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Some of my colleagues and I have become aware of an individual (name withheld) who makes a habit of attending math conferences on false pretences in order to get travel support.

I have second-hand knowledge of a conference where they claimed an affiliation that they no longer had and they presented a paper that was blatantly plagiarized from a publication in another language. (My sources are attendees and organizers of the conference, who checked with the institution and found the source paper for the plagiarism.) A search on the web for this name (an uncommon name) shows participation and speaking at conferences in a ridiculously broad collection of mathematical areas. No one person could do original research in all those areas, so I conclude that this is serial fraud.

A few days ago, a conference for which I have some supervisory connection received a query from this individual asking for travel support. Of course, we will not be fooled, because we know better. But how many other conferences will be fooled? Is there a mechanism for stopping this sort of thing?

(One thing that I think will not work: Contacting their current institution, because it's likely that they are currently unaffiliated.)

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    The community of 'organizers' is likely pretty small and well connected. It should not take long for the news to spread.
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Oct 18, 2022 at 16:09
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    Fraud is a crime, so you can report it to the police. On the other hand, are you really sure this is fraud? Just asking for travel support by itself does not necessarily involve deception. If I ask for travel support to attend a topology conference, am I implying that I do research in that area?
    – Dan Romik
    Commented Oct 18, 2022 at 17:13
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    @JonCuster: I have less confidence than you in the "small and well-connected" idea. There are areas of math where I would know no organizers at topical conferences, unless they happened to be in my department. Commented Oct 18, 2022 at 19:18
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    Who is providing "travel support"? The conference? A university department?
    – Buffy
    Commented Oct 18, 2022 at 19:27
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    How was this prolific poly math whiz dealing with Q&A sessions at conferences? Commented Oct 19, 2022 at 11:12

5 Answers 5

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"The community" can't really do anything. The conference committee can contact the institution to verify affiliation. I don't see any issue with that. But they can put them on a list of "auto reject submission" until they clear it up.

I worry about the conference if they pay people for travel without verification and any review process should find "blatant" plagiarism. Perhaps you need to update your acceptance process.

The conference, can also open a dialog with them and let them know the consequences of bad action.

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    "My" or "our" acceptance process in not at issue, since this person gave a plagiarized talk at a different conference that I/we didn't organize, and our conference has only invited speakers. But in math there are many large conferences (e.g. AMS meetings) that accept "contributed papers" with essentially no "acceptance process". Commented Oct 18, 2022 at 19:22
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    There are also lots of small math conferences that have a small amount of money to bring speakers, and a small amount of money to bring graduate students and other young mathematicians. Those students might be allowed to present talks/posters. If a person asks for support and claims to be a grad student at U. of X, typically the organizers would take their word for it, unless they had some reason to doubt. I believe that's what happened in the other conference. Doubts started to arise at the conference itself, and later they checked on the affiliation and searched to find the plagiarism. Commented Oct 18, 2022 at 19:37
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    @NathanReading in math there are many large conferences... - Sure, but they (e.g., AMS meetings) don't typically provide funding for participants. As for the aspect of contributed talk sessions letting virtually anyone talk, I think that is a feature not a bug.
    – Kimball
    Commented Oct 19, 2022 at 7:32
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    @NathanReading every conference I attended as a graduate student/phd candidate that offered some travel support or a discount on the registration fee for students, required some form of proof (either proof of enrollment, or some official statement from the advisor or the university). No one ever took my word for it. Commented Oct 19, 2022 at 14:23
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    @JordiVermeulen: was that in math? What you say is completely orthogonal to my experience. Commented Oct 19, 2022 at 22:57
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I am not a lawyer..

If the query about travel support that you recently received contains lies (e.g., he claims to be a starving doctoral student at a particular institution, and the institution says he was never affiliated in any way) then see if you can interest your local district attorney in a criminal fraud case.

