A flattering invitation

It’s always nice to be praised. An email arrived today inviting me to speak at a conference, telling me that ‘your unique, inspirational message will be the perfect way to kick off the congress’. It goes further, describing the conference as an ‘historic event to celebrate the milestone achievement derived from you’. And it also invited me to join the conference committee. Wow!

This all sounds great. The event is in Wuhan, in China, which sounds a nice place to visit. And according to the website, I’ll also be able to hear several other ‘renowned speakers’, from Johns Hopkins, the University of Alberta, and the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

It sounds ideal – but there’s a catch. My inspirational message is being requested for a conference on HIV. However you stretch it, this is not my area. And there is a nice big fee –the early bird rate for speakers is quoted at $2,149 – as well as some rather ominous talk of membership, with a fee that has to be ‘updated’. Just to add to the confusion, the invitation talks about the 4th Annual Symposia of HIV (HIV-2013), but the website lists the event on those dates as the 3rd Annual World Congress of Microbes.

So is this just another dodgy invitation? A simple mistake (I am not, sadly, the only John Field in academic)? Or an over-enthusiastic conference administrator, hoping that my swollen male pride will overcome my lack of expertise, and persuade me to share my unique inspirational message with a bunch of microbe or HIV specialists?  

At first glance, I guess you might think this is kosher. The website lists many academics on the organising committee, including a reader in maths at Strathclyde University, a reader in pathology from Cambridge University, and a professor of food studies at Ulster University. I’ve not contacted them to ask whether they really are involved with this organisation, but given that their expertise has nothing much to do with HIV or microbes, this conference – if it exists – is unlikely to be a quality event.