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Year : 2017  |  Volume : 9  |  Issue : 6  |  Page : 147-149

Fake academia and bogus conferences are on the rise in the middle east: Time to act

Institute of Medicine, Sheikh Khalifa Medical City, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

Date of Web Publication8-Nov-2017

Correspondence Address:
Salem A Beshyah
Sheikh Khalifa Medical City, Abu Dhabi
United Arab Emirates
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/ijmbs.ijmbs_61_17

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How to cite this article:
Beshyah SA. Fake academia and bogus conferences are on the rise in the middle east: Time to act. Ibnosina J Med Biomed Sci 2017;9:147-9

How to cite this URL:
Beshyah SA. Fake academia and bogus conferences are on the rise in the middle east: Time to act. Ibnosina J Med Biomed Sci [serial online] 2017 [cited 2022 Jul 6];9:147-9. Available from: http://www.ijmbs.org/text.asp?2017/9/6/147/217873

An editorial in the last issue of this journal tolled the bells of alarm for the threat of predatory journals. It highlighted the markedly low degree of awareness among editors and prospective authors.[1] Another danger of the same order of magnitude, particularly seen in the rich parts of the Middle East (ME) or Middle East and North Africa (MENA) is the danger of false academy and bogus conferences. Their sole motive is money-making for the organizing agents with total or remarkable disregard to the quality of events and to the development and welfare of the professional organizations in the corresponding specialty. Although this seems to have existed for a long time, there is a suggestion that it is increasing. This editorial will consider this issue, highlight some of the specific concerns in the MENA region and propose some ways the profession can adopt to combat this predatory movement.

  The Need for Medical Conferences Top

Scientific and medical conferences are a great opportunity to exchange views, meet experts and hear the latest of research, guidelines, and best practice. However, this can only be guaranteed if such conferences are organized by credible academic institutions and or professional associations.[2] These genuine academic bodies and professional groups would secure that only individuals with a track record in clinical practice, education, and research are involved in the organization. They will also underwrite the content credibility, embed their own annual general meeting in the congress, and publish proceedings in their own journal. They will also build a long history that can be tracked.[2] Organizations, organizers, and speakers would invariably be known to most physicians and medical scientists with an academic interest in their specialty. Everyone in his own specialty, could judge the potential value of attendance by simply scanning through the program for subjects and speakers.

  Fake Academia Top

Increasingly, organizing a conference (large and small) started to resemble a high-profit business opportunity. The “World and Global …. Conference or Summit” could more often than none be synonymous with “Predatory Conference for ….”[3],[4],[5] The hallmarks of such congresses are lack of focus, acceptance of any submitted material, lack of follow-up publication of any proceedings coupled with a “predatory behavior” built in their business model.[3],[4],[5]

Academics in the West are reportedly being targeted by organizers who tend to attract them to exotic places far away from home. Places where they may wish to have been for once in a lifetime visit but they are likely to have no contacts to verify the credibility of such congresses. Many have unfortunately fallen into the trap with most unpleasant experiences.[6]

  The Middle Eastern View Top

Over the past 10 years, the author has been involved in organizing major annual conferences of up to 1400 delegates, reflecting a reasonable working knowledge of the organizational, scientific, and administrative issues involved. I have been an eye witness to all sorts of practices; the good, the bad and the ugly. To avoid legal implications for the author, journal or publisher, no specific groups or providers will be implicated directly or indirectly in this editorial. The discussion will remain in abstract and readers can use their own intuition to apply the arguments to their own circumstances.

