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As everyone else here probably does, I receive a lot of unsolicited emails. I don't like it, but I've gotten used to it and can just ignore them with a friendly smile on my face, because at least those emails give some unfortunate person a job and an income.

However, today I got an email that at first seemed undesirable but at a second look appears to be legit (albeit irrelevant, so I wouldn't have missed anything), so I'm wondering if there's any rules or hints to go by to identify legit conference invitations or journal introductions?

On the one hand, this is probably going to be simply somewhat of a reverse of identifying undesirable emails (see below) but I guess I'm mostly looking for information on how legit entities advertise themselves. Do they:

  • actually send out unsolicited emails at all?
  • invite "unknown" researchers for high profile roles?
  • even care if they emails look legit?

I'm a geoscientist (sorry, we hit rocks with hammers and trample on vegetation, but I'm working to better myself), so I have been at conferences organized by AGU and EGU, so I do get emails from those two and they're legit, but for example AGU doesn't care about the third point at all, with their emails being a mess of HTML with embedded (and thus of course blocked) images and obfuscated links with over 100 chars of tracking stuff in them, so if I did not know they were legit, I'd long have added AGU to my list of undesirable publishers.

And the second point, well, like most early career scientists, I have a slight case of impostor syndrome, but I probably have some good stuff out there and apparently I'm a good speaker, so it's probably not impossible that someone saw me at another conference and thought "Yeah, I'd like to have that person as a speaker", but is that really how it works?

And just reversing my criteria for spam is probably also not a surefire way to identify them. Sure, a poorly formatted email in poor English to "Dr. JC_CL, Coauthor and Coauthor, I hope this finds you well" from a Chinese company I have never heard of for a field not even related to what I'm doing can probably be disregarded. However, all of those errors could also happen in a legitimate case, as my name is somewhat complicated for people not speaking my language, most people don't speak perfect English (and I can't identify perfect English with 100% certainty) and I do work quite interdisciplinary.

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    Just assume there would be such rules. Then high level spammers would make sure their mails follow the rules. Hence, there are no such rules, at least none that will never give false positives or negatives. – Dirk Jan 8 at 10:19
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    Typically journals only recruit reviewers from previous submissions. If you haven't submitted to a journal, I would immediately trash a review request from them. – Azor Ahai Jan 8 at 19:45
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    @JC_CL The original version of the question received several flags. In certain contexts, the occasional swearing can add some colour to the discourse, but in an international setting like this one it may result annoying, offensive or, at best, just distracting from the question (which is certainly against your interest), and it is therefore better avoided. Moreover, all users are expected to participate in accordance with the Code of Conduct. If you have further questions or objections about this and the edits, you can bring them up on Academia Meta. – Massimo Ortolano Jan 8 at 23:54
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    How are embedded images blocked? An E-Mail reader these days typically blocks images that are loaded from the internet as it would give away that the mail was read. Embedded images ought to be safe. – Bernhard Döbler Jan 9 at 8:33
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    @Dirk There's an xkcd counter to a rather similar argument. – Voo Jan 9 at 12:46
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The #1 criterion is: they come from someone whose name you recognize as a respected colleague in the field. Or, at least, a conference or a journal that you know already.

The #2 criterion is: they look like they are not written automatically. Compare

Dear Arthur, I have seen your very interesting article on shiny rocks and I would like to invite you...

and

Dear A.Uthor, I have seen your very interesting article Shiny rocks in South African Mines: a Case Study and I would like to invite you...

The second one seems auto-generated, since they copied over your name and title verbatim. The first one looks like someone went through the effort of paraphrasing the title into a real English sentence.

In my opinion also putting a lot of emphasis on proceedings, Scopus and ISI-indexed journals and impact factors is a red flag. This is something I would never mention if I were inviting a real person to a conference.

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    Interesting point on the emphasis on the indexing! Now that you mentioned it, those emails that I already sort out always brag about how well indexed their journal is. – JC_CL Jan 8 at 13:26
12

I am from a mathematical background, so I hope this information is not too field specific but in my experience legit conference invitations travel exclusively through personal connections.

So the decision on whether something is legit is very simple: Was is sent to you by someone whose name you recognize as being a researcher in your field?

This went so far that for a new PhD student finding out about relevant conferences is actually somewhat tricky. Usually your advisor tells you about them. If they don't for whatever reason, it is very hard to find out about conferences.

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    Mathematics and CS have at least one "big" mailing list I'm aware of where open positions, conferences, ... are announced. The list is called DMANET and it gives you some confidence in the legitimacy of the content. – Stephan Z. Jan 8 at 12:53
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    @StephanZ. I got a math phd in the US and worked as a postdoc in the UK and in Germany. I never heard of this 'big' mailing list. There are big conferences like the ams annual meeting but the way I heard of those was also through older phd students in my department going there. – quarague Jan 8 at 12:57
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    @StephanZ. I've been working in mathematics for almost 50 years (longer if you count graduate study as work), and I never heard of DMANET until I saw your comment here. – Andreas Blass Jan 8 at 17:56
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    Echoing @AndreasBlass' comment: I've been working in mathematics for 45+ years, and had not heard of DMANET until this moment. – paul garrett Jan 8 at 20:24
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    Let's put it more general. In different fields there are trusted entities maintaining mailing lists that can help you identifying legit Call for Papers, ... – Stephan Z. Jan 9 at 7:12
3

This is likely field specific, but no legitimate conferences/journals reach out to specific faculty members in my field.

All of the legitimate conferences/journals put out the call for papers in typical fashion. However, it isn't unusual or the editor of a journal to talk to somebody personally at a conference and ask about the repurposing of a presentation into a journal paper, for example.

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    Do conferences in your field not have “invited talks” or “invited speakers”? In the fields I know, almost all conferences have some such talks, with the rest being “contributed talks”, submitted following the call for papers. “Invited talks” are considerably more prestigious for the speaker, will often have longer timeslots than contributed talks, will typically be plenary even if other talks/activites are in parallel sessions, and so on. – PLL Jan 8 at 21:04
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    What @PLL said. In addition, in our field (computational mathematics) there are also "minisymposia", which are special sessions with speakers specifically invited by the organizers (with expenses not covered, typically). Some of them are specifically targeted as "young researchers minisymposia". So receiving an unsolicited e-mail with an invitation to a legitimate conference is very well possible, even for an early career researcher. – Federico Poloni Jan 9 at 8:48
3

Another field-specific answer:

  • Most conferences and journals don't send out invitations by email.
  • Many conferences distribute call-for-papers posters, which get put up on boards you might see at your university/institute, or on people's doors, or even in another conference.
  • A few journals also have CFP posters.
  • A few conferences - more industry-oriented ones - send automated invitation emails.
  • Most conferences and journals have websites, and invitations invite you to visit the website for long-form calls, online submission mechanism, and communicating with the organizers or PC if necessary.
  • Nobody ever tries to solicit you personally as some great and wonderful researcher, except someone you know personally (or who knows a friend of yours personally etc.), who writes you personally.
  • ... and in the rare cases such solicitations do occur - they're scams or semi-scams (i.e. really bad venues which try to get naive grad students to commit to them).

But - most importantly: If you haven't heard of the conference/journal - ask around about the venue, and go through their website, before providing any reply.

1

In case of doubt, I write a short reply asking if there is a conference website, travel is covered, etc. Usually, I can tell if it is spam or not from the answer. Some companies organizing spam conferences appear on black lists, so you can google for them.

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