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    I also believe that plagiarism is a statutory crime in a number of countries. Commented Oct 19, 2022 at 7:40
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    @MrVocabulary I’m curious, could you give examples? Or are you talking about copyright infringement, which is illegal just about everywhere? (Obviously enforcement varies.)
    – Charles
    Commented Oct 21, 2022 at 13:26
  • @Charles I feel ill-equipped to discuss the intricacies of that, but some more blatant cases of academic plagiarism in Poland — verification of which is enforeced by law — ended up in court and resulted in stripping a person of their academic titles. To what extent it was copyright, plagiarism and disciplinary course, I cannot speak to — this is why I made my statement as general as possible. Commented Oct 21, 2022 at 15:38
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    @MrVocabulary Thank you for the info!
    – Charles
    Commented Oct 21, 2022 at 16:30
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    I would guess that would be a waste of time and effort. The amount doesn't rise to the level that expending scarce prosecutorial and judicial resources would be worth it.
    – Buffy
    Commented Oct 21, 2022 at 19:14
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You indicate that conference grants are involved. You should report the fraud and "waste" in accordance with the funding agency's fraud office as well as your local institution's procedures. You may even have a duty to report this misuse of funds in accordance with funding regulations and local institution policies.

For example, if NSF funds were involved, you should report it to the NSF Office of Inspector General.

Local police and the DA may not have the jurisdiction, as the fraud presumably occurs across state or national lines, and federal funds are involved.

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    Why do you believe NSF provides funding to conferences that they are permitted to spend by handing out travel expenses to attendees? I have never seen a scientific funding agency do that. Maybe a tourism agency would. Commented Oct 20, 2022 at 21:09
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    @AnonymousPhysicist Because they do. NSF PPAPG Chapter II E9 Travel Proposal "A university, professional society... may apply for funds to enable it to coordinate and support participation in one or more scientific meeting(s)" These are also part of conference grants "MCB supports broadening participation to include early-career investigators or members of under-represented groups in science. Funds can be used to defray costs for registration, room and board, or travel..."
    – user71659
    Commented Oct 20, 2022 at 22:46
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    Yes, this is an excellent point. I will pass it along to the organizers of the other conference. Commented Oct 21, 2022 at 19:11
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Nathan, you claim that your approval process does not have a problem - yet your "community" constantly approves this guy who is a fraud. Call apples, apples and oranges, oranges. You have an approval process problem.

Now, so far from reading all of your commentary, you do not want to prevent future bad actors from getting in nor do you want to prevent fraud by implementing a better approval process. You simply want to know what you can do to this one guy.

Well in that case, contact the police - notify others in the community and that's it. Anything further and he might just sue you.

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  • Thanks for this perspective. Yes, the approval process is certainly part of the story, but the culture around conferences in math is different than what you might be used to in your field. My understanding is that, in some fields, papers accepted to conferences are the main research "currency" that gets you tenure, etc. In math (as far as I have experienced), the currency is papers published in journals. Conferences (especially some of the small conferences) are places to interact and share ideas, but do not make or break your career. "Approval process" is thus less crucial and Commented Oct 21, 2022 at 19:16
  • (as some have said in comments around this post) it's not clear that it's good to try to be exclusive. There is a tendency to assume goodwill, for better or for worse. And in this case, it's being exploited. Certainly, we can improve our process to prevent this kind of thing (which, however, I hope is very rare). Commented Oct 21, 2022 at 19:19
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You should tell the institutions that they falsely claim to be from, for one thing. They certainly have an interest in this since it harms their reputation if someone actually believes this person. I'm guessing a letter from the university lawyer saying "please stop claiming to be affiliated with us" would go a long way. Even if the previous conference checked with the university you also should so that they know this person is continuing this behavior.

Likewise you should tell anyone they have plagiarized--or any journals if the papers were published. Individuals probably won't be able to do much (although at least they will know what's up in case anyone asks why they have the same paper as someone else) but publishers also have corporate resources to get this kind of thing stopped.

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