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If only I were a little more unscrupulous (or gullible) …I’d go to CMBF

I would love to visit China. I’d especially love to be invited to go there and have all my expenses covered. So when I got an official-looking invitation to a conference there a while back, I had a few milliseconds of enthusiasm, until I read a little deeper and my excitement got replaced with bafflement. I just turned away from it, but they keep begging me to attend. Here’s the latest letter from the China Medicinal Biotech Forum:

Dear Dr. Paul Myers,

This is redacted, the program coordinator ofthe 6th CMBF-2013. On behalf of the organizing committee of CMBF-2013, I sent you a formal Invitation Letter several weeks ago, which is regarding inviting you to participate in our forum as the Chair/Speaker of Session 7-2: Genetic and Cell Engineering Technologies for Biological Therapy. But we haven’t received any reply from you. In case of missing this grant event, I am writing again to extend to you our sincere invitation. Since we have learnt that you are making valuable contributions to Paul Myers…, your unique and inspirational message will definitely highlight the forum.

The 6th CMBF will be held on September 25-27, 2013 in Shenzhen, China. And it is hosted by CMBA, which was established in 1993 and consisted by 200 enterprise members and over 2000 professional individuals. It is on attachment to Ministry of Health of the People’s Republic of China, which is an executive agency of the state that plays the role of providing information, raising health awareness and education, ensuring the accessibility of health services, and monitoring the quality of health services provided to citizens and visitors in the mainland of the People’s Republic of China. It also cooperates and keeps in touch with other health ministries and departments, including those of the special administrative regions and the World Health Organization (WHO).

We have hosted CMBF for five times in Beijing, Shanghai, Qingdao and Dalian respectively. Each time was in every way extremely successful in spite of the preceding worldwide political and health problems. The strong attendance was a testimony to fact that the CMBF conference is well recognized as the most important international convention on China Medical Biotechnology.

The primary goal of this event is to provide a forum for the exchange of current information about new and emerging scientific knowledge, to discuss implications for future research and the application of new medicinal biotechnology, and to create opportunities for the collaboration and matchmaking between academia and industry. CMBF-2013 will focus on the following topics: Basic Research of Medical Biotechnology, Monoclonal Antibody, Regenerative Medicine & Stem Cell, Bone Tissue Bank, Nanomedicine, Biomaterials, Novel Technologies for Biotherapeutics, Clinical Application Medical Biotechnology (Part I)-Biological Diagnostics, Clinical Application Medical Biotechnology ( Part II)-Therapy, Dietary Fiber.

For more information regarding CMBF-2013, please visit our conference website at http://www.medbioforum.org/.

We look forward to your active support and participation.

Sincerely Yours,

Weird. I’m not a biotechnology or biomedicine researcher. I do not do “Genetic and Cell Engineering Technologies for Biological Therapy”, but they’re asking me to chair a session on the topic? I think it’s very nice that they’ve noticed I am “making valuable contributions to Paul Myers…”, which is true, but I think that only qualifies me to chair a session titled “Paul Myers”. Even if I were confident that this were a legitimate research conference, I’d turn them down.

But I did dig around trying to find out more about them. They’ve had quite a few meetings, and they’ve had some prestigious attendees, including Nobelists. Maybe somebody on their administrative team is a master of SEO, because all I could find with a casual search (sorry, I’m not going, so I wasn’t going to dig deeper) were links to the group itself and to Chinese sources. The topics sound reasonable and legit, but far more applied than anything that would interest me.

But now I’m curious. There are a couple of possibilities here.

One is that it’s a great big scam. I’d agree, and then find myself paying for travel expenses that would never be reimbursed. If that’s the case, we should spread the word.

Another is that it’s a real conference for an obscure organization that has a great deal of Chinese government money thrown at it. They’re honestly reaching out to make connections with US researchers, but they don’t really know who’s who.

