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

Using the pseudonym Dr Sandor Edelstein, and listing him as a professor at the non-existent Japanese university Fukuoka Educational College of Knowledge (FECK), I submitted two fake papers each to iBAC and HEF conferences.

One paper is called A Novel Approach for the Emulation of Cache Coherence. The paper begins: “The hardware and architecture method to the Turing machine is defined not only by the visualization of link-level acknowledgments, but also by the unfortunate need for the producer-consumer problem.”

Another paper, Visualizing Cache Coherence Using Extensible Models, begins: “Thin clients must work. After years of important research into kernels, we confirm the theoretical unification of systems and consistent hashing, which embodies the confusing principles of networking.”

The other papers are equally incoherent. All four phony papers submitted by a pretend professor from an imaginary institution received acceptance. iBAC and HEF claim at least two reviewers evaluate all proposals. But both organizations failed to answer why they accepted the fake papers.

SWIMMING IN MONEY

Despite the absence of quality control — or perhaps because of it — iBAC conferences are well attended. About 300 people from 16 countries attended an event at Tokyo’s Waseda University. iBAC’s subsidiary, International Academy Institute, held four conferences in four classrooms from July 22 to July 24 of last year.

Assuming everyone paid the early registration fee of US$400, the event generated approximately US$120,000 in revenue.

Costs appear to have been minimal. According to Hajime Tozaki, a Professor at Waseda University and the conference local chair, Waseda provided the classrooms for free. He says he didn’t receive any compensation for delivering the keynote speech or being the local chair of the conference.

No one from iBAC would answer how it uses conference revenues. In an e-mail, an iBAC staff member, referring to himself only as James, said “iBAC is a registered organization in Taiwan. We legitimately pay taxes and organize conference [sic] in Asia.”

HEF charges US$400 to present at its conferences and US$250 to attend. HEF’s Web sites also provide links to travel companies offering special tour packages for Taiwanese participants. An HEF spokesperson, who declined to state their name, wouldn’t say if it profited from these packages.

Keith Edwards, an assistant professor of computer science at the University of Hawaii at Hilo and a member of the iBAC Advisory Board (removed from their Web site after questions for this story were e-mailed), says that government pressure might be behind the increase in these kinds of conferences.

“I think that there’s some new government pressure on universities and faculty in Taiwan to engage in organizing conferences as a way of showing value. This may be driving some of the new conferences, but that’s just my opinion,” Edwards says.

It’s difficult to determine how many conferences the two groups organize. iBAC staff member James didn’t respond after replying with questions of his own to see if I was a “qualified academic researcher.”

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