions, the onus often lies on professionals to suss out the predators. Look out for these eight red flags:

8 Warning Signs of a Predatory Conference

  1. Inflated promises. During correspondence with event organizers, watch out for those who overpromise: “Yes, we can ABSOLUTELY feature that abstract in our poster presentation,” or an unsolicited “We would love to invite you to moderate our panel,” without giving specifics of the panel topic yet claiming an expected “huge audience.” A legitimate conference will require that work meets strict standards (most often peer-reviewed), and they won’t leap to accept all abstracts or extend an invitation to chair an event with few questions asked or details proffered.
  2. An unprofessional website. Event websites for legitimate conferences don’t have to be the most immaculately designed experience, but be suspicious if you notice extreme lack of quality on the website or the event’s social media accounts. Look for spelling errors, incomplete information and a lack of footer content with legal copyright notices.
  3. Suspect social media activity. If a Twitter handle or Facebook page exists for the event, gauge the quality and patterns of those social posts, and see how far back they go—a recently created account can mean the event lacks legacy and legitimacy. Also, look for whether other KOLs in the industry are interacting with those social pages.
  4. Catch-all topics. Look out for irrelevant topics with no commonality or theme that ties all event attendees, featured research and speakers together (as if the event organizers are casting a net all too wide, only to bolster attendance fees).
  5. Pay-for-play. Beware the offer to speak, moderate or chair a panel in exchange for a higher registration fee or sponsorship of the event.
  6. Unknown organizers. Research the event organizers through online searches and word-of-mouth. If you’re well embedded in the community, you (or somebody you trust) should have at least heard of them, or you should be able to find confirmation online of their presence and recognition in the community.
  7. Email flattery. Watch out for invitations by email correspondence that are overly flattering and lack specificity. One such email received by researchers at McGill University in Montreal called the researcher a “world-class expert capable of providing deep insight.”
  8. Speaker trolling. Problems also abound with “speaker trolling,” or event organizers touting well-known or respected individuals will attend their event. If the speakers do not mention their participation in an event on their own social and online channels, they may not be going at all.

These eight red flags can help you spot profit-seekers from legitimate conferences, though unfortunately, keeping your data sets clear of the resulting output from these is another challenge altogether. For that, you need proper data curation.