It's that time of year again. Suddenly, your inbox is filled with letters requesting that you submit a paper to the "The 13th World Multi-Conference on Systemics, Cybernetics and Informatics: WMSCI 2009" or "The 6th International Conference on Computing, Communications and Control Technologies: CCCT 2008" or "The International Multi-Conference on Engineering and Technological Innovation: IMETI 2008", all interestingly co-located in Orlando, Florida, and all organized by one Professor Nagib Callaos of the "International Institute of Informatics and Systemics".
Never heard of any of this because you are a philosopher getting the emails, too? Don't worry, serious computer scientists don't usually go to the conferences, although people do easily get impressed by all the names and submit a paper.
Strangely enough, all papers are accepted, as long as you have paid your registration fee. You don't actually have to come and give the paper, although the family will surely love following you to Orlando. The "Acceptance Policy" is spelled out in pseudo-scientific detail on the conference site. I paraphrase: We accept everything, because there might happen to be a good paper in there, and because a reviewer might plagiarize a paper they reject.
This conference accepted a paper back in 2005 that had been generated by a computer programmed by some MIT students, SCIgen. A nice blog discussion of that and the conference is found here. There was quite a row about this back in 2005, as one must question how scientific a conference is that accepts random (albeit well-worded) garbage and is willing to publish it. It is said that more than 1500 papers are accepted (at $ a pop that isn't chicken feed), and the "majority" are actually presented. That is not what a real conference is about, where you meet and discuss with peers working in similar areas.
How many of these thousands of papers ever get cited? That is perhaps an indication of how good the papers really are. I just searched the ACM Digital Library. There are 19 (nineteen) citations of the WMSCI conference. There have been 12 such conferences taken place.
That's not too many, so I went through the references for all 19 papers. Eleven of these papers were written by at least one of the authors of a WMSCI-published paper, so over half are self-citations. One paper is Peter G. Neumann's note of the acceptance of the fake paper in his "Risks to the Public" column in Software Engineering Notes.
As an aside, there's a fascinating paper on bibliometrics for discovering low-quality conferences published in 2007: Measuring conference quality by mining program committee characteristics.
Glancing down the lineup of invited speakers can cause quite some hilarity: Karl H. Müller, is given at CCCT2008 as being with the "University of Ljubljana (Austria)". I don't think that Austria has acutally annexed Slovenia, and a search of their web site turns up Mr. Müller as having given a talk there a few years back, but he is not listed as a teacher. He lists himself in his CV on the pages of his institute as teaching at any number of Austrian schools, but strangely, they don't list him.
Dr. Subhas C Misra is listed for this conference as being a visiting Scientist at Harvard, for another conference as being a visiting scientist at State University of New York. At another conference he is listed as the "NSERCPDF Scientist, Harvard University", but I find no mention of this program outside of his CV. Harvard includes CVs of its visiting scientists on its home page, there is no mention of Misra.
Who are these guys?
It seems that anyone can make up a fancy institute name and make themselves director, declare themselves teachers at University X (and may actually have taught there a semester or so before being put out on their ear), make up papers and fancy conferences and rush around finding themselves soooo important - but this has nothing to do with science! They can even pretend to be from some institution. Most are so large, no one can be sure that they are not actually from that place.
What can be done to stop this pseudo-science? Or do we just ignore them, but watch young people and unsuspecting colleagues pour departmental travel money into attending these conferences to present their papers? We do get a publication point out of it.....