A Few Questions about Science Spam

This was another week with a fair amount of spam in my email inbox. We all receive email spam on a regular basis and most of us have probably also received science spam: invitations to scientific conferences about topics we are not working on, invitations to submit articles to journals not covering your field, and information about lab supplies we never had asked for. Although I’m of course aware that spam is now a fact of online life, I don’t quiet understand how this science spam works.


Flickr photo by AJ Cann.

1. How do science spammers get my email address?
Most science spam is not really targeted towards my research interests. From this I conclude that these spammers automatically harvest email addresses of researchers, or they buy these lists. One potential source to harvest email addresses is PubMed and other bibliographic databases, but I don’t know whether this is actually done.

2. Is even a small percentage of researchers responding to this science spam?
Science spam is as uninteresting to me as any other spam, and I can’t really imagine a colleague submitting a manuscript to a journal marketed this way. But the idea behind spam is that there is a – admittedly very small – conversion rate.

3. When will we start to see more social media science spam?
I think it is only a question of time before we see more science spam on Twitter, Google+ and Facebook – I already receive a small amount of spam through these channels.

4. Is there anything an individual researcher can other than using good spam filters in his email program?
Would it for example help if we hide our email address as much as possible? Should we deny publishers the permission to post our email address in journal articles, and should places like PubMed hide them? Do publisher organizations such as OASPA (Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association) enforce their Member Code of Conduct, which clearly state that any direct marketing activities publishers engage in shall be appropriate and unobtrusive.

5. Will it get worse?
I know this answer. Yes. This blog has seen more than 60,000 spam comments already, most of the spam in my email is filtered out before I even see it, but I think it will get much worse – via email and other channels.

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2 Responses to A Few Questions about Science Spam

  1. kled says:

    It’s not just researchers – I work for a university (in just an admin role) and yet I seem to get plenty of emails asking me submit papers to publish or to speak at some conference – often for a completely different area to the department I work in. I’ve just put it down to the .edu in my email address, but who knows how it was obtained in the first place. I do, however, enjoy being addressed as ‘Dr’…

  2. Jeremy says:

    You say, “I can’t really imagine a colleague submitting a manuscript to a journal marketed this way”, but that’s because you defined science spam as “invitations to submit articles to journals not covering your field”. If that same email went out to a bunch of random scientists, the field would actually be relevant in some cases. So those scientists in relevant fields might not even view it as spam, they might imagine that an editor read one of their papers and decided to send them an email. From that perspective, you probably can imagine a colleague submitting a manuscript to a journal marketed this way.