A month of spamvitations

Photo:  Wall of SPAM © Lee Coursey via flickr.com CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Esteemed contributor.  Revered speaker.  Renowned researcher. You get these e-mails too: invitations to publish papers in fake* journals, to join fake editorial boards, to speak at fake conferences.  I’d certainly known I got a lot of them; but that was unquantified, because I usually just grin at their clumsy phrasing and then delete them without further thought.  “What”, I thought, “would happen if I kept track of them all for a month?  Would I learn anything?  Could I milk a blog post out of it?”

So I did, and I could. (You’re welcome). From April 7 to May 6, 2017, I received 50 spamvitations**.  Here’s what that looked like:

Paper submission invitations

  • Asian Journal of Life Sciences
  • The Open Fish Science Journal
  • Journal of FisheriesSciences.com (yes, that’s really its name)
  • International Journal of Geosciences
  • International Journal of Geosciences, special issue on “Research on Volcanism and Geothermal Gradient”
  • Anthropology
  • International Education and Research Journal
  • Journal of Plant Chemistry and Ecophysiology
  • Forestry Research: International Journal
  • Asian Journal of Life Sciences (again)
  • Journal of Natural Sciences
  • Universal Journal of Agricultural Research
  • Computational and Mathematical Models in Medicine (“guest editor”)
  • American Journal of Plant Sciences, special issue on “Plant Mitochondria”
  • American Journal of Plant Sciences, special issue on “Plant DNA”
  • Journal of Biodiversity & Endangered Species

 Editorial board invitations

  • Austin Environmental Sciences
  • All in a single email:
    • International Journal of Homeopathy & Natural Medicines
    • American Journal of Pediatrics
    • Modern Chemistry
    • International Journal of Diabetes and Endocrinology
    • International Journal of Biomedical Engineering and Clinical Science
    • Journal of Plant Sciences
    • International Journal of Clinical and Developmental Anatomy
    • Journal of Health and Environmental Research
  • All in another single email:
    • International Journal of Homeopathy & Natural Medicines
    • Pharmaceutical Sciences and Technology
    • Science Journal of Clinical Medicine
    • Science Journal of Chemistry
    • International Journal of Computational and Theoretical Chemistry
    • International Journal of Immunology
    • International Journal of Bioorganic Chemistry
    • American Journal of Pulmonary and Respiratory Medicine

 Conference invitations

  • 10th Intl Congress on Image and Signal Processing, Biomedical Engineering and Informatics
  • 4th Intl Conference on Positive Psychology and Well-Being
  • Intl Conference on Education Science and Human Development
  • 13th Intl Conference on Natural Computation, Fuzzy Systems and Knowledge Discovery
  • Plant Cells In Vitro: Fundamentals and Applications
  • Plant Transformation and Biotechnology
  • Plant Genome Editing and Genome Engineering
  • Agricultural Research Symposium
  • 5th World Congress of Agriculture
  • 7th Intl Conference on Health, Wellness, and Society
  • 8th Intl Conference on Health, Wellness, and Society
  • Intl Work-Conference on Time Series
  • International Symposium on Environment and Sustainable Agriculture Development
  • At the Forefront of Plant Research
  • 2nd Int’l Conference on Geohazards Research and Prevention
  • Conference on Soil and Water Conservation & Ecological Restoration
  • 14th International Conference on Environmental, Cultural, Economic & Social Sustainability

That’s 16 spamvitations to submit a manuscript, 17 to join editorial boards, and 17 to attend a conference, in a single month. Some semi-random thoughts:

First, I was surprised to see conference spamvitations actually outnumber manuscript ones.  We talk a lot about fake journals, but fake conferences seem to be a big business.  I find it a lot easier to understand why someone would submit to a fake journal than to understand why they would attend a fake conference.  (Here, by the way, is the story of someone who inadvertently attended a fake conference, a few years ago when the fake industry was lower on our radar.)

Second, it’s clear that if I wanted to, I could have a really impressive fake CV.  Let’s imagine that I accepted all the manuscript spamvitations.  I’d have no trouble writing the papers – not because I’m awesome, but because it’s pretty clear that you can’t get rejected by a fake journal no matter how hard you try.  At 16 spamvitations a month, I could be publishing 192 papers a year.  It would cost me, though.  Fake journals often do their best to hide their “article processing charges”, but based on the few I could find, I’ll estimate an average $500 US per submission***.  That means my spam-powered CV will cost me on the order of $96,000 US a year – or approximately three times my base funding Discovery Grant.  I might have to cut back a little on actually doing science, but I guess that’s the cost of fake fame.

Third, it used to be you could recognize a fake journal by the ludicrous turnaround time it promised – submission to acceptance in 21 days!  15 days!  10 minutes!  But real journals have begun to compete on speed, and some are promising equally ludicrous turnarounds (well, maybe not 10 minutes).  I think this is a Bad Thing, and I wish they’d stop.  Journals and authors seem locked into a positive feedback of offering and expecting more and more rapid peer review and handling, and this seems more likely to weaken the peer-review system than it is to accelerate the march of science.  But wait, this post is about fake journals, not real ones…

Finally, not all spamvitations are poorly written or poorly targeted.  But most are. I may have a more scattered CV than many of my colleagues, but I don’t stretch to volcanoes, computational chemistry, pulmonary medicine, or image processing. And I’m not unhappy with my career, but I’m just not going to believe I was really selected for spamvitation because of my “eminence”.  For that matter, I’m not going to believe I should send my paper to the renowned journal curated by “rackycjj599@mail1.gorgeous-pink.com” (no, I did not make that up).  There are plausible reasons why spam is poorly written, of course, and really it’s a good thing that it is.  It makes my deletion chore quick, and as a bonus I get some amusement out of it.  Here are my two favourites:

“I am delighted to inform you that Forestry Research: International Journal was planning to release Inaugural Issue by mid of this month. Hence we require one article to accomplish the issue. Moreover I am having few more days in hand to accomplish the task, thus I have chosen some renowned people like you to support us for release the upcoming issue in time”

(So I’m supposed to be flattered that I’m their absolutely last resort, in a publishing emergency, to scrounge up enough papers to publish);

 and the very best of all,

(Our journal has been) “…running with the continuous rigid support from Authors, Reviewers & Readers”.