Apparently, attracted by the luxury banqueting facilities in some of the MENA region's cities, predatory conference practices seem to be on the increase in the MENA region. These seem to be a summative effect of the fiercely competitive pharmaceutical industry, greedy event organizing agents and unwary or “calculating” professionals aspiring for recognition and/or extra income. Recently, we have witnessed a barrage of “The First Middle East, MENA* or Gulf Congress/Summit of ….”. Many are either unnecessary lower quality duplications of effort and waste of resources for no added value. Programs are characteristically made surrounding an exhibition and on many occasions, speakers and topics are strongly influenced by sponsors. Budgets and final accounts are closed with the characteristic 0 balance or faked deficit. Organizers in alliance with sponsors, rely on visiting “ nternational pharma speakers” whereas they show no respect to regional speakers in terms of honoraria and hospitality. On numerous occasions, no reimbursement of expenses was made despite a clear commitment in writing and despite the clear abundance of funding claimed from sponsors. A few large organizers seem to hold a monopoly on large events, whereas the smaller events are shared by a large number of smaller firms with varying quality. The unique features of predatory practices in the MENA are a combination of (1) dependence on sponsorship of large pharmaceutical industry to secure surplus of funding (2) inappropriate treatment of regional faculty and (3) lack of accountability to the so-called “hosting organization.”

  The Dangers of Predatory Conferences Top

Other than the direct negative effects of losing credibility and impartiality being the two core values for speaking in continuous medical education programs, predatory conferences can transform the medical conferencing movement into merely luxury weekend retreats for relaxing and dining. They may also enhance potentially corrupted marketing practices in the industry by their preparedness to appease the sponsors to keep them happy and readily agreeable to support future events. In addition, these conferences are obviously run by commercial event organizers who has no vested interest in advancing the causes of research and education. Their interest invariably focuses on areas with potential high return without any educational needs-assessment of the of the target population. This attitude will undoubtedly lead to a serious imbalance between areas of clinical practice and research being covered. Fields where sponsorship cannot be readily secured will be consistently ignored. It is noteworthy that such predators compete for the same limited pot of funding with legitimate bodies. They will very likely beat the “Professional Associations” to it; being armed by their extensive marketing and sales skills and experience.

  How Can Predatory Conference Be Combated? Top

One may naively argue, why not let the two sides work together and turn the predator into prey. Unfortunately, this is impossible. The differences in motives, agenda, and working strategies are pronounced and irreconcilable. For the purist, the obvious right and proper way is that the professional groups and academic bodies should be strong enough to employ the event organizers. The latter should work at the pleasure of the former. Professionals' awareness remains the cornerstone for combating the rise in predatory conferences in our region and worldwide. However, proactive actions and more dynamic approach by regulatory bodies could also help.

  How to Recognize a Bogus Conference? Top

This is a fundamental question that must be addressed first [Table 1]. Size of the event-organizing agent is not an essential criterion. A small firm working under the auspices of an academic center or a bona fide professional group is ideal, but a small firm with the same program director running a non-connected series of events monthly based on copy and paste of other programs conducted elsewhere is a serious cause for concern. On the other hand, a large multi-national event organizer using its contacts and expertise in putting together several events around its exhibitions is also dubious. Once one receives an invitation to participate in a conference, answers to the first few questions should give clues to its predatory nature: why; is there a need for this? what is the track record of this event? do I know somebody who is speaking in it now or in the past? The name of the proposed conference can give a hint; whereas “The Fifth Annual Clinical Congress of the Gulf Chapter of the America Association of Clinical Endocrinologists” speaks for itself, “Gerontology 2017” or “Women's Health 2018” with no details of any packing reputable professional body should make one exercise more caution. In the MENA region, there seems to be no end to the “The First International MENA/Middle East on Something or Another” being advertized almost on monthly basis. The classical initial letter of invitation to participate in a conference should always be signed by program organizer. It should specify in what capacity he is writing, the requested contribution and details of what is being offered in terms of access, logistics, transport, accommodation, and honorarium. These are established international conventions of good practices and local regulation such those of the General Authority of Health Services of Abu Dhabi, UAE (2007). A letter of invitation that does not state all details discussed above (positively or negatively) is a clear indication of predatory behavior. Respectable organizers undertake all logistical arrangements of major financial implications themselves rather than ask the speaker “just pay and we will reimburse it during the congress”. The author has witnessed a colleague losing over USD 1,500 in airfare that was promised to be reimbursed at the business desk during the congress, but that desk was never open. On another occasion, an international agent was attempting to deny a regional speaker his honorarium that was agreed and promised in writing. The agent only agreed to pay when embarrassed by the chair of the organizing committee stating that he will pay it personally!. A speaker is entitled for a speaker's contract that contains all the above terms and condition.
Table 1: Salient differences between genuine and fake medical and biomedical conferences*

