'I'm appalled': Academic ire as names used to push 'scam' conferences

Top Australian researchers continue to be unwittingly used to promote a sprawling series of allegedly bogus conferences in Melbourne and Sydney.

Some attendees pay thousands to fly to the conferences, only to find what they describe as dodgy research and half-empty venues.

"I’m just appalled," said Professor Jayashri Kulkarni, when told she was listed on the organising committee of the 30th International Conference on Mental and Behavioral Health, which is being held in Melbourne on November 12.

Professor Jayashri Kulkarni.

Photo: Jason South

The conference is about "Reintegrating the Psychotherapy on Conceptual and Perceptual Health".

"I don’t even know what that means," said Professor Kulkarni, who directs the Monash Alfred Psychiatry Research Centre.

"How do I get my name removed from this?"

The company that runs the events, Conference Series, is a subsidiary of India-based OMICS Publishing Group.

In 2016, American regulators charged OMICS with falsely publishing lists of academics presenting at its conferences – without the academics knowledge. The company was also charged with deceiving academics about the scientific rigour of many of the journals it publishes, and hiding steep publishing fees.

Despite repeated complaints to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and calls by Australian academics for a crackdown, local regulators are yet to take action.

Conference Series lists about 65 upcoming Australian conferences on its website, including one in "Osaka, Australia".

It claims to run more than 3000 events a year around the world.

At least 10 other Australian academics are listed as conference organisers, along with hundreds of foreign researchers. Fairfax Media was not able to confirm if these listings were accurate.

Alan Kin-tak Lau, a pro vice-chancellor at Swinburne University, was listed as a speaker at an aerodynamics conference also due to be held on November 12 in Melbourne. The university said he had been asked to give a keynote speech and help organise the committee but had declined the offer.

After Fairfax Media contacted Swinburne about the listing, it too was removed from the conference’s website.

Last year, South African dietician Elizabeth Fourie spent thousands to fly to a conference in Melbourne.

She told Fairfax Media half the speakers were missing and the research was not up to standard.

"I think this was a scam to get me here to pay the money," she said at the time.

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A spokeswoman for the ACCC said it was "aware of the allegations that have been raised" but had "not received a significant amount of complaints".

And a Consumer Affairs Victoria spokesman said it did not comment on investigations or complaints.

Many Australian academics are sent numerous invitations from conferences run by Conference Series, said Monash University astronomer Associate Professor Michael Brown.

Most of the invitations are ignored or marked as spam, but the company uses academics' names and faces regardless to promote its conferences to its real targets: researchers in the developing world.

“Having a conference like that on your resume helps you along in some places. In other places, people are being taken for a ride,” Professor Brown said.

OMICS and Conference Series did not return requests for comment.

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