Academic conference spam

About two years ago I started getting peculiar messages from unknown academics about conferences I’d never heard of. They all follow a standard form, with a subject like “inviting you to participate in BLAH-05.” Some address me as “potential speaker,” some “Dr. Cameron A. Marlow,” and some simple “Dr. Marlow.” This isn’t all that surprising, given that lots of legitimate emails I get from academic institutions refer to me as a Dr. (it’s much more offensive not to refer to a Ph.D. as Dr. than it is to inflate the ego of a mere student).

an increase in conference spam
An increase in conference spam

The surprising thing about these emails is that they’ve been increasing in frequency pretty regularly. They have moved from the space of “oversized conference list” to legitimate spam. In some cases I’ve gotten emailed multiple times about the same conference, and for a subject that’s about as close to my research as I am to finishing my course in Scientology.

So who are these people? Given the regular structure of the emails, I assume that they’re being sent out from one master list. Some arrive from, which appears to be a collection of losely-related conferences, and others from, an ISP in Serbia.

How big is this network? Did I get randomly added to some master list, or are they spidering for academic’s email addresses? Has anyone actually gone to one of their conferences? As with most spam, lots of questions, few answers.

6 thoughts on “Academic conference spam

  1. I think most academics get these regularly. I have to think they are buying/stealing academic association lists (based on the addresses I receive on). I don’t have a link, but there was a discussion on one of my email lists about this. Apparently, they make a tidy sum from people who send off a few hundred dollars for registrations and then find out there is no conference.

    In my freer moments, I imagine what it must be like to show up to a hotel somewhere in Europe only to find out that you are at an unwitting conference of the gullible. In this fantasy, they hold a conference anyway, and it becomes a turning point in one of the disciplines, demonstrating that organization is more important than individual genius (since I doubt anyone of individual genius would be so easily drawn in).

    It’s also a bit surprising to me that these are even worth it to the spammer. If you’ve never heard of a conference, and you don’t know anyone else who is going, are you really likely to attend?

  2. yes, these are very common. these conferences serve (at least) a dual purpose. for some academics, it is a way to pad their publication list; they claim to publish the better papers in peer-reviewed journals, and how many university tenure committees really know which journals or conferences are solid? the other purpose seem to be vacation-related scams; several of these seem to be hosted at nice locations, and if grant money is used to pay for conference travel (and registration, which is the organizer’s profit motive, if not kickbacks from the venue), the attendees get a subsidized vacation trip at the funding agency’s expense.

  3. Hi Cameron
    i noticed the list of emails you had at the snapshot and i have to say actually i did present and chaired at last year’s PISTA 2004 (which is indeed organised by the International Institute for Informatics and Systemics) – i know it seems like spam because they send loads of emails (they’re still thanking me for chairing by the way – that was July 2004) but i have to say that the conference was very good and the standard of the papers quite high.

    so i think it’s probably lack of co-ordination and bad PR rather than anything else.

  4. Pure D spam! I’ve been getting them for a while now. The frequency with which these guys send these emails out is alarming. And they are so untargeted, it’s ridiculous. They are only related to my field in the way that English historians are releated to theoretical mathematics. Sure, some people may be studying the overlap, but for most of us, it’s totally unrelated. Google how many times shows up in the usenet newsgroup and you’ll see what I mean.

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