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  Role of the Professionals Top

Professionals should be aware of these predatory practices. They should realize that responding to requests to chair or speak is never required urgently. They should expect detailed information on the event, its credibility, history, the under-writing organization and academic accreditation. Having received this information, they should be in a better position to make a decision on accepting or declining to speak.[5] If the information is incomplete, they should write back asking for more specific information before they agree even in principle and should not provide any details before all is clear. The predatory nature can be uncovered from the tone and content of the response [Table 1]. Senior professionals ought to be mature enough to realize they have been asked because they accomplished enough to be asked. They should distance themselves from unethical business conferences and lend more support to genuine conferences owned by academic entities and professional organizations. Needless to say that developing professional organizations in emerging communities should be taken very seriously by electing capable boards of directors who are keen to work rather than simply carry the titles. Speaking at conferences should never be an area for competition between professionals neither for fame nor for cash. They should discretely share information about bad experiences with predatory conference organizers. Supporting regional and national instititutions is a noble cause. However, it is inappropriate of a program director to press his colleagues to participate for free when a commercial agent is involved as this will only increase the profit margin of the agent undeservedly.

  Role of the Regulatory Bodies Top

Health and trade regulators play a vital role in scrutinizing applications of accreditation of CME events and monitoring their implementation. Only applications from accredited educational providers may be considered. For major events with very high expenses, perhaps they should also request certified audited statement of the final accounts. The recent Federal Trade Commission lawsuits against a predatory publisher and a conference series organizer are examples that ought to be followed.[6]

  Conclusions Top

The phenomenon of predatory conferences is rising in the Middle East reflecting a previously unrecognized gap in the professional associations in the region. The stronger the professional organizations, the more likely they will win the battle and gain control over their professional life. This can only be brought about by strong, transparent, democratically-elected and competent governors and keen workers. Their common goal should be supporting and guarding the interests of the health-care professions rather than quick income or false publicity.


The author would like to thank Professor Asma Deeb (Abu Dhabi and Ajman, UAE) for her comments on the manuscript and all colleagues in the “MENA Endocrine Club” for sharing experiences and insights.

Conflict of interest


Compliance with ethical principles

Not applicable.

  References Top

Beshyah SA. Predatory publishing: A wake-up call for editors and authors in the Middle East and Africa. Ibnosina J Med Biomed Sci 2017;9:123-5.  Back to cited text no. 1
  [Full text]  
Pain E. How to get the most out of attending conferences, published 8 May, 2017. Available from: http://www.sciencemag.org/careers/2017/05/how-get-most-out-attending-conferences [Last accessed on 2017 Oct 14].  Back to cited text no. 2
Cress PE. Are predatory conferences the dark side of the open access movement? Aesthet Surg J 2017;37:734-8.  Back to cited text no. 3
Bowman JD. Predatory publishing, questionable peer review, and fraudulent conferences. Am J Pharm Educ 2014;78:176.  Back to cited text no. 4
Dadkhah M, Jazi MD, Pacukaj S. Fake conferences for earning real money. Mediterr J Soc Sci 2015;6:11-2.  Back to cited text no. 5
Oransky I, Marcus A. Are predatory publishers' days numbered? STAT News. 2 September 2016. Available from: https://www.statnews.com/2016/09/02/predatory-publishers/. [Last retrieved on 2017 Oct 14].  Back to cited text no. 6


  [Table 1]

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The Need for Med...
Fake Academia
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