Benevolent Spam

You know, I sometimes longingly reflect upon the good old days of hard-core spam email. Viagra and penis enlargement ads always brightened my day. Incidentally, this $150, 26-pound gummy python comes to mind.

These days, my inbox is as cluttered as always, but the annoying part is that most of the email comes from people who have legitimate access to my email and whose job, in some interpretation at least, actually requires that they send out these supposedly informative mass emails.

Let’s just look at some of the most recent pearls from my inbox.

1) Two emails from some campus teaching resource admin, an email abut an event and a correction-to-the-date-in-previous-email second email. I have never in my life expressed interest in any of them, and the nice lady is quickly headed towards by blocked senders list.

2) A researcher from a social science field from another university wanting me to fill out a 15-min survey so they could do their research. While I am sympathetic, who are you again? And how do I know you’ll do whatever you say you’ll do with the responses, even if I were willing to spare the 15 min?

3) Member benefits bulletin from a professional organization I belong to. Because that info is totally not online already for those who need it, and all of the hundreds of thousands of members wait for the professional organization to offer them term life insurance instead of going about it like normal people.

4) 403(b) retirement consultation events, forwarded by our payroll person (can’t really block her email).

5) Email from admin from another department who sends at least 2-3 emails per day on all sorts of idiocies  information of limited importance. Among other things, she sends like 5 reminders per student PhD or prospectus defense. I had to block her, even though occasionally I am interested in the mailings, when I realized that I am, at any point in time, much more cognizant of random people defending something in another department than I am of my own upcoming haircut or dental cleaning appointments.

6) Another campus-teaching-network announcement. I have no idea what they are about.

7) 8th solicitation for nominations or self-nominations for various university-level committees. I get it, they need nominations. Bonus points for getting forwarded through various group mailing lists, like one that I nominally belong to but never attend, even though it combines women, physical sciences, and cake, all of which I usually like.

8) Someone is asking me to write a book for them.

9) Many, many emails inviting me to participate in weird expensive symposia overseas that have nothing to do with anything that I do. Just blocking all of their emails and domains is a full-time job. It gives me a creepy glimpse at all the unsavory places where my poor unsuspecting email address dwells.

10) Many, many emails that go directly to junk, from vendors wanting to sell me microscopes, biomedical supplies (?), wanting me to take their webinars on everything from biomedical research ethics (?), technical writing, taxes, project management, entrepreneurship…

Honestly, in an ideal world, this is the complete list of people I want to get emails from through my work account: department colleagues (faculty and staff), my grad students, undergrads I teach, people who give me money (fed agency program managers), editors of journals where I usually publish (it’s OK to ask for a review), and colleagues from other departments or institutions. I am OK with an occasional personal email with a fun link or cat pic. I am also OK with an occasional mass email with some important information circulated, e.g. that we got a new university president or something.  But the vast majority of the mass email information is unbelievably freakin’ useless. 

Yet the useful stuff is buried and inaccessible. For instance, I just found out some very important information about changes to grad admissions, which are supposed to happen in the fall, have not been circulated at all. The only way I found out was from my student who was going to do something (take advantage of an aspect of grad program) and was told that as of the fall it would no longer be an option. I would have liked to know about the change, a part and parcel of larger-scale changes to grad programs university-wide, but apparently they didn’t circulate it yet even though it will be implemented starting this freakin’ fall. I want to know about this stuff and I want people with unlimited access to email lists to use good judgement about spamming everyone; the vast majority of the stuff I receive is pure crap and makes you desensitized to the stuff that might potentially not be crap, if anybody actually bothers to communicate the non-crap to us.

Stupid benevolent spam. At least penis enlargement was always good for some giggles.


  1. The campus mailing lists are the worst. I’m always reluctant to block them, because sometimes they are useful. Still, I’m coming around to the idea that if it is really, actually significant to me the message will also be forwarded to me by somebody else, so it’s OK to block these senders. I only need so many reminders of the University Symposium On Things I Couldn’t Care Less About.

  2. Good grief, yes. And yes, I wish the teaching people had an unsubscribe link.

    Only in the past 3 months has the “block sender” button worked on our outlook.

  3. What I get a lot of now (and didn’t before) is journal spam. Shady online only journals who advertise their low costs and fast review turn around times…

  4. I’m getting a lot of journal spam these days, too. But, also a lot of the Item 10 stuff for fields unrelated to mine. Although a lot of the general campus stuff is annoying, I guess because we’re a small school, it doesn’t seem like a huge quantity.

  5. I get a lot of the random conference invitations as well – and I haven’t done science research since 2008 😛 The group I used to belong to also sends out a lot of emails, and I find that annoying since none of it interests me at all.

  6. I used to click the “unsubscribe” links at the bottom of conference spam. Eventually I realized that clicking “unsubscribe” tells them that it’s a real email address that goes to a person who will scroll to the bottom of the message.

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