Another very remote possibility is that somebody there knows who I am, actually thinks I have a “unique and inspirational message”, and is trying to shoehorn me into a session that is unfortunately a poor fit. I can do a general rah-rah biology talk, but I’m not at all qualified to go into the details of stem cell research and biotechnology.

Anyone have prior experience with this group? If nothing else, promoting a little more second-party information about them on the web would be helpful.

Comments

  1. joe321 says

    I’m a physical chemist (U of Alberta) and have received similar invitations, though I was not asked to chair a session (now I’m hurt!) The session I was asked to present in was also only very loosely related to my research. Unfortunately I deleted the email, assuming it was spam, so I am not certain if it was the same organization, but the follow-up letter sounds very familiar. I suspect a scam. Perhaps a “for profit” conference where they hope people will try to use their research funds to travel to an exotic location?

  2. says

    I have no knowledge of this particular group. Could be perfectly legit. After all, someone from China may have just been scouting for “big names” in biology and come across yours. They don’t know why you’re a big name in biology. And since China doesn’t have a deep familiarity with Catholicism, would only be puzzled by the cracker references.

    Of course, it could be one of those conferences that invites “name” scientists as a front to cover presentations by creationists and other woo-meisters. The proceedings would be “interesting”, to say the least. And then your name would be forever linked with Douglas Axe’s presentation on “Why Proteins Are Totally Impossible Because Numbers Therefore Jesus”.

  3. says

    #3: Good possibility. Think how embarrassing it would be to show up and discover they expected someone completely different?

    There’s a reason that my 675 clones and I have gone to an alphabetical/combinatorial two-character naming scheme.

  4. georgemartin says

    According a whois look up, the registration for the domain, medbioforum.org, is from China, an outfit
    called BIT life sciences, INC.

    The complete information is:

    Registrant ID:hc653654722-cn
    Registrant Name:xinyu wang
    Registrant Organization:dalian BIT life sciences,INC.
    Registrant Street1:26 Gaoneng Street, Dalian High-tech Zone
    Registrant Street2:
    Registrant Street3:
    Registrant City:dalian
    Registrant State/Province:liaoning
    Registrant Postal Code:116011
    Registrant Country:CN
    Registrant Phone:+86.041184799609
    Registrant Phone Ext.:
    Registrant FAX:+86.041184799629
    Registrant FAX Ext.:
    Registrant Email:james@bitlifesciences.com

    The administrative and tech contacts listed also have Chinese addresses.

    But interestingly, their web site appears to be hosted in California. The ARIN look up of for the IP of http://www.medbioforum.org (174.139.181.218) gives:

    Name Krypt Technologies
    Handle C02953780
    Street 1100 North Market
    City Sacramento
    State/Province CA
    Postal Code 95834
    Country US
    Registration Date 2012-03-30
    Last Updated 2012-03-30

    George

  5. says

    I get these all the time. Note that they never promised you money. I don’t know why you are concerned that there may not be compensation for your expenses: their email gives no indication that there will be any compensation. Some of these conferences do exist, but when you get there (I hear) you find a meeting room in a hotel in China with maybe 30 people from elsewhere, all of whom are nice people who commiserate with each other and are embarrassed that they fell for this. They have paid big bucks to attend, but the “International Conference” is just them going through the motions of presenting their papers to each other.

    On occasion I used to reply to these and ask them why they invited me, what paper did I ever publish in the area of the conference. I also ask them what compensation there will be for my attendance. They simply don’t answer.

  6. Andy Groves says

    I get 2-3 of these invites every week. The conferences are usually in China, or sometimes in the Middle East. BIT Lifesciences is a major culprit, but OMICS Group also organizes conferences and spams in a similar way.

    They get the information by trawling web pages. One of my departmental web pages refers to me as “Andy K. Groves”, which is not a form I ever use. Almost all my spam invites address me in this fashion.

  7. alwayscurious says

    I searched WHO’s website looking for anything related to the conference or references to its website. Nothing came up.

