The rough guide for setting up fake-ish academic conferences

Like many academics, I receive invitations to obscure global conferences on a fairly regular basis. They usually go hand in hand with links to so-called ‘open access journals’.
Since I may get into legal trouble singling out specific conferences or organizers I felt inspired to write down a few essential criteria that ensure your conference will not be taken seriously by the academic community:

1. Set up a website – it should be a simple html-site based on a design template from 1997 (for inspiration, here's a link to my previous post on dodgy open access journals); make sure it’s not linked to a university, organization or association (.com is the way to go!); don’t let a native speaker proof-read your announcement.

2. Make sure that you don’t have a specific title for your conference and that it covers whole disciplines or ideally more than one! Global academia is inclusive and interdisciplinary. The ‘annual conference on social science, economics, politics and humanities’ will be an eye-catcher; alternatively, go to a big, say, engineering department and just copy-paste every chair’s name and specialization and build a conference around it.

3. Finding the right place for your conference can be tricky. The rule of thumb is: The smaller and less-known the technical college is, the better; ideally, the institution has no website or a rudimentary draft of one from 2001. Such a place usually ensures cheap accommodation, too. Also, choose a place with relatively easy travel/visa access. I still think that Mongolia is underrepresented on the global conference map!

4. Setting up an organizing committee is also tricky, but follows similar rules than #3: Academics from institutions you’ve never heard of are good to fill up the space (you need at least 10-20 'committee chairs'). Ideally, their names yield no results on Google Scholar, probably because they have kept their cutting-edge research secret. But, you must have at least one professor from the EU and the US on board. No matter how small the college or how far it lies on the fringes of credible academia if it has a US post code or EU membership status it should be considered.

5. As you may have noticed, academics love to attend conferences where they get something out of the ordeal of presenting a paper, ideally a publication. Publishing conference proceedings with a local publisher is a good starting point. But your company or whatever set-up is behind the conference probably has a few new ‘open access journals’ that are dying to publish ‘selected’ papers. Always, ALWAYS, mention that journals are ‘indexed’ or ‘abstracted’ in some scientific-sounding database. Boosts credibility enormously.
Sophisticated organizers even go one step further: They vaguely hint at a journal with a high impact factor and make it sound as if there is a connection: ‘Organizers will recommend the best papers to [journal name, impact factor]’ – it’s a bit like saying ‘doctors recommend eating healthy food’ – it’s not ‘wrong’, it’s just not meaningful in any way either

6. Conference fees. I hate talking about money – especially in academia. In your selected location the usual ‘badge/bag/coffee/lunch’ package should cost around $5 dollars per day and person – max! The conference announcement I have read recently usually charge between $200 and $300 per day – excluding travel expenses, accommodation, dinner and, well, basically anything outside the conference hall. Transparency is boring and overrated – just set up a PayPal account and you are good to go!

7. Spreading the word. Avoid personal communication at all cost – so any social media activity is not possible. Mass E-mails are probably your best bet (everybody with an .edu or email address is an academic after all!). The conference secretariat should have one email address and a local mobile phone number, because we all work virtually and globally, don’t we?

I hope my insights are useful for your preparations of a successful academic conference where cutting-edge research will be presented and long-lasting academic friendships will be forged!

Please feel free to add your experiences or additional ‘must-haves’ below!


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