I’ve been an invited lecturer on stem cell use in orthopedic injuries all over the globe. I’ve lectured twice at the Vatican in Rome, in many US and international universities, as well as at conferences big and small. I’ve lectured in South America, Canada, all over Europe, and in China. So when I recently got an invitation to speak at a regenerative medicine conference in Berlin, Germany, I decided to accept. After all, I had a few physicians to meet in Europe, and Berlin seemed like as good a base of operations as any. However, what was billed as a regenerative medicine conference soon turned into something else. Let me explain.
I Went to Berlin and All I Got Was This Lousy T-shirt
I, like many published authors, get invitations to speak that show up in my e-mail inbox every week. I separate out these “faux” invitations from the real ones by noting that the fake ones often ask me to speak in some obscure city in China. I’ve always assumed that these were “pay for play” conferences, where the amount that you’re willing to spend determines where you’re placed on the podium, so I’ve just ignored these Chinese invitations.
About six months ago, a variation on one of these “faux” invitations appeared in my e-mail inbox. This one had the site listed as Berlin, Germany, the first of these I had seen in Western Europe. In addition, from looking at the agenda, they had some physicians and scientists listed to speak that I knew, which gave the whole thing some credibility. Since I needed to be in Europe to meet several physicians and I needed a base of operations, I accepted the invitation. However, there were indications from day one that this was not the usual type of conference where I lecture.
I guess my first clue that there were issues should have been that after accepting their invitation to speak, I was required to pay to attend the conference. While this was highly unusual (99% of the time speakers are not required to pay to register to attend the conference), I have lectured at one large professional organization that did the same thing—so I reluctantly agreed. When I hadn’t heard anything from the organizers at about two months out, I started to get uneasy. My second clue should have been that no matter how many times I e-mailed my contact at the conference, the representative never got back to me. About the same time that most conferences would be hounding me for slides and to fill out disclosure and copyright forms, I heard nothing. So I decided to call my contact, as the address listed (a PO box) was in Las Vegas. My third indication that there was a serious problem was when an Indian with poor English skills answered the phone at what was obviously a call center in India. He knew little about the conference, but he said that he would have my contact get back to me. She eventually did reach out after about my fifth or sixth subsequent e-mail. The rest of my experience went the same—no slide nor paperwork requests, difficulty in nailing down a time for me to speak, and generally no communication. That’s when I Googled the OMICS group holding the conference. Here are the problems that I found:
- Listing physicians as speakers without their knowledge
- Dramatically altering core details of the conference at the last minute
- Tiny conferences where all attendees are invited speakers when the program gives the impression of a huge affair
In addition, the organizers apparently reserved the right to cancel any conference at the last minute for lack of attendance!
At two weeks before the conference, I received a very odd e-mail that fit with what I found on Google. The conference was slated to be held at a large Sheraton Hotel, but the poorly written e-mail (obviously penned by a non-native English speaker) seemed to say that the conference was being moved at the last minute to a smaller hotel? The writer made an effort to point out the flaws of the old hotel, so it seemed like she was trying hard to trigger a cancellation for cause in the hotel contract. This is when the alarm bells really went off. In all the years I have been lecturing, I have never seen a whole conference moved at the last minute! Thankfully, I could still cancel my hotel reservations, but I wondered how many attendees couldn’t.
When I got to Berlin, I was not to be disappointed. When I arrived at the tiny hotel they were now using, the Indian guy at the registration desk didn’t speak much English. To add to the ambiance, the conference folder looked like it had been made in an Indian sweatshop, stitching falling off its poorly made frame. Finally, there were all of about 20 people there in the audience. OK, the conference was small, but it could still be good. However, to add insult to injury, at the coffee break, they announced that the room we were using was too big, so the entire conference needed to relocate to a smaller room downstairs. When we got there, the crowd was now down to about 10 poor souls! While the speakers were interesting, I could tell that they, too, had recognized that this wasn’t a real conference as the number of people who were in this now tiny room at any given minute would wildly fluctuate, as if most lecturers were walking out the door as soon as they were finished. I, too, finally decided that there wasn’t much to stay for, so I also walked out after delivering my lecture.
There were many other warning signs. A big banner filled with university logos, as if these universities were sponsors of this minute conference. OMICS seemed to have included these to give gravitas to the conference; however, it was clear that 25 different prestigious US and international universities were not sponsoring this gathering. Somehow, I never saw any of my colleagues who were on the agenda to speak, so I’ll have to assume that their inclusion on the agenda was merely a ruse to get others to sign up.
The upshot? In the end, this faux regenerative medicine conference was a good way to get a base of operations for the European physician meetings I needed to have, so not all was lost. However, it was at best a faint echo of a real conference. I guess it was what would happen if some Indian business guy thought about a way to maximize every penny that a conference could generate and didn’t really care too much about the quality of the experience. Hence, I wanted to warn others about the OMICS Regenerative Medicine conference—if you’re tight on CME funds, find another regen med conference to attend. There are lots of good ones out there!
Note: Looks like another company (or the same one which has just changed its name) likely doing the same thing is “Conference Series”. So beware!