  8. says

    Yeah, the lack of any comment about payment is another giveaway that made me very suspicious. Usually conference organizers are quick to mention it, if only to apologize for how little they have to offer. I also get a couple of these sorts of invites a year, but these guys are unusually persistent.

    Andy: If I saw such an invite from the OMICS group, it would instantly go in the trash. This one was just unfamiliar.

    The one thing that baffles me about it as a scam, though, is where do THEY make money off this scheme? Kickbacks from hotels/travel agencies?

    And why is it so hard to find people on the web commenting about the scam? Maybe as Joe says, all the suckers sit around in their Chinese hotel room, a bit ashamed of having been taken in, and vow to never speak of it again.

  9. dianne says

    It’s a scam. Or at very best an extremely inexperienced group of conference organizers.

  10. indicus says

    I haven’t heard of this group in particular but there has been a huge upsurge in scams relating to asking people to submit papers to unknown journals, peer-review papers for unknown journals, and attend conferences put out by unknown organizations. Me and almost everyone else I know with an education and/or profession in the sciences gets these on a regular basis.

  11. pHred says

    I get these and I am not a biologist at all. I am an earth scientist. I get virtually an identical letter inviting me to conferences in China (and Singapore) on climate change, materials science and alternate energy. Ugh!

  12. Hairy Doctor Professor says

    Me too: a computer scientist getting invited to conferences on obstetrics and gynecology.

  13. David Marjanović says

    Obvious scam conference. I get such invitations every year or two, and lots of invitations to submit manuscripts to scam journals (mostly by somebody called hemen dutta).

    The one thing that baffles me about it as a scam, though, is where do THEY make money off this scheme? Kickbacks from hotels/travel agencies?

    …Has it been that long since you last attended a scientific conference? Registration fees. You’re not invited in the strict sense, only in the general sense of “please come”.

  14. yazikus says

    Something that I have wondered for a while: how does email spamming make any money at all? As for this one…I have no idea. I would wonder why it would be profitable for someone to spend time and effort emailing PZ if it were not a legit conference.

  15. bjornbrembs says

    I also get these all the time. They’re spamferences and if you search for that term, you’ll find quite a few posts with similar emails pasted in there. I suppose the charge you registration fees and that’s how they make money.

  16. says

    Excerpt from New Scientist

    “ANOTHER day, and another “scamference” invitation arrives – this one to a “Climate Change Volunteer Conference 2012″. It’s supposed to take place at the “Royal Eco Hotel”, 26 Brook Street, London, W1K 5DQ – which turns out to be the same shoe shop as the “London Eco Hotel” venue of the “Climate Change International Conference” to which we were previously invited (9 June).

    Meanwhile, marine researcher Phil Clapham writes to say that, “tired of receiving endless invitations to money-making conferences in China with no relevance whatsoever to what I do, [I have] started submitting ridiculous paper titles, authored by my dog”.

    Thus the organisers of a meeting on “artificial intelligence and automated control” received a proposal for a paper by Borzoi, Cleo V, entitled “Artificial intelligence in ziphiid whales and its application to automated control during the d’Medici papacy, with reference to nutritional benefits.” …

  17. says

    Umm, if I change my name to Paul Myers can I go instead?

    I’ve never been to China, and I”m sure I could bullshit my way through the sessions.

    “Who can tell me about the latest research in China? Yes, you there. Please come up here to the microphone and tell us all about it.”

    Repeat until session is done.

    Go visit local sites.

    Easy, peasy.

  18. Dauphni says

    Something that I have wondered for a while: how does email spamming make any money at all? As for this one…I have no idea. I would wonder why it would be profitable for someone to spend time and effort emailing PZ if it were not a legit conference.

    I read an article on that a while ago that actually had some numbers, but sadly I’ve forgotten the details. What it boiled down to is that sending spam e-mail is cheap, especially if you’re using automated software and a botnet. There is a nonzero percentage of people who do respond, and it only takes a single one to make the endeavour profitable.

