PARIS — The French capital was set to be the world capital of science. On May 17-18, no fewer than 50 conferences in the fields of aerospace, mechanics, energy, the environment, civil engineering, economics, computer science, social sciences and chemistry were to be held under the same Parisian roof.

On that day, in a hotel near the Montparnasse train station, the electricity was decidedly not in the air. In a 650-square feet room rented for 500 euros for a half-day, no more than 30 people showed up. Clearly, many had canceled their participation, judging by the remaining badges left on the front desk. Or never had planned to go.

This parody of an international scientific conference was organized by the World Academy of Science Engineering and Technology (Waset). This company often sets up these types of events, which pays off thanks to two or three participants who pay a fee of a few hundred euros. "I won't do it a second time! The organization was horrible, and it wasn't even a scientific conference" says Attila Atli, a professor-researcher at an Engineering School in Lyon. He adds, "I spoke for five minutes in front of people who were not even familiar with my field of research."

A month later, on the outskirts of Paris – and not in Paris as it is advertised on the presentation brochures – one of Waset's competitor seemed to be having a bit more success. The company called Conference Series, a subsidiary of the Indian firm Omics Publishing Group, booked rooms in a hotel for a week to organize conferences about oncology, nephrology, civil engineering, chemistry and climate sciences. On June 20, however, there was a little surprise. The conferences about nephrology and hematological oncology shared the same room and the same program…

An Omics-run conference in Baltimore — Photo: Omics

"When I saw that I was named as one of the organizers, without my permission, I couldn't believe it and canceled my participation" declares Marie-Pierre Jugnier research director of the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research. "I will ask to be reimbursed and warn my colleagues about these lousy practices."

In the room, the attendance barely tops the one in Paris. A pathologist who works in the United States doesn't hide the fact that she only came here to visit family in the French capital. A colleague from Switzerland acknowledges that there isn't anyone interesting in these conferences. He only registered to enjoy the City of Lights. "I chose Toronto last year for the same reasons," he says bluntly.

Nobody warned him or asked for his permission.

And the peculiarities do not stop there. Three different companies are using the same person at the reception desk, trying to make sense of all the badges of different colors. In addition to Omics, the Singaporean firms Meetings International and the British EuroSciCon were present. The first two belong to the Pulsus Group, as for EuroSciCon, their website says that they have a contract with Meetings International for certain events.

"We have to inform researchers about these practices. People who organize these conferences don't do it for science, they do it for the money," says Thibault Sylvestre research director at the French National Center for Scientific Research. Like many others, he was unpleasantly surprised to see his name as part of the organization committee of one of Omics' conferences on optics and lasers. Nobody warned him or asked for his permission. Though he tried to have his name removed, it remained on the list.

This strategy of enrolling scientific researchers without them knowing serves a purpose: the researchers work as bait. "I registered because I saw the name of a researcher I know in the organization committee" says Paris-Sud University professor Caroline Kulcsar. "They wanted me as a speaker for one of their conferences, which I thought was a sign of recognition." She eventually decided not to attend the conference and alerted her colleagues about such practices. She also asked to be reimbursed in full, but she hasn't been.

Researchers who register to participate in these conferences are not all victims of a scam. Some see it as a way to travel for free, visit friends abroad or simply do some sight-seeing. But they don't seem to understand that they are partaking in misappropriation of public funds — their expenses being generally paid by the institution they work for (university, research institute, etc.…)

The naivety of some is quite surprising as well, they let themselves be fooled by flattering email spams, which praise their work and promises them preferential rates for attending one of their conferences or for the publication of an article.

But it's not actually that hard to smell the deception. Contrary to bonafide scientific conferences, dubious meetings organized by unscrupulous entities are not supported by respected universities or well-established companies. They rarely have a local organizing committee, but only a global one — sometimes blatently fake. A quick glance at previous programs shows that there were no scientific "celebrities."

A simple look at Waset's website is enough to get an idea. The conferences organized by the company — which Le Monde was unable to contact — are scheduled until the 2030s. The last scheduled conference in the program is set for December 28th and 29th 2031 in Paris. Researchers who want their work to be presented have to send a summary of it just a month before the conference.

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