Public health

Medical group anger over deceptive claims by ‘predatory’ conference

An India-based company behind an upcoming rheumatology and orthopaedics conference in Sydney has been accused of using false endorsements from medical societies and industry leaders.

Conference Series is part of the OMICS Group, which was recently banned by a US Court from engaging in deceptive claims about its medical conferences, after a preliminary finding that the company was advertising the involvement of prominent academics without their consent.

The company is advertising more than 40 conferences in Australia this year, including the 11th World Congress on Rheumatology, Orthopedics and Sports Medicine, to be staged in July in Sydney.

This two-day event is billed to feature “presentations delivered by eminent scientists from all over the world” – although no names are listed on the “tentative program” – and costs USD $899 for early rate registration.

But the limbic can reveal that the conference website has falsely claimed the endorsement or involvement of prominent medical organisations and individuals without their consent.

Its online program claimed the event had “media partners” including the New Zealand Orthopaedic Association (NZOA) and European Federation of National Associations of Orthopaedics and Traumatology (EFORT) – but both deny any involvement with the conference.

Andrea Pettett, CEO of NZOA, told the limbic the association “had no knowledge of this conference” and “the use of our logo has been without our consent”.

Meanwhile, Adrian Ott, CEO of Switzerland-based EFORT, said the use of its logo without permission amounted to “fraudulent use of IP material”.

“Back in September last year the EFORT evaluation committee had already declined this conference to be labelled ‘EFORT approved event’ and informed the organizing company accordingly,” he told the limbic.

 “As such EFORT is not a media partner”.

Promotional material for the Conference Series event posted on Twitter also features the EULAR logo.

Meanwhile, the CEO of an Australian indemnity insurance firm has expressed astonishment at finding himself billed as the conference’s local organiser.

Eric Lowenstein, CEO of Tego Insurance, said he was “as surprised as anyone” to find himself prominently displayed on the website as the sole member of the conference’s “organising committee”.

He said when the company emailed him in July last year asking if he wanted to be involved in the conference, he initially said ‘yes’.

“But they never followed up with any detail about what would be required of me.  I was not aware that they were representing me as being the organiser of this event. To be clear, I have never met the organisers, seen any paperwork nor have I done any work for them. Also, I did not expect any financial benefit and have not received any.

“I am obviously very concerned about how my name has been misused and I have already told them to remove any reference to me from their website.”

Following the limbic’s inquiries, Mr Lowenstein’s profile and the NZOA logo have been removed from the conference website.

The Australian Orthopaedic Association told the limbic it was not involved with or endorsing the conference.

“The AOA advises members to ensure due diligence regarding scientific and academic conference events organised by third parties,” a spokesman said.

Conference Series is due to face court over allegations by the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) that the company, its subsidiaries, and director Srinubabu Gedela, used “unfair and deceptive practices” as a predator publisher and conference organiser, costing consumers over $26 million.

Last year, the US District Court District of Nevada approved the FTC’s preliminary injunction prohibiting the defendants from making misrepresentations about their international conferences and online open-access journals.

Conference Series has already been the subject of at least two complaints to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), including one over an endocrinology conference staged in Melbourne last year.

The limbic contacted Conference Series but had not received a response at the time of publication.

The ACCC and the Australian Rheumatology Association have been contacted for comment.

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