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I received an invitation from Neuroscience & Brain Disorders (NBD 2021) conference to present my work as an honorable speaker. My research interests are related to the topics of this conference and I have some interesting contributions, however, I am still a PhD student and I still don't have that strong background in research. I tend to think that this is a scam. What do you think?

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    It is similar to spam in the sense that they send it to everybody who is in their contact list. Once you have a publication, you will get similar emails. If you were on a conference and you gave somebody permission to use your email, than you will get more. You might select your area of interest in the submission system of a publication, and they will send you similar emails. So it does not mean, that the conference is a scam, but it means that they feel the need to increase the number of submissions. Jan 20 at 14:01
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    That particular conference appears to have been arranged by something called the Hazel Group. They've got quite a nice website and a real telephone number, but despite claiming to have been around since 2015, all of their listed conferences are in late 2020 (with no follow up documents) or 2021 in the future. I rather suspect that it's a scam but it could just as easily be a new entry into a legitimate market.
    – Valorum
    Jan 20 at 18:30
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    This specific conference is almost certainly bs. I checked a supposed Spring conference by the same Hazel Group, of the same name, and the first name from a top university they claimed to have had as a featured speaker. Turns out, the guy exists...as a program coordinator and student counselor, with a polisci/Econ background, but supposedly talking about “Spatial and frequency tuning of tremors.” Jan 20 at 19:31
  • Don't we tag these 'predatory-publishers' (also for confs?)
    – smci
    Jan 21 at 2:51
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    If it says "honorable speaker", it is likely spam.
    – user151413
    Jan 21 at 8:15
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[As per suggestion of user151413, comment converted into response]

A few sanity checks to run:

  1. Ask them who else is in your session and with which topics, if possible.

  2. Check the participant list or the confirmed speakers. I know established researchers that had been taken in by junk conferences. If a junk conference manages to get a lot of good speakers, though, it ceases to be a junk conference :-) Of course, they may lie, but that is usually less likely. If you know one of the other invitees, you could pop them a mail and ask them whether they go.

  3. Check the topics. Does this look like there is a proper scientific agenda or just a jumble of buzzwords? Are the sessions organized by topic (more or less)?

  4. Is there a program committee? Do you know anyone on this list (even just as an author, not personally)? How many?

  5. If you know a person on the PC, 5a) ask them whether the conference is worthwhile (you may thereby find out on the fly whether they actually know that they are listed). 5b) If you don't, check whether the conference is listed on their CV if it is public.

  6. Unfortunately, the often-cited killer criterion whether the conference is at an attractive place does not mean anything. Also good conferences like attractive locations. However, if the conference is running at a nice location while a pandemic situation is still going on, this is most definitely a red flag.

  7. If they claim you are invited, find out whether they cover travel/accommodation and conference fees. If they tell you that you have to pay conference fees, this is a scam. If they say that the conference is free, but they do not cover the trip, it's an orange flag (but not necessarily a scam). Convince yourself that the expense of the trip would be worth your presence. Some high-tier conferences waive only the fees for "minor" invited speakers (e.g. speakers invited to special sessions or workshops, rather than all-out keynotes). For a keynote, you can expect to be fully reimbursed.

Note that sometimes sconferences (scam conferences) adopt names very similar to proper ones, sometimes even copying the precise abbreviation (which unfortunately is not protected, as a number of organisations share the same abbreviation). Some years ago, a sconference hijacked the abbreviation of a quite high-profile conference, located itself in a city in the same or nearby country (I forgot), showed similar-style entry page/photo and managed to convince the search engines for a period to put it on top of the search list. A colleague almost fell for it, but was wondering why all his usual colleagues would not appear.

So the list of invited speakers and PC is one of the best indicators of whether this is the real deal. Of course, if they outright lie, then it's just regular fraud, but usually sconferences live in the grey area of being formally legal, in that they do take place, but are worthless.

Good luck!