  19. Aaron says

    “automated software and a botnet”

    Or the Chinese equivalent of Mechanical Turk, i.e., bunches of people paid tiny amounts to do tedious labor, like filling it names and sensible-sounding bio information in a form letter. It’s still very cheap to churn out quite a lot of spam this way.

  20. Ichthyic says

    Another is that it’s a real conference for an obscure organization that has a great deal of Chinese government money thrown at it. They’re honestly reaching out to make connections with US researchers, but they don’t really know who’s who.

    Back in the late 90s, when I was working as an IT manager for a internet company in Northern CA, I got invited to a tech conference that sounded a LOT like this. Bells, whistles, everything was promised. Even a visit to the forbidden city.

    I showed my boss the invite, and HIS boss said that if anyone was going to go, it would be him…

    heh.

    yeah… scam.

  21. DLC says

    Oh, I don’t know, it sounds at least as legit as the email the Nigerian Minister of Finance sent me last year. . .

  22. franko says

    Like other posters here, my colleagues and I (UK) get a couple of these invites per week. (And a similar number to write articles for unheard of journals.) Nowadays I bin them without a second glance. They never offer financial support, they’re always in fields completely unrelated to my own, and they have never responded when (in the past, at least four years ago) I replied with “offer to pay my travel and accommodation and I’ll think about it”.
    The only non-negative spin I can possibly muster is that maybe there are academics in rapidly developing China (the invites almost always come from China) who try to boost their CVs by organizing international conferences. But it all seems so very like some sort of scam that it’s hard to believe it’s not.

  23. AstrySol says

    …it’s a real conference for an obscure organization that has a great deal of Chinese government money thrown at it. They’re honestly reaching out to make connections with US researchers, but they don’t really know who’s who.

    As a Chinese, I probably can say that all the major institutions backing up this CMBA appears to be legitimate government institutions with quite some money. My guess will be that they just want big “international” names to boost the reputation (mainly within China) so I’d agree with that. (And if what they want is some domestic PR, they probably don’t care who is who very much, as long as that person is some big-name one.)

    Should PZ go, it would be interesting to see when they found out “oops, wrong guy”. But hey, it’s just one session of the conference and probably won’t appear in the final report or any press releases, why bother?

  24. says

    “Artificial intelligence in ziphiid whales and its application to automated control during the d’Medici papacy, with reference to nutritional benefits.”

    I’d definitely read that paper. Sounds awesome.

  25. umvue says

    I received the same invitation except it substituted a truncated title of a manuscript I coauthored for the field in which I am making “valuable contributions”. I am a biostatistician and know minimally of the science behind “Prospectively ECG gated CT pulmonary angiography versus helical ungated CT pulmonary angiography: impact on cardiac related motion artifacts and patient radiation dose” but THEY were impressed.

  26. LewisX says

    Anyone have prior experience with this group?

    No but a number of people have been trying to warn us about them. The key organisation behind this appears to be Bit Life Sciences. The “Operating Organisation” listed for http://www.medbioforum.org is BIT Congress Inc (righthand column, bottom) which appears to be an alias. Also see here and a good bit of detail here.

  27. FossilFishy(Anti-Vulcanist) says

    [searches inbox, notes lack of any such invite, scam or otherwise]

    Sigh.

    Just another data point for my current research project:

    “What the Hell Am I Doing With My Life? : A Study in Studiousness and the Negative Effects of a Rock ‘N Roll Lifestyle.”

  28. says

    Pretty sure they are not legit, or at least not very competent. I’m a non-scientist involved in clinical research on the patient advocacy side–no scientific credentials at all–and I get invited to ‘chair’ scientific sessions with this group all the time. They must have gotten my name from the American Thoracic Society or some other professional organization with which I’m affiliated. I’ve tried to explain this to them on several occasions and asked to be taken off their contact list, but they still send these invitations every 3-6 months.

