I’ve written here before about the relentless deluge of obsequious email supplications all academics get, tempting them to part with thousands of dollars to submit their research to junk, predatory journals or to attend often shady conferences in far-off places. To my amazement, these junk conference temptations have continued through the global COVID-19 pandemic. This week my inbox offered jaunts to Tokyo, Amsterdam and California, all on subjects totally unrelated to my own areas of interest.
During the COVID-19 lockdowns, there are stories about of one-way, economy class passengers being asked to pay $20,000 to or from Europe. Once you arrive, you get to spend two weeks in quarantine often in a low grade hotel room and so the same when you get back home. You get to attend a conference on a topic of zero relevance to your interest, run by scammers who sometimes forget to actually put it on after you shell out your registration fee and early-bird discounted slide packages from the other missing speakers. So what’s not to like here? Particularly when you get addressed like this.
But amazingly, the emails keep coming. These offers often make me try to imagine those who are suckered by these dogs-balls obvious swindles. An email this week took me to a whole different level of audacity out there.
It started with this from an “Iris Reed”
My interest was piqued. Here we had a brazen pitch to sell contact details about conference attendees whom I felt certain would have all given their full permission for their private information to be flogged off like this to anyone paying up. I immediately wrote back to Iris “Dear Iris, I’m very interested in looking at this list. Where and when was the meeting held?”
Twenty six minutes later, I got a reply, not from Iris, but from her helpful top dog colleague “senior business analyst” Macie, who had a small dose of the stray apostrophes and a helpful yellow highlighter.
Now what a coincidence that just 26 minutes after I enquired about the pain conference attendance data, the company cancelled the conference! However, the agile Macie, perhaps anticipating my disappointment, now dangled the prospect of 10,000 names from something called a “Careers Expo” in Perth held in 2020. But Iris had been offering 12,147+ names from the just cancelled “Pain Society 36th Annual Scientific Meeting”.
I needed to share my confusion with Macie. I wrote “But I thought it was a Pain Society 36th Annual Scientific meeting 2020? Now it is a “Careers Expo” meeting in Perth. That sounds rather different.” I’d googled “36th annual pain scientific meeting” and found that one by that name was held in Perth, not in 2020 but in 2016. I gave Macie the link (https://www.dcconferences.com.au/aps2016/).
Twenty minutes later the indefatigable Macie was back:
She just wasn’t listening! So I quickly replied wrote, “No, the email I got was explicit that it was a pain conference. That’s what I’m interested in. I will pay big money for this.”
So imagine my confusion when I then heard from yet a third employee, Selah Lloyd, suffering from the exact same stray apostrophe problem as Iris:
So, they “reached out” to me with a pain conference (cancelled), then switched to a Careers Expo in Perth, and within two hours that one had apparently been postponed too. But now they figured I would like to get my hands on 3500 names from a TedXSydney 2020 meeting. I steeled myself in anticipation that this one would shortly also be postponed.
The next day, Iris was back on my case, answering my yesterday’s questions about when and where the pain conference was being held. Apparently it had just recently been held in Hobart, not Perth.
By now smelling the unmistakable odour of fetid bullshit, I called the Hotel Grand Chancellor in Hobart, asked for reservations and enquired whether they had recently hosted a conference with 10,917 in attendance during the COVID-19 lockdown. I could hear the receptionist spray her coffee into her headset microphone.
Having been earlier told by Iris that the pain meeting had 12,147 participants, but now reading there were only 10,917 (9 times more than could fit into the hotel’s plenary hall), it was time for some plain talking with Iris. I wrote:
“So first question. Could you please ask your manager if I can please have a 12.3% discount for the smaller number of names? That would be $438.50. I’ll round that up to $440.00 for you.
Second – and this is a little awkward for me to raise with you – but I have just spoken to the management of the Hotel Grand Chancellor in Hobart, and they said that they have not been holding any conferences there for months because of COVID. They suggested that you are probably a scammer.
I’m sure that can’t be right. But is it true, Iris? I hope not!”
Iris now kicked this one upstairs to the top brass.
Mr Williams got back to me immediately.
So the 2020 pain conference in Hobart, which never took place, started out with 12,147 attendees, fell to 10,917 and then rose to 14,927, all within two days. I politely let him know I was no longer interested.
Chris’ very professional company website, said to be in Fort Worth, Texas is here www.influxdatasolutions.com