Anger has erupted over a medical “conference” staged in Melbourne last month, amid allegations the event was a scam.
People who attended last month’s 11th Obesity and Endocrinology Summit – billed as a “CPD event” – have described feeling “cheated” and “angry”, with one lodging a complaint with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.
One woman who paid over $1000 for a ticket has described shambolic scenes with no exhibitors, no-show keynote speakers, only 30 delegates and no system for claiming CPD points.
The event was staged by India-based OMICS International, the self-described publisher of 700 open access journals and organiser of 3000 conferences annually under the related entity Conference Series.
Last year both entities were subject to legal action by the US consumer watchdog Federal Trade Commission, which alleged conferences were promoted to feature academic presenters who never agreed to participate, to induce people to pay up to $1000 to attend.
The two-day program at Melbourne’s Novotel promised presentations on obesity and diabetes, but also breast cancer, COPD and asthma.
Allegations that the conference was fake were first aired by a Fairfax Media report, in which a journalist described lodging a nonsense abstract with the organiser who then offered her the chance to pay $300 to present.
Hendrika Jooste, who has paid $1,125 for her South-Africa based dietician sister to attend the conference, has lodged a complaint with the ACCC.
She told the limbic the event was a “big joke”.
“When we arrived, the guy wasn’t even ready to do the registration. I said ‘where’s all the exhibitors?’ and he said ‘no there’s no exhibitors’”.
“Then I looked at the list of delegates and there were only 30 delegates.”
Ms Jooste said her sister reported of big gaps in the program and early finishing times, after keynote speakers failed to show up, with an MC telling delegates this was due to ‘visa issues’.
The dietician was also unable to claim CPD points for attendance, she said.
“There was no scanning, nothing to say on a certificate how many hours they were there and the scheduled hours were also not the same as the hours they actually attended because it was so wishy washy. It was just one big joke.”
Meanwhile, two presenters lambasted the event organiser in emails seen by the limbic.
One professor described feeling “cheated” after paying to attend.
“In this ‘scientific event’ with what I have found is with a small number of people of very different dedication to the problem of obesity that made it practically impossible to discuss the issues, beyond a courtesy question,” she wrote.
An Australian physiotherapist billed to present also complained to the organiser, arguing that given the poor turnout the event should have been cancelled and tickets refunded.
The limbic has sought comment from the physiotherapist, but did not receive a response.
With Conference Series advertising five more conferences in Melbourne during November – covering specialist areas including oncology and immunopharmacology – there is pressure on the ACCC to act.
A spokesperson for OMICS has denied allegations it staged a fake conference.
“The scientific program which we have been updated in the website is not a fake program and due to some visa issues and time conflicts 4 of our speakers are unable to attend the event,” a spokesperson said in an email.
“Coming to the allegation that research was not properly scrutinized, we will like to inform that though it is a scientific platform we could not neglect the emerging young researchers, so we have included some basic level works in our program to encourage the young researchers.
“We agree it may be boring to the scientists present there but the program was purely designed keeping in mind all the aspects.”
The spokesperson – who identified themselves only as “Program Manager” claimed it was the victim of false allegations peddle by competitors.
“Our growth has tremendously worried the competitors in the market and thus they have resorted to such unethical practices.
“We sincerely request you to understand the reality than fake news.”
The ACCC declined to comment.
Read the response from Conference Series in full:
Dear Tessa Hoffman,
We regret to hear about some wrong allegations from our conference participant; here I would like to clarify some very basic elements of obesity summit 2017 which include competition followed by allegations at every step.
Conference Series has been in existence since past seven years contributing and actively organizing conferences from last three years in Australia which were well received and appreciated. Please visit our conference websites and do check some of our past conference reports of Australia Conferences.
Second thing, we would please notify you the scientific program which we have been updated in the website is not a fake program and due to some visa issues and time conflicts 4 of our speakers are unable to attend the event, we request you kindly find the mail screen shots of that particular speakers in the attachment.
Coming to the allegation that research was not properly scrutinized, we will like to inform that though it is a scientific platform we could not neglect the emerging young researchers, so we have included some basic level works in our program to encourage the young researchers.
We agree it may be boring to the scientists present there but the program was purely designed keeping in mind all the aspects.
And, with regards to the Fairfax journalist we did not received any abstract or article, we had received an empty document and we just call her to submit the abstract and she communicated as she was interested to attend the event and give the oral presentation on Day 2, so we asked her to submit her abstract and register for one day event and the cost which we was mentioned is $300, this special consideration was done looking at her enthusiasm to participate at the event, and the amount offered to her was participation cost and not a journal publication cost.
We write to you in faith that such comments should ignored and not be exaggerated, as we strongly believe that scientific community is not an ignorant or gullible one who can be taken on a ride. Many have offered their support and still continue to support Conference Series and its interests despite such falsely maligned allegations.
We sincerely request you to understand the reality than fake news. We would seek your valuable feedback after you witness the authenticity of Conference Series events with your own eyes instead of believing our competitors. Conference Series never intends to offend, defame anybody or any organization.
Our growth has tremendously worried the competitors in the market and thus they have resorted to such unethical practices. Conference Series believes in giving back to the scientific community by organizing conferences and promoting the respective journals.
We hope that you will take the right judgment and continue to support Conference Series against all odds. Do let us know what you think about this so that this will also help us in achieving our motto of Open access.