There’s a small but relentless new annoyance on the scholarly landscape called Pencis — a name I can’t help but scan in an adolescent way half the time.
This first came to my attention via emails forwarded from a prize competition sponsored by the organization. These promises of awards and prizes ensnare unsuspecting academics by looking like they might come as the something done in conjunction with their publisher (in one case, Elsevier), leading research groups to speculate that they are up for a legitimate award from a known and trusted organization. Accordingly, many upload their CVs in order to participate, with subsequent communications growing sloppier, paypoints emerging, and it becoming clear this has nothing to do with any legitimate publisher.
The prizes for “Best Researcher Award” span a host of topics, and the authors who have forwarded emails have zero expertise in any of them, with the cited papers completely irrelevant to the purported domain of the award.
This is not unusual for a grifter in our space, of course. They run fast and loose.
Pencis uses a domain first registered in 2019 to Sudeep Arya, who claims to be from Chennai, India.
In the emails I was forwarded, Pencis uses a link shortener I’d never seen before — x-i.me. This domain is also registered to Sudeep Arya, who in the who.is record is listed as residing in Bloomsbury Way in the city of “Lond” which apparently resides in the state of “tn” (the same state as Chennai, Tamil Nadu) and with the same Indian postal code.
If you are “good” you can get an award in the “field of science.”
Sweet, as “science” is my favorite field of, you know, science.
The Contact page of ScienceFather (located using the www prefix) indicates this is another company running out of Chennai. The domain’s ownership information is private, and coming out of a domain registrar in Burlington, MA, a common commercial footprint.
Pencis itself purports to have four main offerings:
Nowhere is their awards program mentioned.
Their site (and their LinkedIn profile) sports writing like this:
Articles Published in our Open access Journals are Peer Reviewed . We establish our Relationship with the scholars and the Universities through various activities such as seminars, workshops, conferences and Symposia. We are a decisive, conclusive & fast-moving company open to new ideas and ingenious publishing.
Finally, they claim to answer emails using the domain “pencisgroup.com.” Since another search of who.is showed this domain was available — and, for a very low price — I decided to snatch it up. Let’s see if they notice.
I’m not going to drag this out. The membership levels and value propositions are outrageous in my opinion, but you can see for yourself.
This isn’t entirely new, of course. “Who’s Who” books were scamming people with claims and fees decades ago. But in an academic realm in which careers are even less secure, promises like these can resonate with hope, even if false.
The seedy side of scholarly and scientific publishing, conferences, memberships, and awards will persist as long as the producer-pays model remains normalized, even after actions like the smackdown of OMICS in 2019 — coincidentally, the same year Pencis spun up.
The problem isn’t this organization per se, but rather a business model that incentivizes cash-on-the-barrelhead transactions and associated grifting, and makes it all seem normal. That opens the door for scams like this to re-emerge, and the Internet makes it easy to do it quickly and at scale.
The modern world is not quite working out as planned.