Part of me would like to thank Readers of Scientist Sees Squirrel for their “continuous rigid support”.  The smarter part of me is telling me that perhaps I could phrase it better.

© Stephen Heard (sheard@unb.ca) May 16, 2017


*^I’ll assume you’ll know what I mean by “fake journals”: journals that publish anything, upon author payment, with sham peer review.  They’re often called “predatory” journals, but for somewhat complicated reasons I think “fake” is more accurate.  When someone publishes in a fake journal, they’re not always being exploited; they may instead be using the journal as an accomplice in taking advantage of a naïve tenure or promotion process (for example).  That doesn’t seem like the journal being predatory – but it’s definitely fake.  UPDATE: here is Leonid Schneider’s story of someone apparently exploiting a fake conference invitation in a court case against him (scroll down to the last green-barred quote).  If there’s “predation” here, it’s not by the spamviter.  Note that I know nothing about the facts of the case (and am also not a lawyer!).  Thanks to Leonid for pointing this out and allowing me to link to it.

**^I think.  Somewhat to my surprise, a few were hard to classify as fake or real – at least, given that I was only willing to spend a minute or two verifying each marginal one.  I left two cases off this list because I wasn’t confident.  If I made a classification error or two, it wouldn’t change the overall picture.

***^Of course, publishing in real journals often costs as well.  Often, in fact, substantially more: many real journals have page charges on the order of $50-$75/page, and real open-access journals charge fees that are amazingly variable but that are often $1,000-$3,000.  The difference: these are real journals that do real things that cost real money to do.  We can argue over how much it should cost and who should pay, but it isn’t ever going to be free.

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14 thoughts on “A month of spamvitations

  1. jeffollerton

    Think yourself lucky: my wife Karin is a Psychosexual and Relationship Therapist and, well, you can imagine the kind of spam she receives! Though “continuous rigid support” does occasionally get a mention……. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
  2. sleather2012

    It is really amazing the number of spamvitations you get – so far today I have had two invitations to publish in journals totally out of my field, one invitation to a conference on geosciences and volcanology and an email from another fake conference on computer bio-engineering and medicine reminding me that I had not responded to their previous invitation!

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  3. bolnicklab

    I very nearly deleted an invitation to publish in a special issue of a REAL journal recently (Frontiers in Immunology, impact factor ~ 6), because I initially assumed it was spam.

    Like

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  4. Meghan Duffy

    I recently got back-to-back invitations from the same journal, one inviting me to be an “Eminent Editor” and one inviting me to be an “Honorable Editor”. When I tweeted about that, I got a reply that gave me a new life goal:

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
  5. notesfromberingia

    Great that you kept track of it, Stephen. They sure have been increasing over the past several years. And they are causing damage — I have come to delete them without much inspection, and it turns out I missed a genuine one that would probably have been good to respond positively to.

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  6. Manu Saunders

    I moved institutions recently, but have kept adjunct status at my old institution to keep that email access during the changeover. I put an autoreply on my old address for a few months with my new details and noticed the spamvitations at the old address went through the roof – including repeats/reminders of the same ones!

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      1. Pavel Dodonov

        I like to give people the benefit of doubt. Here’s a recent conversation:
        “Dear Dr. Pavel Dodonov
        Greeting from Chinese Medicine 2017!
        It is my sincere pleasure to invite you to speak at the upcoming “International Conference Ayurveda, Homeopathy and Chinese Medicine (Chinese Medicine 2017) on May 18-19, 2017 at Munich Germany”, a leading forum for Traditional Chinese Medicine Experts, therapist, Herbal Medicine Experts, Ayurvedic and Homeopathic Medicine Experts and Acupuncturists.
        (…)”

        My response:
        “Greetings…
        Are you sure you invited the right person? I believe you meant to
        invite someone who actually works with Chinese Medicine, no?
        Best,
        – Pavel”

        Their response:
        “Dear Dr. Pavel Dodonov
        Greetings from Chinese Medicine!!
        Thank you for your swift reply, As we find your profile as a post-doc at State University of Santa Cruz, Ilhéus, BA, Brazil. As you can observe the conference highlights which include herbal medicine in it, so, we tried to contact you to be a part of our conference. Kindly forgive us if we contacted you in a wrong way.
        Regards (…)”

        And I responded to this one as well!

        Apart from this, I did once engage in an interesting conversation with a financial scammer. I think I made him waste some time that he would otherwise use harassing other people, so it was worth it.

        But I do seem to be getting more spam after I started responding. It’s still fun, nonetheless!

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        Reply
  7. saša marcan

    It would be interesting to know how these numbers compare to no. of invitations you received in the same time period from ‘real’ journals.

    Like

    Reply

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