  29. blf says

    Or the Chinese equivalent of Mechanical Turk, i.e., bunches of people paid tiny amounts to do tedious labor…

    With specific reference to the bigger of the two Chinas, a variant is to not pay the people at all: Use prisoners. There have been — and I assume still are some on-going — cases of prisoners forced to do tedious Internet-“work”, such as repeatedly clicking on a link to generate income or drive up assorted figures (e.g., scores or hit-rates) which can eventually be turned into real money. None of the cases I can (vaguely) recall now seemed to be “official”, instead, all were corrupt prison authorities.

  30. thumper1990 says

    Well at least I know what the “P” stands for now. What about the “Z”?

  31. says

    Something that I have wondered for a while: how does email spamming make any money at all?

    Not by selling fake Viagra, or even maxing out the credit cards of people who try to buy fake Viagra; but by convincing people that they can make money selling fake Viagra.

    It’s the people selling the spamming kits that are making the money, out of the people who buy the spamming kits under the misapprehension that they are going to become rich overnight. Of course, the recipients of the spam mostly just tut and ignore it.

  32. says

    I got one of these things, actually offered a specific amount of money, but I realized that there was something seriously wrong with the thing when they referred to me as a “foremost researcher in your field” or some such.

  33. Brandon says

    I also was “offered” a spot to chair a session. It actually is in my field, but I feel I can safely assume that there’s absolutely no vetting process for these E-mails at all, since I’m a postdoc, and not one of any particular note. It seems that simply publishing something gets you on some sort of list for this.

  34. David Marjanović says

    It’s the people selling the spamming kits that are making the money, out of the people who buy the spamming kits under the misapprehension that they are going to become rich overnight. Of course, the recipients of the spam mostly just tut and ignore it.

    It goes without saying that I’ve repeatedly received spam advertizing spamming kits and, separately, databases with millions of guaranteed valid e-mail adresses.

    And I don’t think the people who buy the spamming kits never get rich. For getting rich from a 419 scam, it’s enough if one of several hundred million people falls for it, and sending e-mail to hundreds of millions of people is easy these days.

  35. David Marjanović says

    I realized that there was something seriously wrong with the thing when they referred to me as a “foremost researcher in your field” or some such

    Nature referred to me as a “senior researcher” (and therefore entitled to a discount on an annual subscription) when I was a grad student.

    Yes, it really was Nature. And it really was stupid enough to believe I’d buy a (still expensive) personal subscription when pretty much every institution has an institutional one. At least the reason they had my e-mail address was legitimate, and they didn’t refer to any of my publications.

  36. says

    Maybe as Joe says, all the suckers sit around in their Chinese hotel room, a bit ashamed of having been taken in, and vow to never speak of it again.

    And the people who fell for it in years past are still there as well, like the milkmen in that Monte Python sketch.

  37. Rich Woods says

    I’ve received a number of similar emails over the years, even though I’ve never been published (nor am I likely to be, since I don’t do anything which could be described as worthwhile research). What impressed me about them was that about half did manage to broadly state the correct field, and I can’t for the life of me figure out how: when I get home I leave work behind and don’t contribute to professional forums or the like. I honestly doubt I’ve left behind anything other than the occasional use of an ac.uk email address.

    Heh. Just googled myself with a few specific (but reasonable) search terms. I’ve been a twat. Not only is the institution-wide connection there which a human being could eventually make (hopefully not a bot), but I was also the one responsible for setting it up for the institution! However that still doesn’t explain the connection to my private email address…

  38. James Linzel says

    If you accept, could I get you to swing by my high school? I teach at Shanghai American School and would love the biology classes hear about evo-devo. I attempt to connect developmental genetics to my overall ‘story’ of biology but it be great to have an expert provide a lecture!
    just let me know! james[dot]linzel[at]saschina.org

    Cheers

  39. shallit says

    I got taken by a scam like this, where the folks running the conference promised reimbursement and then only delivered 60% of my costs. Complaints to the university proved fruitless, as they fell back on the “he’s running it and we’re not, it’s just held here” defense.

    The only protection is to make sure that you have all the tickets in hand, paid for by the organizers, before you agree to anything.