The scientists who were recruited to appear at a conference called Entomology-2013 thought they had been selected to make a presentation to the leading professional association of scientists who study insects.
But they found out the hard way that they were wrong. The prestigious, academically sanctioned conference they had in mind has a slightly different name: Entomology 2013 (without the hyphen). The one they had signed up for featured speakers who were recruited by email, not vetted by leading academics. Those who agreed to appear were later charged a hefty fee for the privilege, and pretty much anyone who paid got a spot on the podium that could be used to pad a resume.
"I think we were duped," one of the scientists wrote in an email to the Entomological Society.
Those scientists had stumbled into a parallel world of pseudo-academia, complete with prestigiously titled conferences and journals that sponsor them. Many of the journals and meetings have names that are nearly identical to those of established, well-known publications and events.
Steven Goodman, a dean and professor of medicine at Stanford and the editor of the journal Clinical Trials, which has its own imitators, called this phenomenon "the dark side of open access," the movement to make scholarly publications freely available.
The number of these journals and conferences has exploded in recent years as scientific publishing has shifted from a traditional business model for professional societies and organizations built almost entirely on subscription revenues to open access, which relies on authors or their backers to pay for the publication of papers online, where anyone can read them.
Open access got its start about a decade ago and quickly won widespread acclaim with the advent of well-regarded, peer-reviewed journals like those published by the Public Library of Science, known as PLoS. Such articles were listed in databases like PubMed, which is maintained by the National Library of Medicine, and selected for their quality.
But some researchers are now raising the alarm about what they see as the proliferation of online journals that will print seemingly anything for a fee. They warn that nonexperts doing online research will have trouble distinguishing credible research from junk.
"Most people don't know the journal universe," Mr. Goodman said. "They will not know from a journal's title if it is for real or not."
Researchers also say that universities are facing new challenges in assessing the resumes of academics. Are the publications they list in highly competitive journals or ones masquerading as such? And some academics themselves say they have found it difficult to disentangle themselves from these journals once they mistakenly agree to serve on their editorial boards.
The phenomenon has caught the attention of Nature, one of the most competitive and well-regarded scientific journals. In a news report published recently, the journal noted "the rise of questionable operators" and included a checklist on "how to perform due diligence before submitting to a journal or a publisher."