Wed, Aug 03, 2016 - Page 13 News List

Taiwan’s great academic rip-off

Predatory conferences, endemic to the nation’s peer review system, prey on the need for academics and students to present and publish their work, while reaping huge profits for the organizers

By James McCrostie  /  Contributing reporter

Illustration: Angela Chen

Speeches by Taiwanese undergraduates gave UK-based researcher Heath Rose his first hint that he’d made a mistake attending the International Conference on Business and Information in Sapporo, Japan.

Typically, undergrads don’t present at the same conferences as professors. But Rose says the 2012 event, which was organized by Taiwan-based International Business Academics Consortium (iBAC, 國際商學策進會), seemed full of Taiwanese students reading their speeches and uninterested in discussing their research.

Rose says iBAC didn’t inform presenters they had only 10 minutes — a scheme that can significantly boost the number of participants.

“I definitely left that conference feeling that I wouldn’t present at it ever again and not be involved in the organization again,” Rose says by e-mail. (Full disclosure, the author worked with Rose at a Japanese university more than a decade ago.)

PREDaTORY CONFERENCES 101

Rose inadvertently attended what’s known in the academic community as a predatory conference. These faux conferences, which prey on the need for academics to present and publish their research, make an exorbitant amount of money for their organizers for very little professional gain and sometimes to the detriment of the academics’ career.

Taiwan’s post-graduate education is run on a points system. The greater number of conferences attended by associate and assistant professors, the more points they will receive, boosting their chances of promotion.

Graduate students benefit from predatory conferences because attending one fulfills a major requirement for graduation — and the government offers students generous subsidies to attend them (NT$40,000 — US$1,265 — for a five-day trip to Japan is not uncommon). Additionally, as Rose learned in 2012, pretty much anyone who signs on can present a paper.

FOLLOW THE MONEY

Jeffrey Beall, a librarian and associate professor at the University of Colorado, Denver, devotes his Scholarly Open Access blog (scholarlyoa.com) to the issue of predatory publishers. Beall says in an e-mail that predatory conferences remove “merit, selectivity and peer review from the system of academic evaluation, and [replace them] with a product that pretty much anyone can purchase.”

iBAC is one of two Taiwan-based groups targeting researchers with predatory conferences. The other is the Higher Education Forum (HEF). iBAC and HEF charge up to US$450 to present at their conferences. They then funnel conference papers to blacklisted for-profit publishers.

iBAC’s Web page says that it has been a “non-profit organization for the international academic community since 2009.” However, iBAC’s name began appearing in 2007 on Web sites as conference cohost.

iBAC president Fang Wen-chang (方文昌), a professor at National Taipei University, didn’t respond to repeated requests to explain iBAC’s activities and how it uses conference fees.

HEF describes itself as “a professional conference organizing company” on its Facebook page. Kate Lee (李亞勻), a contact person given to the Taipei Times, didn’t respond to e-mail requests about how the company uses the proceeds of their conferences.

NONSENSICAL PAPERS

Authentic academic conferences use a system called peer review to evaluate proposals. Other university instructors read them and decide if they are worth accepting.

To test iBAC and HEF’s peer review systems I submitted fake proposals using SCIgen, an online tool developed by graduate students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to test conference standards. I then created grammatically correct, but nonsensical, papers.

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