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I got several SPAM messages about conferences every week and know that most of them are scams, and can easily figure out what the scammers want (attend a weak conference, be an "estimated invited speaker", send credit card info, etc.) But today I got one that puzzled me -- a nice, educated offer that seems fishy (or am I getting paranoid)? I've added the text below.

I've found a site that matches the company description: https://www.journal.ac.cn/. It looks like a component of a research paper mill and contains the sentence "JDC, founded by academic elites from London, UK, is dedicated to serving the excellecnt academic journals to help them achieve ther dreams and targets, and help them to reach a higher level in the scientific publishing." [sic]

I am not going to fall for this, but am curious about the economics of the possible scam. They want to pay me to help with writing papers and submitting them to journals. Who pays for those services in an amount sufficient to pay me and those middlemen? If I needed help writing and publishing a paper I'd look to local help in my university or colleagues or colleagues of colleagues for free!

thanks!

Disclaimers: I've searched academia.stackexchange.com for similar topics and found none. I've redacted parts of the original message to protect the presumable innocent.

Dear Dr. [my full name which I don't use often],

I hope this email finds you well. This is [a generic name], a researcher from Journal Developing Consulting Co.Ltd.

I am writing to ask whether you are interested in publication collaborations. I came across your academic publications, and I was impressed with the quality of your work. I believe that we share similar research interests, so I would like to explore the possibility of collaborating with you on some upcoming publication needs.

Our team has been working on the publication of academic papers, and we are looking for someone with your expertise to help suggest some high-impact journals for publication and also follow the review process until acceptance. We understand that this process can be time-consuming and demanding, and we would like to offer you remuneration for your work and time on this. We believe that your input would be invaluable in improving the quality of our publications and increasing their chances of acceptance.

If you are interested in collaborating with us, please let me know, and we can discuss the details further. Thank you for your time and consideration, and I look forward to hearing back from you soon.

Best regards, [a generic name]

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  • Observation: The top-level domain is that of China, and the secondary that of academic. But ICP file (the serial number is at the bottom of the page "粤ICP备2021113231号-2" which you can lookup from beian.miit.gov.cn) at Chinese authority says the website belong to a commercial enterprise.
    – DannyNiu
    Jul 8, 2023 at 11:38
  • The way it is written screams "scam" to me. It's intentionally kept pretty vague, not telling you what this is actually about and the author tries to build trust by praising you into heaven... Either this is a creep, or - well - a scammer.
    – Caeleste
    Jul 9, 2023 at 1:02

3 Answers 3

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This is how I believe the actual scam works. There is some poor sod who has a low quality research paper and who wants it to appear in a reputable journal by unethical means if need be. Maybe they wrote it themselves, maybe it is also plagiarized somewhere or ChatGPT generated or something. It might be good enough for a paper-mill but a reputable journal will reject it without a second thought.

This is were you come in. You are a researcher who has published papers in reputable journals. You will be made a coauthor and your job will be to get this paper published in a reputable journal. Maybe your name alone suffices for that but that is unlikely. More likely you would have to do some real research and write a real paper and then get it published in a reputable journal.

How much work you have to do there is not really of interest to them, what counts is that the name of your collaborator appears as an author in a paper in a reputable journal. That is what you get paid for.

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    Makes sense. I've been talking to a colleague that told me he got some messages about "buying" rights to be named coauthor, with different price tags for being 1st, 2nd, and 3rd coauthor. And there is this: english.elpais.com/science-tech/2023-06-04/… Jul 6, 2023 at 12:09
  • @RafaelSantos There's also the possibility that the papers would be genuine, but the authors /knew/ that their English was weak: unlike whoever wrote the invitation you received. Jul 8, 2023 at 15:09
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Who pays for those services in an amount sufficient to pay me and those middlemen?

Oh, a lot, lot of people!

Only a fraction of the people who can benefit from publication credit actually have the want, means, or ability to conduct research. Examples include:

  • Industry workers who want to increase their profile among peers or increase their chances of getting a job.

  • High school students looking for an edge in college admissions. There is an industry of middlemen with contacts within university faculty who negotiate inclusion of high school students as co-authors for cash. See this from ProPublica: The Newest College Admissions Ploy: Paying to Make Your Teen a “Peer-Reviewed” Author

  • Professors at teaching institutions which require that professors publish, but the institutions have no capacity of evaluating the legitimacy of the publications, and provide zero support for the professor to do any kind of research.

  • Researchers in countries whose government use a formulatic approach to salary and/or promotion, while the same governments provide zero support to accomplish actual research.

  • And of course, the lazy, and the incompetent. None of these people have any incentive to access the free resources you mention.

If this is a scam or not, I'd look beyond the person offering to be the intermediary. In my view, the person purchasing the publication is the actual scammer, scamming the public (via increased salary from public sources), their institutions, their peers, etc. There's a similar discussion going on regarding so-called "predatory journals." When talking about predatory journals, who is the actual scammer? The person submitting junk to a journal who will publish anything for money, to then use the publication record to defraud their employer? Or is it the facilitator of the scam, i.e. the publisher?

One last note about the misspellings on the email you received. I've heard some convincing arguments that misspellings on email scams are not a bug, but a feature. The idea is that the scammer is not looking for potential marks among sophisticated readers, but among those that either cannot see the misspelled words or don't care. So when you are turned off by the misspellings, you are in fact filtering yourself out and are not going to waste the time of the scammer. The only people who contact the scammer are thus self-selected pre-screened as easy marks.

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The basic issue is to write your own paper. If your author your own paper with help of colleeagues that can support the study you are in good shape. Anyone thinking they can use some external help to twrite to write a paper is in significant need of help from a scientific and an ethical perpsective.

In short write your own papers based on your own knoweledge. It is as clear as it is restrictive for any one who has poor insight into the ethics of scientic writing.

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