[List is extended as additional suggestions are floating in comments]

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    Session schedules are not usually available until after the registration deadline. Bad conferences have fake participant lists and program committees. 3 is a pretty reliable test, though. Jan 20 at 1:56
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    Yes, "ask a member of the PC if they know they are on the PC" is missing from this answer. Jan 20 at 9:06
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    Regarding 6, it actually is a killer criterion in the sense of the question (negations matter!): If it is in an exceptionally boring location, you can be rather sure that it is not scam. (Maybe the OP should specify what kind of error they are more likely to tolerate!)
    – user151413
    Jan 20 at 19:45
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    @user151413 Scammers can adapt their practices; especially if everyone starts believing it's not a scam if in a boring place. And some sconferences are at fairly boring locations, close to well-known organizations. Jan 21 at 10:20
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    @HansOlsson And I always thought their business model is that people know it is scam, just they have grant money to spend and this way get to spend some time in a nice location, plus get an invited talk for their CV!
    – user151413
    Jan 21 at 12:19
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If you are invited as an "invited speaker" or "honourable speaker" and the conference organizers still ask you to pay a registration fee to give your talk, that is likely a scam. The reason is that as an invited guest, you would expect some kind of preferential treatment over regular attendees. Otherwise, you are just another speaker for their conference.

Besides that, you can look at the conference website to check if the conference looks serious or not.. or if it contains some obvious problems (not always the case)? Who runs it? Is it a famous organizations like IEEE, ACM.. or is it some organizations that has a bad reputation? Has this conference been held for several years? Who are the organizers? This is just some points that you may think about to help you evaluate a conference. If you are still not sure, I recommend to ask your supervisor or colleagues about it.

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    Unfortunately, also many well established conferences tend to have awful websites... Jan 19 at 19:05
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    Scammers tend to have awesome websites. Just because the bait is beautiful doesn't mean there is no hook. Jan 20 at 3:43
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    I'd ask the supervisor right away.
    – cheersmate
    Jan 20 at 7:23
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    "you can look at the conference website to check" - Sure, you can look, but do not believe anything listed on the conference website unless you can verify it. If it is indeed a scam, there is no reason to believe that they would be honest about (for example) who is involved in the organization, what previous years looked like, etc, etc.
    – user53923
    Jan 20 at 11:26
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    Yes, I agree. My meaning is that looking at the website may reveal some problems with a conference. But the website is just one aspect. One should look at everything else like the reputation of the publisher etc. I edited the answer to make this more clear.
    – Phil
    Jan 20 at 11:31
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How big is the conference? Has it happened before? Check your university library for proceedings of past events. If this is the first occurrence of this conference, that's a warning sign. If the proceedings of past events show similar things to your work, that's a good sign. If the previous events had several researchers close to your level, that's a good sign.

Conferences come in many sizes. There is a conference every year among 4 universities called MRST (Montreal, Rochester, Syracuse, Toronto). It's usually open to staff and grad students of those universities to present their research. So grad students, occasionally even master's students, can present. If it's like that then you probably can relax.

Some conferences get loaded up with world class folks and Nobel winners and the like. If previous versions of this conference had people like that, maybe you should be investigating more.

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A good portion of reputable conferences are run by national/international "learned societies" (e.g. American Chemical Society, American Mathematical Society, Institute of Physics (UK), etc.). Although this isn't a sure-fire way to identify junk conferences, you can be reasonably sure that conferences organized by the well-known societies in your field should be reputable.

I mention this because

  1. it isn't currently spelling out too explicitly in the other answers (@phil's answer does mention looking into the organizers),
  2. the specific conference you mention in your question looks to be run by an organization that only organizes conferences, and seems to organize a slightly scattered selection of conferences (mostly vaguely "biology" but not a huge lot of focus). In my mind that's ringing alarm-bells.

The phrase "honourable speaker" is also ringing slight alarm-bells for me. It's pitched to imply some sort of prestige associated with it, while not really meaning a lot.

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